ND is a cisgendered, queer, Indian, Sikh woman from Vancouver, BC. Her family originates from Punjab, North India. ND moved to Toronto from Vancouver to become a midwife and has since started a family with her partner within the context of their open relationship. Her little girl is currently 11 months, full of delicious rolls and smiles. There is an obvious abundance of love between ND and her daughter, as she feeds her dinner while we talk.
ND agreed to be interviewed for this project because she also feels it is important that the voices of women of colour and trans folks (though she herself is not trans) are included in these conversations. She hopes this articles and articles like it will help people connect with stories that they can relate to. She, too, had tried to find personal blogs and information on people’s postpartum sex experiences, specifically within the context of her open relationship and was unable to find anything that resonated with her. Though she is trained as a midwife, she admits there wasn’t much discussion regarding the psychosocial impacts of birth on sexuality.
So we got right to it!
ND described growing up in a sex-negative family that was prone to body-shaming. “That’s kind of always informed my experiences in my life in that… I feel like I need to rebel against that.”
Sex is also closely tied to marriage in ND’s family, so when ND decided not to get married before having a child, her family had a hard time with her decision. ND is uncertain they will ever get over it. “In addition to just, like, cultural and religious beliefs, like you just shouldn't have sex until you’re married, she would also just be like, ‘don’t have sex until you’re married, and when you’re married just don’t have sex it’s bad and it’s wrong.’”
ND feels that perhaps her mother's attitudes toward sex and marriage are because her mother never had the sex she secretly needed or wanted. Either way, that was “the extent of her sex-ed talk. I had pretty comprehensive sex-ed in school though, so that was lucky because that’s not the norm.”
Though ND’s upbringing was very sex-negative, her Indian-Sikh identity is very important to her, “maybe, because my politics and like, my queerness, people get confused sometimes. They’re like, ‘oh, you’re religious?’ it’s like, ‘yeah… it’s not mutually exclusive’ [laughter]. It’s a really important part of my identity… I dunno what that will mean for [the baby]- she’ll decide for herself.”
picture left: "due date" day
ND has always been in an open relationship with her nesting partner (co-parent and the partner she lives with) and sex has always been central to their relationship. Before having their child, they “had a really active sex life together, as well as with other people… ideally I think we both would be into having sex, like, every day. Even a couple times a day would be nice, but that’s not always possible with life and work and all that, but we did, like, as much as possible.”
During pregnancy a few things shifted for ND and her nesting partner. “I mean, sex is different because, like, my body was different and, like, everything was, things were more sensitive. I was more tired, and the kind of sex, I think we both enjoy having more rough sex, so the kinds of things we like maybe weren’t the greatest idea to do, as well my belly got bigger.”
ND also felt that the rougher sex they preferred may not be the safest to engage in during pregnancy. “We still had sex a lot… Especially near the end it was more like I was forcing him to have sex with me so I could like, have a baby. I was like, ‘you owe me this. You have to.’ and he was like, ‘okay… fine.’ [laughs].”
Engaging in sex with others outside of ND’s nesting relationship became less appealing for a time, as well. “The last time I went on a date [with another person] I was 13 or 14 weeks or something… I just wasn't interested emotionally.”
This shift in ND’s sexual preferences surprised her because of how much she enjoys sex. “I felt like it was too much sharing. I felt like I was sharing my body with enough people. Like, there was one inside me and there was the other person and, like, I just didn’t have enough capacity.”
ND also felt very emotional after sex, which she didn’t feel comfortable expressing with other partners. “Maybe it was like the kind of sex that people talk about telling you to have sex in certain ways when you’re married and only with one person, maybe that’s what they mean? I dunno [laughs], it was very fairytale-like.”
Though ND’s feelings had shifted, her nesting partner continued to date other people, though for the first time in their relationship, they set some boundaries around dating outside of their relationship. “I felt like this was… a special circumstance and justified to make rules, so we agreed that after 36 weeks nobody would be sleeping with anybody else, just for, like, safety reasons… I didn’t want exposure [to potential STIs or STVs].”
ND also noticed in her third trimester some buried thoughts and beliefs about sexuality and motherhood. Although ND believes we are sexual beings and this doesn’t change during pregnancy or in motherhood, she noticed the repeating thought, ‘oh my god! I’m a mother and I’m having sex!’, “[laughs] like it was kind of weird, but like a little bit titillating… a little bit of internalized shame that I didn’t know was there.”
When I asked her what ‘oh my god, I’m a mother’ meant for her, she said, “like a certain level of responsibility… taking care of a life and, like, growing a person inside and out, like, growing her into a person as she gets older… [and sex] felt, like, really decadent. Yeah, that’s what it was! It felt really decadent, and um… non-productive, like this is just for fun.”
After baby was born:
picture right: 4wks old and the day the terrible colic started
After her baby was born, like many other new parents, ND was very focused on the demands of her new baby and sometimes felt very touched-out. “I was just really tired a lot. She was a really intense infant. She was really colicy and really demanding and breastfed constantly, like, maybe every 30-40min… when are you supposed to have sex? During this 15min window, or something?... we also didn’t have a tonne of support around, which, I don’t think either of us were expecting because we’d made plans [with] people in our lives to support us and it just didn’t happen for whatever reason… so we were feeling overwhelmed and tired and just kind of snippy with each other.”
Though there was a period postpartum where sex with her nesting partner felt very romantic and exciting for ND because of the arrival of their new baby, there were many challenges that made connecting intimately with or without sex very difficult. “My body was healing, I didn’t have any tearing but I still had lots of pain… lots of tightness in some spots and not enough tone in other spots, [it] felt weird and it didn’t feel good and… it was, like, fun to be physical together, but after a certain point I was kind of, like, enduring it until we were done, which isn’t fun for anybody.”
In the midst of the transition, in conjunction with some additional extended family struggles, ND developed postpartum depression and some post traumatic stress.
“I was really depressed for a long time until quite recently… I had really, really bad postpartum anxiety, which was worse than the depression. Where I felt like I couldn’t even function… I would agonize over what toys, ‘what should she play with? What should I do with her?’... I couldn’t even leave the house some days… and that, like, magically disappeared after like, 6 months [I laughed] like seriously, it was like, all of a sudden one day I was like, ‘eh, whatever, it’s like a baby’... People have been raising babies forever, not that I think I’m, like, amazing, but [people] not as careful as I’m being and babies have been alive, so, it’s fine.”
Sometimes the first few times penetration caused a burning sensation that reminded ND of the baby’s crowning. This was a big turn off for ND, “that was short lived, but there were definitely moments where I was like, ‘we have to stop now.’”
Given all the challenges, ND had trouble not just having sex, but with connecting with her nesting partner, too.
picture left: Three months old- the harder things felt the more selfies I took with her. It was an explosion from here on out
“There was miscommunication or misunderstanding about the state of our open relationship… where my [nesting] partner started seeing other people… before we’d actually had some sort of discussion.” At the time, ND didn’t have the energy to address it, so discussions and feelings were put on the backburner. Eventually, feelings came to light, “I became really upset about ‘oh, wait, that’s not what I wanted, this really doesn’t feel good to me and I feel really angry about it’… which also doesn’t really make one want to have sex [laughs] it’s just not really the biggest turn on or at least not for me [laughs].”
With having to constantly breastfeed, ND didn’t feel she was able to go out in the same way as her nesting partner, “like, how am I going to bring a baby on a date, like, [laugh] like I wouldn’t judge someone else if they brought their baby on a date with me I’d be like, ‘cool! Hi!’ But I don’t think that’s a thing people do and I didn’t really want to do it.”
Although ND anticipated that her sex life would change, she hadn’t anticipated the way in which it changed. “I never really expected it to be like this either where I felt profoundly disconnected and almost hostile towards my [nesting] partner… so we’re working on that, and that’s been going well cause, again, like all of a sudden a couple of months ago my body felt fine, where literally like the day before it was still really painful for any sort of sexual activity and then the following couple of days was like, totally back to normal… I think we’ve been working on, like, fostering some sort of intimacy and making sure we have sex often enough.”
Though it hasn’t been easy, ND has feels the honest arguments are the catalyst to change. At first, ND felt very unattractive and undesired by her nesting partner. Although her partner meant to be respectful and give ND space to recover after birth, she felt this space confirmed that she was unattractive. “I feel like when you get stuck in that spiral it really just feels true, like there’s really no other way. Where it’s just like, ‘I’m terrible, I should really just like disappear, go away’ [laughs].” It helped a lot when ND was able to express her feelings and hear that her partner did in fact find her very attractive. Though it takes ND time to figure out what she needs, once she communicates that her partner is receptive and more than willing to work with her.
ND also commented on how all these different struggles lead her to denying her desire as a means of coping. “Early on, I was like, ‘oh, we can’t have sex, there’s, like, no pussy. I lost it, it fell off in the ambulance.’”
Eventually, ND decided she needed to have sex to get things back on track. “There’s definitely an element of me… forcing myself to have sex with my [nesting] partner and then I get into it. Like, ‘Today! I’m going to have sex with my partner! [fist pumping] I don’t care what!’ … it’s one of those things when we start having sex it’s, like, ‘oh right, this is an enjoyable activity, I guess I just forgot’ [during] the moments I was angry or tired or whatever… similarly forcing myself to go on dates with other people... seeking that sort of external validation which I’m fine with, like, I have no shame about that [laughs]... I just reached a point where I was like, I can’t be this unhappy and angry all the time, so, how am I going to not feel like this? And these are the only ways I can think of right now and I’ll build upon it as I go.”
Sex-benefits from birthing:
It’s not all bad news! ND described how sex helped her get more in tune with her body to a degree even greater than before, “just like being pregnant and like making a baby and birthing a baby that’s been like pretty cool in that, I’m like, ‘oh my body’s amazing, it did this like totally amazing thing and breastfeeding after, as much as it is cumbersome… sometimes I’m just like, ‘oh my god…’ I don’t actually want her to stop. Like, I’m not ready to stop.”
She also feels more comfortable in her body, “I don’t really care how I look in a certain way. I don’t care, if it’s a little saggy here or whatever… things I used to worry about before I’m just like, oh who cares? Also, it’s just like a body, whatever, it’s fine. Like as long as it’s doing what I want it to do I’m really happy and thankful for that.”
Despite some pain in the beginning, ND now orgasms faster and in many more ways than before. Sex has definitely improved. “Things are basically like totally fine, I mean, I guess that’s part of sex getting older, sex just gets better when you’re older especially if you have a female body. Yeah, it just feels way better, so yeah, that’s nice too.”
Where to take this discussion in the future:
ND wishes there was more information about non-genital sex. “There’s no model for that in relationships in our society, but definitely after you’re having a baby because, literally it’s hard to have sex because you’re body’s weird… for a little bit. I wish there was more information about that, or at least discussion about that.”
If you’ve given birth and identify as a person/woman of colour, nonbinary, trans man, polyamorous family, sex worker, kinky, or LGBTQ+ please contact me directly to inquire about participating in this project. For more information, check-out the original call for articles for details.