Two years on from my ‘first time’, I still shudder when I think about it.
Of course, it wasn’t actually my first time, but it may as well have been; it was so painful, unfamiliar and if I’m being completely honest, absolutely awful.
I’d had a fast but very intense labour, and after pushing for two hours in the birthing pool with nothing but gas and air – having arrived at the hospital too far along for anything stronger – I was hauled out, examined by several midwives and an obstetrician, and dispatched to theatre for a high forceps delivery, involving a spinal (bliss) and an episiotomy (not so blissful, but by that point I didn’t care).
My beautiful son was born weighing a whopping 9lb with a head in the 95th percentile, and my lady bits paid the price. I’ll never forget the look of concerned horror on the midwife’s face, back up on the ward, as she cleaned me up and told me I was ‘very very bruised, and very very swollen’, not to mention bearing stitches from where I’d been cut.
When the spinal wore off, a packet of dihydrocodeine and a rubber ring became my best friend for the next few weeks. However, six weeks on I was feeling much more myself.
Back in my size 12 jeans, with a vague feeding/sleeping routine taking shape, and even a couple of baby massage classes under my belt, I declared I was ‘back to normal’. I snigger now at my naivety, but as any new mother knows, six weeks feels like a lifetime and I really did believe it was time to emerge from the newborn bubble and reintroduce aspects of my old life.
And for me, part of that return to normality, albeit one now as a mother, was having sex again.
Let me say now, my husband hadn’t even mentioned the ‘S’ word. There was zero pressure from him, and a more understanding and loving man would be hard to find. This was all my idea.
Sex, for me, was the ultimate way to prove to myself how on top of things I was, how well I was adjusting to this new life and identity, plus I also really missed intimacy with him. Fed up of only feeling like a milking machine, I wanted to feel attractive and desired, and for my body to be for pleasure again, as well as keeping my son alive.
So with my son snuggled down in his crib after a marathon feed, I turned to my husband and suggested we… well, you know…
He was stunned and asked me was I sure that I felt ready? I assured him I did, and we agreed to just take things slowly and see how it went.
Even with that cautious approach, it was a disaster. Almost instantly I was in pain, and my muscles instinctively tensed, which just made the pain worse. Even though the stitches from my episiotomy had long dissolved, I was convinced the wound was going to rip open.
Realising something was wrong, my husband repeatedly asked if I wanted to stop, but I was convinced this was to be expected, and if I could just hang in there for a little longer, I’d start to relax and it would all be fine.
After just a few moments, he refused to carry on, and who can blame him. What’s sexy about your wife fighting back tears with a look of grim determination on her face?!
I burst into tears of both relief that he’d taken what was the sensible decision for us both, when I’d been unable to, and also despair because, in that moment, I was convinced I’d never enjoy sex again. Despite his sensible reassurances that it was just too soon, and my body – and mind – needed more time, I was sure I was ruined forever.
We went to sleep that night feeling shell-shocked, not really sure what to say to one another to make it better.
Over the next few months, we tried again every now and then, and although it was never as terrible as that first attempt, I was still on edge and unable to just relax and enjoy myself, analysing in my mind did it feel the same, was I risking an injury to myself, was he enjoying it as much as he used to?
Then, when my son was five months old, we left him overnight for the first time with my mother, and went to a friend’s wedding 100 miles away, spending the night in a romantic hotel.
Maybe it was the several glasses of fizz at the wedding, or feeling great in my frock, fascinator and heels with my tan, nails and hair done, or perhaps just being alone together that night, with no baby in the crib beside the bed, but something changed.
I was completely relaxed, I felt attractive and there was nothing else on my mind but the two of us. We did it, it was fantastic, exactly how it had always been, and I was elated.
I’m expecting my second child now, and have promised myself that this time I won’t be rushing back to sex. My husband couldn’t be more in agreement.
I’ve learnt that just because the maternity clothes have been put away and you’ve mastered the art of breastfeeding while eating with one hand, your body and your mind take longer to be ready for sex again.
It’s a big step, physically and emotionally, after childbirth and no-one should feel in a rush to take it until they’re definitely ready. I’ll be waiting longer, not putting pressure on myself, and when it does happen, enjoying it much more.