“People are likely to divorce during the first five years after the birth of their first child [more] than at any other time,” states Kelly Simpson, a Dallas-based licensed marriage and family therapist and author of Active Relationship Skills programs. “Most parents are so incredibly well-meaning about caring for their child that they forget to take care of the marriage. Parents need to realize that this is a dangerous time and the baby needs a family together, more than anything.”
It’s a lesson Kate and Rob Julian learned the hard way. “Our marriage suffered for many reasons,” recounts the Providence Village mom of 7-month-old and 6-year-old boys, who says the experience with her first child nearly destroyed her relationship.
“We were first-time parents and had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. I suffered from postpartum depression that went undiagnosed for about 18 months. My husband didn’t realize what it was like to stay home. He thought it was easy and we both ended up resenting each other, because we didn’t think the other was working as hard.
“Also, our baby was very sick. He was in and out of the doctor’s office and hospital all of the time. On top of everything else, we dealt with some major financial problems when I stopped working. It was horrible. We finally declared bankruptcy.”
While not every couple has such odds stacked against them, Simpson says it’s imperative that parents remember that their new roles as mom and dad don’t negate their primary roles as husband and wife.
“A lot of couples are afraid to talk with each other about their worries. They’re so focused on the baby that they often feel they don’t have the right to focus on their needs and wouldn’t be a good parent if they did,” offers Simpson. “Such extreme focus on the child causes couples to morph into two separate people and it’s usually such a gradual thing that by the time they realize it, they may have missed the boat.”
Jay and Tiffany Walker, Dallas parents of a 6-month-old, can relate. “In the beginning of parenthood we were both in such awe of our new son that we just focused on his needs,” remembers Tiffany, “Then in the later months we had challenges dealing with our change of freedom. I also went through a big adjustment with staying at home and not having my career and Jay expecting me to maintain everything at home. We had some of our most heated arguments during this time but we overcame the challenges once we both took the time to hear each other’s needs.”
Luckily, the Julians recognized their problems, as well. Despite a yearlong separation (during which they still lived together for financial reasons), the Julians were able to reconcile their differences. “We decided we wanted to fight for our marriage,” says Julian. “It was hard. There were days when we both just wanted to walk away. We went to marriage counseling and that helped tremendously, but it still took about another year before we could say our marriage was back on track.”
Nixing Sex After Baby
While the Julians and the Walkers were able to reconnect through communication, another major speed bump for expectant and new parents is the act that made them moms and pops in the first place — sex. “After a baby is born, women aren’t usually interested in sex,” says Simpson, “They’re chemically hard-wired not to be — they just gave birth. Men’s libidos, however, remain the same.”
It’s an intense issue that can escalate to extremes, if not carefully watched. Simpson says men begin thinking their wives just aren’t interested in intimacy and women think their husbands are being selfish for being interested; both thoughts which lead to a catch 22, where no one’s needs are being met. “Initially the guy will say ‘it’s OK, I can deal with this for my child,’” offers Simpson. “But over time if they don’t deal with it, they can become extremely resentful and depressed, possibly leading to an affair.”
While Megan and Trey Wilson’s love life never reached such dramatic proportions, they’re both quick to admit sex became something they had to plan for. “Our relationship has changed since having a baby,” shares Trey, a Dallas dad of a 2-week-old daughter and 3-year-old son. “There is less alone time, and when you do have that time, you are often pretty tired. You have to commit to making time for intimacy, which seemed like a strange pop-psychology concept to me pre-baby.”
But what about those pregnancy sex sessions? While having a brand new bundle seems to present more problems than simply 3am feedings and a mound of messy diapers, is the intimacy aspect for those moms and dads-in-the-making put to the test as well?
Yes, says Dr. Kathryn Wood, a Frisco-based OB/GYN. “I have seen a mixture of feelings among women when they are pregnant regarding their sexuality,” reveals Wood. “To some, the increase in hormones arouses more sexual desire if they otherwise feel well. They also crave the closeness and intimacy that sex brings. However, if they struggled with getting pregnant due to infertility issues, I think many women may become afraid of harming the unborn baby. Also, women occasionally feel uncomfortable with the way their bodies are changing, and if not happy with it, they may try to withdraw sexually.”
The Physical Factor
Megan admits that her pregnant body created a bit of a stumbling block in the bedroom, but says it wasn’t a complete barrier. “During my pregnancy it was kind of a joke,” she reveals. “I was so large and uncomfortable that it was awkward. But Trey and I … defined intimacy in other ways and it was really rewarding to explore different ways to be together sexually.”
But what about that belly; does it affect the “hotness” factor? “Physically, Megan obviously went through a tremendous change,” Trey shares. “And the body that results is not what would be considered attractive from a popular point of view where thin is equivalent to attractive. But, there is certainly something to the pregnancy glow and a woman becoming a mother that is very attractive. Without sounding too much like a hippie from the ’60s, [she became] attractive from perhaps a more spiritual place.”
Jennifer Vonderahe, a Dallas mom, who (with hubby Matt) is expecting her first baby in January, says her expanding midsection has been difficult for her to deal with. “It was hard, at first, to get used to my clothes not fitting and feeling pudgy — like I hit the buffet one too many times,” says the mom-in-the-making. “I felt less attractive, but whenever I would complain, my husband would remind me that I was pregnant and that was supposed to happen. He was really sweet about it.”
A Change in Outlook
But not everything about the pre-baby time period is pressure-filled. Whether it’s a pregnancy glow or the growing bump, is there anything to be said for those “amped-up” hormones causing them both? Absolutely, reveals a grinning Lewisville couple, Will and Lindsay Henderson, who are also expecting their first child in January.
“I think I’ve been initiating sex more since becoming pregnant,” Lindsay offers. “I’m looking at Will and I’m thinking, ‘that’s my husband — this is what we’ve created’ and it makes me feel a lot closer to him physically and emotionally.” Will admits he’s enjoyed his wife’s increased interest, and says her pregnancy profile has made her only more attractive.
Yet, while the Hendersons are taking advantage of the pre-baby perks, Will does acknowledge that sex may become an issue as the months roll on. For now, however, the couple banters back and forth about the effects the pregnancy has had on them personally. “I think this whole experience has made Will feel more manly,” Lindsay reveals. “He definitely struts around more than he used to.” Will agrees, adding, “I was man of the house for so long, now I’m going to be man of the family. It’s exciting.”
Back in the Saddle
While the Vonderahes and the Hendersons are eagerly anticipating their midwinter deliveries, the Julians are happier now than ever that they’ve welcomed a second son into the family. “We waited a long time to have our second child,” Julian reflects. “We were both very afraid it would affect our marriage again. But the second pregnancy was different — polar opposites. I had no idea that having a baby could be such a joy.”
Whether still in development or a cooing little cutie tucked in the cradle, there’s no doubt that babies can pack a wallop when it comes to mom and dad’s marriage. But how do you fight back? The experts (both professional and parental) say communication, acknowledgement and time for each other are keys to a happy home.
“Parents need to remember that they are a team,” offers Walker. “It is important that both parents feel involved in caring for the child, caring for their home and caring for their marriage. A strong marriage makes a healthy baby.”
It’s a message the Julian family can definitely get behind. “It’s easy to become focused on your children and you should be,” says Julian, “but they are a result of your marriage and you have to be willing to fight for it.”
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This article was originally published in January 2013.