Sex is everywhere. It’s the go-to storyline in TV dramas, it keeps a whole film industry ticking over, has a genre of books dedicated to it (erotic fiction anyone?), and is tightly woven into the song lyrics we hear on the radio. We’re aware of sex, to a lesser or greater degree, every day of our lives.
But when it comes to the sex we’re having ourselves, behind closed doors, we tend to be more private. We generally won’t discuss it much.
But I’m going to anyway.
I’ll give you some context. I’ve been with my husband four years and we’ve been married a little over two. Like any new couple, we were initially at it like rabbits. Living an hour apart only added fuel to that fire. When we were first married, the sex was regular, spontaneous and filled with emotional connection and happiness.
Now, while I feel we should still be in the throes of our sexual honeymoon period, unfortunately we’re not. And the reason why? Miscarriages.
I had no idea that trying to conceive and then losing pregnancies would have such a drastic impact on that side of our relationship. And dealing with the changes, some subtle, some glaring, is an ongoing struggle.
The topic of post-loss sex isn’t very well explored. A quick Google search shows that while there’s plenty of information covering how you might feel about sex immediately after your loss (and generally the sensible health advice is that it’s fine to have sex again once your symptoms have stopped) there’s little that signposts the confusing and complex feelings that may come later.
So, let’s dive in.
My vagina. Where can you start but with the vagina? To be blunt, other than having periods, my vagina’s main purpose before trying to conceive had been sexual pleasure. It was all about me. But when I was pregnant, my feelings on that changed almost immediately.
Nurturing and protection became the main agenda, frivolous orgasms were out. Even before we Iost my first pregnancy, I worried that sex could potentially cause a miscarriage and this has only become worse in post-loss pregnancies. I’m nervous that if I orgasm too hard, it might dislodge the baby. If we’re too rough, I’m scared we’ll hurt something. All manner of worries and questions run through my head, which kills the mood and makes my vagina want to shut up shop.
We do have sex while I’m pregnant, but it’s different, less urgent and more about emotional bonding than sexual pleasure. During my pregnancies, I’ve thought of how this most intimate part of me will be the pathway that unites us with our child. It becomes precious, an essential part of motherhood and giving life. But when the miscarriages happen, that association changes and the reality becomes about violence, pain and loss.
Such radical changes in how I view my vagina – from pleasure to nurturing to suffering – have been tough to process, and reconnecting with that most personal part of myself after each miscarriage has taken time.
After my first loss (which you can read about here and here) we were told by the hospital that we could have sex two weeks after the miscarriage. Those two weeks felt in some ways interminable, but in others nowhere near long enough.
The intellectual and emotional parts of me wanted to be close to my husband sexually, to reassure me of our continuing physical bond, and to reconnect myself with my broken body. But conversely, I felt like I wouldn’t ever want to have sex again. Because how could I when we had lost our baby?
We ended up having our first post-miscarriage sex on a surprise weekend away for my husband’s birthday. I remember it so clearly. As well as a sense of relief, there was also grief, a realisation that this meant the pregnancy was really over. I cried and cried after that first time, while my husband held me. I knew I needed to move on but that didn’t make it any easier for my heart.
Speaking to my husband about sex after miscarriage, he explained that his perception of me had also changed when I was pregnant. Each time, he began to view me as a ‘mother’ almost as soon as we found out. He says he still desired me, but the desire changed to something more tender and reverent, as the nurturer of our child.
And when we lost the pregnancies, while the desire returned quickly for him, he’s mindful that I may need more of a break and that when we do return to sex, the first time will be difficult for me emotionally.
‘I don’t deserve pleasure’
After each miscarriage, I’ve had a strong sense that somehow it was my fault. Childbearing is meant to be so simple, so automatic, that it seemed logical I must have done something wrong to cause my pregnancies to end.
And because my body had failed at doing something so elementary, on some level I believed that I no longer deserved to feel pleasure. It felt like enjoying sex would be a betrayal of our baby. Life shouldn’t carry on, I told myself. That would mean I’m forgetting, and I mustn’t forget. I must serve a penance by depriving myself of sexual pleasure.
Feelings of blame and guilt are common to most women after pregnancy loss, but I didn’t expect it to impact on our sex life so noticeably. I found it harder to climax, harder to let myself go completely, and I became a muted version of myself.
This has eased as I’ve learned to blame myself less, but the finger-pointer in my head can still occasionally take over.
Having sex after losing a pregnancy also puts pregnancy back on the table. While this is fundamentally a good thing for a woman who wants a child, after losing pregnancies, conceiving again becomes a whole lot more complicated.
After my first miscarriage, I became obsessed with getting pregnant again as soon as possible. After the second loss – a pregnancy of unknown location/ suspected ectopic – I was too scared to try again. And after the third, I didn’t have a period for three months and began to wonder if we’d get the opportunity to try again.
Each time we’ve eventually started trying, I’ve worried about the possible outcomes. On one side is the fear of not getting pregnant. On the other is the fear of getting pregnant and then losing it. My brain doesn’t make room for the possibility that the next pregnancy might work, because this has never happened – and considering that as a possibility means it will hurt too much if it doesn’t.
So I feel there is no happy outcome, which has led to ambivalence around the sex itself, as the lead-in to more loss.
When I got pregnant, I watched the small but noticeable changes to my body in early pregnancy, and revelled in them. They were a sign of my impending motherhood, of the hugely important job I was doing and I loved feeling so different.
But losing the pregnancies changed all that. My breasts were still large and covered in vivid blue veins, my waist was less defined. I’d stopped going to the gym during my third pregnancy (fearing it would cause another miscarriage), so my whole body felt fatter and less healthy. I also had bruising on my stomach from the daily injections of blood thinning medication that refused to fade.
I found it so distressing that the same things that brought such joy one day could bring so much pain the next. The changes to my body, although sounding insignificant, were concrete evidence to me that I was pregnant.
After the loss, I began to hate them, because they were a visible reminder of what had gone wrong. I felt like I didn’t know my body any more. I disconnected from my sexual side because I was disgusted with myself. And I couldn’t understand how my husband desired me, because I felt useless, something to be cast aside and replaced with a better version.
It has taken me a long time to forgive my body and to accept it did nothing wrong and if I’m honest, I’m still working on it. Forgiveness, especially self-forgiveness, is hard.
But while there have been a whole host of challenges around sex after miscarriage, there have also been times when me and my husband have recaptured some of that sexual spontaneity. When we’ve looked at each other with pure desire, rather than with resignation at the prospect of more scheduled sex.
We are indisputably closer because of what we have been through and this connection has created a sense of intimacy and togetherness that is deeper than we’ve known before.
Through the difficult times, what keeps us going – as well as our hope for a child – is an awareness that this period of grieving, the scheduled sex, our anxiety and uncertainty won’t last forever. And also knowing that what will last, whatever the future brings, is our love for each other.
- You can read Carly’s blog here
You may also like…
This post about body-image after miscarriage.
And my ‘defence against the dark arts’ guide to trying again, from last week.