Disclaimer: I grew up in the South where we do not talk about certain things in public. Sex is one of those things. I am going to be talking about it…not in graphic detail and certainly nothing specific to what my husband and I do in the privacy of our bedroom. More in general terms and regarding my feelings about sex right now. If that will make you uncomfortable (looking at you family and church folk), now is the time to gracefully click the “x” in the upper right-hand corner.
When I was pregnant, I started the process of preparing myself emotionally for having a baby in the house. In true social work fashion, I acknowledged that I would need Bradley’s support, that I would need alone time to recharge, that there would be times I would feel clueless and need to cry it out, and that even when I felt most hopeless, I would have the love and support of amazing friends and family. And – for the most part – all of that mental prep has paid off. But there was one area that I did not consider.
Everyone says that having a child will wreck your body. I don’t necessarily feel that way. I had an uncomplicated labor, minimal tearing, and a speedy recovery. At my six week postpartum follow-up appointment, I weighed just three pounds more than when I went in for my first prenatal visit at six weeks pregnant. So, I don’t feel like a house that has been demolished. I feel more like a house that is under renovation. The bones and the foundation of the house are the same. But some rooms have been moved around and changed. As a friend so beautifully put it, “everything has settled in different places.”
I don’t know this body. She feels foreign to me. I have never been one to feel overly self-conscious. There are certainly times in my past when I have thought I could live a healthier lifestyle, but…for the most part…I tend to believe that it is better to rock what I got. When I met Bradley, I never felt more beautiful or desired. He is always giving me compliments, love taps on the booty, and never fails to recognize when I need a self-esteem boost. But even his sweetest words can’t cut through this feeling. I went from having a beautiful round bump to a deflated pouch. Don’t get me started on the stretch marks. My hair is coming out by the handfuls. And my boobs…my poor poor boobs. (Yep, your boobs take a beating even if you don’t breastfeed.)
This is where you will be tempted to tell me that my body performed a miracle. That my dark purple stretch marks are proof of how incredible I am. That there are women that would love to have these stretch marks. Please don’t discredit how I am feeling by trying to guilt me into feeling differently. I am fully aware of what my body did. And I still feel uncertain and embarrassed. And that is okay for now.
I am self aware enough to know when a feeling has the potential to manifest into something detrimental. I also know how my perception of my body can impact my marriage and my relationship with my husband. Intimacy is part of our relationship, part of the promise that we made to one another. While that intimacy can be in many forms, sex is one of the ways that we express those emotions…and it is one of the few things that we only share with each another. How I feel about my body impacts how I feel about sex. And that impacts my marriage. This isn’t about fulfilling my husband’s needs. This is about recognizing how my mental health affects not only me but my spouse. My lacy underwear doesn’t stretch enough to fit over my widened hips. The cute bralettes I once loved don’t offer enough support. Outfits that gave me confidence during my boudoir session are now carefully folded in my hope chest, which seems metaphorically fitting.
Not only did my physical body undergo a renovation, but my perception of my body as sexual has changed. Parts of my body that have been reserved for pleasure – deemed “private parts” for most of my life – are no longer private. Those parts of my body feel incredibly medical. They have been examined, discussed, viewed by individuals I have only met seconds prior, stitched back together, and have undergone a tremendous change. I have been a patient for months. With one quick examination, my doctor said I was “healed” and it is as if that was supposed to be enough for me view my body differently…for me to give myself permission to use my body for pleasure again. Stretch marks and wide hips aside, I was genuinely afraid to have sex again. Afraid that it would hurt…that sex with my husband might no longer be pleasurable for me…that I might have to navigate those feelings in a way that is sensitive to both myself and my spouse. I have never felt nervous with Bradley. So, to feel nervous now was really unsettling.
Just go to the gym and lose some weight, right?! I wish it were that easy. On top of all the body funk, I am still adjusting to being a working mother. I leave my home at 7:00 am and get back at 5:30 pm (if there isn’t traffic). Little man is usually only awake for another hour or so before he needs to settle down for the night. I get so little time with him during the week that the thought of going to the gym after work almost breaks my heart. Aside from that hour in the evening, I get about 30 minutes in the morning when I feed him. So I can’t imagine going to the gym in the morning either. I know I will eventually find a rhythm that works for me and I know he won’t always be on this sleep schedule. But I need those snuggles and cuddles right now…they are just as important to my self care as the gym is.
I haven’t completely given up. I created a “Work yoga” list on YouTube with 20-30 minute yoga videos that I can do in my office during my lunch break…aiming for at least one lunch a week to start with. I signed up for a pedometer challenge at work that starts in two weeks. I am taking advantage of the salad and fruit bar at work for lunch – it is a healthy option AND it keeps me from having to pack a lunch. I signed up for a 5k in November, and I am going to talk with the pediatrician about the right time to invest in a jogging stroller so that I can take Jefferson on runs with me. I am trying.
Ugh. A big ole stinking ugh. This won’t last forever. I will get to a good place with my body eventually. She has done incredible things, and I hope she is able to do it again if/when the times comes. I will find that balance between the needs of my marriage and the needs of motherhood…and my own needs.
What I do know – what I am actually hoping for – is that I may learn to love my body again in a way that is new and greater. I have so many friends that have had or are expecting children. I am always amazed at how different our pregnancies and deliveries are…yet we have all recovered and embraced motherhood. I know women that have donated organs (true story) and were back to their yoga practice in just a few weeks. Others are battling chronic conditions with a smile and fierce determination. The body, especially the female body, is something to be admired. I will get back to that place. For now, I’m just trying to live in a place of grace while admitting when changes need to happen.