i don’t normally do much in the way of product review here. okay, i never do anything in the way of product review here, unless chronic colds can somehow be counted as products and my lamentations considered a review. colds? boo.

this absence of the commercial sphere from the blog isn’t entirely a reflection of my pure high-mindedness…it’s not that i handknit all O’s toys from my own belly button lint and meditate for entertainment or anything. i’m basically just too crappy a self-promoter to have been able to swing this blog in the direction of happy, healthy low-key capitalism for all…and i kinda prefer it as a hobby rather than a job.

rather like i feel about sex, frankly. (dear in laws, i know you’re out there and love you dearly.  this would be a good time for you to go admire your Christmas tree.  please. it is very nice. very shiny. look look!)

but a couple of months ago, i got an offer i couldn’t refuse. a free book. a brand new free book, published locally, hot off the presses. a book i’ve been hearing about for a year, because this town is so small that all the over-literate types pretty much know each other, and while one friend edited it another polled a group of us about what ought to be on the cover. stilettos? she asked, or fluffy bunny slippers?

the book is called Sex After Baby: Why There is None, by Kathleen Hamilton, published by the lovely and mighty Acorn Press.

(they went with the stilettos, sort of. a part of legs in red stilettos and fishnets trip over a baby’s rubber ducky.)

i leapt on the informal offer of a review copy. i ate the book up in a couple of nights, giggling a bit at parts, puzzling at others, reflecting on my own postpartum nightmares of a badly healed episiotomy and exhaustion and avoidance and skin-saturation from constant nursing, and whether i could ever have felt remotely prepared for the impact that had not just on my sex life but my sexuality, and my sense of myself.

i was all set to write a pithy little piece about the book, and how i mostly found it charming and thoughtful if occasionally flaky and a little histrionic but overall, bold and funny and worthy of reflection and just plain important, in its effort to bring to light a discussion that’s sorely missing from most of the literature about life as a new mama. my piece was going to start with the mock lament, “Good God! am i really on the road to wreaking such havoc on my poor pink bits and my poor libido – and erm, poor Dave – all over again?!?”

because, of course, i was pregnant then.

and then, i wasn’t. with a hellish gap of uncertainty in between…during which i found myself utterly avoidant of all things remotely sexual, because my body had become foreign territory, unaccounted for, with secrets even i could not dig up.  and it is one thing to approach your partner pregnant with a wanted baby, ripe with hope and tenderness, another to approach him or her in grief, or confusion, raw with need and pain.  i’ve tried both, and certainly prefer the former, though each has its moments, its comforts. but to actually inhabit and offer a body that you cannot identify as one or the other…it froze me.  i turned away not from Dave but from my own incorporate self during that eight day wait, to an extent greater than in any other episode of my life, whether after birth or loss or assault, or even during the long years when i denied my body almost entirely through disordered eating and fervent loathing.  even then, i could thread soul and body together when i wanted to, if sketchily.  but not during the limbo of this november.

i considered, briefly, trying to review the book during that strange interminable wait, starved as i was for something to write about, something to distract me.  but again, i froze.   there was no place in me for the lightness OR the seriousness of the topic, no place for the conversation at all in a narrative so suddenly changed.  so Kathleen’s book has been waiting, patiently, in the pile under my coffee table, for me to inch my way back to a self i recognize and can celebrate.  for me to get my groove back, as it were.

i’m still not quite dressed in fishnets and a short, perky elf costume, singing “Santa Baby” at the office Christmas party…but, um, that’s okay.  when what energy i’ve got left at the end of the day isn’t eaten up by present-wrapping and just the general madness of the season, i’m all…well, quite groovy, thank you.  (inlaws, go look at your tree, huh?  yes, again).  i’m groovy in a way that is still fresh, because it only resurfaced a few months back in the first place, emerging gradually as O began sleeping through the night, and as i finished nursing him and started working outside the home again and just generally felt less like an exhausted house drudge most of the time.

so i’m curious.  the drought – and accompanying identity crisis – that Kathleen writes about in Sex After Baby: Why There is None resonated with me, though our situation never got quite so dire as hers did, nor did i find it quite the horrifying development that it was for her.  for me, the dearth of sex through my pregnancy with O (pelvic rest) and after he was born played on fears that were more about relationship damage than identity crisis…probably because i’ve never seen myself as much of a sex goddess, but have been damn grateful since this relationship started that it’s really the first in which i’ve felt like a truly healthy sexual partner.  either way, i despised my own exhaustion and avoidance, except i was too tired to really summon up much energy even for that hating of the situation.  i just was.  i was busy.  i had a newborn.  and some post-traumatic stress about scissors that got set off every time the nerve damage in my episiotomy scar made itself known…but that was mostly gravy on top of the deadening that colic and sleep deprivation had set up just fine by themselves.

i hoped it would go away, in time.  and gradually, and with a bit of work, it did.  and it does, each time we slip back there.

but i knew it didn’t have to be like that.  i knew that after Finn’s birth and death, for all we were both bleary with sorrow, and i was physically worn out from bedrest and a difficult birth and torn cervix and reluctant placenta, we were still a whole lot more able to draw back together relatively quickly.  part of that, of course, was the simple fact that with Finn i passed a head the size of small grapefruit, not Oscar’s riotous bowling ball, but i think a far greater part of the difference was the presence of the child himself the second time around.  caring for a newborn, at least for me, was a shockingly consuming job.  it ate up almost everything else i had to give, for awhile.

what about you?  for those of you who did not birth your young as holy virgins (actually, i guess even Mary had Joseph there and probably feeling mighty red-blooded by the time Christ came along), and were in relationships that may have felt the impact of childbearing in the aftermath…how did it pan out?  was your libido impacted?  did it ever exist in the first place?  if there was a slump, did your sex life rebound, eventually, or were you one of those who was happily and eagerly back at it in days?  was it hard to talk about?  did you find much discourse about it in The Baby Whisperer?  dish, please.  it not only beats wrapping presents, but the biggest refrain that kept singing through my head as i read Sex after Baby was…Kathleen should have had a blogging community.  they would’ve helped her out.

(still…she’s done a pretty good job helping herself, writing it all out from the remove of a couple of years.  if you’d like to read Sex after Baby: Why There is None, or stick it in someone’s sock this year as a nice, juicy present…come visit me, friend, and we’ll do some fine local shopping.  and maybe talk about sex over too much mulled wine.  the offer stands.)