If forced to write a second grade-esque essay entitled “What I Did On My Summer Vacation” it would read something like this: I spent my summer vacation with my head in the toilet. I ate nothing but french fries as they were the only food I could keep down. Except when they came back up. I was fused to the couch, although at night I managed to peel myself off the sofa and reaffix myself to the bed. My uniform consisted of pajama pants and sorority t-shirts circa 1998. Over the summer I have forgotten what a razor is or how to properly use one.
At the beginning of July, I was thrilled to learn I was pregnant, the news falling days shy of my sixth week. Like clockwork, on week six exactly, the violent bouts of round-the-clock “morning” sickness, extreme fatigue and food aversions kicked in. Fortunately, as a teacher, I was off work for the summer. This afforded me the luxury of vomiting in peace. However, my husband, initially elated by the news of my pregnancy, quickly learned that it wasn’t all he’d anticipated. Absent was that “pregnancy glow” and the surge of hormones he’d heard would transform me into an insatiable sex kitten. In their place was a tantrum-prone, headache-ridden, violently ill, acne-covered monster whose pastimes included complaining, french fry regurgitation and sleep. Still, likely as a result of my newly developed breasts, he was magnetically attracted to me. And with each sexual advance, I grew more irritated. Between the sickness and fatigue, sex tumbled down my ladder of priorities, settling somewhere between cleaning lint from the dryer vents and campaigning to restore Pluto’s planetary status. Adding insult to injury, my increasingly softening body (I was too tired to move, let alone exercise) left me self-conscious to the point that even when I was alert and keeping my fries down, I was too embarrassed to let him touch me. With my first trimester coming to a close, I realize in the seven weeks since I learned I was pregnant, my husband and I have had sex once.
While I understand that there are circumstances beyond my control that have contributed to this dry spell, I also know that I cannot continue on this way. When I project to the future as far as my sex life is concerned I am, in a word, terrified. I worry that in the next two trimesters sex will become even more difficult — emotionally, as I grapple with my changing body; physically, as my growing belly begins rendering every position in the Kama Sutra impossible. Once the baby arrives, I’ve been told desire takes a nosedive, exhaustion reaches record highs and free time reaches record lows. If I want to salvage our sex life, my husband and I are going to have to be proactive. I hope exploring what other couples experience during this transitional period and how they manage to get through it will help us, and others, to better navigate this treacherous terrain.
I began my research by trolling various pregnancy forums where women are all too eager to share their most personal information in graphic detail (Like the woman who felt compelled to let everyone in cyberspace know that pregnancy made her gag-reflex more pronounced so she could no longer give her husband blowjobs). Like snowflakes and babies and vomiting patterns, each woman is different. However, these first trimester mamas-to-be could essentially be divided into three camps: the women whose libidos increased dramatically (a minority); the women who, despite feeling awful, engaged in what they referred to as “sympathy sex” to appease their partners; and the women who, like me, felt awful and had neither sympathy nor sex.
The women whose libidos increased claimed to want sex all the time. “We have a pretty active sex life as it is, but pregnancy makes me a wild animal!” one woman claimed. “Three times [last night]! I want it again but he is asleep,” another woman gushed. It appeared that these women were navigating pregnancy sex just fine.
Over in the Sympathy Sex thread, women admitted to low sex drives, but were engaging in sex regardless. This appeared to create resentment in the majority of respondents. “Am I the only one who is tired of having sympathy sex?” balked one woman. Her post was responded to in quick succession with “Yeah I hear you! I just wanna sleep and DH just wants to have sex! I give in and then I can sleep…easier I guess!” and “I’m right there with you. I try and go a day on and a day off but I’m at day 3 off and my times (sic) running out!” One woman explained that Wednesday night was designated sex night “so I don’t have to hear [my husband] say he never gets any.” She quickly added “but he’s going to have to take a pass tonight. I am constipated.”
The women who didn’t want and didn’t have sex were, by far, the majority. “I can barely handle sleeping in the same bed with my DH just because I don’t want to be touched at all,” wrote one woman. “I can’t remember the last time we had sex and the thought of it grosses me out. Don’t touch me, don’t kiss me. Leave me alone!” exclaimed another.
Reading accounts of what other couples are experiencing sexually during their first trimesters was helpful in that it reaffirmed that what I am feeling is completely normal. It did not, however, help me establish healthy ways of dealing with the issue. Sympathy sex sets the stage for resentment on the woman’s part while abstaining appears to create resentment and insecurity in the sexually neglected partner. What is a healthy way to handle sex during the first trimester when the woman has neither the energy nor the inclination?
The bottom line is, not surprisingly, communication. After consulting countless fact-based websites written by medical doctors and relationship experts, and the article “(No) Sex With a Bump” (Fit Pregnancy Magazine, September 2011) the key to reconciling issues pertaining to pregnancy and sex drive is being open with one’s partner. Instead of giving in or silently abstaining, BabyCenter.com’s Medical Advisory Board suggests women “Let your partner know how you feel and reassure him that you still love him. It's crucial to keep the lines of communication open and to support each other as best you can as you go through these changes together.” Personally, I think clear communication sounds much easier and is certainly a more direct approach than the nightly game of whack-a-mole that is swatting my husband’s mitts away from my new breasts.
What I’ve learned during my first trimester is that what everyone says is true: a baby does change everything (And this baby isn’t even here yet!). So while my energy levels and libido aren’t what they were, I will enter my second trimester with a renewed resolve. From here on out, I intend to communicate my feelings more efficiently and to look to pregnancy forums for empathy and support, but not necessarily for effective ways of handling the issue at hand.
Now if I could just figure out how to keep my french fries down, I’ll be all set.