User's guide to sex and pregnancy

And how to get back in the sack after having kids

We all know how to *not* get pregnant but Monica Cook wants to help us access the wealth of information about how to get pregnant, and what to expect along the way.

“I knew nothing about healthy pregnancy.” – Monica Cook

“In our current climate, and from an educational standpoint, we all get trained up in topics like puberty and how to prevent pregnancy,” says Cook, who runs sex and fertility workshops.

“[We’re taught about] contraception and healthy relationships, but there’s no education around the biology and psychology of sex as well as how to get pregnant, how to know our bodies and understand how pregnancy works, beyond the obvious basics.”

A researcher and science communicator, Cook was propelled on this pregnancy project when she and her husband began thinking about having kids.

“I knew nothing about healthy pregnancy,” admits Cook. “The doctor gave me a basic check-up, but I felt quite alone and little bit overwhelmed. I wasn’t sure how long it would take. I was unsure and felt uncertain.

“[But] I started charting and understanding my own body. I felt more in control of what was going on and it was such a relief for [my husband and I] to understand what was going on.”

Armed with such knowledge, Cook is developing an accessible and relatable course to help couples prepare for pregnancy (through a fellowship with Anglican Deaconess Ministries).

So, what are the things you need to know if you’re thinking about trying to get pregnant? Cook says: “Expect the unexpected.”

“Be open to whatever journey God may take you on. If we already have a preconceived idea of what that journey should look like, we’ll only be faced with frustrations because it almost always diverges from our ideas – whether it’s about how we birth our child, how we raise them, or what kind of child we have.”

But that doesn’t have to mean we go in blind to pregnancy. Cook advises that we don’t have to know everything about pregnancy and its potential complications, but we also can be comforted by knowing that there is a suite of resources should something go wrong.

In addition to that, she says it’s important to know that every woman is different.

“The reality is that every woman is different so it’s important to know how to read your body, understand your body and find out when you ovulate, how to know when you’re fertile and how to utilise that information as a couple to either conceive, or if you want to, avoid a pregnancy for a time.”

Cook says that while all that information is out there somewhere, it’s not readily available in easy-to-understand language.

“As women, we don’t know much about our natural cycles. There is no [one] place to go to answer these questions: is this a normal bleed, the normal time, the normal length of the cycle? When should we have sex if we want to have a baby? Is day 14 always day 14? Should we be having sex at a different time?”

“Sex is very private and personal, making it easy to offend or isolate others …” – Monica Cook

Cook’s project, entitled ‘What To Expect Before You’re Expecting’, will present this information in easy-to-access courses for couples, where they will find answers to their pregnancy-related questions.

While Cook believes that people are becoming more willing to talk about issues of sex and fertility, it continues to be an uphill battle within the broader Christian church.

“We [the church] have a lot of historical baggage in only understanding sexual pleasure in its negative form, for example, as a forbidden fruit or temptation, lust, adultery or ‘fleshly’ desire, making it a loaded and taboo topic,” says Cook about why the church generally finds it hard to have candid conversations about sex and fertility.

“There’s also that sex is very private and personal, making it easy to offend or isolate others, which is why it’s so often easier just to steer clear of it. It [can be] like trying to navigate a minefield.

“On top of that, we’ve also done a pretty bad job of upholding the sexual ethic we espouse, leading to an overlap with other difficult areas such as sexual abuse in the church and domestic violence, making it even harder to discuss,” says Cook.

“I want people to understand that God’s got a really good vision for sexuality, that our bodies are not dirty or embarrassing. There’s nothing shameful about sex in the way we were created. It’s a really good thing.”

“I felt like a new person in my body. There was a lot of adjusting.” – Monica Cook

With such a positive endorsement of sex, Cook also wants to help married couples to reignite physical intimacy after having kids. A mum of three, Cook says she was not prepared for what life would look like after having kids.

“No one really told me about the impact of having children on my relationship with my husband, on our capacity to really relate to one another. We were so busy and tired and exhausted, and we just weren’t prepared for that at all.”

“Even finding time to be intimate, not necessarily sexually, was really challenging. I felt overtouched and overworked and I didn’t know how to relate anymore. Our roles had changed; the dynamic had changed. I felt like a new person in my body. There was a lot of adjusting.

“I wish I’d been a bit better prepared for that. I felt very much alone in being able to talk to other people about what they did [in the same situation].”

The silence was deafening for Cook, who has put a lot of thought into helping couples reconnect after having kids. “Healthy sexual relationships take work and intentionality. Like anything in our relationships, we need to work at it and put effort into it, not just assume that something will naturally evolve.”

“Let’s just see where this goes.” – Monica Cook

Building on language from Song of Songs in the Bible, Cook uses the metaphor of a garden to talk about rekindling physical intimacy.

“You can’t force a garden to grow, but you can nurture it, provide nutrients, and it grows in response to what you expose it to,” says Cook. “It’s very resilient, so there may be destruction in a garden, but it grows back. There’s regeneration. And it’s not a final destination, it’s constantly evolving, there’s no right garden, no broken garden, there’s just different gardens. It’s about working with the beauty of your garden and the garden of your spouse and trying to understand that.”

Cook raises how important it is for couples with kids to consider ways to intentionally yet organically make space for intimacy (not necessarily sex). At the heart of this is understanding that while a couple may have differences in how they approach and experience intimacy, they can still learn to enjoy each other even in the time-poor land of parenting.

For couples who are struggling to physically reconnect, Cook suggests starting by using the phrase, “let’s just see where this goes,” and to genuinely mean it, taking the pressure off intercourse and focusing on intimacy and connection as a couple.

Monica Cook is a senior research fellow at Anglican Deaconess Ministries and ‘What To Expect Before You’re Expecting’ is a four-pronged project covering natural fertility, infertility, unexpected complications and how to reignite intimacy after having kids.

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