Thursday, July 17, 2008

BabyLove

This amazing essay was written by Christen Clifford and is the basis for the off Broadway show, BabyLove.



Before I became a mother, I believed that motherhood would change me: my maternal instinct would smooth me, balance me, make me patient, give me a nurturing generosity. I'd become a better person but I wouldn't lose myself. I'd breastfeed exclusively but still find time to write. I'd make homemade baby food but still fuck. I had it all figured out.

I bought all the new books on mothering that I read about in The New York Times and The New Yorker Bitch in the House, The Mask of Motherhood, The Myth of Motherhood, The Price of Motherhood, A Life's Work, Fresh Milk, and a book a friend recommended — Fermentation — the only erotic novel I could find that featured a pregnant woman. But no one else's narrative could prepare me for the next stage of my sexuality.

People always tell you that becoming a parent will change everything, but what I didn't count on was that it wouldn't change me. The problem is that I'm still the same person, a sex-obsessed neurotic facing a new reality: my husband and I love our son more than we love each other. It's like being in a permanent threesome, the kind where one person — not you — gets all the attention.

How do I summarize my sex life before the baby? Well, I had one. I lost my virginity at fifteen, had four partners by the time I was seventeen. I considered myself pansexual, theoretically as open to getting turned on by a coffee table as a person. I had boyfriends and a few girlfriends, some serial monogamy with lots of fucking around in between. I reveled in being provocative. I instigated group sex at parties, usually fueled by alcohol. I tried everything I could think of: oral, anal, BDSM and beyond.

I met Ken when I was twenty-five and he was thirty-four. What we had was probably typical: in the beginning it was all love and lust, fucking in bathrooms and trains, dancing all night, having sex all day, experimenting madly and believing we couldn't get enough of each other. Eventually, of course, we did get enough of each other and slowed down. We reserved weekend mornings to do nothing but fuck and eat and read the paper. Then weekend mornings became more and more about reading the paper.

When I hit thirty, we decided we were ready for a baby. Sex without birth control was hot. I hadn't fucked without a condom since I was eighteen, and the skin-on-skin friction was arousing, but so was the idea of sex as an extension of humanity, of something bigger than just us. I had one of those dream pregnancies — I exercised every day, felt great, and looked fabulous. It suited me, and I reveled in it. I had new tits that I absolutely adored. A certain type of man paid me a lot of attention. The hormones were like being on E all the time; my husband and I had sex every day. At parties I listened politely to the horror stories of couples who didn't have sex for four months after their babies were born and was privately dismissive: "That'll never happen to us."

But we were, in fact, just like everyone else: our sex life went down the toilet right away. It started with the birth, which didn't go as planned. Felix was premature, so I had him in a hospital with labor-inducing
It was quite a shock to be injured, and to be injured there.
drugs, not in a hot tub with a midwife. I was in diabolical pain and shat everywhere, including standing up on the bed while barking at the nurse, "No I'm not having the baby I'm just taking a shit put something underneath me now."

The worst part: I ripped open, requiring more than twenty stitches. I'd never had stitches anywhere before, had never broken a bone. It was quite a shock to be injured, and to be injured there. When I finally got the courage to look, it was a huge relief to see that my clitoris was still there, and in the same place. But I discovered a womb with a view. The rumblings I had heard from women, not in complete sentences even, just mumblings of "never the same again" — this is what they were talking about. A swollen mass of red flesh. A gaping hole where tightness had been. I swear I could see my cervix.

I felt disfigured and damaged. I didn't cry, I shook. This isn't happening, I thought. No one must know. I blocked any thought or feeling below my waist, wore cleavage-revealing clothing, encasing my milky breasts in black lace bras under ripped-open tank tops. I became obsessed with Kegel exercises.

Eventually, I felt around and masturbated, tentatively. As I became aroused, my breasts squirted milk. That was cool. I felt like a teenage boy trying to see how far he could shoot. When I told this to one of my mommy friends, she said, "You should try masturbating while breastfeeding. It's amazing."

I didn't want to miss out. I went home, got out my mini-massager and settled into the Glider rocking chair with Felix, then a month and a half old, at my breast.

Then the doorbell rang.

It was the FedEx man. I buzzed him in, but he couldn't get through the second door, which sticks. So I went to the door in my bra and yoga pants and signed for the envelope with Felix still nursing. When the FedEx man turned to leave, I realized I still had the vibrator in my hand, not my keys, and the second door had closed behind me. I was now stuck in the vestibule with a vibrator and a baby. I rang the bells to my neighbor's apartments and no one answered.

I started to cry hysterically. It was sleeting and below zero and I was barefoot and practically naked with an infant and where could I go like that and what the fuck was I doing anyway? Only a sick person tries to masturbate with a baby, for God's sake. And I'm locked out of the house and everyone will know what I was doing and . . .

Noticing my distress, the FedEx man rang the bell at the house next door. My neighbor — a blue-collar father of three fond of revving his motorcycle at eight in the morning — waved me over. I hid the vibrator under the rug and ran. He settled us on his couch with a blanket and asked if my kitchen window was locked. I whimpered "no," and he went to break into my apartment. I looked at his kids' Crayola drawings and hoped he didn't find the vibrator, or worse yet, step on it and break it.

He came back with one of my coats and asked if I wanted to finish feeding. I mumbled "No, thank you, thank you," still crying. I ran home, retrieved the dastardly vibrator, threw it in the back of my drawer and fed Felix tenderly from the other breast, apologizing to him the whole time. I vowed never to masturbate again.

But an hour later I was already thinking how hot that was of my neighbor — taking control and saving me, all knight-in-shining-armor-like, when I was so vulnerable.


That incident crystallized the whole madonna/whore thing: the feeling that as a mother, I wasn't allowed to be sexual. My black bras and obvious cleavage were meant to counteract that notion, and they may have fooled other people, but I couldn't trick myself into feeling sexual, or even sexy. I desperately wanted to subvert the image, but I was just like everyone else.
When Felix was two months old, I decided that my husband and I absolutely had to have sex. I didn't feel like it, but I was so paranoid about us losing our sex life that I started something. We fooled around on the couch while Felix took a nap in the bedroom.

I was terrified that it would hurt, that I wouldn't get turned on, that I wouldn't be able to come, that it just wouldn't work. I was scared that he was so turned off by seeing a baby come out that he wouldn't want to go in. And he didn't. He
I watched Lez Be Friends, but the close-ups just made me think of changing diapers.
found my clitoris and stayed there. We had a gentle session of mutual masturbation and regained some sense of intimacy.

But still, no intercourse. Despite my doctor's reassurance that I was healing well, I had convinced myself that sex would be unbearably painful. At the suggestion of my shrink, I gave myself a "sex hour" while the baby napped. The idea was to experience the pain I anticipated by myself, so I would know what to expect. While Felix gurgled in my arms, I got everything out and ready to go. I put a towel in my rocking chair. On the coffee table I lined up two dildos, a butt plug, some lesbian porn, three vibrators and two bottles of lube. I was nothing if not prepared.

As soon as Felix was asleep and situated in his crib, I put in Lez Be Friends. But the close-ups just made me think of changing diapers. I used a lot of lubricant and inserted the narrowest dildo carefully. It didn't hurt as much as I thought it would. I was determined to get turned on, and when I did, it felt like it was happening to someone else. I came, but not in that supercalifragilistic-Prince-song-sex-relief way that I used to. My orgasm was almost in spite of itself.

At a yoga class a few weeks later, I felt my muscles, my bones, my skin, for the first time in months. I realized that I literally don't feel my body anymore. Before I gave birth, every bump and bruise would send me to the chiropractor. Now I was sure my back was screwed up from hunching while nursing and carrying car seats and strollers, but I didn't even notice. My body was no longer mine.

I knew that no one has sex for months after having a baby (except teenagers, my doctor told me). I knew most of my mommy friends weren't having sex. Felix demanded my attention day and night. So why was I still obsessing over it? I had used sex to fill every possible hole in my life up until the day I gave birth (actually, even on the day I gave birth — I gave Ken a blowjob right before we left to go to the hospital). Now I didn't have any room left; I was full of Felix. The constant motion of early motherhood actually decreased my neuroses. I didn't have the time to worry myself sick by cataloguing my humiliations. I was doing something important: keeping this tiny human alive with milk from my breasts. My body was doing what it was meant to do. I didn't need an orgasm to slam me out of myself.

Still, I missed my husband. One night in bed, I said, "I think you need a non-sexual tour of the region, so that when we do have sex again, you know what you're getting into. Literally." I spread my legs and directed the reading light between them. I opened my sex with my fingers and showed Ken the ridge of scar tissue that stretched diagonally from the right side of my vagina to the left side of my anus. I took his hand so he could feel the area just inside the right wall of my vagina. "This still hurts. That great move you have will have to wait."

He was tentative. "I saw a baby come out of there, " he said. "It's not for fun anymore."
It was understandable that I didn't want to have sex, but wasn't he supposed to? My mommy friends were starting to complain about their husbands' libidos. Gisele told me she kept Ernesto happy by giving him a blowjob every three days. I knew that Ken was as busy as I was, as tired and cranky, and in shock at being a father and responsible for our little family. But I hated him for making me feel so undesirable. I hated myself for not talking to him about it. I hated that it was up to me to initiate sex. We occasionally talked about it, but even talking about sex was uncomfortable. Ken seemed completely turned off. Part of what I love about him is that he has a sensitivity that's almost feminine. Now I wanted him to be more of a man.


Seven months after Felix was born, the three of us came home from an afternoon walk. With Felix still asleep in his stroller, I said, "How about we take a chance he'll stay asleep?" We were both tentative. Ken undressed and got into bed while I went to the bathroom. I didn't want him to see my body, so I took off my jeans and socks, then got into bed and slipped off my underwear, T-shirt and bra. We didn't look at each other, just hugged hard and tight for a long time, then loosened up and kissed. I took his ass in my hands and noticed it was softer. I was glad that I wasn't the only one who was out of shape. I had forgotten that just the feeling of his cock in my hand could turn me on. He put his hand on me, opened me, found the wetness inside, rubbed my clitoris until I told him to fuck me. He put on a condom and entered me gently, missionary position. I kept asking him to look at me. I wanted not to be invisible.
It was a little uncomfortable, but not the body-wracking pain that I expected. I relaxed into the pleasure of being fucked. After awhile he came, looking in my eyes, then lay next to me and used his hand to get me off.

Afterward, I asked the million-dollar question. "Does it feel different inside?"

"Not really . . . maybe a little . . . To tell you the truth, it's been so long . . . "

We laughed. I realized I missed the afterwards as much as the sex: the hormone high, the smell. After that night, we had sex every week or two for a few months. Then it dwindled away again. Felix grew. He needed more; I had less. Our romantic little family was actually a small corporation. We were really tired. Familiarity breeds contempt. Resentment builds upon resentment. We lost our humor.

And I realized that I love my son more than I love my husband. I know Felix's body better than I know my own. Right now, his ear is exactly as long as my middle finger from knuckle to tip. He has a patch of dry skin on his left shin. His fingers still splay like starfish, hot against my skin. I lean in too close; I want to get a whiff of his breath. When I read him a book, I surreptitiously press my lips to his hair over and over, very lightly so he won't notice and bat my hand away. He knows I'm too into him. When I feed him, he pushes my face away. He wants the breast and the milk, not the mother. I'm terrified he'll grow up to be one of those boys in high school who only look at women's breasts, not their faces. I worry that I will be jealous of his girlfriends.

Sometimes I'm afraid I go too far. I linger a little too long when I look at his little dimpled ass. I enjoy it too much when I put lotion on after his bath. I know everybody loves a naked baby; I know children are inherently sexual; I know it's normal to be turned on by your infant. One fatherhood book has a sidebar that tells new dads not to get freaked out if they get a hard-on. But this is tricky territory. Is it wrong to encourage him to touch himself? Is it okay to think of my baby when I masturbate? Is that just a manifestation of his all-consumingness? Babies are like a gas — they expand to fit all available space.

But I worry that I'll subtly cross the line, that the sexuality I share with Felix will fuck him up. (My parents never talked to me about sex; my son may have the opposite problem.) In my mind, I can fuzzily see the progression from our innocent play to abuse.
People always say of breastfeeding, "It's sensual, not sexual." But it is sexual.
They are little, they are yours, you forget that they have their own wants and needs, you think you can do anything with them, for them, to them.
I would never abuse my child, but I understand a little those who do.

Sometimes when Felix takes his nap, I get out the Hitachi. I don't think about my husband. Nor do I think about Johnny Knoxville, or that butch dyke at the coffee shop, or being taken from behind by a faceless stranger. Right after the baby was born, I imagined mothers licking my wounds. Now I think about other men who are fathers. Sexy men, new men, but fathers. Tackily enough, my friend's husbands. They would understand the leaking breasts, the extra pounds around the hips, the moodiness.

But always, my thoughts turn to Felix. I have a hard time concentrating on my clitoris, even with all that roaring power on it. I start thinking of when his next doctor's appointment is, or how cute it is that "yellow" and "sausage" are his first multisyllabic words.

For someone who has, for better or worse, gotten strength and power from being desired, I am now operating unsuccessfully in two parallel universes. On one hand, I have never been so desired in my life. Felix ravages my breasts as no one else ever has. It's not sexual hunger, it's actual hunger. Even now, at a year and half, he runs from across the room at the sight of them, tackles me onto the floor or couch, climbs up my body until he's within reach, then draws back and takes a good look, grins and goes in for the attack. People always say of breastfeeding, "It's sensual, not sexual." But it is sexual. He nuzzles and paws at me, grunts, throws his head from side to side as he latches on, his pink mouth warm on my nipple. He tries to get as much as he can into his mouth as his whole body burrows into me, his little heels digging into my thighs and still-soft belly. He kneads the breast he's nursing from with his hand to get more milk, and uses his free hand to tweak, twist and pull on my other nipple. I wonder if he's holding onto it protectively, so no one else can get it.

Who would give up being needed like that? Not me. Because the opposite universe is the one in which no one wants me. I'm a mother; I have little to no value to the outside world.


In keeping with our Felix-centered life, two months ago my husband and I invited thirty-two babies and their parents to a Valentine's baby brunch. We bought cases of cheap champagne, and the parents we know from yoga and work and the playground ate quiche and bagels, got drunk and pretended it was a kids' party. I started drinking at two. By nine-thirty, after the last guests left, I slurred to Ken, "I love Felix more than I love you."

It was the first time I'd said it out loud. I continued: "And you love Felix more than you love me. What's up with that? I want you to love me more than you love him, but I still want it to be okay for me to love him more than you."

Despite my drunkenness, he was patient. "It's different, that's all," he said. "It's a different kind of love."

"It doesn't matter," I said, then passed out. Happy Valentine's Day, honey.

My husband and I are fully in the cult of the kid. Our culture now rewards long-term breastfeeding and spending $800 on a stroller. We are supposed to sacrifice everything for our children: certainly sex, even romance. But I want to have a romantic life with my husband. I don't want to wake up when Felix is in school, or going off to college, and not know who Ken is. I want to be a model of erotic love for Felix to learn from.

I'd like to be able to say that by applying the golden rule of threesomes — play with everyone and take turns — I could come to some reckoning, but I can't. I can't resolve my sexuality changing, nor the placement of my erotic longing onto my son, nor my worries about psychologically damaging him. My husband gamely says, "It's okay, it's just all about you two for now." I try out the long view and understand that this is just a phase. I will stop breastfeeding Felix eventually; he'll get older and more independent; our physical attachment will decrease; he will probably not turn into an ax murderer as a result. I'm not sure where that leaves Ken and I. Maybe we'll wind up scheduling sex, like the advice columns tell you to. It sounds more businesslike than bold. But as I recall, a ménage a trois is difficult to negotiate: all those jangling limbs and sensitive egos, desires and expectations clashing up against one another, all that excitement and disappointment keeping each other in check.

1 comment:

Johanna said...

I am speechless with the beauty and intimacy of this post. Just simply breathtaking.