At my six-week postpartum visit, my healthcare provider asked me if my husband and I had had sex yet. A breathless pause. “No.”
She asked about birth control methods, and I thought, “This. Me. I am birth control.”
I mean, it had only been six weeks. I had been healing. I had been scraping together a full night of sleep, bits at a time. I was managing a toddler and a newborn and life in a pandemic. But, if I’m honest, I’m not sure the answer would’ve been any different if it had been months down the road. If it had been normal life. If it had just been one, solid sleeping baby.
I wondered because that had been me.
After my firstborn, I had no desire to return to sex. It took me four months to even give it a try. And that’s what it was – a try. Nope. Not happening. Not gonna happen. I recall making a flippant comment to my own mom about it, and her response was, “Poor [insert husband’s name].”
For real? Are we really a society that feels bad for the person who isn’t “getting any” instead of the person whose current experience has made them withdraw from it?
I might have been physically ready to have sex, but there was still so much that I was working through mentally and emotionally. I had just gone through the most vulnerable event of my life – splayed open for all to see. My husband might not have minded, but I know what he experienced. I know that he was there when they asked me to push like I was having a bowel movement. I know that I might very well have had a bowel movement. I know that there was a lot of blood and bright lights. I know that recovery looked like an adult waddling to and from the couch in diaper size pads and granny panties. I know that my breasts had changed from something of arousal to a source of food, leaking and engorged and constantly out for display. I knew the thousands of thoughts running through my head, and not one of them told me that I was ready for sex.
But no one talks about this.
Everyone talks about getting the green light at six weeks, which is just another layer to the image we see in movies and magazines. The image of constant desire between two people who love one another (or don’t even). It creates an expectation for women that can be hard or nearly impossible to come by – and we shouldn’t. It’s an expectation that says that your duties as a wife, which includes intercourse with your husband, resume at six weeks postpartum despite anything else even if many other factors of your previous life have come to a halt or have ended indefinitely.
There isn’t a whole lot that is sexy about motherhood. The real-life movie scene of postpartum sex is hands running through tangled, three days past due hair. It’s bra straps sliding off a spit-up stained shoulder and soaked breast pads falling from the cups. It’s loose, marked skin that feels foreign. It’s a deep breath held, and eyes closed tight. It’s walking past the bathroom mirror, naked from the inside out. It’s a flood of self-hate and a sinking feeling that stays with you.
But your poor husband, right?
Not to say that intimacy isn’t an important part of a healthy relationship and an essential means to connect. However, it’s not just about sex. It’s about all the many intimate touchpoints in your daily life. And when it is about sex, it should be when both partners are fully ready. Not just with their body, but their heart and their mind. That sounds so obvious and fair, right? But what we say, and even more so – what we choose not to say – is sending a completely different message. One that borderlines the acceptance of sexual pressure.
I hope we change this dialogue and talk more openly and honestly with other women about our experiences, even when they are incredibly intimate. The details of your bedroom affairs aside, your feelings surrounding getting back under the sheets doesn’t have to be kept undercover. Your fears are likely met with some of your most trusted friends. The insecurities you see in the mirror are likely mirrored by many of the women who have birthed babies and who will again. Your timeline is yours and yours alone, but you are not alone.
Luckily (which I really don’t mean because I don’t feel I should call myself lucky for this pretty basic ask of decency), my husband gave me my space and the time needed and wanted to walk alongside me as we rediscovered intimacy together. And that was empowering. That is what got me from nay to yay…even if my husband still asks more than I accept.