Babyquake: I’ve not slept and the baby wants feeding, so the answer’s no
New research suggesting that parents of newborn babies have a poor sex life comes as no surprise
I still feel bad for the young man who beamingly delivered a basket of celebratory muffins to our house, days after the birth of my first baby. My husband greeted him, slate-faced, received the muffins in silence, slammed the door and staggered back to bed. I stood on the landing in my dressing gown, hating the muffin man for waking me from a precious hour of sleep. There was no flirty talk about muffins. My husband was just another grafter at the coalface of parenthood.
No surprise, then, to hear that the arrival of a baby is an intimacy killer, that the shock of parenthood can be like an earthquake reverberating through a relationship which sometimes crumbles.
Relationship charity OnePlusOne found that more than a third of couples suffer a “baby quake” after becoming parents. For many, sex recedes to a memory. The study – Sleep, Sex and Sacrifice – discovered that a quarter of fathers worried that their partners had gone off sex, while 40 per cent of new mothers feared they were no longer sexually attractive to their partners.
To which I say, heavens – enjoy the break! The sober reality of that special time, both hallowed and cursed, is that, suddenly, you can no longer be selfish: you have to grow up and put the baby first. Sex feels like a frivolity. After the arrival of our first, my husband and I, like so many, were operating in survival mode. We felt crushed by the weight of responsibility. We weren’t entirely sure we had the wit to keep this baby alive.
I’d never held a newborn; my expertise lay with cats. I trusted my husband would lead the way, but he was clueless. Once, at 5am, I trudged into the lounge to see our firstborn propped awkwardly in a swing chair that played Row Row Row Your Boat again and again, like a scene from a horror film, as my husband snored on the sofa.
The transition to parenthood is, at the very least, challenging. There’s sleep, as broken and restful as gunfire, and the sense of being an evolutionary failure as a tiny, furious human screams in your face, soaking through yet another babygro because you’re too incompetent to change a nappy. When you yearn to be perfect, this is psychological torture. Insanity looms. Sex, unsurprisingly, does not.
Penny Mansfield, director of OnePlusOne, believes that people today are more dissatisfied with their post-partum relationship than previous generations because they have higher expectations of being a couple. “You’re both tired and easily upset, but you’re also insensitive because you haven’t the energy to empathise.”
OnePlusOne aims to help new parents cope, with support from digital partners Netmums.com and Dad.info, and an online DIY relationship support service, thecoupleconnection.net. Ms Mansfield advises agitated, bickering parents to “hold a domestic AGM – talk about the chores, the need to feel physically close – you can still have a cuddle and feel connected. It’s the little gestures, like making a cup of tea as a peace offering, that make a difference.”
The unsurprising truth is that babies are small, vulnerable and demanding, and any couple whose relationship isn’t rattled to its limit is, frankly, the exception to the rule. Most of us – reasonable, rational adults – fall into spiteful competition with our partner as to who is more tired, tempers fray over monstrous crimes such as over-heating a bottle. After an emergency Caesarean, I ached, was bloated and waddling, and there were physical effects from the birth that no one had mentioned. Really, slap and tickle was not on the cards.
But why should it be? Tales of celebrity mummies whose bodies “bounce back” within weeks – with the intimation that they are “bedroom-ready” – heap strain on couples who can barely summon the energy to dress. I remember triumphantly assembling, at 4pm, the many accessories required to take Baby for a stroll in the park. We stumbled outside and a bird relieved itself on my head. I was so wretched, I scrubbed it off with a baby wipe and didn’t wash my hair until – I cringe to admit – the next day.
As my husband would agree, this was the time to hold hands but let the sex slide; to enjoy the intimacy of being a family. Eventually, our son slept through, basic hygiene was resumed, and we realised we liked each other again. Sex, in most cases, will return and we shouldn’t feel guilty about its temporary absence. New parents: be kind to yourselves, concentrate on propagating humanity – in every sense.