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VOICES SERIES: Ayana's sex in pregnancy and postpartum story

September 27, 2017

 Ayana (not her real name) identifies as a woman, mother, black woman, latina woman, a multicultural woman, and as a Georgia Peach (having been born and raised in Georgia). She identifies as mainly straight but also as bi[sexual]. However, she finds being married to a cishet-man, others perceive her as straight. And last, but not least, she identifies as monogamous. 

 

Upbringing:

 

Ayana was raised in a southern baptist church, but her family was not heavily religious. I asked Ayana if she felt her religion or spirituality influenced her sexuality during pregnancy and parenthood and she said, “If God thought I was a heathen, he would have thought it way before I started having sex after pregnancy [laughter]... I don’t think my religion at all had any bearing on my attitudes towards sex.”

 

Ayana’s family did have strong feelings about breastfeeding:

 

“My family really shamed breastfeeding, they were like, ‘your breasts are sexual and you shouldn't be breastfeeding... that’s for your man...’ I’m like, ‘well, I’m going to.’... None of them ever breastfed… Our [Ayana and her sister] desire to breastfeed was partly because we wanted to nourish our children but also because we wanted to say, ‘whatever mom, we’re gonna breastfeed. That’s what you do, it’s a breast, [laughs] there’s milk, the milk is for a reason.’”

 

Ayana’s cousin also not only breastfeed, but would not cover her breasts when she did, either, “but she’s Guyanese, her perspective is different than my mom's family that’s african-american.” 

 

Ayana then reflected on where this attitude in her family came from:

 

“...my grandmother, to be fair, when she had my mom and my aunts and uncles, they didn’t encourage women to breastfeed. You were just left there with sore swollen breasts and not guided as to how to properly breastfeed. And my mom tells us these stories, I was actually born at home, but I was not like, a planned home birth, um and the prenatal and postpartum care that my mom received was really poor and she had a really bad time going from the period of, like, her breasts beginning to produce milk, and then she never breastfed… it was just two weeks of pain. I think there’s, like, the cultural aspects of that and also… traditionally western culture has not really seen breastfeeding as something to be encouraged amongst women. This is different, like, if you think for example, during the period of chattel slavery in the US, where black women were being used as wet nurses to multiple people's babies— so it’s a huge jump… there’s the whole political context as to why breastfeeding is so demonized and controlled within American society .” 

 

Sex During Pregnancy:

 

For Ayana, sex during pregnancy was pretty great:

 

“With my first pregnancy I did not carry to full-term but there was definitely a period where I was not monogamous, so there was a lot of fun, I was young. With my second pregnancy, that’s my oldest son, we had a lot of fun. We had a lot of sex… I think 6-7 times a day. We were meeting on lunch/nap/mid-day quickie dates… it was really fun. Then pregnancy just made it even more fun because I had little energy but I had a really high sex drive. So, there was like no shortage of, I dunno, there was no shortage of us having sex.”

 

Ayana also noted that she’d often heard men say sex during pregnancy was great for them, too:

 

“I dunno I don’t want to speak for all black people, I always feel weird about that, but sex in pregnancy is considered the best sex in your life. That’s when you know, you for what I’ve heard from men, you have sex with a woman pregnant you don’t even need to be in there long. You take 5min and you’re done. [After some discussion with her husband as to why this might be she continued]... Having sex with a pregnant woman takes away the inhibitions, or the fear, of impregnating a woman because she’s already pregnant… For a lot of folks who are able to get pregnant, that’s the first thing on their mind [as opposed to STIs]… if you’re already pregnant, the primary inhibition is gone.” 

 

Sex in Parenthood:

 

Ayana currently has two little boys— a one year old and three year old. Having not grown-up with boys made some things tricky. Her son likes to ask his mom who has a penis and who doesn’t. Navigating how to express that that’s not a totally appropriate question all the time while still honouring his love and excitement about penis’ can be challenging: 

 

“...with my boys, ya know, getting used to changing them dealing with baby erections, and things like that, I had no... I’m still learning. My three year old is obsessed with his penis and I hear that is normal… The work that I do is in sex empowerment and sex-positivity, but I’m still still struggling with what that means as a parent. Yes! We want to be sex-positive, and how much sexuality do you display in front of children? I DON’T KNOW [laughs].”

 

Ayana’s unplanned c-section also made recovery, parenting, and postpartum sex more difficult, though not impossible:

 

“I didn’t plan to have a c-section… that kind of threw a monkey-wrench in, like all my plans in terms of recovery and everything, but I would say… even after our first son our sex life was still pretty good. We were living in the DC metro area. We didn’t have any family around so it was hard to get like, a sitter, the first baby had colic… with colic and trying to like, ‘oh, lets have sex’ but he’s also only able to sleep unless he feels my breath on him [laughs]. Like, ya know, we have a few positions where this would work, and then the older he got it was like, yeah, this is just weird [laughs]... [when] he was about 8 or 9 months I was like, yeah, this seems like a watchful eye that I no longer feel comfortable with.” 

 

Her son is not completely out of the bed just yet, though they are working on it:

 

“He’s still not out of our bed, he wakes up at midnight and jumps into our bed… but like, getting him to sleep at least 4-5 consecutive hours in his room took us almost two years.” 

 

One thing Ayana does not appreciate is everyone’s assumption that her sex life is tied to procreation:

 

“It kind of takes the fun out of [sex] too, because I’m actually hella paranoid about getting pregnant. Like, I don’t want to get pregnant. So every time, ‘Ya’ll look like you had a good time last night!’ ‘We did.’ ‘Yeah, little Maria’s on the way.’ ‘No…’ I was remembering how great it was and you just ruined it. ‘No, we used protection, no we’re not going to be pregnant. Maybe I should buy a test just to be sure…’”

 

The Postpartum Body:

 

It wasn’t just finding privacy or the time to have sex for Ayana, she also struggled with the changes her body had gone through:

 

“I dealt with some self doubt around my own sexuality post baby, some insecurities, the c-section again with the recovery, I’ve never been like a small person but the postpartum weight gain was real [laughs]... I don’t think my expectations were where, um, they should have been.” 

 

This was hard for Ayana because she’d previously felt very comfortable:

 

“I did a lot of international travelling before I had my kids so I was used to like being on the beach and using spring break as an opportunity to show off my body and now I’m like, I don’t know if I want to show it off anymore… We also had like a formal wedding ceremony a few months after I had my son, and I dealt with that also because my husband lost like almost 200lbs and here I was like ballooning and here he was losing all this weight and that really played with my self-esteem.” 

 

When Ayana was feeling upset about her weight gain, she talked to her sister:

 

“So my sister and I were both pregnant twice. We were pregnant two times at the same time— our kids are all the same age… 6 months apart…. 4 days apart... I didn’t have at the time any close friends that had had babies, but I did have my sister. I would say that I talked to her a lot. I would say that our bodies have always been really different, but in terms of motivating me to go to the gym and then just allowing me to be okay with myself— I relied on her a lot.”

 

 

 

Sex After Abortion:

 

As Ayana put it, “most folks are probably not gonna tell you absolutely 100% that’s what I believe, but most folks will tell you if that's the option that I need, I want to be able to have access to it.”

 

We don’t talk much about how sex changes after an abortion, and we also don’t talk much about negative experiences post-abortion in pro-choice or reproductive justice circles, for fear it will be used a fodder for pro-life propaganda. But we also need to hear these stories because they’re real and having to process them alone is hard. I was really grateful when Ayana agreed to tell me more about her experience with sexuality and intimacy after her abortion:

 

“Immediately after my abortion I was… I had a lot of mixed feelings just about it in general, I still wholeheartedly believe it was the right choice for me then, but at the time ya know, it was very early, like early first trimester… having since had two pregnancies, at the time I had already noticed signs that I had overlooked until I had actually took the pregnancy test, of my body changing. Like hardened breast… ya know, more sensitivity around the vagina, things like that. I had not given much thought to that like, ya know, before I had the abortion but afterwards, especially during that period of like, ‘you’re not supposed to have sex.’ Those sort of, like, physical changes that impacted me.

 

But also in terms of intimacy because, in terms of the difficult decision at the time, I think that when it first happened there was a lot of fear and sort of like, um, guardedness around intimacy following the abortion. We [her partner at the time and her] went on vacation shortly after to celebrate our birthdays and sort of clear the air and I remember it being like, he was with me, I did the abortion at home, he was with me… ya know, it was somewhat traumatic. I think I watched the video but I kind of didn’t pay attention. So like, going home and going through the stages of a miscarriage essentially and then with him there much like I’d say with birth, he was fucking freaked out. It takes a little bit of, ‘I know I like that place [vulva/vagina], but I’m still not sure’… ‘I like it but it does so many things, going from one extreme to the next.’”

 

The fear of getting pregnant again impacted Ayana, as well:

 

“I was unsure of my body at the time. I was really afraid of getting pregnant again… I didn’t wait that six weeks the doctor had recommended… I really didn’t want to have to go back to Planned Parenthood because I’d had a horrible experience but there was nowhere else I could go in Georgia.”

 

Although there were many aspects that were difficult about the experience, Ayana also remembers how the abortion was a catalyst to bringing her closer to her partner: 

 

I think… being in the south having had that experience I did go through these sort of internalised feelings of like, ‘am I a bad person? Like, am I too sexually promiscuous? Is this is why this is all happening to me and I deserve to have all these conflicting feelings about my body?’ And, um, I think what was good… with my partner at the time I knew we were able to strengthen our relationship from that experience. I think that helped me... to cement the more positive experiences that I’d had. I think that had I not had a supportive and understanding partner during that time it would have been a lot more difficult to navigate.” 

 

How Sex Got Better:

 

Sometimes the strains and conditions of pregnancy of the postpartum period can have some pretty positive side effects:

 

“I would say like, with pregnancy I was very like… I had a short temper… a little- less patience… particularly when I was in a very horny moment. The fear of, ‘oh I don’t want to make my partner feel like they don’t know what they’re doing but I also really want to get off right now and they just need to do that…’ Because I mean like, women are socialised to just go along with it and hopefully, ya know, figure it out. And we were young, so I was like, you know, maybe I’ll give you some… I’ll be more patient... things that worked before your pregnancy don’t necessary work while you’re pregnant.

 

My first pregnancy was way different than my second pregnancy. My first pregnancy was so much easier to just have sex… there was a lot of moisture, there was a lot of energy, and I’m fine. My second pregnancy I was uncomfortable, no position worked, there was no moisture, there was an unnecessary amount of lubricant needed for something to even feel like remotely comfortable... Going through it the first time and then the second time really, I don’t have any inhibitions sort of, like, telling my husband, like, ‘hey, like, that’s not working for me.’ And it took a minute cause at first it’s like now I just plummeted his entire self-esteem… men are so fragile [laughter].

 

But after that sort of hump period, I feel like it’s gotten us in a much better place in our sex life where I don’t have to feel sad about communicating that something’s not working for me and I think pregnancy just gave me the, like, extra umph I needed to say, ‘Nah, we got a little bit of time the baby is asleep right now…’”

 

What Ayana Wants You to Know:

 

“I wish there was more positivity shined on postpartum sex and how it can really strengthen the bond that you have with your partner because I know that I was dealing with a lot, like, I was dealing with a lot after I had my sons but I think that one of the things that stayed consistent… you can look at any book and it will tell you about communication and sex and how it’s tied to intimacy, but I think for new parents there’s an additional layer to that because you’re both being reborn into these new identities that you may or may not have ever experienced and especially not together and there are a lot of new stressors that become present in your relationship… so as much as sex can be difficult it can also be like a healing factor in your relationship.”

 

Ayana also works in sexual health and notes how this might impact her experience, “I think that I might have thought differently about this were I not in the work where I am right now. And I talk about sex every day. If I didn’t talk about sex every day at work. I think my family is now like, ‘you are off the chain…’ [laughter]. But I speak so openly about sex and sexuality, particularly my own, so as to relate to other people, that I think this was really good to go through and think how has being a mom impacted that?” 

 

If you’ve given birth and identify as a person/woman of colour, nonbinary, trans man, sex workers, or polyamorous please contact me directly to inquire about participating in this project. For more information, check-out the original call for articles for details. 

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