After having a baby, a mom is left feeling alone in the process of re-learning her body. Leah explains why it’s more than okay to seek support, and how that can generate its own kind of healing.
EPISODE TRANSCRIPT (CLICK TO OPEN)
LEAH: Welcome to Good Girls Talk About Sex. I’m sex educator and sexual communication coach Leah Carey and this is a place to share conversations with all sorts of women about their experience of sexuality. These are unfiltered conversations between adult women talking about sex. If anything about the previous sentence offends you, turn back now! And if you’re looking for a trigger warning, you’re not going to get it from me. I believe that you are stronger than the trauma you have experienced. I have faith in your ability to deal with the things that upset you. Sound good? Let’s start the show!
LEAH: Hey friends. As I mentioned during the last solo show, I’ve tweaked the format of these solo shows to give myself a little bit of a breather. This week, we’ll be looking at a listener question and I’ll give you a recommendation for a podcast featuring one of my favoritest things on Earth, elephants! So let’s jump right in with a listener question.
This one came in from private message so you’re going to hear my voice reading it. Here’s what she said. “I gave birth three years ago and my body looks different and isn’t as sensitive or responsive as before. It’s a solid block of shame in my head and I’m still too afraid to deal with it. Should I be overcoming this shame on my own or is it okay to invite my husband to work through it with me?”
Dear listener, what a great question! As you’ve probably gleaned from past shows, I’ve dealt with significant body image issues throughout my life. Growing up with a father who said no one would ever find me attractive because I didn’t have a perfect body will do that to a girl. There were plenty of times where I wanted to go out and do something but couldn’t leave the house because I was sure that people would laugh at me no matter what clothes I put on my body.
During my year of sexual healing, I thought I was supposed to heal my body confidence all on my own. I thought if I looked to anyone else to support me, I wasn’t properly doing my work. I had bought into this idea that if I didn’t do it all by myself, somehow the healing wasn’t valid, or I hadn’t worked hard enough. But as time went on and I was having sexual experiences with different people around the country, none of whom had any connection to each other so they weren’t comparing notes, I started to notice a theme. They were all saying the same words to me. “I love your curves. Your skin is so soft. I love your curls. You have a beautiful smile. You have an amazing ass. You’re beautiful.” At some point, I realized that these words were changing something inside me. As I heard others consistently saying things to me that I could not yet say to myself, old wounds began to heal. It didn’t even matter that I couldn’t believe them yet. The consistency with which I was hearing the words was creating a chink in my armor.
Now I haven’t birthed a child, so I don’t know the process of relearning and reclaiming your body after giving birth. But I have heard lots of other women talk about it, and there seems to be a common experience. When your body has been in service to feeding and nurturing another little being, you don’t have the same amount of energy and passion to devote to getting turned on and revved up for your partner.
If your body is a jungle gym for your little person, perhaps it has downshifted sensation to help you deal with the barrage of elbows and knees wielded by someone who does not yet know how to fully control their own body. So are you supposed to tough this out alone or is it okay to invite your sexual partner help you get your body back? We get the message through so many channels that we are meant to be self-sufficient.
“It’s the American way! If you can’t do it for yourself, who is going to do it for you? You can’t expect anyone to give anyone to give you something that you can’t give to yourself.” But did your husband help you through your pregnancy? Did he demonstrate concern about how your body felt while it was carrying this little human? Did he do things to help you feel more comfortable and loved? Why would you assume that his caring about your body stopped the moment that the baby emerged and now it’s your burden to bear all on your own?
I think that too often we push others away in the belief that we’re supposed to do it ourselves. But what if they not only could help the process, but they’re yearning to find a way to re-establish connection and we’re the ones them at arm’s length in the belief that we’re not supposed to ask for help? If you are wanting him to do the work for you or make it all better for you, I’d throw a red flag. But if you’re inviting him to play in your sandbox with you, I think you have the opportunity to have greater intimacy for both of you. What if your husband holds a key to your healing that you didn’t even know you were looking for?
Now if I were the one on the receiving end of this message, my next question would be, but how? So here’s one potential way the conversation could go. “Honey, I know that I’ve been a little off since the baby was born. My body hasn’t felt the same and I haven’t known how to handle it and I’ve been scared to talk about it. But I’m also afraid that it has created some distance between us, and I don’t want that. I could use some support and I’m hoping that by letting you in a little more, we can re-establish the physical and emotional intimacy we had before I was pregnant. I don’t know exactly what that will look like yet. But I want to start seeing myself as beautiful and desirable again and I think it would really help to see myself through your eyes for a while. I love hearing you tell me that I’m beautiful, sexy, strong, whatever thing is most resonant for you. And when you tell me I’m beautiful, sexy, strong, if I shake my head or try to deny it, would you remind me of this conversation and that my job is to believe that you believe it?”
Remember, that intermediate step is often necessary. I can’t go directly from “not believing I’m beautiful” to “believing I’m beautiful just because I say I’m going to”, and anyone who tells you that that works is trying to sell you a load of magical thinking. But I can take the intermediate step of saying, “My partner is saying that I’m beautiful. I don’t believe it yet, but I can believe that they believe it.” And anytime my brain tries to turn that around and say, “They’re lying to you. They’re just trying to fill the
blank with whatever terrible thing your brain says”, you can respond, “What reason do they have to lie to me? Why should I believe that their caring stopped the moment my body pushed out a baby?” And remind yourself, it’s okay that I don’t believe it yet, but I’m going to choose to believe that my partner believes it. And the more you practice that intermediate step, the easier it becomes to get to the point you want, allowing the possibility that you could believe it too.
To ask a question about your sex life, your desires or anything else to do with female sexuality, call and leave a message at 720-GOOD-SEX. You will remain completely anonymous and I promise you won’t have to talk to a real person. You just leave a voicemail. That number is 720-GOOD-SEX.
LEAH: Remember how fun it was to have teenage sleepovers where we’d do each other’s nails and braid each other’s hair and gossip about kissing and relationships? I’m lucky because I still get to have those fun juicy conversations on a regular basis. But I know that a lot of you may find it hard to make the time and space to have these intimate connecting conversations with your girlfriends. So I’ve created a space where you get to have that same fun again. It’s an adult PJ party!
It’s a whole luxurious evening of girl talk. I’ll lead you in a no holds barred conversation with your girlfriends talking about sex, relationships, toys, kink, orgasms, anything you can think of, we can talk about it! Even better, we’ll do it in a way that preserves social distancing and gives you a night of connection and intimacy with your favorite people. Or if you prefer, join a group where nobody knows each other in advance so you can be completely open and honest without worrying about revealing too much to people you see every day.
So let me help you create a space where the conversation can be easy, sexy, and fun. Visit leahcarey.com/pjparty for all the information and to book a party for you and your friends. Again, that link is leahcarey.com/pjparty and it’s in the app you’re listening on right now.
LEAH: This week, I’m so excited to introduce you to the show A Mind Full of Everything with Agrita. In her show description, Agrita asks, “Do you find yourself overwhelmed by thoughts on a regular basis? Those thoughts that leave you questioning why certain things are how they are, and that leave you feeling eager to find answers.”
So I heard a piece of this podcast a while ago and made a mental note of liking it but hadn’t added it to my list of podcasts to feature. Then, about 10 days later, I found myself quoting some of the information I’ve learned from the podcast to my boyfriend one night. And I knew, if I retained that information for that long, Agrita was not only talking about something that interested me, she was talking about it in a way that helped me metabolize what I was hearing.
And so I know offer you the same opportunity. In the episode, Beautiful Planet: Lessons from the Elephants, Agrita talks about what makes elephants so special including as she says, how we can all be
more human by adopting the elephant way of living. And as for that fact that I couldn’t forget, sort of like an elephant, here’s the clip.
PODCAST CLIP: Only male Asian elephants can grow tusks so the females don’t. For African American elephants, both female and male elephants grow tusks. The tusk is of course a very important feature of an elephant. It’s kind of like the hands. They are actually left or right tusks, which I find really keen. So they tend to use their left tusk or right tusk more just depending on how they are like. So whenever you see an elephant, you always see that one tusk is smaller than the other and it’s more chipped or wear down the other because they’re using that much more than the other one.
Their tusks are basically extended teeth and they provide many benefits. For example, they can protect their trunk. They can help them lift heavy objects to access food or to remove any barriers when they’re migrating. They can even help each other out using these tusks. Recently, I watched a documentary where a matriarch was helping a calf to come out of the mud because it was stuck, and she was really using her tusk as well as her trunk to help that baby come out. Males of course use it for mating season to fight off other males. They use it to protect their territory and both male and female elephants use it for defense as well.
What’s really sad, however, is that due to extensive poaching in many different areas, many elephants are now showing to select against the growth of tusks because they really want to protect themselves. They don’t want to be killed just for their tusks, which really is invaluable to them, but has no value to us. So because of the extensive poaching back then and perhaps even now, so many elephants are starting to not grow tusks and those tusks are so important for them. So I think that is really, really sad. But it is definitely improving. We still need to sort it out, but it’s definitely improving.
The next feature that elephants are really famously known for is their trunks. A single trunk has up to 40,000 muscles in a grown elephant, compared to a human which only has 600 muscles in their entire body. That is amazing, so you really don’t want to be messing with an elephant, because that trunk can really sweep off so many people.
Studies have shown that elephants have long trunks to get enough food for their big bodies so the soft palatable nutritious leaves are in the canopies, they can easily access them with their trunks. They have no problem in doing that. However, their trunk is not just for accessing food that is on a high elevation. It is also really used for smell. Our of all the mammals that exist, elephants have the most amount of smell receptors so much so that they can actually smell TNT and bombs and remember to stay away from that site. I don’t understand how that really happen because we know what bombs are, we know what explosives are, but elephants don’t. Yet that smell of TNT, they can stay away from it because they associate that to danger. Maybe it’s because of the constant interaction that they’ve been having with humans and now they’ve evolved to remember that smell, but I think that is pretty strong.
LEAH: That is the show A Mind Full of Everything with Agrita. Information and links are in the Show Notes. And that’s it for today. Good Girls Talk About Sex is produced by me, Leah Carey, and edited by Gretchen Kilby. I have additional administrative support from Lara O’Connor and Magnolia Afable.
And I’m incredibly grateful for the financial support from Good Girls Talk About Sex community members at Patreon. If you want to support me in telling these stories and answering your questions, head over to patreon.com/goodgirlstalkaboutsex.
Before we go, I want to remind you that the lies you’ve probably heard about your sexuality aren’t true. You are worthy. You are desirable. You are not broken. I work with women just like you to reflect their true sexual nature back to them without the judgment, shame or fear that can get in the way of us seeing it for ourselves. As a coach and PJ party hostess, I will guide you in embracing the sexuality that is innately yours, no matter what it looks like. I’m here to help you sink so deeply into your true sexuality that the version of yourself that was so scared to speak for her own needs feels like a mirage from another lifetime.
Until next time, here’s to your better sex life! [MUSIC]
- 1:31 – A listener gave birth 3 years ago, and is still struggling with her altered body. She asks if she’s supposed to deal with it on her own, or if she can ask per partner for support.
- 2:06 – Leah shares her own struggle with body image, starting at a young age, and how hearing healing words from others is what finally broke through her negative internal messaging.
- 5:06 – Our culture harmfully socializes us to believe that radical independence in all areas is not only possible, but the goal.
- 6:35 – Sometimes our partners hold keys to our healing. Leah shows the listener how to start the conversation.
- 11:43 – Podcast recommendation:
- A Mind Full of Everything with Agrita – Do you ever find yourself overwhelmed by thoughts on a regular basis? Agrita explores the deep thoughts that leave her questioning why certain things are how they are, and the questions she’s eager to find answers to – from global issues like climate change to self-improvement and everything in between.
- The elephant episode – https://www.listennotes.com/podcasts/mind-full-of/beautifulplanet-lessons-from-nhKBeA-t1PV/
- Website – https://mindfullofeverything.home.blog
- Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/mindfullofeverything_pod/
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- Twitter – https://twitter.com/mindfull_agrita
- Pinterest – https://www.pinterest.com/mindfullofeverything
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Music – Nazar Rybak