I took a course on Early American literature as part of my minor in grad school. The professor was one of those incredible women who sprinted into the room and the energy level spiked as if everyone had just chugged an espresso. She could get us talking, laughing, standing, shouting. And if you've spent any time in American literature circa 1790-1900 you'll know it's littered with women who fell in love with the wrong men, held the wrong ideas, came of age, left home, cut their hair, and died. It became a class mantra, one chanted exuberantly in unison when the instructor sashayed to the front of the class and offered us a knowing look with a "Sooo?"
"Sex is Death!" we chanted. "Sex is Death!"
That's all I could think of for weeks after Maddy died, as I paced circles in my bedroom: a classroom of giddy college students, merrily chanting "Sex is Death!" Here my own life had turned into a nineteenth-century novella writ large.
Sex is Death!
In my defense, quite unlike most of you, when I was in the hospital I defiantly proclaimed I wasn't going to do THAT again. And by THAT, I meant carry and deliver a baby, or by extension, any of the precursory goings on. I decided that avoiding babies, and avoiding them vehemently, meant not going to places to where they might be, or doing things that might just cause me to have one.
Coitus packed the bags, stopped the mail, and took a long interruptus.
Sex and I have had a rather on-again/off-again relationship over most of the last decade. Eight years ago now, when I was overconfident and perhaps still even a bit cute, I excitedly dumped my pills in the trash and said, "Let's have a baby!" And two fun, anticipatory months later, voila! And a month after that, an ultrasound confirming the reason for all the bleeding.
But I got pregnant, right? We'll just do it again! And again! And again. A-gain. Again? God, tonight, really, must we? Already? I spent two years having timed sex, at times hopped up on one medication or another, sometimes followed by a rather humiliating trip to the RE, trying to have Bella. The idea that sex was "fun" or "procreative" or both dwindled until Bella was conceived. And while the fun resumed in a timely fashion, I can honestly say I didn't get my groove back until the breast-feeding hormones left the building. And for a while there, it was reliving the good ol' days of just doin' it whenever! Because why not! And there was joy and harmony and sometimes the planets collided into starry explosions. (Cue grauzy footage and loaded euphemisms.) And then we decided to try again, and again with the planned sex, and Maddy and . . . . well. Let's just say my drive didn't come back when the milk ran dry.
The fear and loathing was multifold. First and foremost, I was a big chickenshit. That something so fun could possibly result in . . . THAT, made my skin run cold. I remember in High School my biggest fear was getting pregnant because it might wreck my chances of escaping my wee little town and leaving my state and going to college. I now realized I hadn't even begun to comprehend what fear really was. In my mind there was no birth control safe enough to prevent the horrible "Alien" meets "House" hell that I had just experienced. I had just wound up on the wrong side of 1 in a kajillion, and you're handing me a pack of pills telling me to smile and trust 99%? Get the fuck out.
A month or so after Maddy died, I went on antidepressants, which made me about as excited as a 1950s Bowling Championship rerun. Not to mention the audio/visual loop of her death that started every night when the lights went out (now that's foreplay!). And because of the loop and the anxiety and the insomnia, sleep took a far greater precedence over anything. A-n-y-thing.
And finally, there was my body. It was -- and still is -- rather distressing. My wee breasts which at one point I could've described as "perky" were anything but. My midsection was a deflated tire. I was . . . am heavier. My skin is a blotchy mess, and I have deep rings under my eyes (which were puffy for months). I honestly couldn't stand to look at myself, let alone have my husband look at the minefield or (gasp!) touch it. I steered far clear of what I guessed must be his sheer horror in my new weight, lumps that shouldn't be there, sag where there once was not. And mind you, I don't think it was necessarily the outward visual appearance that depressed the shit out of me, although it was pretty unsexytastic (my husband is elevated enough on the food chain that I trusted he still found me "beautiful" -- especially after a beer). No, it was what the new self represented, what it reminded me of, what I assumed he thought of when he caught glimpse of a cottage cheese thigh. And does to this day. My jeans won't snap. Because of Maddy, and she's dead.
When I finally had those longings, it wasn't really those longings at all. You know the scene from "High Fidelity" when Laura leaves her father's funeral with Rob (now her ex) and asks him to have sex with her, right then, in the car? And as he gives her a bewildered "You want me to WHAT?!" look, she says, puffy-eyed and sobbing, (and I'm probably paraphrasing a tad,) "I just want to feel something else." I just want to feel something else.
That was it, something else. There finally (Hallelujuah, interjects my husband) came a point after months of some Lysistrata-type mindset (protesting what, I'm not entirely clear) that I just needed to feel something else. Something other than numb. Something other than despondent. Something other than bonecrushing sadness. I missed him, hell, I missed it. And I sheepishly crawled across the divide.
And, much to my chagrin, I cried afterwards. Me. The sports-loving, beer-drinking, foul-mouthed, "I don't need no stinking cuddling," "Go ahead and leave in the morning, just turn the snooze off" me, cried after sex. Pffffffffffft.
Once in a blue moon, there are still tears afterwards (I can't believe I just copped to that). In fact, two years later, there are still moments of . . . er, confusion. Change. Thoughts that crash in like a meteor through the ceiling and quell everything like a cold shower. I certainly don't reject a midmorning "conference call" if we both happen to be "working at home" but I crave darkness now more than I once did. I'm always a bit saddened when our bracelets -- worn in Maddy's remembrance, mine on my left wrist, his on his right -- clash. I hate being jolted from a mindless floating state when the extra weight in my midsection becomes the focus -- and not in a good way. There are times I consciously need to turn off the dark side of my brain, so it will let me enjoy, for enjoyment's sake -- not because I want to defrost and feel.
I remember thinking, a few months after Maddy's death, that I had lost so much more than my daughter -- I had lost things that I deeply enjoyed, like tasting food and sex. And seriously wondered if either would ever return. There wasn't an "A-ha! It's back!" moment for either of those sensations, just a slow return to recognizing both and a dawning realization later that I could indeed remember how to feel. In a good way. In the best of ways. In the "Damn, you look good in those jeans and I missed you while you were out grilling dinner" kinda way.
Hey baby, thanks for clearing my dreams,
Of all those horror scenes,
Which crept in uninvited.
I'm in love and I'm so excited,
Hey baby, thanks for clearing my dreams.
Eventually, the repercussions, the self-deprecation, the replay, the zombies, alien babies and all the other ingredients of scary films that appear when the lights go out subside. Eventually.
Now if you'll excuse me . . . .
Let's Do it! Let's Go All the Way! Can you say a few words about your sex life after the death of your child(ren)? Was there an extended spell without? What pulled/pushed you back? Has it changed, and if so, how?
This post is a part of The Body Shop at Glow in the Woods -- a month of themed reflections and memes that explore what we do in an effort to occupy these physical selves with grace after babyloss.