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How I learned to be a Mother AND feel Sexy

12 May; Author: Niyija

… (wobbly cushion tummy and all)

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Saturday morning. 7am. My six-year-old son has clambered under the duvet with me and my husband, as he often does, and I’m enjoying one of the best moments of my day, snuggled up between two people I love dearly.

While one is snoring, the other is poking my tummy, gleefully exclaiming ‘Oh Mummy, it’s so wobbly!’ I love my son to bits and I think it’s sweet that he finds my ‘mummy tummy’ so lovable and amusing.

After all, that’s where he and his two sisters began life and I am always happy to be the butt of jokes about my various motherly jiggly parts. They’re part of who I am now – a mother.

But, on the other hand, I am also a 35-year-old woman and a wife, and when I’m lucky enough to be alone with my 37-year-old husband I don’t want my tummy to be amusing. I want it to feel sexy. I want my whole body to feel sexy.

It is a dilemma faced not just by me, but by the millions of other women who are struggling to fit their two hugely different roles into one body. Is it really possible to be a mother and feel sexy?

It’s certainly a tricky juggling act. And, since the birth of my first child, Emily, 12 years ago, an act I’ve often found impossible to manage.

At times, it’s caused both me and my husband much confusion and put a strain on our relationship.

The truth is that it took me until two years after the birth of my last child – almost ten years during which Mummy Liz dominated Sexy Liz – to feel that I was fully a sexual being again.

So why did it take so long: why do millions of women face long chunks of their lives when they find it hard to exist as sexual beings?

Before I had children, my husband and I weren’t exhausted by crying babies through the night, and we had endless time to ourselves.

And our bodies, well, they were – not to put it too crudely – useful for one thing in particular.

But then I became a mother – and everything changed. There’s a well-known saying that you leave your dignity at the door of the delivery room – and I certainly left mine there.

Giving birth was, by several eons, the least dignified, most shocking and most embarrassing experience of my life.

There I was, knees in the air, with not two but three people I’d never met before staring intently at my now very public parts, poking and prodding me with latex-clad hands and discussing whether or not they could see a human head down there, as though standing around a water cooler talking about last night’s telly.

My husband was there too, as we’d agreed he would be. I never thought for a second that I’d find it unpleasant having him looking at parts of me that were once sexy, and were now, well, pretty horrific actually.

I suddenly felt horrible, and ugly, and embarrassed. I didn’t know then that I’d be troubled for years by negative, uncomfortable feelings towards parts of my body that used to be purely pleasurable, and never imagined that feeling sexy again would be so hard, physically and psychologically.

‘Sexy’ – not a word you often hear associated with motherhood. Before they give birth for the first time, women who dress up or flaunt just the right amount of cleavage or legs can be called sexy.

But a mother? Well, she can be beautiful, elegant, funny, pretty, clever, hard-working, gifted, loving, kind. But sexy? No, not in her role as a mother.

However beautiful pregnancy and motherhood undoubtedly are, they are hardly sexy – from the woman’s point of view, let alone the man’s.

When I was pregnant my body changed at an alarming rate from something I knew, understood and had a modicum of control over into something the size of a Transit van, and one with a mind of its own.

After the birth I was left with a body I didn’t recognise any more – and didn’t much like either, because it was saggy, sore and covered in stretchmarks.

Of course my husband told me he still thought I looked gorgeous. He’s a lovely man and I know he meant it and it’s in his interest to make me feel good. But I wasn’t buying it. I couldn’t believe it.

While I did feel proud of a body that had brought three children into the world, and it was worth every battle scar, I missed the body I had before – and I felt like I was inhabiting someone else’s wobbly body much of the time.

After each baby I felt huge, tired and ugly, and I saw myself and my body in a totally different light.

I was suddenly overwhelmingly maternal: overnight my body’s primary role had become entirely functional, not sexy.

I was amazed and elated at what it could do for my baby – rather than how good it could look, or how attractive it was. And I felt that my children had a greater claim on my body than my husband did.

My babies could have as much of my new body as they liked, but I didn’t like anyone else to see it. Including me.

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According to Dr Linda Papadopoulos, psychologist, author and mother of a seven-year-old daughter, this is quite normal.

She says: ‘After pregnancy, my tummy didn’t feel like it used to, and I didn’t like it. I didn’t want to share it with anybody apart from my daughter, because she didn’t care what I looked like.

‘Children don’t have notions about what’s attractive and what’s not. They need you more than anything else, and that’s very comforting to a new mother. So it’s not surprising we feel we want to give our body to the baby now, more than our partner.’

This is a very important point. If the mixed messages our bodies and minds are giving us (ie are our breasts for feeding a child, or pleasing our husbands) aren’t enough to confuse us, then our society’s image of motherhood – of what mothers are and what they should or shouldn’t be doing – definitely makes things worse.

If a celebrity mother is photographed looking fabulously sexy on a night out, she’s often criticised for being out on the town and dressing unsuitably instead of staying in with her children.

If we gain weight after having babies, we’ve ‘let ourselves go’. But if we regain our figure, we’re body-obsessed.

If we dress badly we’re frumpy; if we dress sexily we’ve thrown away our morals. We can’t win.

According to Dr Papadopoulos, we are socialised to feel we have to choose between Madonna-and-Child, and woman of the night: ‘The two aspects of womanhood – mother and sexual partner – are not mutually exclusive. But we’re made to feel they are.

‘In reality, every woman has it within her to be both sexy and maternal. We should be able to be both.’

She points out that this false split isn’t the case for fathers: ‘You never hear, “Oh, why’s he out having fun? He should be at home nurturing the baby.” But mothers get that all the time – it’s a huge pressure.’

And even if we weren’t under pressure to be the Good, Nurturing Mum, the fact is it’s hard to look and feel attractive when you’re a new mum.

Take breastfeeding. I breastfed all three of mine and would urge any woman who can to do the same, because it’s a magical, important thing to share with your child. But it’s not exactly sexy, is it?

As a friend of mine, Mel, who has three children aged ten, six and three, put it: ‘We give our bodies over to creating a baby, and feel as big as a bus by the end of it. Can anyone honestly be expected to look at their body the same way after having a baby?’

And once you feel unattractive, you think and act unattractive – and that’s a hard mindset to break out of.

Gina, a writer and mother of three, found her biggest barrier to feeling sexy even years after having a baby was exhaustion.

She says: ‘When my children were young, sex seemed one demand too many, and there were days when I felt a complete wreck. Sex would feel like a waste of sleeping time. That became a real habit, even after the tiredness wore off.’

Tiredness aside, one of the main things that stopped me feeling sexy and wanting sex again was the sheer volume of images of impossibly sexually provocative women I was constantly seeing in the media.

Advertising campaigns showing lithe young beauties with not a stretch-mark in sight; pop videos with semi-naked, toned girls gyrating and looking like having sex was all they ever did with their beautiful, child-free bodies.

It made me feel hugely inadequate – and also that there was just no way my husband could possibly find me as attractive as what he saw on TV every day.

Women without children were obviously sex goddesses and sexually available all the time. How could I ever compete with that?

The answer is, of course, that I’m not competing with that. I’m me, and he likes me for what I am.

As my husband put it: ‘It doesn’t matter what you look like – there is nothing more sexy than when you feel good about yourself and you’re happy.’

And he’s right. One day I suddenly realised I felt sexy again. Sexier than I’ve ever felt, and more confident in every way.

Why? Well, there are several reasons. For a start, my body was back to near normal and it was great to rediscover my waist, wear flattering clothes again and feel confident in my nakedness.

Second, I was older and wiser, and with that comes an acceptance of who we are.

But mainly it’s because my children were now that little bit older, and had entered a different stage of their lives, where Mummy wasn’t needed 24/7 any more.

This change meant I could start remembering the sexy, desirable side my body once had. I could finally start enjoying the ‘woman’ side of me, rather than exclusively the mother side.

And I realised how important it is to keep a hold of the ‘old you’. That’s partly why I wrote my first book, The Yummy Mummy’s Survival Guide – to help other mothers understand this huge, overwhelming psychological change that is so rarely talked about.

It’s not at all about looking perfect or having nice hair. It’s about learning to juggle several roles and enjoy them all.

I’m loving being able to enjoy both sides of me again, and so is my husband. Yes, my son still calls my tummy his Wobble Cushion. And yes, I do prefer sleep to sex quite often.

But it’s fine. Because I can tuck my maternal side away when I want to now and enjoy being a sexy woman.

It’s actually the best combination in the world. It’s just a shame it takes many mothers so long to feel they can be sexy again.

Today, I can enjoy the body and the life I have. It’s a very good one.

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From Mail Online – femail

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