In her latest book, The Contented Mother’s Guide, Gina Ford is back providing parenting advice from her wealth of knowledge, in addition to comments from real mums to support her claims. The wisdom which has received the most attention has been her thoughts on sex after child birth.
Ford states that new mums should make themselves available for sex as soon as four weeks after giving birth, whether we enjoy it or not, to make sure our partners still feel loved. I agree that there can be a wedge driven between couples upon the arrival of their bundle of joy, but that’s about all I agree with when it comes to this ‘expert’s’ latest advice.
My first, and main, complaint about Gina Ford is that she has no children of her own and, most crucially in this case, has never experienced child birth herself. Labour and birth is an amazing experience, but for a lot of women it is far from pleasant. I was in labour for four (extremely long) days before I welcomed my gorgeous son into the world, and this only happened thanks to an episiotomy and some forceps and a ventouse. The episiotomy resulted in several stitches which needed care and attention for weeks to come, and required a supply of high strength pain killers for the first fortnight after labour.
Needless to say sex wasn’t high on my ‘to do‘ list following what was basically minor surgery on that area. I can’t recall how long it was until we had sex after child birth, but I remember any instances for the first eight months or so being painful and uncomfortable, as was the use of sanitary protection.
Newborns are exhausting. The first fortnight does go past in a sleep deprived haze and I can’t really remember much of it. It’s a fog of dirty nappies, a screaming baby and breastfeeding. Occasionally I got five minutes to myself to go to the toilet or if I was really lucky, to go eat. After two weeks you get used to the idea that you’re not going to get a full nights sleep again for a long time. But you have this gorgeous and amazing bundle of joy so that doesn’t matter – mostly!
For most mums things start to get better. You acclimatise. You adapt. You just get on with things, because if you don’t do it, nobody else will. After two weeks dad generally goes back to work and you’re out there on your own. You are exhausted. Do you want sex? You haven’t slept properly since your child was born. You are generally scared that if you do have sex you’ll get pregnant and have to do the whole scary first fortnight again and at this point you couldn’t cope. So no, you don’t.
New mums are scared. We are already under this huge pressure to be perfect mums. We’ve done all the classes, we’ve read all the information leaflets and maybe even the odd book. The baby has arrived and we’ve made it home from the hospital and now it’s just us. We need to do the mountain of washing this small bundle creates, we need to keep the baby alive, we need to worry about whether or not we can breastfeed and the guilt associated with that, we need to make sure we eat as well. We need to do 101 things and we have no time, because every time the baby cries we drop everything.
New mums do not need the added pressure of someone telling them to make themselves available for sex so your partner still feels loved. I never worried that my partner didn’t feel loved because we were a family now, and if he was having problems we could talk about it. I was not about to throw myself at him and, to be brutal, endure sex just so he felt loved. To be honest he probably would have told me to go away because he was exhausted too. He was up during the night too. He did feeds too.
I know a few mums who have read one of Gina Ford’s books and parts of it have genuinely worked for them. Nap times were never a problem, and their child slept for twelve hours from about eight weeks old.
For the rest of us it was very irritating, I can tell you. But it was never for me. I accepted advice from midwives, health visitors, doctors and other parents. Basically, from anyone who had ever had a child of their own, because unless you’ve been there yourself, you can never really know.