Tuesday, March 22, 2005

What Happened To My Sex Life?

trauma n. pl. trau·mas or trau·ma·ta (-m -t )

- a serious injury or shock to the body, as from violence or an accident.

- an emotional wound or shock that creates substantial, lasting damage to the psychological development of a person, often leading to neurosis.

- an event or situation that causes great distress and disruption.

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Birth is a traumatic experience, in the true sense of the word. For nine months your partner nurtures and harbours another life. Her body adapts incredibly to cope with this extra burden. She has thirty percent more blood than before; her heart works harder; she even grows a whole new organ, the placenta, to nourish the baby. She is told she “blooms” with health, and comes to love her amazing, active and much admired bump.

Then, within a night and a day, all those delicate systems are torn apart. However expected and planned it may be, birth a serious physical shock to the body. Many women actually go into shock during or immediately after the birth. My wife certainly did. She felt cold and shaky, her legs visibly trembling.

For some women (not all) it is an emotional trauma too. Unless she is very fortunate, she will suffer intense pain. If the birth doesn’t happen as she imagined or intended it to, she may feel bitterly disappointed with the situation, the medical team or most likely herself.

For the Mrs, one of the worst aspects of birth was being out of control. Her body took over, closely followed by the midwives.

There may be medical intervention she didn’t want, hours of uncertainty, a difficult delivery or and the surprisingly common but rarely mentioned possibility of a tear or episiotomy (cut) to get the baby out. Eye-watering statistic of the day: episiotomies are performed on over 90% of first-time mothers delivering in major U.S. hospitals.

So the most private and delicate part of her body is publicly scrutinised and quite probably injured. It’s very hard for men to imagine how this might feel. My wife said: “Just imagine your penis has been chopped off and sewn back on again. You wouldn’t feel very much like sex after that would you?”

No, you’re right, I wouldn’t.

So there’s all that going on in your partner’s head and then there’s the situation she now finds herself in. There’s the instant and amazing compensation of a lovely little baby that smells of fresh baked bread, which certainly helps. But there are also sleepless nights. The endless visitors. The newborn baby's crying. Breastfeeding or bottle feeding all the time.

She can’t get out as much as she once did. She can’t see friends as much. Some friends without babies of their own probably aren’t interested in her new life. She is constantly questioning herself: How do I do any of this? How do I get it all right? What is a 'mother'? Where did the old me go?

She can’t blame the baby. She can’t really blame you because you talked about having a baby months ago and agreed that it was what you both wanted to do. So where does she focus all this angst? The answer is four little words: “I hate my body”

While the Mrs may have joked about feeling fat when there was a baby inside, now she really does feel fat. The truth is she is a bit fat. Unless she goes on an unhealthy crash diet, it’s going to take nine months to lose the reserves she put on when she was pregnant. Her breasts are big and uncomfortable, dripping with milk. She doesn’t feel sexy. She feels deeply unsexy and bovine. She really hates her body.

And of course her girlie bits are going to take time to heal, even if she’s been lucky enough not to have been injured. As the last thing that happened to her sexual organs hurt like hell, she’s obviously going to worry about how sex will feel – and not just the first time.

So don’t be surprised if for a few months (yes fellas, months) all she wants is a kiss and a cuddle. Even that might be off the menu for a while; she doesn’t want to get your hopes up. Or anything else for that matter.

You will get a sex life back, of sorts, eventually. Women do have sex again. How many people do you know who have brothers and sisters?

Until then, be patient. Be nice to the Mrs. Tell her you love her. Tell her how proud you are of her. Tell her you still find her attractive.

When the moment is right, go slow. And don’t be surprised if she changes her mind.

Remember: It’s not you she hates. It’s her body.

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