Let's Talk About It: Sex After Stillbirth

July 15, 2018

By Sanda Rathamone

The courage to be vulnerable requires much more than bravery.
It is no secret of how babies are made. So why was it hard for me to talk about the one thing that had created the beginnings of Elijah?

Sex is the most natural, intimate, sensual, and sacred connection that bonds two souls through a physical act (my definition). Ironically, in today's world, sex is plastered everywhere, especially on the mainstream.

But sex after stillbirth? 

It's a whole different thing. No one really talks about it. If anyone had wanted to, there is most likely a fear of speaking up because it is rarely heard. Furthermore, sex and infertility is also in its whole other world. Very few openly or publicly share about their struggles and emotional burdens on TTC.

Just like stillbirth itself, I wanted to talk about sex after stillbirth to lessen the stigma around it. To show others that there is nothing to be ashamed of from the confusing roller coaster of emotions surrounding sex after pregnancy and baby loss.

Sex after stillbirth shouldn't be a taboo; it's an experience that could feel emotionally draining.

I have long waited to talk about this topic, since postpartum sex had traumatized me after losing Elijah. After reading one woman's story of her experience on sex after loss, she encouraged me to share mine - fearlessly.

Before we were discharged from the hospital, my doctor had advised us not to start intercourse until after six weeks or at least until my uterus had completely healed after birth.

I remember my doctor saying something like, "when the placenta detaches from the uterine wall, it leaves a 'scar,' which needs to heal after birth." 

After my six week check-up, we were given the green light. I was also told that if we were trying again for another baby, to give it at least another three months because my cycles and my body needed time to regulate itself back to "normal."

Funny how after the stillbirth, my very long and irregular cycles became more regular, it was a new "normal." I had a cycle for every month for 11 months in a row. I was so surprised that shortly after I had finished my postpartum bleeding, that my cycle had already returned. I thought I could easily get pregnant after the first few regular cycles -  I was wrong. Dead wrong.

Two years later and we are still not pregnant. 

Anyhow, after the six week check-up and the green light, my husband was ecstatic. I, on the other hand, was full of anxiety. I remember we tried for a little bit before the six weeks and was already traumatized. It wasn't a good idea.

My husband told me that he had felt something like a scar inside of me.

I read online about how postpartum sex wasn't easy, especially for women. However, I didn't know that postpartum sex after stillbirth was going to be even more difficult.

I don't remember if we had actually tried a few times to reintroduce ourselves before fully diving into postpartum sex, but do remember that we tried an "alternative." That wasn't a good idea either; it was way too much pressure.

I had also felt so much emotional pressure. I wanted to make my husband happy. I wanted for us to go back to normal - whatever that was... I wanted to feel and look normal. I wanted everything to be normal again, especially between us. We had gone through so much after the stillbirth that our routine, way of life, and perceptions about things had greatly changed.

I still remember that night. After several pushes and holding my breath, I couldn't do it. I started crying. My husband was so confused and laid there next me, quietly sighing, then fell asleep. I felt like a huge failure, like I had done something entirely wrong. I felt that the sex was all wrong, not because of him, but because it didn't feel like sex. It didn't feel romantic or intimate, it was utterly and terrifyingly painful.

The pressure felt like contractions, it felt like my uterus was contracting, like I was giving birth again. With that feeling, I saw flashes of myself in the hospital, struggling to breathe through the contractions. I saw myself on the hospital bed, tears flowing from my closed eyes, my body arching, caving itself from the excruciating contractions.

I felt like I was being drilled on my back all over again. 

I didn't want to go through this, again. 

I told my husband through my ugly, unexpected cries that it had felt like contractions. I don't remember if he had comforted me then, just that I had felt so alone with my pain and fear. I knew that he couldn't feel the same pain as I had felt inside of my body. We were both frustrated, but I was more hurt than he was. The sex had cost all of my physical and emotional energy, which at that time I had very little of. The stillbirth had taken everything I had.

I couldn't give my husband the "most natural, intimate, sensual, and sacred connection that bonds two souls through a physical act" and was left with nothing, but tears to shed.

I never told anyone about this and don't think we ever really talked about it afterwards. We just kept trying again, which soon got easier. In a way, postpartum sex felt like a rebirth, of "starting over." But even with the pain easing away, the emotional scar was still there.

Two years had gone by slowly, but the sex seemed to get better, quicker than I thought. After postpartum sex, things went "back to normal," but not entirely.

The breasts are the most tender places after stillbirth, especially when I suspect that I could be pregnant (but actually "pmsing"), or on my period and feeling down in the dumps, upset and disappointed. The breasts used to be something that we both enjoyed. After stillbirth, my breasts became something that wasn't to be held or toyed with, but for one purpose only: to feed my baby.

I have never actually told my husband that I had felt this way. It is because a part of me wants that "normal" interaction and that secure feeling from his touch, yet, it feels almost foolish. The most normal and secure feeling should also come from mothering my son, from feeding him at my breast.

After stillbirth, when my milk came in, I was more excited and surprised, than upset. Before our twenty week scan (before we lost Elijah), we were taking a "class" on breastfeeding. I was amazed at how my breasts were completely normal - I could produce milk! I had an insecurity that I might not be able to supply, but that didn't matter anymore once we had lost Elijah.

There are times during sex that I feel that my husband could only go so far. Sometimes, I want to scream out, "that's for the baby!" But there is no baby.

Sometimes, my husband will place a kiss on my belly and I feel this jerk in my heart. I don't want him kissing me there because there is no baby. Elijah isn't there anymore. The memories of him doing this when I was pregnant is still too soon for me pass through.

Most of the time, sex is the most natural, intimate, sensual, and sacred connection that bonds us. But at the same time, it feels almost pointless.

What is sex if we can't do it to have a baby?

It's frustrating. It's tedious.

It isn't easy.

I have to remind myself that how I feel is okay, that the pain I feel is the depth of my love.

With love,
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