Take the most compatible couple, add children and then watch as a great sex life surrenders to exhaustion and an uncontrollable desire for sleep! Why does this happen? Does it have to be this way?
“I see many new, dazed and disillusioned parents… Unexpected changes in bodies, values, coping and habits mean conflict in the first years can be expected, too. Parenting highlights our differences, and most couples are staggered by the effect on their physical relationship,” says Carol Ummel Lindquist, clinical psychologist and author of Happily Married With Kids.
Fertility problems affecting your sex life?
Fertility worries can eclipse the very reason you and your partner wanted a child together.
“Starting fertility treatment brings hope, and then disappointment when a cycle fails, and blame can be attached to whoever’s ‘problem’ it is,” says Diane Arnold from Infertility Network UK. “If a relationship becomes strained, you may need the support of others, from support groups, friends or a counsellor.”
“Trying for a baby in your late 30s with a history of miscarriage pretty much destroys romance. I became obsessed with sex whenever I was fertile – and my partner found that very difficult. In his mind it was a way of being intimate, but I just wanted us to make a baby. I’m afraid it all led to lots of tears and hurt,” says Jerry, 29, mum to Abbi, 9 months.
“One of the reasons we stayed strong was because we were really pragmatic,” says Bella, 35, to twins conceived through IVF, now aged 4. “We also kept talking about all the great things that not having children would allow us to do, such as travelling. Before we started the first cycle we had a fantastic trip to the US, just to prove the point.”
“We both experienced a vast range of feelings as we went along our three-year infertility journey,” says Lucy, 29, and husband Elliot, 35. “Sometimes we just had to get away so we wouldn’t lose sight of the fact that we loved each other and wanted to be together not solely to make a baby.
“About a year ago we decided to stop the treatment and started down the adoption route. We now have a relationship back that doesn’t revolve around trying to get pregnant, and it’s stronger than ever!”
Pregnancy affecting your sex life?
Pregnancy hormones certainly have a lot to answer for. You might find the physical changes – morning sickness, fatigue, and bloating – can create a loss of interest in sex, along with a preoccupation with motherhood. Or you could see the emotion-intensifying oestrogen increasing your sex drive.
You might be confused about what you want from your relationship because of your hormones, but your partner can be influenced by these circumstances, too. The pregnant body arouses some, but leaky boobs and the anticipation of dad duty unsettle others. You could also feel less comfortable and attractive in your new, changing shape.
“I’m pregnant again and can certainly reveal that we currently have no sex – and I’m only just three months in,” says Nina, 31, mum to Noah, 2, and expecting her second child. “I feel like we had to have sex to get pregnant, so there’s no need now.”
“When I was pregnant with my second, my sex-drive went through the roof, but I didn’t want the faff of making love, which could be uncomfortable,” says Rose, 31, mum to Eden, 12, and Lulu, 3, “So I would, um, do it alone, which my partner took as a rejection.”
“We spent most of our first pregnancy like strangers,” says Charity, 43, mum to Matilda, 3, and Ben, 2. “I was anxious, unsexy and unconfident and I shut him out. If we’d just talked I don’t think it would have got so bad.”
“One of the underlying tensions between new-parent couples is the time issue,” says Relate family counsellor, Denise Knowles. “Women often feel torn between giving time to their newborn and time to their partner. That manifests itself in all sorts of ways: while the man can feel excluded, she may feel he isn’t being considerate about the effort it takes to care for a newborn.”
“A baby can create a lot of strain,” says Denise. “Couples have to be realistic and honest. They need to say, ‘What do we need as a couple?’”
“The ridiculous thing is that sex is actually very good when we get round to it, but we’re permanently knackered,” says May, 35, mum to Emma, 3 months, “The longer we go without it, the bigger a deal it seems to be.”
What does it all mean?
So does having more children mean even less sex? The reality of a growing family is that having two children doesn’t just double your workload; it blows the ratio to bits!
“A big thing in this situation is the lack of independence,” says Jackie Grier from Emerald Parent Coaching. “You never have time to get away and be you. And on top of that, you have financial worries, parenting disagreements and poor sleep – which increases irritability – and no fun! Turn off the TV, have a glass of wine and talk. Non-aggressively!”
“I’ve got two children, 17 months apart, and it’s probably the most stressful thing I’ve done in my life,” says Polly, 34, mum to Sam, 2, and Joshua, 14 months. “We have no money, two homes and two mortgages. We’re always exhausted and there’s definitely not much time for sex!”
“We went away for the weekend recently – without the kids – and it proved the passion was still alive and strong,” continues Polly. “A friend told me of a time when she and her husband put the baby in a baby swing and turned her to face the other way… I guess you gotta do what you gotta do!”
“Husbands need to understand we don’t mean what we say when pregnant”
“My husband, Alan, and I lived apart for the first 18 months of Kieran’s life, but we still had our rows. I was 17 and resented giving things up, such as my volleyball. While Alan still played football, I had to cope with a changing body shape. Sometimes I bit his head off for no reason. But we talked a lot and Alan knew to ignore me when I went too far. Men need to understand that women don’t always mean the things they say when they’re pregnant!”
Maureen, 24, from Ayrshire, mum to Kieran, 7, and Emma, 3
“Meeting other parents made us feel normal”
“We made friends with a new mum and dad we met in the labour ward. When the babies were a few weeks old we asked them over for a drink. After a glass of wine, it was such a relief to hear that they were suffering all the stresses of being new parents. My husband realised it wasn’t me being awkward. Laughing about it helped.”
Cherrie, 29, mum to Skye, 18 months
“I never feel like sex and want to go to bed alone”
“My kids are now 3 and 2 and I just never feel like having sex. Something’s changed since I had kids. When I look at my husband I see a bit of a boring old fart, and when I look at my bed, all I can think of is being in it, alone.”
Melanie, 31, mum to Joss and Lara