My partner and I once enjoyed a healthy sex life. It was fun, care-free, and fulfilling (to say the least). Then, at a time neither of us were prepared, financially or otherwise, I discovered I was pregnant and life as we knew it shifted drastically. With a difficult, often painful, pregnancy, our relationship began to change long before delivery. Then, as if having a baby doesn't rearrange your body, mind, and spirit, there were the ways childbirth changed my thoughts and feelings about sex in general. This thing — an intimate connection we shared — was so different once we had a baby, and there was nothing I could do but accept it.
The birth of my daughter was such a big moment in my life, I knew when I was holding her for the first time that life could never be the same. During those foggy, new mother moments, I felt hopeful and excited for what the future would bring. At that time, I didn't know I'd have to go through the hell of postpartum depression (PPD), or a financial struggle, or all the relationship battles my partner and I would endure as a couple, to get there. I especially hadn't anticipated how having this beautiful baby girl might interfere with being sexual in any way. Nevertheless, it so did.
Growing up, I'd always had an unhealthy view of sex. It was labeled "bad" unless you were married, but there were so many mixed signals between my divorced parents and their romantic relationships, I didn't really know or understand how I felt about it (or how much their influence affected me until I'd grown). In my adult relationships, I found sex challenging. Pieces of my core belief system wouldn't allow me to ever fully give myself without feeling guilty or ashamed of both my sexuality and my body. This is something I still struggle with as a married mother of two.
When my partner and I were given the go-ahead to resume sexual activity about six weeks postpartum, I'll admit — I wasn't ready. At all. While there's no real timeline in terms of thoughts and feelings on sex, I felt like there was and I didn't meet it. Mine had changed so much, it was hard to reconcile with my partner, and in turn, only caused more problems between us. Honestly, they also caused problems within me. I didn't understand why I couldn't be who I was before pregnancy. I know now, it's because pregnancy and delivery changed me and, really, I'm thankful for that. Here are some of the ways my beliefs changed in regards to sex, that took some time to unravel (but they did, eventually, so there's that).
I'm Afraid Of The Pain
Before kids, I didn't think twice about being intimate with my partner and why would I? It felt good and brought us closer. Even with my weird, suppressed ideas of what intimacy should be (based on false teachings through childhood), I was able to let me guard down and give my whole self to a consenting partner.
After the birth of my daughter though, not only did sex hurt and continue to hurt, I'd wince at the mere thought of it. This started to trick my mind. Before my partner and I would even get close to the act, my body braced itself to prepare for all the ways it would hurt. No amount of lubrication, foreplay, or mental preparedness stopped by body from intuitively reacting, because at the core of my fear, my feelings about sex in general had changed. It was no longer for pleasure but just a necessary part of our relationship — even if the pain (or fear of the pain) kept me from enjoyment.
It Sometimes Feels Wrong
It's hard to explain what my mind went through during postpartum depression because, even now, I don't fully understand it. In the off-chance my body would allow my partner to be close when it was time for sex, something inside of me screamed how wrong it was. I think it's because I'd spent all those months using my body to nurture and grow our baby, so it didn't feel like his place to touch it anymore. In fact, my body didn't really even feel like mine for awhile. I was still healing inside and out. I was tired and spent most of my time caring for our new baby. Being intimate, however much I wanted to want to, wasn't on my "OK" list just yet.
What if my baby needed me? What if I needed to breastfeed? My partner's touch didn't feel the same as it once did. I wish it had, but I couldn't make myself get there and it's not something you can force and feel good about it. My body is more than a baby-maker, I know, but getting past these feelings initially definitely affected our relationship.
I'd Rather Be Close In Different Ways
Along with not actually wanting to go through the act of sex, because of pain, or strange feelings of wrongdoing, I still wanted to be close to my partner (whatever that meant). I think, along with parenthood (at least initially after a new baby and then again down the line), intimacy takes a back seat to caring for the newborn. It's not that we didn't love being together for companionship, but our relationship changed and deepened in ways it otherwise might not have. Just, in different ways.
It's hard to accept at first — that sex isn't as much of a priority as it once was — but it was important for me to understand it would most likely be temporary, we could be close in other ways (cuddling, holding hands, hugging), and it wasn't my fault for feeling how I did.
Emotionally, I'm Not Where I Used To Be
I'm a complicated woman. I know this. I embrace this. Even still, I think back to my days as a free-spirited social butterfly with a wild new relationship with this cute guy and wonder, "Where did that part of me go?" Now, it's hard for me to let anyone into my personal space. Pregnancies changed my hormones, my maturity level, my everything. I'm not the same young, naive girl I was way back when.
The only way my partner and I have come to terms with this is to flat-out accept this is me now. I'm doing the best I can and, in the end, that's all I can give. While I wish I could be open with sex and my body like before, it's just not who I am now. And actually, when we did have sex thereafter, it meant more because of how much I had to overcome to get there.
Fatigue And Hormones Have A Direct Effect
I can't emphasize enough the role hormones played in my post-delivery self. Not every woman goes through it, but I did so I can only speak for me. PPD changed the way my brain received information, the way it perceived the others (like my partner), and altered my feelings on literally everything. Combined with exhaustion and sex was bound to be an issue. Whether I wasn't in the mood, my body refused it, or again, the fear of pain got to me, it was difficult to work through so that my partner and I could still experience that bond. We did, however, get through it.
Sex after childbirth doesn't have to be all the things it was for me. For some, it's more pleasurable than before (lucky!). And with time, things (sort-of) go back to some kind of normal. So be patient with yourself. I mean, you did just bring life into the world and that deserves a little lenience.