I dreaded my six week postpartum appointment. I was barely sleeping, my body looked like a deflated Halloween costume, and I cried at the most randomest things. How did I not look like the women splashed all over the magazine covers just days after giving birth? Aren’t bodies supposed to magically bounce right back?
I walked down the hallway of the doctor’s office, praying that she wouldn’t give the green light. Instead, she said, “everything looks great. You’re free to resume all normal activities, including sex.” Ugh. There it was. The permission slip I was hoping wouldn’t be signed.
“Are you sure?” I asked her. “Isn’t it a little early to be doing that again?”
She looked at me confused. “There’s no physical reason why you can’t engage in sexual activity at this point.” Clearly, she wasn’t picking up on my concerns. And since she wasn’t a therapist, I packed up my collicy newborn and slowly walked out to my car.
Why did I feel so defeated? I had to resume sex with my husband at some point, right? So then why did this feel so hard? Why was I so resistant to wanting to be with him in this way again?
Here is what I wish I knew back then:
- Everyone’s timeline is different. There is no one-size-fits-all way to recover from childbirth. Just because your friend who pushed out an 11 pound ball of love without medication is back at it six weeks postpartum, doesn’t mean you should be too. In fact, there are absolutely no “shoulds.” Find what works for you. Honor your body by taking it slow. Recovery is not a race. You can’t circumvent the healing process. Is it inconvenient and annoying and frustrating when you see others who are farther along than you? Of course! Own those feelings and then decide if you want to feel differently.
- Be grateful. You want me to be grateful, Courtney? That I still bleed because I tore from one end to another and I have a prolapse and have to wear ridiculous looking underwear for the unseeable future? Yes, friend, that’s exactly what I’m telling you. You don’t have to be grateful for anything. But gratitude is the fastest way we can shift ourselves from a funky state to a neutral state (or even a happy state). When we are able to identify the things that make us happy, that bring us joy, we start to notice those things more. It doesn’t mean our circumstances suddenly become blissful. It means we are focused on what matters most and anchored to something bigger than ourselves.
- Communication is key. If you are having doubts about reconnecting sexually with your partner postpartum, it is absolutely imperative that you communicate those concerns to them. They are not mind readers. And while they may have witnessed the incredible miracle of you bringing life into this world, they likely have no idea the effect that it’s had on you. Advocating for yourself and your needs is crucial to maintaining the integrity of your relationship. If you don’t feel comfortable verbally expressing your feelings, write them down or text your partner or send them an audio message. Find a safe way to express your feelings and ask for one thing they could do to support you right now. You deserve to be supported.
- It will be different. How you feel about yourself. How you physically experience sexual acts. How you react (emotionally and physically) to your partner’s touch. They will all most likely be different than before you brought a human being into this world. It doesn’t mean you did something wrong. It sure as heck doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you. It means that your entire being-mind, body, and soul-is different. And that means how you show up to everything now will be different. That’s not good or bad. It just is. I wish I would have learned to accept that much faster than I did.
- Manage Expectations. Maybe you and your partner got friskey pretty regularly before baby joined. That regularity may not be in the cards for a good, long while. Sitting down to manage expectations with your partner, about how often they would like to have sex (and what kind of sex), will spare you from many heated arguments. Finding ways to meet their needs while also honoring where you are at may require multiple conversations. Remember, you and your partner are on the same team. You’re both adjusting. Give each other grace.
You don’t just find a new way of connecting sexually with your partner postpartum. Successful sexual relationships happen when sexual intimacy is intentionally created and cultivated by both partners. And like any good military spouse, ready to pivot (and laugh) when things don’t go as planned.