Saturday 20 July 2019

Baby boom? More like baby ka-boom

If men had to gestate, there's no way we'd have bothered with space exploration - we'd be trying to solve the whole issue of growing people inside people

Sophie White. Photo: Tony Gavin
Sophie White. Photo: Tony Gavin

Sophie White

After my first child was born, I returned to sex with a kind of carefree joy. Wait, whaaaat? I hear your eyeballs screeching to a halt reading that unprecedented statement, but it's true. The key detail here is that my first birth was a C-section. However, as I discovered, even post-caesarean sex should come with operator instructions. You see, in retrospect, perhaps that joy was a little too carefree - dangerously so.

While the mechanics of the act were more or less the same - given that no vaginas had been harmed in the extraction - the side effect of having a newborn meant that I was struck down by something I've dubbed 'mamnesia', a loss of all short-term memory in new mothers.

In the haze of sleep deprivation, I apparently, had forgotten what it is that sex actually does, despite having a visceral reminder in a small, fleshy screaming raging infant suctioned limpet-like to my body for 33 days straight. In case anyone's getting creeped out, let me assure you, I had managed to detach the infant for the duration of the copulating - just about. Though, TBH, I can't really remember, he may've still been in the room, they were some hazy, crazy days.

Just moments after the act, the knowledge that sex can result in an infant, rushed towards me like a freight train. Fecking hell.

I sprinted to the pharmacy, six-week-old in tow, to get emergency contraception. Given that this is Ireland in 2014 and I am a member of that fiendish race known as 'woman', I was sequestered in a tiny room, forced to endure a condescending chat about contraception (at the time mandatory with all purchases of the emergency contraceptive pill) with what appeared to be a 12-year-old male pharmacist.

He awkwardly looked from the pram to me, and back to the pram, and asked delicately if I understood the need for using precaution when having intercourse. Mortifying stuff.

It was a high-octane and decidedly unsexy return to the field of sex, formerly one of my specialist subjects. In the following months, I navigated that strange identity crisis one suffers post-labour ward. The weeks and months after being handed a baby are some of the bleakest, happiest, scariest, and most beautiful that a whole lifetime has to offer. From one moment to the next your mood can soar or plummet, often provoked by something as innocuous as the couple on Room To Improve being forced by budgetary constraints to abandon the proposed mezzanine office.

During this time, sex just seems like a kind of a weird thing to be doing with your body, a body that is now home to a tiny stranger - needy, wrinkly and golum-like. Just extricating yourself from those gummy jaws, perpetually clamped Dyson-like on your nipple is tricky and, of course, beyond mere logistics is the even more difficult and nebulous issue of the "new you" - though the word "new" here seems optimistic in the extreme, given that you feel far from "new", if anything you feel "used" and some days you feel like a complete stranger. Who is the mother - you? Who is this leaking, weeping, saggy woman?

Over time, I recalibrated and the mother-me and the me-me merged, and incredibly the sex got back on track, especially once the milk supply regulated. Lactating and fornicating are not the best bedfellows - unless you're into some pretty niche stuff. We even went on to conceive again - largely thanks to Peppa Pig, that should be that show's tagline "Peppa Pig - facilitating f**king since 2004."

About two months after my second child was born, I posed a panicked question to Google. "Anyone just never, ever have sex again after childbirth?" This birth had been vaginal and so I was striking out into unknown territory - or rather known territory that had been ravaged by some catastrophic disaster.

The wording may have been a shade too idiosyncratic for the search engine, or else I was truly alone in this thing. Apparently, most people did indeed return to intercourse. Some websites threw in a precautionary healing time of 4-6 weeks. "Weeks?" The hysterical voice inside my brain gasped. Surely they mean decades? I couldn't imagine punishing the poor vagina so soon after what I'd come to refer to as Vadge-mageddon.

There was scant information on the internet with regard to anyone just hanging up their genitals for good after childbirth. I coaxed some info out of the few friends who'd returned to riding post-vaginal delivery, but it seems not everyone's baby makes such a cataclysmic exit from their body.

I was so desperate, I even turned to quite a few people that I definitely didn't know well enough for that particular interrogation. There was a table of guests at a wedding, who quite against their will, formed a sort of ad hoc committee on this topic. I couldn't help it, I just needed answers. Would I ever be able to have sex again? Mostly women made a kind of pained, lemon-juice-in-a-paper-cut face and agreed it might've been around the four-month mark.

I calculated how many years until I would have, in all likelihood, given up on sex anyway and decided that I'd had a reasonably good run. After issues with my episiotomy, I had to return to hospital and ultimately the wound had to be cauterised. "Don't Google it," they sternly warned me a week beforehand. I googled it. After that, things returned to an approximation of normal.

A year-and-a-half later and there's still one position my battered vadge doesn't like, but we've been together more than 10 years so generally we just favour the position where everyone gets to lie down anyway.

When Robbie Williams mournfully described watching his wife's labour as "watching my favourite pub burning down", I railed "that's our vaginas burning down, you creep."

While I don't prescribe to the notion that the men should be protected from the reality of childbirth, for me it has impacted things all the same. When I look at my husband, I can call up a montage of images, some are romantic, some are funny, some are sad, some are happy. None could in any way be classed as gory. Or horrific. Or violent. Or scatological. I think we can agree, these are not sexy adjectives.

Now, I often find myself picturing what's running through his head as I summon up my best come hither look. He could, for example, be hit with the image of a doctor surgically removing a squalling alien-like creature from my abdomen, or call up that moment during the birth of my second child when, while screaming on all fours, I crapped on the bed.

Surely, that has got to be the very definition of a mood killer. I mean, I'm not sure I could get over seeing that. Maybe that's why we aim to procreate with people we at least like? So that the relationship has a fighting chance of surviving the delivery room.

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