Sometime ago a woman came to class. She waddled in on crutches, late. Her pelvis had been giving her bother and she was laboured and tired. We had been chatting and various women had been explaining their tiredness, exhaustion and discomfort. The woman on crutches edged her way down to sitting obviously in some considerable pain. I thought I could tell from her body. I could read the pain and the incarceration she was feeling, or so I thought. I was very wrong. What was most alive for her was feeling irate that sex, her last saviour, had been taken away from her by bleeding. The rest of the class listened on with a mixture of jealousy, compassion and admiration.
Here’s a bit of her story:
‘So I struggle up the stairs for what may have been the 20th pee of the day. Now not only do I find it was all a trick by my baby and I barely have a few drops of urine but, as I sigh and try to reach my undies, I notice blood. No matter how calm and chill you are there’s a wee streak of fear that fizzles through you when you see this. “Don’t google it – don’t google it”, the mantra plays through my head.
I get through to a midwife and we go over the details of who I am and such like, I can hear her typing everything. She’s asking me lots of questions about ‘my mary’. It’s no longer weird being asked the intricacies of ‘my lady’. The midwife continues trying to get to the root of the problem. By the way, explaining the viscosity of the body is harder to do than one would think. “Have you had sexual intercourse over the last few day?”. Well yes I say. I can hear her typing stop on the phone. For a fleeting moment there’s no sound and I wonder if I might have done some damage I can’t repair – can I get to the hospital tonight if I need to? I haven’t packed a hospital bag yet, shit, can I get it done like right now??
And there’s a wee sigh from midwife. “Oh honey that’s perfectly normal” hallelujah! ‘As long as it’s diluted and not brightly coloured you’ll be fine”.
Good grief. Our third trimester, when we feel massive, bloated and only getting bigger. We have swollen feet and fingers, we’re tired but can’t sleep – then we’re thrown this. Give us a break. If I can manage to get myself into a position comfortable enough to have sex, I wanna have it without worrying about bleeding! Come on man, we’re peeing ourselves a little, and discharge staining our clothes. Why can’t we have this one thing? This simple release???
So what is so important about sex in pregnancy? In pregnancy your body grows and it’s normal to feel overwhelmed at times. Sometimes you develop so many aches and pains that you get a hint of what it must be like to be old. Sometimes you feel so ‘out of shape’ that you question who you are and what it’s all about. Almost invariably what was private becomes public, what was solely sexual also becomes motherhood.
In pregnancy our bodies are no longer our own. Literally. We house another being in our body as their sole protection and nurturance. We seem to become public property, everyone thinks we can be touched, commented and judged on a whim. ‘You’re only…’, “You’re very big’, and ‘well, let me tell you…..’.
When the woman above came to class I thought she’d share her discomfort and her pain. She was brave and present and shared her passion and her frustration. It’s normal in pregnancy for other women to tell you their birth traumas, not their empowering and powerful births. It’s normal for us to share our troubles and yet to evade our deep joys. It’s normal to go into the staffroom at work and complain about your partner. What fun it is to imagine sharing our deepest passions with the same vigour on a daily basis. And the question is why don’t we? Why don’t we share the utter joy of being alive?
Of course, there’s something precious about our deepest joys. Their privacy can intensify their strength for some. This said, it seems a little out of balance.
I remember another woman, she was so consumed with sexual desire in pregnancy that she was quite beside herself. Her partner was worried he’d hurt the baby and did not want to have sex. In fact he stoically refused. She shamedly admitted she was so desperate, in a half comic way, that she’d considered going down to the docks to see if she could gain some pleasure and release. Her eyes darted as she laughed off her gnawing pain.
Despite all the changes we are still us. We have needs like every other woman. Of course it doesn’t help that female sexuality is often prioritised by giving pleasure. Women, traditionally, are less able to define and enact their sexual needs.
In pregnancy our needs are communicated to our babies, whether that’s your desire for cut grass, sliced ham or Ben & Jerry’s.
Our sexual needs are communicated to our unborn babies as well, and I think of it much like Ben & Jerry’s. If the lady wants ‘Cookie Dough’ the lady should have ‘cookie dough’. What could be better than physical intimacy when we’re not sure who we are and who we are going to become.
I don’t know how you’re feeling in this pregnancy, maybe you are enjoying the space around you and relishing the lack of interference, and maybe you’re not. I invite you to explore how you’re feeling, noticing what you’d like, and how. And I invite you to seek that out.
The Japanese have a lovely saying – in pregnancy look on beautiful things. Find what is beautiful to you, whether that’s hot chocolate and an open fire, sunlight on a wooden floor or some loving. And if they’re not willing I’d suggest finding your own pleasure, not so much via the Docks but a nice vibrator. It may feel counter-intuitive, it may meddle with your logical mind; with your role as a mother and as a lover, with Freudian worries of the babies experience – but I invite you to leave all this behind. Working things out with your mind is not going to transform anything. Follow your body, follow it’s desire – for space or for intimacy – and trust that your experience is real. Allow yourself to feel and to go with that feeling.
Whether you want ‘cookie dough’ or ‘Kamasutra’ is immaterial. What matters is that you cherish yourself enough to find out what you’d really love…. and then to find it one way or another, for both you and your baby.