He felt like I didn’t need him anymore.
At least that’s what I remember him saying.
The truth was, I needed him then more than ever, just in a new way. I didn’t exactly know what that new way was yet. I was figuring it out; like most new mums, I was figuring a lot of things out. I needed time.
We hadn’t had sex since our son was born, yet I felt more connected to my husband than ever before.
But as time went on and the months passed without us having sex, it started to hang over us like another milestone we hadn’t crossed off. Was bedsharing to blame? Was I subconsciously choosing my baby over my husband? Should I stop breastfeeding?
All I knew was that I didn’t need the extra pressure.
But he needed reassurance that our marriage would be ok. That I still needed him. That I still loved him. That we hadn’t lost our way. That I still held the space for him.
The truth was, I’d fallen in love with him all over again – in a deeper, less giddy kind of way – as I witnessed him becoming a father. When I saw a new side to him. When he had my back in the hospital when I was terrified of being walked into surgery to have an unplanned belly birth. When he held our son close in the middle of the night making sacrifices that were creating a sacred space for our little family.
He represented safety and familiarity in those moments when my world felt as though it had been turned upside down – he was my centre giving me the courage to step each day into the great unknown.
Because becoming a mother is about so much more than the birth of a baby. Our culture associates terms like “bouncing back” and “losing the baby weight” with new motherhood as if we’re supposed to get back to who we were before. We glorify doing, achieving and multitasking, but leaning into the process of matrescence is all about being; slowing down, surrendering and evolving.
I wish I knew going into motherhood that I could never be who I was before.
I wish I knew that I was evolving – and that it was a good thing. I wish I knew how much motherhood would impact my marriage. I wish I understood the full extent of matrescence before the process was upon me.
Dr. Alexandra Sacks explains that matrescence is a transitional period, just like adolescence. Alexandra says that, “being pregnant is like going through puberty all over again: your hormones go nuts, your hair and skin don’t behave the way you’d like, and you develop a new relationship with a body that seems to have a mind of its own.”
But there’s a big difference between adolescence and matrescence: Everyone understands and accepts that adolescence is an awkward phase, but during matrescence, people expect new mothers to be happy while we’re losing control over the way we look and feel.
We need to give ourselves permission to take our time. For some couples, that may mean being intimate again at 6 weeks, for others it may take 6 months or longer.
We need to acknowledge and normalise that becoming parents – whether we choose to bedshare or not – tests a relationship in a brand new way. Small fractures that were present in a relationship before the birth, have the potential to open up into seismic chasms after the baby’s arrival. Nothing tests a marriage like having children.
Dr. Oscar Serralach reports that even with the healthiest couples, relationship satisfaction is at an all time low eighteen months after the birth of a child – 13 percent of couples separate at this stage or earlier. And 92 percent of couples describe a gradual increase in conflict after having a baby. While some relationships can’t last due to incompatibility, Dr. Serralach believes that they are in the minority and that often relationships fail due to lack of support, resources and tools to deal with issues.
So, when a mother emailed me about her concerns about how cosleeping and new parenthood could be affecting her marriage, I was excited to be able to hold the space for her and bring some support, reassurance and resources to her family.
Here’s what she said:
“I’ve seen a few posts about this topic here and I’d really like to hear from you about intimacy with your partner after having a baby. I think it pertains to all parents but perhaps gentle parents particularly, since we devote so much time to attachment and do things like co-sleep, babywear, delay letting other people “babysit” etc.
My baby is almost 10mo and besides some cuddles and kisses, the intimacy with my partner is non-existent. I don’t know how to recreate the spark. We have had opportunities – sometimes my baby will let me roll away after falling asleep at night. That is how my partner and I have had cuddle opportunities. Since we bedshare and contact nap (and our baby is never with anyone but me or my partner) these moments in the evening (not every evening) are pretty much our only opportunity. We have chosen to use this time to cuddle and/or talk. Sometimes we don’t even bother linking up because we are both tired and fall asleep. I think it’s fair to choose sleep when you need it but when will we shift our priorities? I don’t know.
It’s gotten to the point where I feel sad every month when my baby is another month older and I think, “Gosh, now it’s been X months since we’ve had sex” and I don’t want to think of it like that! I fear this lack of intimacy is reflective of some deeper flaw in the relationship – even though he is wonderful and I feel happy – I still worry – is it something we can never get back?
I suppose I would really like to hear about similar experiences. I’ve heard plenty of “we got right back to it at 6 weeks” or “we still make time every week” – I’m happy for folks that aren’t struggling like me – but I’m looking for reassurance from parents who have struggled and found a way through it or perhaps are in the same boat.”
And here are just a few of the amazing responses and conversations sparked both within the Raised Good Facebook Group and on Instagram.
“My son is almost 2 years old and the spark just recently reignited. Like our toddler’s sleep, it shifted naturally without much intervention. We’ve been exhausted and trying to get used to our new normal. We expressed our love and were intimate in other ways (talking, laughing together when we had the energy, lol, kisses, hugs). It will get better. It’s all temporary.” Andrea Shipp
“It took me and my partner just over a year to have sex again after our son was born. So you’re not alone! I thought he didn’t want to be with me and he thought I didn’t want sex at all so didn’t want to even try (complete lack of communication) I think finding the time is a big issue! Not being tired all the time and finding yourselves again as parents. Our relationship has evolved since having our son and I think we needed that time to find out who we are now and to have time to adjust to being parents especially with breastfeeding and cosleeping. Having a baby attached to you at every moment made it very difficult for us to be intimate, our son is nearly 3 years old now and there are still dry spells but we are so much better at talking about it now than we were before – I think communication has been the key for us! To voice our needs and wants made our sex life after having a child soooo much better!” Becky Georgia Pease
“Our second child is 16 months old now and we have had sex exactly one time since he was born. Your relationship is not broken – you just have other priorities right now. Like others have mentioned in the group, I also don’t really care for sex until my period returns. With baby #1 it came back at 17 month postpartum, and then we started having fabulous sex semi regularly. I haven’t gotten it back yet after baby #2, so I have zero interest in being intimate. My partner understands that it is temporary. You will definitely reignite the spark, and it will probably be a ton of fun when you do! It’s kind of like having sex with a new person!! Weee!” Kristina, Mom of two
“Intimacy is not sex! Yes sex is a lovely way to connect but there are other ways! And when you have young children you must find those other ways. We have 3 children – 7, 4 & 1 years old – and co-sleep with all of them in the same room with our 1-year-old in our bed. We’ve learned over the years to connect with each other intimately without sex as sex is infrequent. We know we will have years and years of a child free bedroom when they are older so we just soak it up and enjoy being close with them now.” Kate Porter
“We have a family bed that sleeps my husband and me, along with our four year old daughter and 8 month old son. Though intimacy looks different for us right now, there’s another kind of sweet love I feel for my husband. He gets giddy with joy when our daughter wakes in the night and asks to come under the blankets with him while I nurse our baby. Watching the bond between the two of them blossom while I care for baby brother is the most beautiful sight to behold. Our sex life will rebound~ but in the meantime, my love for him is deepening on a new level as he nurtures and night-parents our girl.” 💞 Emily, Mother of Two
“I find it funny that people think just because you bedshare or don’t sleep with your husband (we sleep in another room & even before kids sometimes slept in separate rooms) that you lack intimacy. I had a childless friend look at me with pity when she found out we bedshare, “Aww. That must be hard for you & your husband”. NO! It’s not! I didn’t plan to bedshare and now, 20 months in I just can’t imagine not sleeping with my little guy. He needs me way more than my husband. My husband couldn’t care less if I SLEEP next to him (yes to sex though, lol) but my baby wants me there & sleeps so soundly because of it. People definitely have preconceived notions about sex & the truth is, no one knows exactly what a couple is going through, so don’t assume! Bedsharing has changed our intimate relationship but I think just having a child would change that – bedsharing or not. Either way, we would have had to plan sex, when we never did before. I don’t love that, but that’s what works right now & I’ll take that over no sex or making my baby cry it out. You’re not alone.” Roslyn, Mom to a 21-month-old
“We’ve been bedsharing for almost 4 years now. It’s not something I expected I would want as a mother but something I treasure now, and hugely advocate for. Parenting – not only bedsharing – affects intimacy, but parenting also changes who we are and our needs from our partners. We need emotional and physical support in different ways, and it’s important in any marriage that this evolves and allows couples to grow. As far as when we find time for “intimacy” – there’s nap time, and evenings between the children’s bedtime and ours. My advice would be, be patient, love your children, and grow with your partner. I always say to others who judge our parenting choice to bedshare two main points. 1. Adults don’t sleep alone, why should my children? And 2. I have a lifetime with my husband, but only a very very short season with my young children, I want to be with them for as much of it as possible.” @mypineapplefamily
“I’ve been bed-sharing for 6 years. I’ve had lots of positive and negative feedback regarding it from others. My advice is to listen to your natural instincts, talk with your husband, get the rest you need (you’re no good without it) and make time to be intimate. *Our time* looks a lot different than it used to BUT we make it happen. My comeback to naysayers – if you’re ONLY doing it at bedtime or in a bed – maybe YOU are the ones doing intimacy all wrong. Not us.” Mindijo, Mom of Four
Whether you’re a new or not-so-new parent, I hope that reading other parent’s experiences makes you feel a little less alone and a little more normal.
Take your time with your partner. Don’t feed into the worry that something is wrong – you are both going through a massive transformation, so give yourselves the space to nurture one other – whatever that looks for you.
Often it is our fears that cause more problems than our reality ever could. Voice your concerns with your partner and strive to show them love, affection, and praise however you can, but know that this is a season. And like all seasons, they pass…sometimes, all too soon. What can this season of slowness, of comfort, of deep connection bring to your relationship?
When I look back on our season of becoming new parents, I feel warm and cozy inside. I feel held and safe and supported. I remember all that was abundant, not what was lacking. Maybe sex needs to move aside for a wee while to make space for the newness unfolding in our families, to create the sacred space that will carry us forward with our partners.
Where to from here?
For mothers – and partners – I highly recommend the book The Postnatal Depletion Cure by Dr. Oscar Serrallach. I wish I’d read it much sooner! Oscar explains the massive physical, mental and emotional changes that occur during matrescence and dedicates a chapter to recovering your relationship with your partner and with your libido.
This is far too often overlooked or forgotten about, yet there is a scientific and hormonal reason why you may not be feeling as inclined to engage in sex with your partner as you once were. Remember that and give yourself grace as you navigate this new territory.
I also recommend the book, The Fourth Trimester: A Postpartum Guide to Healing Your Body, Balancing Your Emotions, and Restoring Your Vitality, by Kimberly Ann Johnson. Kimberly spends multiple chapters on deepening intimacy, rediscovering your body and reclaiming your sexuality. Kimberly also runs the wonderful MagaMama podcast. Learn more about Kimberly here.
For more conversations like these, join the Raised Good Facebook Group and connect with likeminded parents – sometimes all we need is to know we’re not alone and share ideas to improve things.
Members of our group have also found the book, The Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts really helpful.
Lastly, The Gottman Institute offers a research-based approach to relationships and their website offers a wealth of resources.
Sending you lots of love,