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Commentary: Motherhood II: Whose body is it, anyway?

This week we will continue our exploration of the practical side of what it means to be a mother by exploring the topics around the bodily changes that take place during pregnancy and motherhood. This might get a bit graphic, as bodily changes include scenes of a sexual nature.

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by Chris Bonshor (Copy Editor) and Raychel Bonshor (New Mother)

This week we will continue our exploration of the practical side of what it means to be a mother by exploring the topics around the bodily changes that take place during pregnancy and motherhood. This might get a bit graphic, as bodily changes include scenes of a sexual nature.

Let’s start with an anatomy lesson! When a man and a woman really love each other (or a woman decides to have a baby on her own, or something – in fact, love isn’t even required) and they engage in coitus (that is, penetrative intercourse in which fertilizer is released), a fertilized ovum can implant itself on the wall of her uterus. This is the beginning of pregnancy: this is also when physical changes begin.

Early changes have to do with your body getting used to the reality that there is a foreign organism growing inside of you. The symptoms of this include the classics: nausea, tiredness, tenderness, bloating, mood swings, but also spotting and intense breast tenderness (this last one really took my wife by surprise and was our major clue, once we knew what it meant).

Later in pregnancy, as the fetus grows, the woman’s uterus expands to accommodate it. This is usually accompanied by weight gain to varying degrees – some woman gain a lot of weight, especially if they were underweight to begin with, while others may gain fairly little. The breasts grow in size and the nipples usually darken permanently, as blood saturates the area (this area is going to be super sensitive for a long while, so get used to it). In addition, once the second trimester hits, lying on your back ceases to be an option, as it can cut blood flow to your developing baby.

In the last month or two of pregnancy, but especially the last couple of weeks, baby really starts to put on weight – baby is going to double in weight in about four weeks! This means that your belly is also going to undergo a huge increase in size in the last little while (unless you have a little, basketball baby-belly). This is when stretch marks quite suddenly appear.

Movement becomes more difficult, breathing can become harder, heartburn becomes your constant companion and sleeping is nearly impossible because you are up every hour or two to go pee. Your feet also swell like crazy. This happened only in the last couple of weeks to my wife and was scary as hell because they turned purple – it was really hot at the time, which just made it worse. If that isn’t bad enough, your feet also gain a size or so permanently.

Then baby comes! Now, depending on how you deliver – about one third of mothers undergo c-sections – your body continues to change. I will focus on c-section because that was our experience.

Mom now has to juggle taking care of her new baby and recovering from major surgery. You will have blood flow for around four weeks, which can be irritating, as you go from not having a period for almost a year to wearing a pad constantly. If you had an epidural, you may have to endure intense spinal headaches for a few days or weeks. Add to this sleepless nights and days and you can easily become overwhelmed. At this point, having as many helping hands around is a major boon, as babies need constant care and attention, especially if you are breastfeeding.

At first, breastfeeding can be extremely uncomfortable, as your nipples adjust to a sudden amount of harsh use. Buy nipple cream and know that the pain and redness will go away eventually! Getting used to breast feeding can also be a major adjustment, as getting baby to latch-on can be very difficult at first.

Let’s talk about love.

 

During pregnancy your sex life will change. Sex during pregnancy can be great! Now, this is definitely different for every woman, as hormonal changes affect all women differently, and every woman’s relationship situation is different.

If you are sick during the first trimester, you don’t really want to do it. Sex is great during the second trimester, as you get the hang of pregnancy, and you are not too big and uncomfortable yet. However, as there is increased blood-flow to your down-there-bits, it is important to take things slow and be careful – as pleasure goes up so does pain. In addition, your vaginal walls are thin, and your ability to self-lubricate goes down. So take it slow and enjoy some great foreplay with your partner, and don’t be afraid to use your favourite brand of lube to help you feel comfortable.

It’s also important to not feel intimidated by sex: it is not going to hurt your baby! As your due date nears, it is normal to sometimes have spotting down there from activity. In addition, sex can sometimes help start labour, though it didn’t help in our case when our baby was a week late (that didn’t stop us from trying though!).

After you give birth, sex is probably going to be the last thing you are thinking about. However, you can and should resume doin’ it before long as it helps to get your uterus back down to size. Most doctors suggest waiting anywhere from three to six weeks, the latter especially if you had a c-section (we felt ready at four, despite the doctor saying “Nothing in there for six weeks!”). However, just because you can’t have intercourse doesn’t mean you can’t do other things.

Again, if you can get some time alone, simply spend it reconnecting. It is good if you think of it as re-learning how to do everything again. Work your way up to intercourse the same as you would have when you first met. Regardless of whether or not you had a vaginal delivery, intercourse is going to hurt for the first while. Again, do not feel pressured to go too far too fast! Take your time and enjoy yourself.

Now, with regards to birth control, if you are breastfeeding you cannot take hormonal birth control – i.e. the pill or ring. Condoms are your best bet. If you are not breastfeeding, talk to your doctor about getting back onto whatever birth control you had before pregnancy. Also invest in some good quality lube if you haven’t already, as self-lubrication post-pregnancy can be very difficult. If you are breastfeeding, your ability to lubricate yourself will be compromised, as might your libido.

So there you have it. You now have a general idea of some of the physical changes that you may undergo if and when you decide to have a child. To those of you who are already mothers, this is all old hat, or you may know some things that I have missed, as every woman’s experience is different.

For those of you who have not yet had a child, I hope that this article will help you to better understand an important part of your life that is, sadly, clouded by many myths in our society. Your life doesn’t end with pregnancy – it just changes.

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