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Eleven months ago, I lost a baby. Now, they should be a brother or sister to our five-year-old daughter.
Miscarriages are hard – emotionally, physically, and, because of that, sexually. Sex is what led to the loss in the first place, after all. The end of a ‘non-viable pregnancy’ can take its toll on you and your relationship. And the mental as well as bodily impact bleeds into the way you feel about yourself. Your self-worth and confidence takes a knock, and your understanding of what you are capable of is rocked. It might be the first time you’ve dealt with a close loss and the grief can feel new, and raw.
My loss was an ectopic pregnancy. The fertilised egg, and then the tiny foetus it became, implanted itself into the fallopian tube rather than in the uterus. The foetus continues to grow (albeit at a slower rate than usual) and if it’s not caught in time, the fallopian tube will burst, which can lead to death.
I’m writing this to you now, so obviously I was lucky. Once an internal ultrasound established that the pregnancy was not viable, I was rushed into surgery later that day – a straightforward keyhole procedure that meant I was back home a day later, sore but walking. Just three tiny dressings to show for my stay, and paracetamol to numb the pain.
“The first time we had sex after the surgery, I was nervous, with the ghost of the ectopic pregnancy hanging over us.”
Mentally, the recovery takes much longer. I was tired, stressed and teary, but I didn’t know how to process my feelings. I had no benchmark to set them against, and I closed in on myself like a daisy at night.
I didn’t mean to close myself off from my husband at the same time. Intimacy of course was off the cards for a while – the bruising and scars more than anything else putting paid to any levels of passion, but we also didn’t seem to understand each other, and communication was in fits and starts. We’d been casually trying for a baby when the ectopic pregnancy happened, but I found that my husband didn’t feel the loss as I did. I might not have understood why I found myself crying on the floor of the shower a couple of days later, but I had assumed he’d feel something of the same rawness. In reality, he was more focused on the fact that I was safe and sound rather than a tiny cluster of cells.
As the weeks passed, and I – we – worked through the emotional impact of my self-perceived failure and the grief for the death of potential with both my therapist and our couples therapist (we love therapy), our communication lines started to open again and my grief abated.
“The relief was immense – being able to revive intimacy with the person with whom all this had started, and reconnect with myself.”
The first time we had sex after the surgery, I was nervous, with the ghost of the ectopic pregnancy hanging over us. But we took it slowly and gently. Afterwards I cried, and I was low post-coitally a few times after that. Even a few months later, thinking I’d come through to the other side, I would find that a difficult few days or particularly hormonal part of my cycle would have me blubbering again after sex. My husband would hold me and comfort me, but he sympathised, rather than empathised with my upset. I found his soothing words lacking, because he didn’t really know what to say, and so his condolence felt false.
It took a long time before we re-found our swing, yet again. And the relief was immense – being able to revive intimacy with the person with whom all this had started, and reconnect with myself. I’ve been open about the fact that my post-partum sex journey was also not an easy one, and it took years before my husband and I were able to have fulfilling and loving sex again after the birth of our daughter. So I was overjoyed to find that we could still click after this second setback.
Looking back, it’s only normal that it would take some time to heal from an experience such as the loss of a baby and that one or both of your will suffer difficult emotional associations with sex afterwards. Put in a societal context, it’s easy to understand why. We don’t talk about miscarriages and we don’t talk about sex. We only trumpet healthy pregnancies, births, hint at how great our sex lives and marriages are. When you go through it, you realise that under the surface there must be plenty of others experiencing the same thing.
They’re just hiding it away too.
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