Pain and Pleasure in Pregnant Disability

One was being in water, where my joints could get a break from the stress, and I could move freely.


Pregnancy was a strange, surreal experience for me. As an autistic person with a history of body dysmorphia and disassociation, I hadn’t ever been on familiar terms with my own body. Pregnancy amplified this feeling many times over. My body felt unknown, unpredictable, and not my own.

During my second pregnancy, I became disabled. I had known chronic pain of various kinds for years – migraine, back spasms, sciatica, joint pain – but these had been less of a daily barrier until now. My joints, already hypermobile, were now so unstable that people sat up in alarm to hear them pop out and slide around. I needed crutches and a wheelchair and was in constant pain.

There were two things that helped me. One was being in water, where my joints could get a break from the stress, and I could move freely. Being in water was wonderful relief, but I needed a lot of help to access it. I needed help to undress, move to the pool, and get out, get changed. The physical effort afterwards often negated the benefits of the water (something many disabled people are familiar with!), and the relief was short-lived.

The second way I found help was through masturbation. Spending time with my body in this way felt luxurious and powerful, a reclamation of sorts. Yes, everything hurt, and I couldn’t walk, and I was scared and anxious about the future. But there in those moments, I found refuge. I could suspend my physical and mental reality through pleasure and fantasy. My body felt unknowable, but in masturbation, in pleasure, I could recognize it again. Self-pleasure allowed me to trust in my body, and appreciate the nuance in what was happening. My body was in pain, yes, and there were things I could no longer do. But at the same time, my body could make me feel amazing. I could turn away from my worries and towards something pleasurable.

An unexpected result of masturbation was a newfound bond with my baby. I know this sounds very strange. During pregnancy, my baby shared my body. When I was stressed, my baby felt it. When I had a lot of sugar, my baby felt it. And when I was relaxed, experiencing a rush of pleasure, my baby felt it. I noticed that after I orgasmed, the baby would react by curling up in a tight ball. My bump went solid. At first, I was alarmed but learned through reading that it wasn’t a concern. The baby had a rush of happy chemicals and responded. All okay. My baby responded this way every time, and I came to cherish these strange moments.

Pleasure was my refuge from physical pain and daily apprehension, and the afterglow of pleasure gave me a chance to feel grounded in my body in a positive way. Until now I had been scared and worried about having this baby, about what pregnancy was doing to my body, and what the future might look like. So far having this baby, as much as I already loved them, meant so much change, disability, and pain. Here was an opportunity for quiet relaxation and connection with my child, and it was beautiful. At these times I could allow myself to consider that things might be okay. That I didn’t know our future, but there would be time and space for good things. My body hadn’t let me down in its new physical limitations; my body was busy nurturing a new life as well as my own. Masturbation allowed me to feel whole again and helped me to understand that I’d never been broken at all.

Erin Forest (she/they) is a queer disabled mother of two. They spend their time caring for children, plants, and wayward friends. She reads as much as possible.

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