Since my experience of childbirth and motherhood was immediately followed by the twin whammies of separation and divorce, then endless months of not sleeping and new parent anxiety, I didn’t think about sex for two years after my daughter was born.
I literally couldn’t imagine a time when I wouldn’t feel overwhelmed, overtouched or overtired. My desires during those two years were simple: have a salad, take a shower, get some uninterrupted sleep for about 48 hours straight, and maybe stop crying about my divorce. Sex (alone or with a partner) didn’t interest me. My body was a utilitarian place that stored sadness and leaked milk. I felt gross.
Honestly, though, I was relieved to not care about sex. It was one less thing to occupy my addled brain. One less thing to do- or, like an unused gym membership, one less thing to worry about not doing. I even felt vaguely sorry for my partnered friends because I couldn’t fathom my body participating in anything other than child rearing. Perhaps if I hadn’t had such a difficult birth, or a traumatic divorce, or 2 years of raising my child alone, I might have felt differently. But I am not sure. My body took a long time to feel habitable again after childbirth. I still can’t comprehend how people have children very close together in age because a lot of the time, you have to have sex to make a baby, and I had less than zero desire to have sex.
Consequently, the body I undressed for my first post-baby lover was new to both of us.
No one had seen my deflated mom pouch, the remnant of carrying a nearly 10lb baby. No one had touched my breasts- which did a great job of feeding my baby but weren’t nearly as pretty as before. Baby weight, never lost, and dark circles under my eyes that no makeup could hide. My new body is scarred in so many ways.
The thing is, I didn’t care.
I didn’t care that my body wasn’t as pretty as before.
I didn’t care at all about my new “imperfections.” Not for a second. Possibly because it had been two years since I had considered sex, and when I was finally interested in it again, I didn’t want to rush into a relationship. It truly didn’t even occur to me to feel self-conscious or embarrassed about my changed body because all I wanted to do was remember how it worked. But aside from that more than two-year sex deficit after giving birth, some other things had happened too:
- Nearly every human in the Massachusetts hospital where I gave birth saw me naked. I was admitted to the hospital on Saturday morning, and my daughter was born by emergency C-section on Monday afternoon. I experienced zero shame during the two and a half days while (seemingly) hundreds of people toured my vagina and cervix.
- I survived the surprising and devastating end of my marriage. This taught me that I can survive anything.
- I’m a full-time single mom. I can do anything.
And just like that, my self-consciousness, shame, modesty, and lack of self-appreciation are gone.
These feelings rode me for 35 years of my life. They stopped me from being comfortable in shorts, from running into the surf, from really digging into a meal in public, and from realizing how beautiful, glorious, and strong my pre-baby body was.
The shame, modesty, self-consciousness, and lack of self-appreciation are gone. For good, I assume. I don’t care about my imperfections, and not just that, I am proud of what my body has accomplished. My fierce resiliency, my stubborn refusal to accept less than I deserve, my commitment to being the best parent I can be, my wicked humor, and my dogged drive to improve the world where I live matter more to me than cellulite, stretch marks, wrinkles, or scars.
I love this body, not in spite of its scars and rolls and weaknesses, but because of them. I inhabit 100% of this body. Loving myself this much is a profound act of rebellion and defiance because I don’t believe I have to look any different from this to find love, to love myself, or to have profoundly fulfilling sex.
Anyone who is lucky enough to see me naked is blessed. (I do apologize to my neighbors who may, in fact, not want to see me naked as I dash around upstairs trying to find a suitable outfit while getting my daughter out of bed and ready for school. They can still consider themselves blessed.) My newfound honey badger self is more concerned about improving communication with my lover to make sure I get exactly what I want, sexually, emotionally, and in other areas too, than with expending energy on shame.
So far, my 40s have been a mixed bag of joy and pain, but sex as a 44-year-old single mom has been nothing but delightful.