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Let’s talk about you and me. Let’s talk about all the good things and the bad things that may be… Okay, those are obviously Salt-n-Pepa lyrics, but I have found postpartum sex to be one of the least talked about (and trickiest!) parts about returning to life as you knew it after a baby. If you feel uncomfortable talking about sex, or if it’s just an unsavory topic to you, please stop reading! It’s totally fine. Because I guarantee you, I am about to really get in to it…
Sex After Baby is a topic that eight or nine months ago I would have never even thought I’d be ready to discuss. It’s symptomatic of how insecure and strange I was feeling about my own sexuality and our sex life at the time, and I was so worried about what I thought it meant about me and our marriage.
Let me back up a little bit. I feel like the angst about sex starts well before baby arrives, during pregnancy. I will tell you that I was NOT one of those pregnant ladies who just felt “so feminine and sensual”. I actually ended up having a really enjoyable pregnancy with Marlowe, and loved my bump and the feminine feeling it gave me– but this didn’t translate at all to my desire for sex. While I had always enjoyed a healthy sex life with my husband, my pregnancy threw it a little off of its tracks. We still had sex, but it was less frequent– and as my due date approached, practically nonexistent. There was just something about having sex while feeling Marlowe moving around in my belly that felt bizarre to me and really turned me off. I still felt really affectionate towards Kyle and wanted him near me all the time, but intercourse seemed like a no-go.
I mention this because I knew a couple of people during my pregnancy who were all about sex when they were pregnant and it ended up making me feel like a total asexual weirdo. It really worried me that I was somehow not like other pregnant women– even though I know now that this isn’t the case at all. I did have one friend who told me that when she was pregnant with her kids she dutifully had sex with her husband regularly anyway, wishing she could have been on her iPhone catching up on emails while it was happening (ha!) and that made me feel a little better.
And then– just as you are feeling like a beached whale, your child comes out and destroys your vagina. Like the majority of women, when I birthed Marlowe I tore. Badly. Let’s suffice to say I needed a lot of stitches and the healing process was worse than the birth itself. She’s lucky she’s so cute. Of course I began to heal, like everyone does, but by the time the famous “six week mark” came around I was totally NOT ready to hop back in the saddle.
My OB/GYN has this joke that he makes with all his postpartum Moms at their six week checkup. He’ll breeze in the room and announce “Let’s check you out– your husband already called me six times this morning to see if you are allowed to have sex yet!” It’s hilarious (and by the way I’m sure has really happened more than once), and it also really speaks to that expectation that the six week postpartum mark designates the time that women are “supposed to” start having sex again. But I will tell you that even having this appointment gave me anxiety. I felt so exhausted, emotionally raw, and my body felt like it was still majorly healing from my birth– the last thing I could think of was sex! This made me so insecure and overwhelmed that I wasn’t living up to the normal expectations of a postpartum Wife– and that made me feel even less sexy. I also felt so drained from having my baby on my breasts every couple of hours– after going through nine months of my body belonging to another person, and now having that tiny person on me all the time– I was feeling like I couldn’t handle any more physical contact. Even talking about having sex again reduced me to tears.
So we waited. And waited. And waited. Finally it was nine weeks postpartum and I thought my husband was going to spontaneously combust. I will give Kyle a lot of credit– he never put pressure on me in any way– but a wife is a wife and I knew the signs. It was killing him. So we had sex. And it was TERRIBLE. It’s important to me not to mince words here– I think women being honest with each other is really important. I had heard tales of “the first time after baby” and it sounded painful, but what I experienced was even worse than what I had imagined! In my opinion, having sex for the first time after birthing a baby feels like having sex for the first time ever. It’s awkward, emotional, and extremely painful. I was shocked and immediately started asking around to all of my friends who had had children. “Oh yeah,” they all told me, “It’s the worst. It took us a year to get back to normal.” Now I was panicked. A YEAR?!!!!! Like a year as in twelve months– three hundred and sixty five days? They must be exaggerating. They told me that practice makes perfect and that the best way to feel better was to get back to having sex consistently. Great.
I talked to my gynecologist as well. He told me that when you breastfeed, your body produces hormones that can turn down your sexual drive as well as make it more difficult for your body to tell itself that it is being turned on. Or in other words– your body isn’t making any of its own lubrication. He said that it majorly contributes to the pain of sex post-childbirth, and he recommended buying lube and using “a lot of it”. Great. He gave me a number for the amount of times we would probably have to have intercourse before it started to feel better. I forget the number now but I think it was something like six or eight. He told me to call him if it wasn’t improving. All of this information was just so crazy to me. It seemed like an even more full time job to re-activate my sex life than it even had been to get pregnant! And whereas with the struggle to conceive I was completely dedicated and on top of it, this struggle to get back in the saddle with our sex life just felt so….Meh. I’m going to be really honest and say it: I didn’t care. I love my husband beyond words, and find him extremely handsome, funny, smart and adorable–but I had a newborn. I was an exhausted emotional wreck just trying to find time to take a shower more than twice a week. The idea of working hard at having sex felt the same to me as riding a bike to China for a hamburger. Not interested.
And that was a major mistake. Nothing terrible happened, but I can look back now and realize that the number one thing that would have helped us as a couple transition faster and more easily in to our life post-baby was to focus much more on us. On our relationship and on what mattered to both of us. I think if I had taken all of the advice about postpartum sex as I received it, things would have improved much more quickly. As it was, we did begin to have sex more consistently, and it did become better eventually, but surprise surprise– guess when we were finally “back”?
A year! A year postpartum, just as I had been told. Of course the sex was better before that, but it was when Marlowe was around 12 or 13 months that I noticed we were completely back to our old (great) ways. A year now doesn’t seem so long. When you become a parent, that time kind of flies by, and I wish that I hadn’t put so much pressure on myself and on us to be back to our normal sex life right away. I wish I hadn’t worried so much about what was expected and had focused more on how both of us were feeling at the time. So my main message is this: there is no normal. It’s OK to have mixed feelings about your sensuality and sexuality after welcoming a child, and it’s OK to allow yourself time to process those changes. It’s also OK if you literally can’t wait to have sex as soon as those six weeks are up! Get it, Girl!
Here are my tips for the more hesitant new Mamas:
- Lubrication is your friend. This one is all-natural and you can order it online (aka a 17 year old boy isn’t going to ring you up at the register). Go crazy with the lube. Trust me.
- Wine. Share a glass of wine with your partner. It’s one glass, enough to loosen you up, and not enough to make you hungover when the baby wakes up in approximately 43 minutes.
- Take a bath. In my opinion there are few things more relaxing than a bubble bath and a nice glass of wine.
- After the first few times (ouch) find a week where you guys can plan on having sex every day. Yes, every day. The key to postpartum sex is getting to the point where the sex isn’t built up at all. You’re not worrying about when it’s going to happen, or how it’s going to happen, and it just becomes something that you do together again. Not a special event. This trick really helped us get back on track.
- Fake it ’til you make it. I’m not talking about faking orgasms– that is entirely up to you. What I’m talking about is putting on your sexy persona as if it’s a beautiful silk robe. Just try it on, see what it feels like– how you feel with it on. Pretend to enjoy your sensuality and your sensuality will follow suit.
- Give yourself a break. You created a human. You brought a new and perfect life in to the world. You are not how you have sex, or who you have sex with. You are not what your body looks like– you are what your body has accomplished. Allow yourself the power and confidence of somebody who has done something truly remarkable and luxuriate in that feeling. The rest is details.