Not Tonight, Honey, I Have a Headache (And I’ll Have One Tomorrow Night, Too)

Thursday, June 17, 2010

SEX! That got your attention. New Mom … aaaand now I’ve lost it. The two things don’t really seem to mix. Ask any new mama about her sex life and, if she’s honest, her response will be some variation on, “Sex Life? Is that a new HBO show?”

Sadly, for many of us, sex is way down on the list. Enjoying sex? That might not even be in the notebook. It’s a discussion that is going on in countless new parent bedrooms. (Usually, it’s a whispered convo, since le bébé is probably co-sleeping or in a nearby crib.)

I went to lunch with my neighbor Maura Sheehy to talk about why new moms would rather just sleep with their husbands than sleep with their husbands. Maura is a mom of three, married for 15 years. She’s also the psychotherapist (in private practice) who runs a weekly support group for new mothers at our local community center and writes about maternal identity for magazines and journals.

Maura has heard the “what is this thing called sex?” refrain from newbies for many years. I figured she’s got to have some solid answers, right? Right!

Photo by Nicole Blades

Best thing that you can tell a new mom about her dusty or completely MIA libido?
You will have sex again! You will return to yourself. Also, understand—for the new, new mom—there’s a lot going on in your body after you’ve had a baby. Aside from the obvious healing after birth, if you’re breastfeeding, the decrease of estrogen makes it so that your vaginal walls are dryer. It’s not feeling juicy and warm and cozy in there. It’s probably going to be rather uncomfortable when you have sex.

But also there’s the huge transition in terms of who you are and what your life is about. You’re trying to learn this new set of skills, trying to keep this human being alive. Then you’re not getting any sleep on top of all that … the conditions couldn’t be any worse for accessing that part of yourself that feels relaxed, in touch with your body, free, and interested in pleasure.

Many moms I’ve spoken to said they’re not even having sex in their dreams.
Thinking about the relationship with your husband or partner is no longer the priority. There’s a third person in your relationship who you’re now completely focused on.

Women aren’t really ready to see what it is we’re going through. We just think, “Why don’t I want to have sex anymore? What’s wrong with me?” Nothing’s wrong; you’ve just had this giant life-change. We need to recognize this.

When you’re pregnant, the focus is on you: what to eat, what to do, how much to sleep, etc. The minute the baby is born, the entire focus shifts to them. We just think, “Is the baby doing OK?” We don’t think, “Is the mommy doing OK?”

The relationship with your husband/partner has changed, too. Your usual intimacy takes a vacation, and you start relating to each other as roommates and teammates. It’s Team Get This Baby Through The Night.
Exactly. And sometimes the baby is sleeping in the room with you. It can be so hard to disconnect from the obsession that you have with this new, little person.

But it’s important to think about it. How do we get back to sex? How do we find each other again? Eventually it will change. It depends on how much a woman has begun the process of factoring herself back into the picture. In small ways, saying I need to be out by myself for a few hours, I need to get back to yoga … any small way that she can get other parts of herself back on the burner.

What about the intimacy shift?
Try other types of intimacy. Turn off the TV. Just lie in bed together with the lights off and talk about the day. Or say, “Let’s get into bed and read together.”

It’s a challenge to relax and empty your brain, though.
True. There are also back rubs and foot rubs. They can help reintroduce your body to that kind of touch again. It all helps.

Take care of Me The Wife, not just Me The Mom.
Exactly. People don’t often respond to Me The Wife. It’s hard to identify those separate parts of yourself.

If you had to give two or three pointers to a mom who is in the thick of all of this, what would they be?
Support is key. Maybe go to a moms group—you don’t even have to say anything, if you’re not ready to talk. Just listen. Hearing other women express some of this stuff and having others validate what you’re feeling can be powerful. Women can also benefit from even just a few therapy sessions. Anyone can benefit from having a place to go and reflect, make connections and understand yourself a little better.

And compassion. Try to have a compassionate response to what each other is going through. Recognize that you’re on the same side and the problem is over there. It’s an easy opening for more intimacy.

As you begin to make your way through all of this and start feeling like you’re getting back into the picture, sex gets better! You are more you. You are more alive and cooking on all the burners. Sometimes you’re exhausted, but you’re definitely connecting on a deeper level with yourself. And you’ll have more to bring to the party.

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