Why sex is last thing expectant and new mums should give up
Your body does not feel like a 'wonderland'. It feels just the opposite, thank you. And you want to be able to say, 'Keep your hands to yourself'. But forgoing intimacy is the last thing you should do
In my experience, everything about parenting is counter-intuitive. I remember being pregnant while on tour with my first young adult novel and trying to get through the San Francisco airport, garbage can to garbage can. I clung to the slightly sticky metal like I was hugging a pole in a hurricane, breathing hard through my nose, waiting for the wave of nausea to pass until I could make it to the next one. All the while my writing partner, Emma, stood anxiously by, saying, "I think you need to eat something." I shook her off. Was she insane?
When we made it to the gate the only food option turned out to be Burger King. Emma bought me a Whopper while I contemplated suicide. She had to practically force-feed me on the plane, but within seconds I felt better. A Whopper later and my nausea was gone.
That was my first big lesson. The second came when my daughter started walking - then running - and everything became optional.
Would she put her pyjamas on? Would she brush her teeth? It was anybody's guess. What finally got her to the sink, while I gripped the bathtub's edge to keep from screaming or pouring myself a shot of mouthwash? Singing badly at the top of my lungs. The last thing I felt like doing, but as soon as I made a game out of cooperation she was happy to oblige. Time to be blunt: sex works in a similar way after having children.
What's intuitive is to get as much sleep as humanly possible. What's counter-intuitive is to engage in any activity that requires any kind of output and delays sleep - even for five minutes.
Also, when your energy is being pulled in so many different directions it's so tempting to take something - anything (showering?) - off the table. Add to that the feeling that after being touched and excreted on all day long, your body does not feel like a "wonderland". It feels just the opposite, thank you. And you want to be able to tell someone, anyone, "Keep your hands to yourself".
But, many years in, I cannot emphasise how important it is to override your exhausted impulses. Prioritising sex is the number one advice I give to expecting mothers. Because it's the thing that reboots the computer and reminds you that this person is your soulmate and not someone the government assigned you to survive an experiment in sleep-deprivation.
In the long term it's important because you can't just put your marriage on auto-pilot for two decades, think you'll go get a drink after dropping your last child off at college, and expect to pick up where you left off. Having the occasional night-time babysitter will not throw your child's sense of attachment into chaos. After all, what gives children a deep sense of security in the long term? Having parents who enjoy each other.
We are five years into being parents, and a quarter of the parents in my daughter's daycare are already divorced. Those folks also happen to be the couples who scoffed at me initially when my husband and I would run into them on the weekends without our daughter. They were the ones who said, "We never go out without our child." Or, "We've never spent a night away from our child." The same ones who later confided that they'd stopped having sex. And then eventually split.
Now - did they stop having sex because they stopped getting along? Or did the tensions between them become irrevocable because they stopped being romantic with each other?
I do not have the answer for that. But my wish for you is that you don't ever need that answer, either.
The Washington Post
Nicola Kraus is the co-author, with Emma McLaughlin, of The Nanny Diaries, and other bestsellers, as well as their latest novel about a forty-something mother finding herself again: How to be a Grown Up