May 18, 2009

Love in the Time of Parenthood

Admit it... the love-life is never really the same after the baby comes. Here's an honest but heartening reflection by Barni Alunan-Escaler written for Working Mom Magazine. Barni, by the way, is a dear friend and one of the coolest mamas I know. So cool she's sharing her thoughts with us.

There is acreage of advice about fanning the flames of post-pregnancy passion. The first time I became a mother, they came, eerily, through emails just when my baby needed to nurse. Here are a few examples of the subject headings that littered my inbox: Ways to Rekindle your Romantic Relationship. Make Parenting a Sexy, Can-Do Job. Three Easy Ways to Feel Sexy, Slim and Supported. Whoa.

Some stories made me laugh, like the one about a desperate dad who found romance again only after hiring an intimacy coach. But mostly, I was pressured and a bit stunned by the suggestion sex could resume after the first six weeks. Six weeks!? Bite me!

Tell that to my friend who had a fourth degree rip effectively joining her butt to her crotch. Even without complications, for the first six weeks (and well after), my everyday look was a bedraggled bun and two damp circles spreading across numerous shirts. In those first six weeks, so help me God, it would have taken the world’s best SWAT team to crack the code, bypass the sensors and blow up the vault where my sex drive lay dormant. Prince Charming’s kiss wouldn’t have jolted me out of my narcolepsy, and the prescribed dosage of narcotics couldn’t sing away the blues. Like many first-time moms, I was spectacularly flattened by the demands of taking care of an infant.

Misery loves sympathy

It is normal for marriages in the post-partum year to suffer an upheaval. Many couples find their sexual relationship--a basic underpinning of most marriages--rough going for a time. All you have to do is think about sex and, on cue, your kids start bawling. I’m sure you know what I mean.

The whole sex-after-the-baby setback leads inexorably to a change in marital dynamics that lasts for years where total absorption in your children becomes the order of the day. More than sex, relationships are at stake, often plagued by the couple’s failure to communicate about their complicated feelings. Suddenly, you are a bickering married couple. Never not arguing. Always defensive somehow about the daily choices that involve raising your child properly.

Husbands, no matter how modern or in touch they are with their feminine side, hate to admit that jealousy and deprivation are predominant feelings in response to their wives’ full body giving over to the baby and the natural love affair they share. Women too, are extremely conflicted. Many don’t know how to feel maternal and sexy all at once. They yearn for cerebral reinforcement – to reclaim the intelligent, fun and willowy woman that existed before Mommyhood. This is especially true of stay-at-home moms.

Setting the modest goal of venturing out and getting in touch with other moms, fat and sagginess be damned, is an important first step to recovering that lost individual. Shore up your besieged intellect and conversation skills wherever and however you can. Whether it is on park benches, mom-and-tot classes, a book club, a meal out with friends – meeting other moms gives you a chance to hold a mirror up to your own life and gain a healthier perspective.

Connecting with people outside your home also takes some of the burden off marriages where wives expect their husbands to be everything to them. Thankfully, we live in a culture of extended families and help that allows us the rare fortune of stealing time for ourselves.

For husbands, I have just one tip: I know keeping the flame of romance burning requires that you tear yourselves away from your children every now and then. But before you dream of a night of wine and cheese under the stars, here’s the paradoxical schockerooni: being home and sharing responsibilities is the way to keep romance alive! It’s a giant turn-on to see husbands involved and in love with their babies. I can almost guarantee your wives will fall in love with you all over again. I know I did.

Romance revisited

Often, my mind flies to the time my husband, Mark, and I were DINKS (Double-Income, No Kids), when greeting each other after a long day meant practically falling to the ground hugging and laughing hysterically. I miss our languorous pursuits – winding down with a match of Monty Python Tetris and singing Internet karaoke. Not to mention, watching a good film uninterrupted at a reasonable time of night.

Today, post-kids, we are like two colleagues bumping into each other at the cafeteria. I know it’s not a unique situation, and regret is not the feeling I get about this lessening of time together because of our children. But when all our leftover energy can afford are snatches of pleasantries and talk that don’t even begin to cover the scope of our day, well, I can’t help but feel a little melancholic. And yet, it is quiet company I accept, especially after spending time with my two boys, both of whom I wear like heavy winter layers throughout the day - Alec spooning me in bed and nesting his face in my hair, and Jack, one leg flung over my waist as he maniacally sections a fistful of my bangs. When I finally put them down for bed, personal space – not romance – is what I want.

But I count my blessings. In the weeks after Alec was born, Mark was my ministering angel, swabbing my wounds with antiseptic and ointment, swaddling the baby with the ease and flourish of a magician, soothing him to sleep. Turns out, I’ve married the hairy version of Florence Nightingale. I have to beg Mark to come with me to kiddie parties, but nursing me back to health is a complete no-brainer. It was the same when Jack came. There was nothing forced. I saw a loving father whose biological impulse to participate wholeheartedly in caring for our children was instantly marbled into the rest of his life. And though libido-less in those first weeks, I was smitten.

Tonight, Mark comes home from a hundred meetings totally wrung out. He walks through the door and Alec and Jack rejoice, attacking him with greetings and demands like they do nearly every night. He is overextended, but he is not the kind of dad who will begrudge his children their pleas. So, he gets on the floor and builds elaborate train tracks. He strums on the guitar and sings. He accompanies Alec on the piano with Jack on his lap. He leads the prayer before the boys go to bed. And there’s just enough time left for us to eat together, have a decent conversation, before we both collapse on the couch. And the day ends.

It’s not the Kate and Leopold dinner-on-the-rooftop scene, I know, but I do cherish the way intimacy has become as reduced as a rich, soothing chicken stock – ostensibly less, but really more. Wide awake, I watch Mark’s last ounce of energy dissipate into deep sleep with a soft velvety sigh. A cresting wave of love crashes over me, and my heart backflips like it did the day he first held me close. And somehow, tonight, in this very moment, there is romance enough.


jona said...

beautifully written! :)

incidentally, her younger sister was my blockmate in college. hehe.

barni Alunan-Escaler said...

Thanks Niks. I am honored you asked. Ha ha! This blog seems very much alive! Galing!

Cely said...

It was really touching to read!
My first weeks of Parenthood would have been much easier if I had the chance to read an article like this one...
Your friend is an awesome writer. Thanks for sharing!

Viva La Vida Mama said...

it's alive! it's alive! thanks to readers like jona and cely : )

some other very positive comments came by way of multiply and fb too. this essay of yours really resonates. you even got a comment from a DAD... good to know some of them do read other things aside form the sports and biz genre : )

Viva La Vida Mama said...

it's alive! it's alive! thanks to readers like jona and cely : )

some other very positive comments came by way of multiply and fb too. this essay of yours really resonates. you even got a comment from a DAD... good to know some of them do read other things aside form the sports and biz genre : )

Viva La Vida Mama said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
socialrose said...

Barni beautiful piece.Very true