Re-conceiving Intimacy, by Dr. Julie Bindeman
Dr. Julie is a clinical psychologist specializing in parenthood and reproduction; she has served as a member of the Board of Directors for the Maryland Psychological Association (LINK) since 2008, co-founded a speaking series focused on issues around parenting called HEALinc, and has a private practice called Integrative Therapy of Greater Washington.
Among the many losses couples face when they lose a pregnancy or an infant is the feeling of being sexually safe. Prior to a loss, sex and expressions of love occurred naturally and spontaneously. Intimacy is no exception to a “before” and “after” designation as so many other things become post loss.
Primary to sex and intimacy being such a loaded arena is that this particular act is directly causal in bearing children. Even the nursery rhyme specifies the order: “first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in the baby carriage.” For some, having sex after a loss is petrifying as it might create a pregnancy, which might end up in another loss. In a lot of instances, a woman’s body might not feel comfortable to share due to surgery, childbirth, or her self-perception of what her body looks like. Many baby-loss moms feel as if their bodies have betrayed them by not being able to hold onto the pregnancy, thus they punish themselves by not seeking out anything that might feel good to that body.
Grief is a winding road, so for some, sex feels too normal, and not “right” for a grieving couple to engage in. Ironically, for others, sex is the language that the couple is able to speak to one another, especially if talking about the loss is too painful. The gulf that can be expanded for a grieving couple can seem unbridgeable and exponential, so the very concept of sexual relations again can appear to be almost foreign.
How do couples bridge that gap? How do they enjoy one another again? The answer, to most things in grief, is slowly and with time. How much time depends on the individuals in a couple as there is no set amount. For many women, sex and arousal is not a switch that can be turned on and off. Rather, it has to be nurtured. This can be done by starting slow. Talking. Dating. Recommitting to one another as a couple. Build intimacy from there. Hormones can play a part in emotions in addition to the grief feelings, so if both decide to try for lovemaking, use lubricant, go slow (again), and communicate.
Eventually, sex for enjoyment might shift to sex for baby making. The idea of “trying again” is also scary as it can feel as if you stop caring about the baby that you lost, or that you are “over it”. Know that you are not forgetting your baby if you enjoy yourself. You are not forgetting your baby by trying to expand your family. Many families wonder when they should start to try again. A basic rule of thumb is that when the fear of loss is outweighed by desire to have a child.