Thursday 20 November 2014

'In the interest of providing a public service to the women of Ireland, I'm going to talk about post-baby sex'

Discussing sex after childbirth is one of the last taboos. Sylda Dwyer breaks the silence

Sylda Dwyer

Published 12/11/2013 | 01:00

Sylda Dwyer

We're not great for talking about the important things in life, us Irish mothers, are we? Sure, everyone is dying to know if your new baby is settled into a routine yet or if they're sleeping all the way through the night for you, when we all secretly know small babies don't do either of those things. We pretend they do to move the conversation on.

But women don't seem to talk about the big things that we're all dying to know about, the things that help us know that we're not alone and that maybe we're all just a little bit normal.

Take sex, for example. I read plenty of articles about sex when I was pregnant.

Articles about how sex was a healthy and normal part of pregnancy, about how it was a great way to start labour and getting your pre-baby body back once your baby arrived.

But I didn't read anything about the experiences of real women.

These are the stories that I needed to hear about so that I knew what to expect, rather than visualising Gisele Bundchen prancing around in her post-baby bikini body.

So in the interest of providing a public service to the women of Ireland – and at the risk of mortifying my family and friends – I'm going to talk about post-baby sex.

I had never had a conversation with any woman who had given birth about the realities of sex during and after pregnancy.

I'm sure they would have told me that they came out the other side to go on and have a healthy, satisfying sex life. It does happen.

Otherwise we'd all be only children, right?

I did swap lots of ridiculous horror stories with my fellow young, childless friends before my baby-making years about such frightening things as childbirth ruining your sex life, how you are likely to be kicking your boobs around your knees with a bellyful of silvery stretch marks and a partner who'll never look at you the same way because "it just won't be the same, ever again".

There was also the whispered urban legend that your GP insists you have sex before your six-week check, just to make sure everything is working okay 'down there'. For the record, this is not true.

Based on those rumours, I'm sure you understand that my hopes about a post-baby sex life weren't high.

Yes, I was truly super-excited about getting back in the saddle.

They say that it takes your body nine months to recover after you've had a baby but people don't often mention how long it takes to adjust psychologically to your new role as a mother.

It took me several months to emerge from the fog of new motherhood.

I was overwhelmed with my new responsibilities. I was chronically exhausted, had no libido and felt about as sexy as a vomit-covered baby wipe.

I'll be honest; there was no sex in those early days. I know plenty of women get tingly a few short weeks after their baby arrives, but not me.

When I had 30 minutes to myself, sleep was on my mind, not a quickie in the spare bedroom. I thought I was the only one.

I assumed all the women in my mum and baby group were riding rings around themselves.

It was only months later when we overcame our own embarrassment that it all came out. Everyone was in the same boat.

The self-imposed pressure was immense. My husband, as always, was a patient gentleman and secretly I think he was just as exhausted himself!

But a stage was reached where it just felt like it was time to give it a try.

It was mostly my own fear that if we delayed doing the deed any longer that maybe we'd just carry on in a nice hand-holding, platonic, one-child-having friendship for the rest of our lives.

That's not what either of us had signed up for! There was trepidation on my part. What if those horror stories about childbirth and ruined sex lives were true?

I had been doing my pelvic floor exercises but who knew if it was making any difference? What if my husband didn't find my post-baby body attractive anymore?

Playing on my mind also – friends and colleagues look away now – was the fact that I might ruin the moment by spraying breastmilk all over proceedings. Don't tell me you haven't thought about it.

If memory serves me correctly, I might have addressed this issue by adopting a Carrie from 'Sex in the City' attitude and donning my sexiest nursing bra for the occasion to prevent any such mishaps.

The good news is it all ended well! But it felt different. I really felt that my body had changed, and not to my liking. Even though I'd had a lovely birth and recovered quickly, obviously my body didn't just bounce back to its pre-baby self. I wondered if it would feel like this from now on.

My husband felt that "the terrain had changed but not in a bad way". This made me uneasy but not enough to call a halt to our freshly invigorated post-baby sex life. Then something really interesting happened.

A few months later, things started to get really comfortable and I started to realise between the jigs and the reels, post-baby sex was in fact significantly better than pre-baby sex. I bet you didn't see that coming!

My body had adapted to the new reality of a time-poor, 'squeeze the sex in when you can' lifestyle and I was loving it.

There's definitely something to that nine months of recovery theory. I didn't know that could happen, but it turns out I'm not the only one.

Once the conversation started flowing I discovered a number of my friends had the same experience after having their first baby.

Why don't people write articles about this kind of thing? It's great news, right?

On the flipside, we also shared stories about discomfort caused by difficult deliveries or stitches that didn't heal well.

As a gentle birth instructor and doula, another subject that I often come across in my work is the concept of being 'touched out', particularly on days when your baby might be going through a growth spurt and you're stuck on the couch all day feeding, maybe with a clingy toddler looking for cuddles too.

The very last thing you feel like is having one more hand on your body. I think we've all had days like that. I know I have.

But the beauty is that they pass and there are days when your groove is back with a vengeance.

This brings us nicely to the other side of the coin of post-baby sex.

What is it about a toddler exactly, that gives them the ability to intercept a subliminal nod between two consenting adults and then implement a strategic, beautifully executed offensive to scupper any tentative plans for a roll in the hay?

It's like some kind of Darwinian instinct, to protect their patch of land from the potential invasion of another sibling.

A scheduled 'date night' – read 'bottle of wine on the couch and a promise' – is guaranteed to be interrupted by an evening of unusual waking every 20 minutes and requests for whichever parent is not currently providing comfort at the time.

The worst offender of them all is the exquisitely timed 'interruption' at that crucial point that there's just no coming back from, when the cry of "ma-mee" cuts through the air and throws a wet, smelly old sock down on top of whatever passion might have been bubbling.

So wanting to have sex again after having a baby is only the start of the battle. Getting the opportunity is a whole different kettle of fish.

This article is based on a blog post that originally appeared on www.mindthebaby.ie

Irish Independent

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