Dear New Dad,
Welcome to parenthood! I'm figuring no one's really told you what to exactly expect in postpartum- managing sleep deprivation and baby issues and your postpartum depression along with everyone else's. And also sex. There's so much more to it than a simple green light from the doc at six weeks.
New moms usually auto- adjust their needs and expectations around sexy cuddles. The minute that babe is born, someone else really needs her boobs, her snuggles, her entire body, mind and soul. And needs them constantly. Being 'touched out' is a legit thing. Also, pain. Physical, bodily pain from healing. And pain from intercourse. And sleep deprivation, and wrecked body image. And more pain. For some reason dads don’t usually get the same memo and are ready to dive back into sex pretty much as soon as she's game. And the waiting for her to be game...and waiting...and more waiting...
In fact, so many couples suffer here that scientific studies have been done to figure out why. An article discussing these findings minces no words:
If you’re in the shockingly disastrous phase, hold on. There are things that bring rain to the sexy famine, and you need to know how to make them happen.
Expecting the quality and frequency of sex to return to what it was after the 6-week green light can be a setup for disappointment. There’s a new normal. Posptartum sex can hurt. Vaginal dryness is a thing, with or without breastfeeding. Birth injuries mess up all the fun down there for months. And need we even talk about hemmorrhoids. There’s a whole new body waiting for you, one that your woman may be really unhappy and self-conscious about for a while.
This is a hard pill to swallow. It’s ok to grieve what’s been lost. What felt good to your woman may not feel good for a long, long time- possibly ever. What is good now must be learned- it’s usually a long, slow road back to mutually enjoyable intercourse.
There are ways to get your woman back to you faster, and they are things that you have a lot of sway over.
According to the two most prominent studies ever done on the subject (1, 2), the top contributing factors of a postpartum momma’s sexual desire are:
- Amount of sexual feelings
- My partner’s level of interest in being sexual with me
- Amount of intimate or close feelings toward my partner
The three things most influencing lack of desire are:
- Personal level of fatigue
- Amount of stress
- Amount of available time
So even though there’s a whole bunch of physical factors at play, the whole situation actually hinges on two things:
- How well you’re getting along with your baby momma and
- How well supported she is.
Which mostly rests on you, because she’s pretty preoccupied and likely not in a state of mind that is conducive to trying to make sure you’re all good.
WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOU:
Slow on the uptake
Creating opportunities to relax with you, hold your hand, maybe even cuddle- are solid strategies. Expecting nothing more goes a LONG way in showing her that you’re truly considering how and where she is.
Show your love
Bring her flowers, sushi, her favorite coffee and chocolate. Be loving in the face of snarkiness. Try to stay one step ahead of her needs- bring her breakfast, her magazine, clean the breast pump and all the dishes. Complement her mothering, her work in birth, her awesomeness. Tell her how beautiful she is. Nothing forced or showy. Just be genuine. Hopefully you’re the guy who feels like your woman in a (milk-stained) tshirt and sweatpants is the hottest thing ever. If not, try to get there. Complement whatever you genuinely feel is beautiful- and if there’s not much- find stuff. Never joke about her weight, fashion (or lack thereof), or looks, even if she does. (A hint: When she jokes in this way, she is looking for you to dispel her feelings of utter grossness. Look her straight in the face and tell her sincerely "I think you're gorgeous. Right now. Just the way you are.")
If your woman tells you or shows signs of depression, psychosis (dangerous thoughts towards herself, baby, or anyone else), anxiety, extreme exhaustion, or physical ailments- DO NOT ignore, placate, minimize, or take the baby for a half an hour to give her a break and expect it to be all good. Get her help. The first time. Don’t mess around here.
Put her first
She should not be trying to do all the things. Any of the things, really. No dishes or cleaning or getting up with the older kids or meal prep or driving anyone anywhere or really anything that requires movement, for a few weeks at least. These things should still get done, because if not, she will do them. And she shouldn’t. This leaves two options, both viable:
- Hire someone/let her hire someone (this is an investment into your marriage and health as parents.) Postpartum doulas, housekeepers, grocery delivery services, and other such- make space for these in your budget. Now is the time more than any other to loosen the purse strings a bit.
- Less viable option: You do all the things. I bet you have a lot of things you’r already doing, though.
- Third option, particularly good for marital strife, womanly exhaustion, and sorrow all around: Tell her “You rest! Don’t worry about it, it doesn’t really need to be done” and have no one do it.
As for events, parties, and hosting- NO. No to all of the things. If she needs to get out of the house for her own sanity, no probs- just make sure that the event or activity is a deposit and not a withrdawal. (Deposit: nourishes her wellbeing and feeds her soul. (i.e. spa day, movie night with girlfriends, etc.) Withdrawal: obligations and outings that are socially uncomfortable or require her to be 'put together' (i.e. Mother-in-Law birthday party, work events, etc.). Also hosting is a withdrawal and should be entirely off the table, even if she says she's up for it.)
You can do this, dad. Follow the above tips, and you’ll win that momma heart (and body) back- and most importantly, you’ll build a rock- solid foundation for parenting alongside your most important woman.