“Nick is furious because I don’t want to have sex anymore,” begins Carrie, 30, a former legal secretary who now stays home full time with her 10-month-old son, Michael. “Frankly, I’ve never been too interested in making love, but now I actually cringe if my husband even touches me.”
Nick, she complains, “has such incredible sexual energy that after a 15-hour day as an auto mechanic, he’s eager to whisk me off to bed as soon as he gets home.” But by then, Carrie is glassy-eyed with exhaustion. “The last thing I want to do is make love,” she says. “The only thing that sounds halfway appealing to me is to throw my fat little body into a soft bed for a good night’s sleep.”
Nick is angry that she still breast-feeds. “He thinks 10 months is far too long,” Carrie says, “but I adore the special closeness I feel with my child, and I’m not ready to give it up. Besides, Michael needs me,” she says.
Though she was excited to be pregnant after eight years of marriage, Carrie struggled through a difficult pregnancy. Then Michael was a colicky infant who screamed day and night for the first three months. “Now he’s got bronchitis, and he’s miserable.”
It doesn’t help that Nick leaves everything - the baby, housecleaning, care of their pets - to her. Though she’s trying to bring in extra money by typing briefs for an attorney, she often falls asleep at the keyboard. “I have barely been out of the house in 10 months,” she sighs. Carrie’s not surprised that she and Nick are drifting apart, but hasn’t a clue what to do about it.
Nick has long felt that their sex life was boring. “But I don’t know any red-blooded male who’d put up with a marriage like mine,” he says curtly. “No sex at all for almost a year, and a baby who cries so much it’s impossible to get a decent night’s sleep. I’ve been faithful to Carrie, but I don’t think I can stand this much longer,” he says. As far as Nick is concerned, their married life divides into two distinct parts: before and after baby. “Before our son was born, Carrie devoted herself to me. Now, I can’t find a place for myself in my own home. Is she ever going to feel like getting something sexual going?” Nick can’t understand why Carrie cold-shoulders every romantic overture. He’s angry and frustrated - and feels he has every right to be. “If it weren’t for Michael, I’d leave,” he says.
Is there sex after childbirth?
“Carrie is suffering from a postpartum depression that is quite common,” notes Dena K. Whitebook, Ph.D., a marriage therapist in Los Angeles. Up to 40 percent of women report sexual problems - decreased interest in sex, fatigue, painful intercourse or difficulty reaching orgasm - most commonly for around three months after childbirth. For some 20 percent of women, these difficulties persist for as long as a year.
It takes energy, something many new mothers lack, to have a vibrant sex life. Carrie is nursing, so caring for Michael takes an even greater toll. What’s more, the weight Carrie gained while pregnant makes her feel unattractive.
Restoring this couple’s sexual equilibrium is especially difficult since Nick has always wanted sex more often than Carrie. Now, he feels like he’s playing a waiting game with no end. Does this marriage sound like yours? Consider these points that helped Carrie and Nick:
1. If you want to say no, do so in a loving way. Carrie can say, “I love you very much, but tonight I’m worn out.”
2. Pleasure him, even if you’re too tired to enjoy lovemaking yourself. It’s doesn’t always have to be reciprocal. Many women feel that a sexual experience isn’t fulfilling unless it includes cuddling, lots of foreplay and time to feel close afterward. But a quickie serves a different, equally important purpose: It can release tension and help strengthen the erotic connection between you.
3. Get support. Carrie will feel better about herself if she seeks help from friends, family and neighbors to spell her while she gets out of the house for a few hours. When Carrie hired a sitter three afternoons a week, she found her time with Michael easier to handle - leaving more time for Nick. In counseling, they also discussed ways to redistribute household tasks.
4. Accept your differences and give yourselves time. Nick and Carrie will always have different sexual needs. Acknowledging that can lead to greater understanding. As they both adjust to new parenthood, they will naturally rediscover the joys of sex.
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