BY DANIELLE MALONEY
As the saying goes, having a baby will change your life. Often in my conversations with women, they talk about that moment, you know the one I am talking about, that moment your child is born and you get to hold them and look at them for the first time.
I was privileged to experience the birth of my eldest niece. It was my first experience outside of a Hollywood drama. The environment was so sterile……..surgical instruments, white robes, facial masks, bright lights; it was like a scene out of Grey’s Anatomy. I watched my sister as she struggled to breathe through each contraction, her body tiring and weakening as every minute passed. Her expression had shifted from excitement, to an overwhelming sense of helplessness. It was making me physically nauseated to watch her suffer in pain.
And then, that moment. My niece lay on her chest, and the physical and emotional pain seemed to dissolve from my sister’s body. It was like an amnesic reaction. All that she had just endured had been forgotten. For any bystander, it’s such an odd juxtaposition. On one side, her surgeon is in deep focus as he intricately repairs the damage caused by labour, yet my sister seemed completely oblivious it. Her life had changed.
For most women, this ‘emotional high’ sticks around for a couple of weeks after birth, with a few bouts of hysteria and anxiety tossed in there (third-day blues anyone?). At this point, your brain is producing that much oxytocin (otherwise known as the ‘love hormone’) that it seeps through to your relationship with your partner and you feel all lovey dovey again. Except this time it does not play out like an outtake from The Notebook.
Post-partum sex can be one hell of a roller coaster. I mean, between the nappies, sleep deprivation, constipation, breastfeeding, mood swings, aching boobs, etc etc…… the desire for sex has completely dried up, amongst other things (pun intended). Let alone when you make the first attempt, hell it makes losing your virginity a breeze. It can be painful, really painful. And awkward, really awkward. Many women report through their experiences, that it is almost like having to start over.
So here are a couple of tips of the trade to get the ball rolling…………………
Put the brakes on sister.
There is no rush to jump back in the sack. It is really important that you give yourself time to heal, both physically and emotionally. We get so caught up in being the best mum and wife that we seem to forget ourselves in the process. We neglect the intensity of labour and what our bodies go through and how hard the adjustment is of bringing a child into the home. Besides, experts say that allowing your body adequate time to heal limits the amount of pain you feel when you start having sex again. So don’t rush, you have to put your oxygen mask on first before you can assist anyone else.
Talk it out.
By nature, we rely on assumptions to make sense of our current reality. That is, it is easy for either you or your partner to make knee-jerk assumptions about the lack of sex in your relationship post-partum. Things like, ‘they don’t find me attractive anymore’ or ‘watching the birth has traumatized him and he doesn’t find me sexually attractive anymore!’ It’s all a familiar tune. Talk to your partner, let them know how you’re feeling and reassure him that it is not personal.
Don’t aim for a home run.
Sex is so much more than just intercourse. Use this time to explore first, second and third base; to reconnect and explore each other, without penetration. Spice up your erotic repertoire; play, caress, massage, fondle, explore, kiss, talk…….. you get the drill. To boot, novelty stimulates the release of dopamine, which stimulates the pleasure centres in your brain, which means that often this kind of intimacy can feel even more pleasurable than good ol’ missionary.
Put it in the diary.
Remember I made the emphatic point in the introduction that your life has changed. Well, welcome to the era of the most planned and organised sex you could ever have. It’s not all bad and it does not mean spontaneity is lost completely, but the urge to jump your partner’s bones is often outweighed by any one of your new little one’s needs. And this only becomes more exaggerated as they get older. So plan it, make time for it, suck up to the in-laws to babysit one night. That way, you and your partner can go slow, take your time and enjoy it. After all, this is about pleasure, right?
Prepare for action.
When D Day arrives, come prepared with lubricant. Postpartum vaginal dryness is common and is caused by lower levels of oestrogen. It is more marked in women who breastfeed, as their levels of oestrogen are even more depleted as prolactin – the hormone that maintains milk production – is released. This is no way indicative of your level of sexual desire for your partner or his capacity to arouse you. It’s just our body doing its thing.
Also, it is a worthy mention to organise contraception. There is a myth that breastfeeding can delay fertility, and to some extent it does. However, often a woman will ovulate before the return of her period therefore you miss the markers and run the risk of falling pregnant. Do your due diligence, for your own peace of mind, and get this sorted.
Remember, this will pass.
Our minds are the world’s greatest storyteller, and before you know it, it will have scripted an ending that is not only inaccurate, but discouraging and distressing. Of course, sex post-partum is not without its challenges, but the road to recovery is time-limited. So be kind to yourself, be patient and focus on the here-and-now. And be mindful of those wretched thoughts that lead you astray.
So what are you waiting for, get the in-laws on the phone and organise that night in. A long uninterrupted shower, your favourite movie, home-delivered pizza and some heavy petting, may just be what you need.
Danielle is a Sydney-based psychologist and influencer. Danielle has acquired experience treating a wide range of issues across a broad spectrum of age groups in a variety of settings which include both public and private health sectors. Today, this informs her eclectic style of practice, as she does not believe in a one-size-fits-all approach. Her clinical practice and public work aims to cut the BS and de-pathologise common mental health issues in the hopes of reinspiring women to find a sense of hope and meaning in their lives, so that they can understand their suffering, not fear it, find meaning in it, learn to cope with it and move forward.