How Childbirth Improved Our Sex Life
“I’ve seen too much now,” my partner says.
He’s joking, of course (is he, though?), in response to my query about our sex life. We talk about how men ‘evolve’ after they become fathers. How my partner hasn’t balked at any nip-slip or bodily function of mine in half a decade. And what this means for sex—the sex we’re having—in particular.
Childbirth improved our sex life. Truly. And while attributing the best sex of my life to an emergency C-section might seem an unusual claim, it makes sense when you think about it. My partner saw me at my most vulnerable, covered in body fluids, and driven by instinct and determination to get this baby out. He watched my abdomen shift into an oblong protrusion and he probably saw me pee myself. There are no more secrets in our relationship; this level of we’ve-been-through-it-all has helped us to reconcile ourselves with our bodies, our desires, and our relationship, too.
Sex is as intimate as it physically gets, and great sex—the kind old Cosmos once had us dreaming about—comes from an intimacy that’s built on openness, communication, trust, and acceptance. And now we have acceptance in spades! It’s impossible for my partner to ignore the unspoken and spoken realities of my body, and how it has changed since pregnancy, during which I’d planned for a water birth at home, with a midwife at my side.
But my son’s birth went awry, back in September of 2015. While I had begun with a water birth so relaxed it still feels to me as if I was in a dream state, I developed complications along the way and had to be rushed to the hospital for my baby to be delivered via Cesarean section. Prior to this, my need for water, solace, and respite from pain was urgent—and life-sustaining. My partner attuned to me—watching for the moan that meant another contraction, holding my hips and legs when I crouched or stood or rolled over. With my body scaffolded over his, seeing our baby’s head move down the birth canal, we moved toward a deeper knowledge of ourselves, and of each other.
My partner saw me enter the deepest recesses of my mind to escape the pain tearing through my torso. He heard my cries of agony and my slightly maniacal laughter that rippled through the tense operating theatre. Hearing our newborn’s cry pierce the first morning light transformed us. With my birth plan out the window, we’d been forced to accept whatever came in its place. And this surrender to the moment carved out space for a new reality to form, both in my unplanned cesarean and in the rest of our relationship, too.
Childbirth showed us that we are human beings, made from flesh and blood and bone. In other words: birth was our close encounter with mortality, and it made us aware of how quickly everything can change. We appreciate each other in a way we didn’t before that night; we understand how perishable our bodies are. And there really is no escaping the body once you’ve given birth. Every new pound, stretch mark, and swollen milk duct roots you in flesh that won’t yield to pre-pregnancy sculpting. My partner watched my body slowly stitch itself together, and my breasts fill and empty of milk, and my skin envelop my new shape. This awakening fed into a closer physical and emotional bond that feels more innate and intuitive than it did before.
Nothing about my body can embarrass me now. Nothing. Not after a birth experience so wild and unexpected it irrevocably changed my and my partner’s emotional and physical lives. Picture it, me—entirely naked and sporting an unbecoming bun on top of my head—yelling profanities at my partner while a nurse inserts a catheter into my urethra and preps me for surgery.
Reader, I am embarrassment-proof. No silver stretch mark snaking over the dimpled expanse of my bum or bodily event can cause me to doubt my sexiness or believe I’m unworthy of physical intimacy. Sure, I wish the skin on my stomach was tighter. And I still have hormonal acne scars. But childbirth forced radical self-acceptance upon me, gendered expectations of perfection be damned. I don’t care for dim lights or strategic angles that soften my body’s appearance. I’m 31 years old, and I’m proud of what my body has done. I like catching glimpses of myself in the bedroom mirror. I like my bigger ass; my D-cup breasts.
That confidence translates into me better communicating my needs in bed, and caring less (if at all) about sounds, fluids, and kinks that once made me self-conscious. I’m not afraid to ‘fail’ in bed. I don’t let fears of seeming tame, or wild, or strange or being utterly crap at a sex act scare me off from trying it. I use the energy and mood I’ve got, even if that means openly admitting I’m only down for lazy sex that night.
By releasing our preconceptions of childbirth, my partner and I have since leaned into a new reality, and part of this has been accepting sex in all its glorious forms. That it’s sometimes awkward, or comical. How cumbersome bodies can look, and what bizarre noises fluid and skin can produce. We forgive—and even enjoy—the shuddering and giggling born from mishaps and forays into new sexual territory. And we continue to accept each other’s differing desires, seasons of mismatched libidos, and our bodies’ limitations.
The world unfolds in unique ways after giving birth. And in and amongst the discoveries (how mastitis turns breasts to flame, the peace and exhaustion that babies bring) there are pleasant surprises, too. Not least of all, the potential for better, more emotionally-connected sex.
Megan Ross is a writer and journalist from South Africa. She is the author of Milk Fever (uHlanga Press), a poetry collection, and has received critical acclaim for her short fiction, essays and poetry. Megan is a recipient of the Brittle Paper Award and is an Iceland Writers Retreat Alumnus. She has been twice-shortlisted for the Miles Morland Writing Scholarship and was recently a finalist for the Gerald Kraak Award (the anthology in which her essay was published went on to be a LAMMY finalist). She currently lives on the Wild Coast with her partner and her exceedingly adorable son.