*Reader discretion advised. Sex and vaginas are mentioned below! I am putting my vagina on the line in service of women everywhere, because i think it's a shame when something we (collectively) really need to talk about just isn't out there. So here it is. Somewhere on the list of 101 things no one tells you about pregnancy and motherhood is how challenging sex can be in the postnatal landscape. I'll begin just with the mechanics of it because aside from anything else, I have some warrior wounds from childbirth. Mind you, my birth was as beautiful as they come, but there is a lingering area of pain (not always, just when provoked) at 4 months postpartum. I had Veda naturally without medication and am really grateful to both my midwife and doula for encouraging me to "breathe" her out with each push. I thankfully could feel what was going on, did not have a scissor happy OB eager to slice my baby out nor a room full of cheerleading nurses chanting "push, push". As a result of my gentle birth attendants, present state of mind, and perhaps the nicely proportioned size of Vedas head, I made out with only a small labial tear and one minor stitch.
At my 6 week postpartum check up i pointed out to my midwife said area of discomfort. She looked and said that there was a small bit of scar tissue that had built up around the stitch and that she could remove it easily. Having just given birth i decided to come back for that procedure in a few more weeks. At 10 weeks out I went back and though the discomfort was still there, the scar tissue was not. At that point there was nothing she could do for me. Her suggestion was that i begin using a prescription estrogen cream to help lubricate the area and help the tissue heal more, since lactating mamas don't produce much estrogen (responsible for natural lubrication). I was definitely opposed to using a chemical based cream so as a more natural option she suggested i try physical therapy.
"You mean, like I should do kegel exercises?" I asked.
"Well, kind of," she replied. "But a bit fancier then that. The PT will have a whole protocol for postpartum issues."
"Oh! So I would literally go to a physical therapist to rehabilitate my vagina? Like, 'oh, i can't meet you for lunch today, my vagina has a therapy appointment?'"
And so I did it. I went to a physical therapist in the hopes of having my vagina rehabilitated. What i learned was this: Pelvic floors can hold trauma just as a shoulder would after a car accident. And scars can be tender, but if we avoid them when will we ever have sex again? I also learned a series of exercises that i am supposed to do at home, none of which i have done yet. What new mama has the time for "reverse kegels" and breathing exercises that are meant to teach my vagina how to relax again? And though my vagina has been a pretty fair-weathered patient, we haven't fully given up yet because i really believe that this process can help release some of the tension that has become her.
But vaginal mechanics aside, there is just the harsh, cold, hormonal reality of the postnatal landscape. If you are nursing, you are, for the first time since before puberty, lacking estrogen. Estrogen keeps you feeling sexy, basically. It's responsible for a healthy libido and keeps you juicy, lively and fertile. On the other hand, prolactin and oxytocin, which are the hormones responsible for producing breastmilk, make you feel nurturing, relaxed, and protective of your little cub. Of all the lactating mamas I've ever known, sex is often the furtherest thing from their minds. Personally, my body feels like a nursery, not a boudoir! Easy to acknowledge, but not the easiest to really accept. When so much time goes by since we've made love, there is the slightest fear that arises as to whether or not the boudoir will ever reopen for business? Will i feel like a nursery forever?
Recently, some fellow postnatal mamas i know began to ask the question: do you love your baby more then you husband? This really got me thinking. To be totally honest, i am more interested in mothering than sexing these days, and let me just state for the record- my husband is gorgeous and sexy and really, really adorable with our babe! My lack of desire has nothing to do with my baby's-daddy. But from a completely hormonal point of view the answer to that question above would be, yes. Love, which is multidimensional, is also chemical and i am chemically more consumed with feelings of "love" for my baby than i am for my man right now. I am also 10lbs over my usual weight, often covered in a thin layer of overflowing breastmilk and spit up (which i secretly love because it makes me feel even closer to the fruit of my womb), and i have this amazing little gremlin not only attached at my hip all day but every couple of hours attached to my boob too. Having any space between me and my husband is not what i want, in fact i long to be even more emotionally connected these days. But maybe by the end of a long day of boob sharing and spit up and lots of delicious snuggling, i've simply met my contact quota. Maybe there is such a thing as too much intimacy. Maybe we are designed only to intake so much before we need our autonomy back. This doesn't mean that we literally love our babies more. After all, there wouldn't be a baby without the intense romantic and deep love we feel for our men. However now that the baby is here, we are biologically wired to love it just a little bit more. Just for now. Now is a time for bonding and attaching to our young, and the cocktail of hormones that we produce while we are nursing is very powerful.
Let's face it, it's not easy to become so unavailable for the men we love. I don't want to become that much feared sexless couple, but i think its important to remember that it's just a season. It's okay not to want sex right now. I think we should embrace where we are, and where we are not. Whether it be hormonal, physical, or both, it's all as fleeting as that entire 0-6 month old wardrobe that they seem to outgrow at the speed of light.
When i shared with my husband that i would be writing a piece on this topic, he had such a beautiful response and i asked him if he would be open to sharing it with all of you. Here is what he said,
Having a baby together is about as intimate as it gets. And while i naturally really, really miss that connection between us, i honestly feel like there is more intimacy then ever before. It's just wearing a different hat. Having Veda and being able to co-parent the way that we are is non-stop intimacy and joy. And while 'that' connection is missed, watching you as a mom, nurturing Veda in all the ways that you do is very sexy. Your motherly instincts, devotion, and watching you breastfeed... It's a beautiful build-up to whenever we can be sexual again.
Isn't my husband amazing? I love you, Hubby. Thank you for being such a noble lion.
After writing this piece, i spoke to one of my postnatal sisters... one of the goddesses herself who asked the big question about loving baby more then husband. And i'll just say this, i was just informed that at 6 months postnatal she is having amazing orgasms again. So there you have it. To everything there is a season...