Saturday, February 23, 2013

Lets talk about sex, baby.

On to a semi-awkward, personal and loaded topic: sexuality and the pregnant woman. I, personally, come from a family that is pretty open about sexuality, sex, confidence, and all the things that go along with it. At least my mother and I are very open about it. I can even recall several candid conversations with my grandmother during which she divulged some juicy stories about her two marriages, and her young, single life in San Francisco. Even about being approached by "women who liked women" in the elevator of her apartment building. She was an exceptional rebel and I'm proud to say that I take after her quite a bit. I have always been an open minded, partner pleasing, sensual type. I've worked briefly in a sex shop, lived with people who proudly represent the fetish lifestyle, helped to usher homosexual friends out of their proverbial closets, and been quite outspoken on the topic of practicing safe sex. All the more reason I was surprised to have an unplanned pregnancy (that has turned out to be the most awesome thing ever).

Sex isn't something that I can't live without. I have gone years at a time without a sexual partner and been very comfortable that way. Sometimes it just takes a back burner to work, school, self exploration, friends or just not finding anyone interesting enough to bother with. I've never been the type to have sex just because I can. I need to feel a connection of some kind either mentally or emotionally. I don't necessarily need to be overwhelmed with physical attraction because, truly, it is personality, intelligence, and wit that draw me in. But once I'm in it, I'm in it hard. I become very sexually driven and need that connection for many reasons, pleasure being the least of it. I am so lucky that I found a man that caught my eye simultaneously with his looks and humor, and then had all the personality and charm to go along with it. Part of the reason that our relationship started out on a very physical level and grew from there. We were still getting to know each other when we were thrust into this very serious relationship. It was a rough transition during the beginning of my pregnancy, to say the least.

During the first trimester, I was grumpy. Heinously grumpy. I am a generally happy and upbeat person, so I'm sure this was a bit of a shock to his system. In hindsight, I gave up for a minute there and had lost my drive to always have washed hair, clean teeth, makeup and a smile on for my man. I would still be sitting around in my jammies with bed head, smeared makeup and morning breath when he got home from work. I didn't give a shit about looking my best because I was feeling my worst, and I felt totally justified and also horribly depressed about this. In spite of how off putting I must have been, not just in appearance but in attitude, I was highly offended at the lack of sexual advances coming from my fella. He was constantly in trouble for not trying to seduce me, or for not being in the mood when I was. I had grand mental scenarios built up in which he would slowly entice me with compliments and kisses the second he got home and we'd have that kind of amazing sex that only exists in movies. Even though I felt like crap, I wanted to be wanted and I grew a little more angry and bitter with every advance I made that was shot down. Every day that passed without him trying to man handle me. As the second trimester set in, it only got worse and the truth in all the stories I had heard about the increase in libido started to become very obvious. I was insatiable, to say the least. I would attack him at any given moment. Morning, noon or night and wanted to have sex multiple times a day. I took it very personally when he wasn't in the mood or had no energy after work or at bedtime. I don't know if this holds true for all pregnant women but it certainly did for me and the intensity of my sex drive was only rivaled by the intensity of my wounded ego.

My appearance hadn't changed all that much as far as looking pregnant because I was a bigger gal to begin with, but I still didn't really care to put in the effort to keep up my appearance the way I had when we were first dating. I could recall a time when I never would have let him see me without a shower, fresh breath, and a little eye makeup but that drive had all but disappeared. Part of me even felt a little snarky about it like, "I'm creating a life! What could be sexier than that? He should find me even more attractive now even without effort because I'm having his child and if he doesn't, what a jerk!". Not exactly realistic. I may not have been showing just yet but my appearance was still foreign to him, and my moods sharp as a knife. In my mind I was a goddess, but his apparent lack of interest made me paranoid and very tender emotionally. I was suddenly tearful and accusatory about his lack of interest. He must no longer found me attractive, wished he was with a skinny girl, must be looking elsewhere, resented me, must be watching porn every second he was out of my company....None of this was fair to either of us. I was driving us both insane and nothing is less sexy than insecurity and neediness.

I had failed to take into account that no matter how often he said he understood how I was feeling, understood why I was acting the way I was, and that he still found me very attractive, those were just correct responses. He may really have felt them to be true but there was no way he could really understand how I was feeling and how that was affecting my actions and my confidence, and it wasn't fair for me to hold it against him. It also wasn't fair for me to beat myself up about it and use it to shake my own confidence and sense of self worth. But that is exactly what I was doing and it was directly affecting my relationship, both emotionally and physically. He may very well have found me nice to look at but my attitude wasn't exactly pretty. No one would feel turned on by a person with bitterness, disappointment and lack of confidence brimming right under the surface. Would I be responsive if he tried to kiss me passionately or would I cry and turn into a squishy pile of self doubting questions? His guess was as good as mine.

There was one more piece to the puzzle that is a pregnant woman's sexuality and a partner who may be constantly anxious about all this new territory; there is another person inside this woman's body no matter how sexy she looks or how crazy she acts. Just on the other side of this mythical thing called a "cervix", a word that is suddenly being thrown around freely in conversation, is a tiny person. It is an unfathomable concept even to most women. It certainly didn't seem quite real to me in the beginning so I can only imagine how crazy it seemed to him. We've all seen movies or television shows or read books in which the man confesses that he's afraid of "poking the baby" with his penis and even though it seems so silly and so ignorant, it's a legitimate, albeit unfounded fear. The baby is safely tucked away inside it's warm little uterus all padded with fluid and placenta, but just look at how unsexy that sentence is! All of this new vocabulary, new images, and comedic responses burned into their brains from health class in Jr. high and from movies can be a little off putting. Some men may be fascinated with the "your pregnancy week by week" images of this little miracle growing from a zygote, to embryo, to fetus, to a recognizable baby but for others, it may be a little overwhelming and a little creepy. Men are visual creatures and once they start having images like this to apply to your body, things may get a little more complicated and a little less sexy. He may deny any association with this theory, say that it never crosses his mind when he looks at all your new round shapeliness and growing breasts, but I can almost guarantee you that it crosses his mind occasionally when he's trying to make love to you. Maybe just for a second, but behind his eyes he may be seeing your womanly parts in a whole new light. Less a warm place of pleasure, and more a home for your growing offspring and there is nothing at all wrong with that. In a lot of ways, it shows how caring he may be growing. The start of a sensitivity that you may never have seen in him before. Unfortunately, this doesn't exactly comfort a pregnant woman with hormones so raging that she is as horny as a teenage boy. Just try to be understanding of how this experience is changing him right along with you and communicate your frustrations, if any. It only gets more complex as your belly gets bigger and those little kicks turn into rolling somersaults that are VERY visible even through your clothing.

We love to lay in bed and watch our son move back and forth inside my belly. All his little kicks and rolls, and him sticking his butt as far out as he can are just awesomely cool. It's an amazing and, very often, humorous thing to see but not exactly a mood stimulator. While these little rituals may actually get me in the mood by making me feel very close to him, it's not exactly boner material. He has just spent a good amount of time being visually and emotionally stimulated by something he sees as "really cool", but I am now brimming with love for him and feeling a very strong need for connection. For me, this connection often means a physical one. I could be satisfied with cuddling and kissing but my mind would still start to wander to thoughts about why he wasn't trying for more and then twisting it into nasty little insults inside my own head. This in turn, starts the ugly cycle of self doubt, bruised confidence, over thinking and intentionally achieving the opposite of what I want by pushing him away with an overabundance of questions about why he doesn't find me attractive, and accusations that he would be in the mood if I looked a different way. Things can go from sexy to flatline in a matter of minutes.

There's no real way to counter any of this. It all depends on the endless fluctuation in moods and hormones and often even involves how low your blood sugar is. You may find it easy to console yourself with positive thoughts like, "I am beautiful if for no other reason than because something beautiful is happening inside me.", but it isn't always enough. Sometimes you need to hear it from your partner. Sometimes you just need a cookie, but often you need confirmation from them that you are desirable, sexy, gorgeous, beautiful and wanted. The thing is that they may not know its as simple as that. I am not above telling my fella that I'm having one of those days where I need to hear nice things. I may even flat out tell him to say something sweet to me. It may sound silly or even desperate but it's good practice for when he's in charge of being your labor partner and his main role is keeping you confident. This is kind of his role through your entire pregnancy and for the first few months after so he better get used to it early on.

 A piece of advice for the partners: Sometimes you may really not be feeling it when she is but you need to take one for the team anyhow. You may have a head full of images of whats going on inside her body and the last thing on your mind may be ravaging her the way you did when you got into this situation, but it's what she needs, and I can promise you that she has gone along with your advances more than once when she wasn't really in the mood. Start out with the heavy petting and deep kissing and you may just be surprised at how quickly you get into it because she is so turned on. If it's really difficult to get into it with that baby bump in view, ask her to try getting comfortable on her side and enjoy the view of that sexy backside while you kiss her neck and shoulders. You just have to take the time to find what works, and what is comfortable for you both. Trust me, a little communication and a little effort go a long way in the sex life of a pregnant woman. And if you really just are not in the mood, are exhausted or just too preoccupied with other things to perform, don't be a jerk and use that strained tone like it's such an effort to be asked to offer up a little loving. Don't say, "No, baby. Not now.", followed by a dismissive sigh. It won't help your case. Be aware that simply using the right tone and the right words can save your ass. Use that sweet voice. You know, the one you use when you want something, and tell her she is beautiful but you are just not up to a romp at that exact moment. And for fuck's sake, don't let more than a day go by before you follow up with trying to start things off. It'll only give her that much more time to self doubt and become annoyed with you and start that whole ugly cycle all over again which can only end with the thing men dread the most, a "talk". Sound advice, I promise you. It helps if you mean it, but it's also about choosing your battles and helping your lady feel good no matter how she looks, or acts at the moment. She's going through a lot, A LOT, and most of it is not visible to you.

For the mothers to be, just try to remind yourself that you won't be pregnant forever even though it feels that way. There may be times when he makes advances and you aren't into it so try to offer the same gentle rebuff that you would expect. It may not be easy to get into the sexy times when you have an 8 pound baby sitting on your bladder, aching hips and stored up farts that could rival any trucker. Feeling not so sexy is kind of a regular thing so learn how to deal with it in a way that won't make him feel bad either. He's going through a lot of changes right along with you but things will get better eventually. You will have your body back. You won't always have insatiable appetites for sex and weird food items. You won't always be uncomforatable no matter how you try laying down. You won't always have awful heartburn and terrible gas. You'll heal up and things will mellow out around 6 weeks after your birth.Your baby will eventually sleep at night. Your sex life will eventually return, though undoubtedly altered from its original version. Though your role may have strayed a little from the sexual object of his affections, you will be one sexy ass mama for the rest of your life and there's a lot of positive change that comes with that. If your libido really is too much for your partner, take matters into your own hands (literally). If you've never visited a sex shop before, now may be the time. If you're too modest for a face to face trip and you don't even know what you're looking for, utilize the Internet. There are endless reviews of toys, personal massagers, stimulating lubricants and lots of other items that will help you along. There are literally hundreds of online shops to choose from when making a purchase and a lot of them come in discrete packaging that won't give anything away to your postman. Also, if porn has never really been your thing, you may try it now. There are a lot of production companies that make very tasteful female friendly videos that are far from the raunchy stuff you may have seen before. Give it a go, and get it girl!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

What's the plan, Stan?

Since I very first started to tell people that I was expecting the first question out of people's mouths seems to be, "So what's your birthing plan?". In the first weeks, I didn't even know what this really meant. I had seen enough movies and had enough friends give birth to know that this was an important item to have nailed down, I just didn't know what I was supposed to do. Where was I to start? What book should I read to give me step by step instructions on what was best for me? Let me tell ya, there is no book or website or forum that can answer these questions. Your birthing plan is totally unique to you and your situation. Some women have pages of detailed instructions to hand over to the nursing staff upon hospital arrival and some have a napkin with some notes scribbled on it. I fall into the later category.

In the last few months I have been talking to a lot of friends who are parents, some of whom have read every single book on the market, some who had no plan at all, and each has a similar story; plan all you want but it's going to happen however it happens and your plan cannot dictate this. You truly have no control over how it plays out, only in how you deal with it. For example, my amazing sister just had a beautiful, healthy baby boy in December. She is one who read many books, studied birthing methods and finally settled on hypnobirthing. If you aren't familiar with this method allow me to break it down:
The approach is all about relaxation and letting go of fear. Fear is the enemy during labor and birth. It makes you tense, it tightens up your body, blocks the production of endorphins, and creates more pain. With this method you condition your mind for months in advance to visualize positive birthing outcomes, your body relaxing and opening. You use breathing techniques to calm yourself and relaxation techniques to allow yourself to let go of the fear that the inevitable pain of labor brings. It's also big on partner participation and having the father be involved in the labor and birthing process rather than sitting in the waiting room. It's all very interesting and can really be applied in daily life just as effectively as during labor.

So, my amazing sister and her amazing husband have committed to this method of natural childbirth and spent months practicing these techniques, including listening to positive affirmation cd's. It's a lot of work! Her due date comes and it goes, but the beauty of committing to natural childbirth is you don't have a doctor pestering you to induce labor. Instead, they offer what they call a membrane sweep, clearing the cervix of the mucous plug and hopefully stimulating labor. It's pretty common from what I hear. She said that this effort worked almost immediately. Good news! She labored at home for a few hours until her contractions were the standard 4 minutes apart, and they headed calmly off to the birthing center to get the ball rolling. Like I said, she's pretty amazing.

If I'm not mistaken, a short 3 hours later she was utilizing the jacuzzi tub, along with some of her relaxation techniques to ease the pain, but felt a strong urge to push. It was all happening very quickly. She requested her midwife be notified but the nursing staff insisted that she wasn't ready and to just try getting back to her room to relax more and they would let the midwife know she may want to arrive soon. Thank goodness my sister is strong willed and knows her body! She stepped out of the tub, laid down on the lounge in the jacuzzi room and told them to get the midwife right away. No sooner did the midwife arrive and take a look than he was crowning and ready to join the world. Four (yes four!) pushes later, her son was born right there next to the tub. Some of the hypnobirthing methods were used but in reality, he came so quickly that most weren't used at all. You can plan and prepare and condition for months, but that baby is going to come his or her way, and at their own pace and there is nothing you can do about it.

While I do intend to use some of the hypnobirthing methods during my labor, I'm not fully committed to it. I'm not fully committed to any method or real plan at all. I don't want to pressure myself into thinking I can do natural childbirth only to find out that I can't handle it at all and feel like I let myself and my baby down by needing drugs. In the other hand, I don't want to mentally commit to having an epidural and then have it happen so quickly that I end up doing it naturally and having my baby in a state of high anxiety and fear. I know that I do not want to be induced even if I'm overdue. I know that I do not want to have a c-section. I know that I do not want an audience and that the room will be cleared of everyone except my partner and medical staff when it comes down to it. I know that I don't want camera flashes going off like the friggin paparazzi are all up in my vagina. I know that I do not want a grouchy nursing staff and I'll be super pissed if that's what I end up with, but that's about all I know. Some of the things I don't want mixed with the few obvious things that I do want is all I can hope for. I want a healthy, happy baby and a good birthing experience.

It's going to hurt. There's just no getting around it. It's a painful and messy process. I may let loose some wicked farts. I may poop. I may throw up at some point. I may tell my fella it's all his fault. I may tell a nurse to get her shitty attitude out of my birthing suite. There will be blood. There will be pain. There will be gross stuff but it will be worth every single tiny little bit of unpleasantness when I get to see him, and his proud papa's reaction for the first time. I could cry right now just thinking about how happy I'm going to be.

So, what is my birthing plan? To remain fucking calm! Seriously, it's simply to remain calm and let my body and my baby tell me what I need to do. I'm not going to build up images of what's going to occur. I'm not going to say I can do it without the help of drugs, or that I'll need drugs at all. I just plan to stay as calm as possible, let my body relax and my breathing stay controlled and welcome my little man, the love of my life, into the world in whatever fashion he arrives in. Learning to let go is something I've struggled with my entire life but in this particular situation, I'm finding it very simple. I have no control over how this is going to happen and building up expectations in my mind isn't going to do me any good. Women have been doing this for a long time before me and they'll continue for a long time after. I'm just a speck in the grand scheme and I find a certain amount of comfort in that. My body was made for this and I trust that. This emotional roller coaster, this discomfort, this entire process that seems like forever but has flown by like minutes, is going to bring me the greatest love that I have ever known and I feel unbelievably lucky for every second of it. I find calm in that.

When I think about love, both the kind you find with a partner and the kind you find from becoming a parent, I think of the poet Rumi and some of his amazingly wise words. One poem in particular has always stuck with me and it resonates more now than ever before.

“The minute I heard my first love story,
I started looking for you, not knowing
how blind that was.
Lovers don't finally meet somewhere.
They're in each other all along.” 

Just 6 weeks left. Stay calm, Autumn. Stay calm.