Motherhood Slapped Me in the Face

slapMotherhood slapped me in the face.  What I expected to be really good at, instead leveled me to the ground, in a fetal position, sobbing.  I was supposed to be the expert.

By the time I gave birth to my son, I had seen over 150 babies born.  I am a doula:  which is a Greek word meaning one who will clean up your puke while you’re having a baby, and love every minute of it.  I am the crazy birth lady. I can be with a wild laboring woman as she screams, “I think the baby’s coming out my butt!” like I’m having tea on a Sunday afternoon.

I’m the pregnant woman’s BFF.  I opened a yoga studio just for moms and I created my own childbirth education program.  I stand by women’s sides as they give birth.  I swaddle up their newborns, and say to them proudly “Welcome to Motherhood.”

I did all of that for ten years before I became a mother.

Each time I witnessed a woman stepping into motherhood, I’d think- Someday that will be me.  Someday I will walk across those coals, and everything I’ve learned will pay off.  Me and my babies (tons of them) will thrive because of my years of becoming an expert.

So you can imagine my shock when motherhood slapped me in the face.

In pregnancy, instead of barefoot and blissed-out, I was needy and neurotic.  When labor came, I felt terror.   Here I stood, the expert who should’ve known better.    I could describe cervical dilation in many different metaphors:  A flower opening, a cashmere turtleneck slipping over the babies head, sucking on a lifesaver till it melts away.  I had spent many hours demonstrating how a ripe cervix is like your cheek and an unripe cervix is like your nose.  (I know you want to try that now, it’s okay, you can)  But all my expertise was doing nothing for my stubborn, first-time-mama cervix.  I could describe labor, but I couldn’t do it.

The first day of labor, I chanted, meditated, hugged a few trees.  I felt so proud of myself, thinking “I knew I’d be good at this!” The next day was Mother’s Day.  Of course, I would give birth on Mother’s day!  I paged my midwife, knowing she’d rush right over, and catch my baby as the sun set over the flatirons.

Her voice was distant on the phone line:  “tell me what exactly you’re calling contractions?”

My heart sank.  We talked about my “labor” in quotes now, and I felt like a big fat newbie.  I was physically and emotionally drained, and I was only at the beginning.  I’d been dancing all around base camp like a moron, wearing myself out before the actual climb began.  And I’d told women the exact same things she was telling me!  “Have a glass of wine, take a bath, sleep is so important.”   I wanted to throw the phone into the birth tub. I wasn’t having a baby by sunset, I wasn’t even having a baby that weekend.

I spent a few hours resting, and then the next 36 hours grunting and clawing my way towards motherhood.  I was in the tub, out of the tub, scaring my neighbors, scaring myself, and dropping choice phrases like ‘Jiminy Crimminy”  and the occasional F-bomb.

After the birth, I felt a deep triumph, but I also felt trauma and betrayal. To add a little salt to my wounded pride, my baby girl- we didn’t check, but I was about 80% right in guessing the gender of my client’s babies, so I just knew she was a girl- until she came out with a penis.  She- was no she.  And I- was no expert.

If birth was a slap in the face, new motherhood was a knock out.  My career and expectations stood over me waving their fist, as I lay on the floor- in a fog of depression and anxiety.

My husband would ask me questions like “when should his umbilical cord fall off?” or “why do you think he’s crying so much?”  And I would stare at him wildly, and say, “I don’t know!  I’ve never had a baby before!”  I knew how to reassure mothers, but I had no idea it would rip out my heart every time my baby cried.

I didn’t know who to ask for help.  If I was struggling, I would lose street cred.  When my husband gently suggested that I call a therapist, I felt like a failure.   So I just muscled through each day.  I’d show up for my students, with all the answers, and I’d go back home and sink into my sea of self–doubt.

One afternoon a man, looking like Fabio, pulled up in front of my yoga studio on a Harley.  I had my diaper bag in one hand, and my six-month-old in his car seat in the other. I wanted to drop both, hop on the back of that hog, and whisper into Fabio’s scruffy cheek:  “Take me away, take me far away from here.”

But I stayed.  Even though, I felt that motherhood might be killing me slowly, shaving years off my life with every 4 am feed- I wasn’t going anywhere.  I was completely in love with this baby.

And I did get better.  By the time my son turned two, I was back.  My sense of humor, delight in life.  And I could actually smile when someone told me they were pregnant with their second child.   One January morning, I told my son to go wake up daddy and tell him we were having another baby!  As he ran out of the bathroom, my knees buckled.  Didn’t I learn my lesson the first time?

I started to prepare, for a hurricane, more than for a baby.   I didn’t want cute fuzzy booties. I wanted sandbags of support.  I hired postpartum doulas (2 of them), midwives (3 or them), birth doulas (four of them- because clearly you can never have too many doulas).  I hired a massage therapist, a hypnotherapist, a psychotherapist, and a psychiatrist, just in case.  I was going to be ready this time, when this freaking baby arrived.

I expected to fail, and I had support in place to hold me up as I did.

If my first birth was a slap, my second was a cool cloth, easing the sting.  I gave birth not from a place of knowing, but from the deepest surrender I had ever known.  In six hours of easy labor, on international peace day, my baby girl swam into my arms, surrounded by a powerful circle of love.  Outside, in the warm autumn sunset, neighborhood kids wrote out in chalk, Welcome Baby.

With surrender and support, I’m starting to feel the sweetness of being a mother. I know my second is only seven months old, and it’s a tight rope I’m walking, a balance of yoga, self-care, and therapy. And I certainly have days that I fall off the rope.

But I know this now:  that being an expert is baloney.  As a mother, I’m always going to be a beginner, as my children change and grow.   And I know I need help.  From maybe not just one, but two or three villages.

And still I am grateful for the opportunity to constantly be learning.  Forever blessed that these two sweet souls picked me as their mother, and I said yes.

I remember meeting a guru back in my pre-motherhood days.   My friend said, just approach him with the humility of a child.  I walked up and said proudly, “I know nothing.” He smacked me across the face.  Twice.  After the second slap, I got it.  He was calling my lie. I said I knew nothing, but I thought I knew everything.  “Do you know that hurt?” he said to me with kind eyes. “Yes,” I said, truly speechless.  “Okay,” he nodded, “start there.”

So maybe that slap of my initiation into motherhood, was more like the hand of a loving guru saying:  You don’t need to know what you are doing.  That’s not what motherhood is about.   Start with how much you love this baby.  That’s all your baby needs.  Just love.  Nothing more.  Stop trying to do it right, you just might miss it.  All the books in the world mean nothing when you look into the eyes of your newborn child.  Forget your expertise, and remember that every mother begins on day one.

And being a mother is a whole lot more powerful than being an expert.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Hurricane of Grace

ImageI had a dream I was preparing for a hurricane.   It was named Hurricane Ona. I was on a mountain face, with only a small jacket that could be made into a tent.  There were a few other people near me, and we were all just waiting. As the hurricane approached, I was surprisingly calm.  When it got close enough to see, I could see in the center of the hurricane a tiny baby.  (I know, my subconscious is a little obvious)   In the morning I looked up the name Ona and it was a girl’s name meaning Grace.   A hurricane of Grace is coming my way, in a very short time, in the form of a little baby girl.

The first time I was pregnant, even with everything I knew as a doula, I had no idea what I was getting into.  I was surprised by how hard labor was.  But when it came to postpartum, I was downright shocked at the reality of taking care of a baby day in and day out.  It was exhausting, upsetting, un-nerving and never-ending.  I just couldn’t fathom that all my clients and students had gone through this as well.

This time around, we are preparing in a totally different way: Less excitement, more hyper-vigilant planning and preparation.  Less folding onesies, more meeting with a team of people to support me on every level: Biologically, psychologically, and socially.   Less fantasy, more reality.

Last time, I was planning to have a postpartum doula for one or two visits.  This time she will be with us 2 or 3 times a week for two months.  Last time I had a loose list of folks who had offered to bring a meal. This time the care calendar is already in place, and the meals started coming in last week, two weeks before my due date.  Last time I was stubborn about facing and treating the low-grade postpartum depression that I suffered with for almost two years.  This time I’m seeing a therapist and psychiatrist before she’s even here.  Last time I was the only one to feed my son at night, and I didn’t stop night nursing until a year and a half.  This time I’ve got Grandma Baba and Daddy lined up to help feed her so I can get some sleep.  And although in some ways it feels less ‘magical’ and a lot more ‘practical,’ I am confident this kind of preparation and low expectations could actually create a more positive postpartum experience.

Through my process the first time, I became even more passionate about serving mamas beyond pregnancy, beyond the grand climax of birth, and into that postpartum year.  (yes, it’s at least a year)  Now at Yo Mama, we have Milk club twice a week, Mommy and Me yoga almost every day, Family yoga, workshops and support groups for mamas (coming soon).  We are mom’s second home after baby arrives, a place where you can show up with spit up on your pants, breastmilk all over your shirt, tears in your eyes, and receive nothing but love.  I love my mommy and me yoga class, where all the moms realize that they are not the only ones feeling crazy in the juggling act of taking care of a newborn.

And  this time, I am giving myself that same room.  To not be perfect.  To not hold it all together.  .   To not have all the answers, all the theories, to read the right books that are going to make me a perfect mom.  To accept the divine imperfection of motherhood, and know that I am enough.  To take in all the lessons that this little girl has for me. To allow others to hold me, as I hold this baby, this postpartum period, this hurricane of grace and grit.

The next time I write to you all, I may have a baby in my arms, and I look forward to continuing to share this journey with you

Friendship – for new moms

When I was in second grade, making  a new friend was sometimes as simple as giving away my juicebox, or sharing a seat on the bus ride home.  “Wanna be my friend?” my new pal would chime.  “Sure!” I would say back with a smile.  “Hey, I have that same Garfield sticker!”  Friendship begun.  Check.

Now, juggling a business, a two-year-old, a marriage, and the everyday anxieties of a full adult life, making new friends seems anything but simple.

Today I made a friend.  Here are the elements that came together that made it work:

  1. Proximity.  She lives in my neighborhood.   Let’s face it, leaving the house with a small child is kinda like going on a camping trip.  Sometimes the prep outweighs the pleasure.
  2. Invitation.  She approached me (many times) to go for a walk.  The day of: she texted, emailed and called.  I appreciate (and need) a little persistence.
  3. Affinity.  Both she and I, as well as our two-year-olds, liked being together.  That’s huge.

So, we walked.

Nothing heroic.  We walked around the neighborhood lakes, over to my son’s favorite dirt biking hills (we walk on them, not bike on them), threw rocks in the lake, threw rocks at a fence, threw rocks at the dirt, shared snacks, shared some laughs, shared some time.

I can’t say how good it felt to come home after our time together.  Okay, it wasn’t as intimate and focused as a tea from my twenties might have been, but there were definitely shared moments, amidst the lost conversation threads, and watching that neither of our children fell off a dirt embankment.

I have to say a new friend makes me feel like a second grader, in more than one way.  I love the rush of realizing you have something in common!  (Her daughter is named Scotia, and my son is named Phoenix, both after towns that one parent grew up in).  And it felt so good just being seen… and liked for who you are.  There is nothing greater than that.   But mixed in there is the insecurity, ‘how much do I share? what if she thinks I’m weird/ too much/ wearing the wrong shoes?”  Feeling suddenly like the awkward girl in the lunchroom, hoping to find a place to sit.

As I watched our children tentatively hold hands, I felt we were doing the same, sharing a vulnerable moment of motherhood.  Sharing our insecurities, sharing our triumphs (Phoenix used the potty TWICE on our walk, just to make me glow as a mother!), and sharing the complete insanity of this isolated mother existence.  It’s hard to believe we are all doing this wild thing, inside our four walls, and someone just down the street from us, is living the same craziness…

And if we can just leave our homes for a moment, and go for a walk, we have contact.

Friendship.  Sunshine.  Mud.  Rocks.

So, mamas, don’t be afraid to take a risk.  Be seen in your less-than-perfect new mama state.  Don’t wait till you ‘have it all together again’ to go out and make friends.  You are not alone.  Make a phone call, make the effort, wear the wrong shoes, and find a new friend.  There may be a mama right around the corner, just waiting for an invitation.   And I’m pretty sure that ‘having it all together again’ is not really part of being a new mom.

Today, I want to say Thank you to the woman who asked “Wanna be my friend?”

The answer is yes.

Coming home

(thoughts after Prenatal Yoga with Kirsten)

Tonight I had the pleasure of taking Kirsten Warner’s Prenatal yoga class at Yo Mama. Since Kirsten and I have been preparing a Prenatal Teacher Training together for the last 7 months, we decided it might be good to drop in on each others yoga classes. Getting there was the usual adventure, involving six other people, and seventeen text messages, to carve out two hours for myself.

Let me preface that these last few weeks have been immensely, overwhelmingly, and unusually stressful. Three babies arrived in our doula practice last week, with only two doulas available for the week, and only one of our doulas available for the weekend (me.)  I attended a phenomenal birth Friday night, went to an amazing (steampunk!) wedding on Saturday, dropped heavily into my bed only to hear the pager go off at 2am. I’ve been feeling the weight of what I have created crashing around me, feeling that it’s all too much for me, and feeling smaller and more stressed than I’ve been since postpartum. At the peak of my stress yesterday, I yelled at my mom, and then cried all the way to Yo Mama, eating a pb and j for dinner in the car and ohm-ing, trying to get ready to teach 11 couples their last childbirth class. It hasn’t been pretty.

So Kirsten’s class was a welcome respite. Kirsten is an Anusara teacher, which commonly uses theming. Tonight’s theme was gratitude. Each person shared something they are grateful for. As each woman shared about her sister, her husband, her child, etc. I was feeling the gratitude for all of those things. I have a husband that I adore, a child who lights up my heart, and family close by to help share the raising of my son. But what I felt most of all, as I sat in that sun-filled room, looking at the trees and the water below, was gratitude for Yo Mama. Gratitude that this idea that I brought here, and built on faith, with a baby in my belly, hoping that mamas would come, is alive and thriving today. The first night we opened, almost three years ago, there were two mamas: Marisa Narog and Steph Kassels (both of which have number two now!!). Marisa had been emailing me, anxiously awaiting the open date. Steph was excited we had yoga after work time. I was just so happy that I wasn’t in the room alone. Tonight, as I looked at the eleven mamas in the room, and looked at one of the best yoga teachers in Boulder teaching the class, my heart filled with joy. One of the student’s mentioned her gratitude was Kelly, one of our other phenomenal teachers, and I felt so much gratitude it kept me smiling through the entire class.

The other thing I felt so grateful for was the Yoga itself. One of our students, Erika, mentioned that when she takes class with Kirsten she feels like a yogi who is pregnant, not a pregnant woman doing yoga. And I felt that as well. My heart and body were more open, more spacious, and filled with the grace that yoga allows. Yoga doesn’t change the contents of our life, but it widens the container. After a class like tonight, my capacity to handle the ups and downs of my human existence feels larger, more available, more steady. And that is essential in the times we live in, perhaps more than ever.

Thank you, Boulder. Thank you, my amazing staff. Thank you to the amazing teachers that make Yo Mama what it is. And mostly, thank you to every mama who comes in the doors and does yoga with us, and tells her pregnant friends to do the same.

I have always been a hard worker, and had a strong vision of what is possible. But this vision would be nothing without all of you.

Why are all my Ex-es so Hot?

(and other thoughts on Marriage after baby)

The light drizzle that had started as I was hiking turns suddenly torrential, and I run to the shelter of the porch a few doors down from our family cabin. I look at the threatening clouds, deciding whether to try to run, when a clap of thunder stops me cold. The door of the cabin opens, and to my shock, my ex (Name withheld for privacy, and to make sure all my exes feel equal), steps onto the porch. With a confident glint in his eye, he says “Katie? I didn’t expect to see you up here? You look amazing.’ As the rain pours down around us, I briefly think of my husband and son, and wonder if they are worrying about me.

‘Come inside.” He says, “you’re soaking wet.”

We both know where this is going, and he grabs my hips like a tiger grabs his dinner.  I’m all over him like cream cheese icing on a Cinnabon, and he says my name over and over “Katie, Katie, Katie” and then strangely… “Mama, mama!” he’s yelling it now, and his voice is getting higher “Mama!”

“MMMMMAAAAA MAAA!”

The monitor lights screech red and green as my son screams me awake. Thrust back into my own life, I turn to see my smiling husband on one side, and my beloved two year old screaming through the video monitor from the other room.

‘Good morning’ says the father of my child, sweetly. ‘What were you dreaming about?”

‘Oh, nothing.’

What is it about marriage and children that makes a fantasy out of the life we lived before? What is it about knowing you’ve chosen one person to be with for the rest of your life, that makes every ex-boyfriend (or girlfriend) suddenly look like a Prince? Am I the only one that is having sex with all my exes in my dream world, and waking up wondering ‘what if?’

My coach in LA used to call it “comparison shopping lives.” And now with the wonders of Facebook, you can actually glimpse what it would have been like if you were still with so and so, or if you hadn’t broken up with such and such. I assure you, I have no intention of ever leaving my husband or child. In fact, I’m confident I will see this man sitting across from me on a porch swing in our Golden Years. So what is this desire to escape?

When I got married, I felt that I was closing so many doors. When I got pregnant, I felt like I locked each one behind me. There is nothing more permanent than a child.

That’s when the dreams began.

Like a rotating dance card, each ex made their way into my psyche, and into my bed, and I would wake up, sweating, nervous, and look sheepishly at my beloved.

I’m not sure what this is… this fantasy. It goes beyond the sex, it’s about what my life used to feel like, or at least a fantasy version of it.  Big Hollywood montage sequences dance through my head: Me, running on the beach, me: writing in a journal, me: sitting on a lifeguard stand as the sun sets, wrapped up in a hoodie, not a care in the world, letting time pass like it was in endless supply. I know that’s not actually what life felt like at that time. I remember I was sitting on that lifeguard stand looking longingly at the couple and young child playing in the waves in front of me, wondering when my life would be complete.

Last month I did a Kids Yoga training, and the teacher taught a story about meditation. The master was explaining the key to happiness to his students: when I walk, I walk. When I eat dinner, I eat dinner. When I meditate, I meditate. When I sleep I sleep. The students said ‘we do the same!” “no, said the master: when you walk, you think about dinner, when you eat dinner, you think about meditation, when you meditate you think about sleep, and when you sleep, you think about ex-boyfriends.” (or something like that)

What would it look like to wake up each morning so filled with bliss and gratitude for your own life,  instead of looking to see if someone else got a better order than you? What would it be to trust that everything is working out perfectly? What would it be to know that your beloved was divinely chosen to fully match you on every level, and teach you what it means to love? What would it be like to communicate to your family that there is no place you would rather be on earth than right there with them.

I guess that would be enlightenment. Or something close to it.

I realize more and more that the love each person gave to me along the way helped me become the woman I am now.  And perhaps that is part of the dreaming, and diving back into those other lives.  It’s to reconnect to the person that I became in the arms of that lover.  To honor what they saw in me, and helped me see in myself.  To remember lessons we learned together, about love, what to do, and more importantly, what NOT to do.

This is my path. When I walk, I walk. When my mind slips away, I watch the slipping away. And I return to the walking. And when I look at my husband, I see a person who loves me, even with my slippery mind, and my funny ex-boyfriend dreams, and I am grateful.   Grateful for this man who is spacious and strong.  Grateful to those that loved me enough to teach me how to be a better partner.  Grateful for all the breakdowns and break-ups that led me right here.

And even though I sometimes want to run from it… I am grateful for my life.

Sex After Baby: A how-to guide for partners

In my last post I got real about what to expect from sex during the post partum year.  Now I’m going to talk about how.  Mamas, go ahead and read this, but it’s meant for your partners.  So pass it on.

So, you just had a baby.  You are still basking in the heroic act of welcoming your child into the world and you were stunned by the sheer animal power your lady demonstrated during the birth. You wanted to take her right then and there, but you knew that you had to wait until she was ready, and that day has finally come.  You’ve been waiting and hoping and fantasizing, and today’s the day.

Feeling like a teenager, you take a shower, throw on some cologne, and stride into the bedroom.  You look at your beloved, radiant in her milk stained nightgown.  She looks up and you exchange a look.  You anticipate that she’s about to tell you how excited she is. But instead, she opens her mouth and says

“Oh, honey, I’m sorry . . . I mean, can we just go to sleep?”

That wasn’t exactly what you had hoped for. What now?

When it comes to reconnecting sexually with your partner after baby, Make this your mantra:

Go slow, aim low, and let go.

Remember that Post partum sex requires a deep level of care and patience, tons of love and humor, and a very soft touch.  You may find yourself asking very “un-sexy” questions like: Is this hurting your hemorrhoids?; Does this angle work for your scar tissue?; Can I start to move or do you want me to stay still for a while?: and Do you want me to stop completely and just hold you?.  Let me tell you though, these careful considerations, and compassionate touches are the sexiest thing in the world to the healing postpartum mama.

Go Slow. 

Approach your sexual time with her with curiousity instead of a goal. Sometimes slow means stop.  At any moment, if she begins to feel unsafe or in pain, stop immediately.  Sex can bring up many feelings for her, both physical and emotional.  She needs to slowly get to know her body again. And don’t forget all the creative ways to be sexual together!  Intercourse is just one expression of love. Remember those amazing steps along the way that seemed so exciting in high school.  Take your time, explore, and see what else is possible.  And don’t be afraid to use lubricant to off set the changes created by postpartum hormones.  (Note:  remember if it’s lack of libido more than fear of contact with the vagina, other kinds of sex may still be hard for her to participate in.  Honor her pace.)

Aim Low.

The first year after baby is all about baby’s needs, which are unending, and immediate.  Everyone else’s needs are shoved in the closet, and not removed until after that first birthday candle is blown out. 

Make a goal of surrounding your partner with love, instead of having sex.  She needs to know that you still find her sexy even if all she wants to do is snuggle up and go to sleep.  She needs to know that nothing is required of her beyond the already heroic task of caring for our child.  She needs to know that it’s okay to not want sex.

In a book called Porn for New Moms, there is picture of a beautiful man under the sheets looking seductive and saying “Let’s not have sex tonight.  Why don’t I rub your feet and you can tell me about the baby’s day.”  Listen and learn, partners.  The best way to seduce your post partum sweetie is to let her have as much time as she wants as far away from sex as she needs.

Let Go.

Let go of the story that there is a problem if you are having less sex than you used to. Let go of what sex “should” be like.  Be present to the tenderness you have for one another.  Be compassionate for the exhaustion you both feel.   And when you do make love, help her to let go. Find breath work, yoga, tantric techniques.  Use your voice to help her surrender. Tell her she is beautiful.  Tell her that things might feel different. Tell her that she is sexier now than ever.   Tell her that you want to be with her forever.  And again, tell her to breathe. Make sex an act of devotion.  Have her imagine she is a plant receiving sunlight, or the shore receiving the ocean.

And remember: you are the one that she created this child with, she wants to grow old with you, and she adores you.  And she may not want to have sex right now.

Please don’t take it personally.

If you are about to have a baby and are feeling concerned right now,  Don’t fear.  This can be one of the most intimate years of your relationship.  In your baby, you may see your partner’s sweet smile, their sassy brow line, or calm spirit.  You meet a person that is born of the love you feel for one another.

You will both love sex again.

Biology makes sense. As her cycle returns, she will look at you in a whole new way.   The woman that you knew and loved before baby arrived will be back in your arms. There may be less sex for a year, but you will likely discover a new level of intimacy that can build your lifelong relationship. Years from now, you will sit on a porch swing talking about all of the years, and this will seem like one single flower in the full garden of your life together.

This post was originally written for Mother’s Advocate, and I’m proud to announce that the Lamaze Birth with Confidence Blog featured this post this week.

Sex, Lies, and the Postpartum Year

Warning: if you have not had children yet, read at your own risk.

“A year?” a mama in my childbirth class said to me, her jaw dropping.

“Yes, a year. Maybe a little more, depending on when your baby masters sleeping through the night, and how quickly your body heals.”

It was the night where the women and their partners separate. It feels a little bit like eighth grade health class, but it’s a powerful night, and gives people the space to talk without concern for their partner’s feelings. We talk about many things, but one thing above all: SEX (or shall we say the lack thereof) after having a baby.

Don’t get me wrong – many couples grow closer during this time.  There is a magic to this baby moon, this slowing down and refocusing on what is really important in life.  Having a baby forces a whole new level of teamwork and has the potential to create a relationship that is unshakable.

But it’s not a sexy year.

My personal highlights from early postpartum?  Feeling a crazy heaviness in my vagina every time I got out of bed; watching my breasts grow to six-times their original size, but not wanting to be touched; having uncontrollable gas; wearing a diaper (yes, me, not the baby) and strutting around our room with my beautiful post partum pooch; thinking about sex the way someone would think about washing the kitchen floor, like it’s important to do, but not at all pleasurable; wondering if I was ever going to sleep again, or if I was going to live the rest of my days in a foggy, subtly depressed state of malaise.

Not exactly boom-chick-a-boom time.

Most doctors don’t help the matter by setting up the expectation that you can – and will – be having sex 6-weeks postpartum. Partners go home and circle the date on their calendar.  Many well-meaning books also lead couples astray. One couple I worked with read a book on marriage after baby and came away with the idea that every postpartum couple “should” be having sex once a week after the initial six-week healing period; that it is a woman’s duty to take care of her partner sexually, even if she doesn’t feel like it.  Instead of “baby-proofing” the marriage, this nearly ended the marriage.

Your body needs time.

After attending 170 births as a doula and working with hundreds more in my yoga studio, it seems to be pretty universal: when it comes to feelings about sex in early postpartum, most mamas range from not interested to downright terrified.

There is a level of trauma in birth.  Lynn Leach, a physical therapist and healer, said to me once that everything after “the moment that you don’t want to do it anymore” can register as trauma in the body.  For some women this could be minutes, others could be hours or even days.

While it may be physically possible to have sex six weeks after birth, most mamas get the shakes just thinking about something going back in where this enormous baby just came out. The idea of any kind of activity down there can be daunting. I gingerly I I explained to my husband that my vagina was like the hiking trails that are closed for rehabilitation.  Nothings broken, you just can’t go there right now.

I’m sure there is the rare mama who feels hot and ready-to-go at six weeks, but I haven’t met her yet.  For most of us, the desire wanes and sex seems like some crazy thing that you used to do before baby came along, like pedicures and “girls nights.”

Expectations are crucial.

In my class, I focus on setting appropriate expectations.  My husband and I, in our separate rooms with the couples, spell out a more realistic timeline of what to expect:

  • Around 6-10 weeks:  A rather awkward attempt at sex.
  • Sometime after that: Another try, maybe a little more successful.
  • Every month or so:  Mama musters up the energy to try again.
  • By six months:  Mama may think sex is a good idea.
  • By a year:  Mama actually initiates (especially if baby is sleeping well).

This timeline is by no means definitive and it is important not to compare. Some couples find their way back to regular sex quickly, and others barely have sex once before the baby’s first birthday.   I encourage couples to trust that whatever love and sexual expression they are capable of in each moment is enough.  And to remember: as with all things baby, it’s always going to be in flux.

Many factors affect libido, including: breastfeeding, physical healing, stress, lack of sleep, and (perhaps most powerfully) the hormonal shift. If your body (physically) doesn’t appear to be functioning – or feeling – right after six months, consult a physical therapist who specializes in pelvic health, to make sure that everything is healing correctly.  This work can instantly change the experience of sex.  Don’t suffer through painful intercourse without getting checked.  I secretly thank my physical therapist every day that I have sex with my husband.

That’s right, the dry spell doesn’t last forever.

I remember clearly my first ovulation, at 13 months postpartum, suddenly noticing this devastatingly handsome man in my room.  I’m not sure where he’d been all year, but my husband was looking pretty cute. Perhaps the quantity of sex changes (it’s a lot harder to find the time than it used to be), but the quality can also change, to be a deep and lasting expression of the love between two people.  Love that welcomed another human being into the world.

And that’s pretty hot.

Stay tuned for section two, for more about the physical and emotional “how-to” for sex in the postpartum year.

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