DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’m embarrassed to be writing this, because I’m ashamed I’ve let things get to this point.
Nine months ago I had a baby. Between her health issues and my disabilities, it makes the most financial sense for me to stay home and do the 24/7 childcare and house upkeep, and my husband generally works about 50 hours/week. I feed the baby round the clock on doctor’s orders (she can only have small amounts without getting sick, so she needs to eat frequently), and I get pretty busy sometimes.
I’m writing because our sex life has become basically nonexistent… and while I feel fine, I’m worried about my husband’s needs not being met. I’m totally willing and I’ve tried initiating things sometimes, but he doesn’t seem particularly interested.
I’ve seen you write before about how it can be hard for a man to shift back from seeing someone as a mother to seeing her as a sexual partner before, especially if he’s present for delivery (which my husband was) and I’m sure that could be part of what’s going on. However… I also just don’t have much to offer right now.
I’m still carrying some baby weight. I have stretch marks everywhere. I haven’t colored or cut my hair since early in pregnancy. Breastfeeding did not do my figure any favors. Between caring for a baby with extra needs, keeping up with my own freelance work, cooking and cleaning, and dealing with my own issues without the money for medication, I can’t seem to find much time for things like skincare, hair care, or weight loss. I walk for an hour or so every day, but that’s the most strenuous exercise I can really do with a baby in tow when we live ten miles from town and have no car to get to a gym (my husband needs our only running car to get to work).
My point is, I look disgusting. My husband isn’t shallow or cruel, and he has never said a single negative thing to me about the way my appearance has deteriorated, but I can’t imagine the way I look now is particularly enticing. My question is… should I suggest an open relationship? I’m not particularly comfortable with the idea and I have no interest in seeing others myself, but I feel like he deserves the opportunity to have sex with someone more appealing than I am at the moment. He’s a good person who shouldn’t have to put up with this.
I’m trying to get it together for him, but I haven’t found a way yet, and he’s been patient with his gross slob of a wife for too long already.
What do I do, Doc?
DEAR POST-PARTUM BLUES: So it’s true that some men have a hard time making a mental shift when they see their partner give birth, PPB… but I don’t think that’s what’s going on here.
There’re a couple issues at play. The first is that, come on, you JUST HAD A BABY. Having a child is a massive disruption to your life, especially during the first couple of years. Your life is going to revolve around taking care of the little miracle, and that means that everything goes out the window – from keeping house, to sleep to your sex life. Under the best of circumstances, y’all are going to be stressed and sleep-deprived, which is as hard-core of a libido-killer as you’re likely to find. But when you factor in that your baby has special needs and your husband is working long, long hours? Yeah, that’s gonna throw a major spanner in people’s desire to get down.
But the other issue is that honestly? I think you aren’t being fair to yourself.
Actually, I take that back. I think you’re getting upset at yourself for not being superhuman and holding yourself to absolutely insane standards. I mean, the language you use in your letter is kind of telling: you’re ashamed that you “let things get to this point”. This implies that you should, what, have been able to slip back into your old life exactly like it was before without missing a beat? How in pluperfect hell was THAT supposed to happen?
I mean, yeah we see stories on Instagram and in tabloids about how so-and-so got their body “back” after the baby… but here’s the secret: most of that is bulls
t and the rest of it is because they have money and resources to burn. It’s much easier to focus on “getting your body back” when you’ve got the money to pay for a nanny or a housekeeper AND a trainer, or your partner doesn’t need to work like a maniac to keep food on the table so that they can take time off from work and share in the work at home. Being upset at yourself because you weren’t able to “bounce back” like Beyonce or Kim Kardashian or any celebrity mommy is like being upset that you’re not an Olympic athlete; you’re getting upset that you can’t measure up to 1% of the population who have advantages and resources that most of us can only dream about.
And while your husband may feel a little weird about sex right now – and notice how very carefully I said “may” not “does” – I think the bigger issue is how you feel. The way you describe yourself makes it sound like you don’t believe you could possibly be attractive or desirable. That’s going to radiate through the way you act, the way you speak and the way you carry yourself… and that is going to be much more of a turn-off than stretch marks or carrying a little more weight or watching you squeeze out a baby. It’s a little difficult to get turned on when your partner is saying “Yeah, I know, I’m an unf
kable trashfire,” even when that’s not actually true.
And that bit’s important. It’s not helping that you’re making assumptions about how your husband feels, based on facts that aren’t in evidence. Yeah, you two haven’t had sex in a while but that’s par for the course for new parents. There’re so many things that’re gonna get in the way of having an active sex-life right now that have ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with how you look – or how you feel you look, which, I can’t stress enough, isn’t the same thing. You’re drawing conclusions based on how you feel, not on how he feels.
So what do you do?
Well, my first suggestion is that you check in with your husband and have an Awkward Conversation about the current state of your union. It doesn’t need to be a big, dramatic meeting; all you’re doing is let him know that you have concerns and you want to make sure that he’s OK. Then let him reassure you. If he legitimately is ok with things, then do yourself a favor and believe him. Because as hard as it can be to wrap our heads around it: our partners love us as holistic beings. Things like stretch marks aren’t going to be the end of desire; they tend to get folded into our concept of who our partners are. So when he tells you that he’s fine, he still loves you and that hey, it’s a little hard to get busy with the life you two have right now? Take that “yes” for an answer.
(And if you’re really worried, you can always order him a Fleshlight or Tenga and some lube to help ease the pressure until you’re both in a place where you can get down and dirty again).
My next suggestion is see if you can get some help with the baby. I know that “it takes a village” is a cliche… but some things are cliches for reason. If your parents or his parents – or hell, even a family friend – can come and give you a hand, then by all means, do that. Getting a little time for yourself is crucial for new parents. That’ll let you have some effective self-care, even if that just means having a chance for a hot bath, a face mask and some deep conditioning. Easing some of the burden – even if it’s just for a couple of hours – can make a night-and-day difference.
But trust me: this is a temporary problem. It may take a while – kids take a lot of time and attention, especially in the first couple years – but if you two can white knuckle it and hang on, you will get through it. Just be a little easier on yourself and a lot more forgiving for not being Instagram-perfect after such a relatively short time.
This will get better.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org)