Pregnancy and beyond the birth of baby is a time of major transition in our life for both partners. Who we were individually and as a couple undergoes revision as we open to accommodate another. If it is the first baby where we were once a unit of two, what shifts do we need to make to effortlessly embrace the presence of another within our couple bubble?
No more so is this evident than within the realm of our emotional and sexuality intimacy, what got the baby in there in the first place can become an area of confusion and frustration.
Without the tools to navigate the realm of our sexual intimacy couples can experience disconnection which can be a contributing cause of peri natal depression and domestic violence and ultimately separation and divorce.
According to studies conducted through the Gottman Institute, two thirds of couples experience a significant decrease in relationship satisfaction after the birth of the first baby.
With the bewilderment and confusion along with sleep deprivation, couples may find themselves fighting more, deterioration in emotional intimacy and unsurprisingly passion, sex and romance plummeting. This can have a lasting impact upon our relationships with many not lasting the first year of new parenthood.
We really have little education about how to make love last. when we are stressed and pushed to our limit, as new parenthood can do, what resources do we have to draw on.
From the moment of conception, a woman’s hormones undergo massive change. For me personally and from many I have spoken to and counselled over the years, this can be so radical that who they were before pregnancy and who they became created shock waves within their relationship.
With the focus shifting from a me and you perspective to now caring for the growing of a baby within a woman body body, partners can feel they are standing on the outside of until the moment of birth. For many partners, this can be the first real felt presence of the other, the baby, whereas for women this may start at conception.
IVF can pose its own issues around sexual intimacy and can be the source of stress as the pressure to ‘perform’ on cue can take away the pleasure and passion that is the other 99% of the reason we engage in sexual activity.
With a changing body, a woman may feel less attractive and have to adjust her concept of what it means to be a sexual being. I don’t know of any partners who would admit to feeling their partners were less attractive to them but there is a shift in perspective toward their partners that requires being made.
For partners, there can be the fear of hurting the baby during sexual activity during pregnancy. I might also add that if either partner is not comfortable within their sexual expression and holding thoughts of shame, the fear of somehow ‘sullying’ the baby with these perceptions may also present.
As such sexual intimacy can go off the menu so to speak, and indeed the speaking of it can be swept under the carpet, adding to confusion and disconnection.
Birthing is a rite of passage. With many partners now present within the birth room getting to experience the ups and downs, the trials and tribulations of birth, for better or worse. Witnessing a woman birth can be the source of much admiration, birthing however does not always go to plan.
The trauma of birth no matter how straight forward can have an effect on relationships. When there is significant interventions that may cause deep distress, with partners powerless to help, this may be further compounded.
Much of our focus is still on ‘being happy with a healthy baby’ we can often dismiss the trauma that may have been experienced by one or both parents. What do we do with this trauma, how does it potentially affect how we relate to our partners?
We need a much more complex conversation to be able to be had if we are going to navigate this realm with more ease. The space to discuss our fears and concerns, to listen and be heard by each other, to unpack and redress the issues so as to maintain our emotional intimacy.
Often, we may think of intimacy as sex. Post birth the ‘recommendation’ is for women to get back on the horse, so to speak, after 6 weeks. Change in hormones, leaking breast milk, sleep deprivation and the skin hunger satisfaction filled to almost overfull.
To this add the pressure to be the ‘yummy mummy’, to bounce back into physical and emotional shape after this significant rite of passage and possible physical scarring due to injury or intervention. As such for women to want and be expected to engage in sexual activity can be far from her list of priorities.
For her she will never return to her rebirth state, and neither she should. There is a deep change that has happened which needs to be integrated. A new-found empowerment can emerge from this space but requires time to be honoured.
For partners, this can pose a significant problem with some men reporting a deep grief as they fear that they may never again reconnect within this intimate sexual realm with their partner. What can result is a growing list of resentments as we feel pushed, pulled, cajoled and withheld from.
Both partners need to honour the new space that can unfold to embrace their new selves and the new relationship as we the new baby is embraced. And unsurprisingly communication is the key.
That we may if necessary engage the help of a professional to be enable a conversation where both can be heard. Where we can begin to fearlessly walk into sharing our inner reality and vulnerabilities with each other so that we can learn to manage and manoeuvre this potentially tricky new territory.
I would encourage partners to seek help sooner rather than later, the longer these issues are left they do not get easier to traverse. To have a discussion prior to pregnancy as to your hopes and fears for the journey and engage in some intimacy education. Learning how to maintain emotional connection will help your relationship significantly.
I would recommend talking to a specialist, a Sex therapist, psychotherapist, or psychologist sensitive to this area. Undertaking an intimacy education course such as The Gottman’s ‘Bringing Baby Home’ has been shown to have lasting positive impact on the quality of relationships.
Read Also: Sex During Pregnancy: Is It Safe?
Personally, I would like to see such courses offered by hospitals alongside birth education classes. Yes, we are having a baby and the safe delivery of that baby is important however without a happy home the thriving of that baby may be held back.
That through such education we may be able to navigate this time with more ease helping to decrease divorce rates, PND and the possible domestic violence that can ensue from a lack of connection that the pregnancy and beyond birth time can present for couples.
That we may more greatly come to enjoy the safe arrival of our babies, without significantly compromising our relationships. That all may thrive in a space of understanding, peace and joy.
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