Use It or Lose It
Last weekend, my husband and I had a night away from the baby for the first time (she’s just past ten months). Some parents have told me that seems so soon; for others, it seems incredibly late. If we had local family, I’m sure it would have happened for us sooner.
In fact, we’d arranged an overnight trip four or five months ago during a visit from my mother, but our baby wound up making other plans: She caught a virus that caused her to spend four nights in the pediatric ICU (the PICU.) We were never given any reason to believe she would die, though it was still a frightening and emotional experience. To have some perspective: Our daughter was in the PICU, but she was far and away the healthiest baby there.
She has long since made a full recovery. But it made us gun-shy to plan another getaway. So over the recent long weekend, I felt some trepidation as Sunday neared. It’s only natural to feel a little nervous when something is reminiscent of a time things went horribly awry. But I realized that wasn’t the main source of anxiety.
I was actually in fear of getting what I’d been wanting for so long: uninterrupted time to be an adult with my husband, to intimately reconnect with him, and with my pre-baby self. What if I didn’t know how to do or be those things anymore?
There are certain parts of myself that don’t get much use in the first year of parenthood. Those parts flourish in environments that I don’t frequent anymore. For example, sitting at a bar and having a cocktail with my husband, dressed up and flirty. Until the recent time change, our daughter went to bed at 8 p.m., and my husband and I are often exhausted by 9, so that’s been hard on our sex lives. And there’s the old maxim: If you don’t use something, you lose it. So before the getaway, I wondered more than once: Have I lost it?
But there’s another maxim that’s relevant: Fake it till you make it. It’s not false, exactly. It’s more…optimistic. Act like you’re still your old self, and it’ll come back.
Anxiety and fear often make us avoidant, and that can have a negative impact on relationships. Physically, child birth takes a toll, but psychologically, it does, too. Women tell me that after breastfeeding all day, they’re about done with having their breasts touched. Things in the nether regions feel–well, not completely new, but at least a little bit rearranged. What feels awkward can easily become a source of anxiety and thus, avoidance.
Some women talk about how they just “go ahead and do it” as a way to placate their husbands or make their relationships run smoothly. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but it does minimize the significance of one’s own sexuality. Sex isn’t just what we do with someone else; it’s a part of who we are. It’s easy to lose sight of that after having a baby, when there’s so much to do and so little time and energy left over. It can fall so low on the priority list that it’s practically fallen off.
Talking openly with your partner about the postpartum changes (both physical and emotional) helps. But that needs to be followed up with action. Using all parts of yourself is important. That doesn’t just mean the sex itself, but the intimacy that comes before and after. It’s about the total connection.
If we don’t use it, we might lose it, but it can be found again.
Lucky for me, I had a few hours in the car to get the conversational groove back. Then more hours of talking over drinks and dinner did me (and my marriage) a world of good. But my disclaimer: The sex came before drinks and dinner. We were still asleep by 10.
Couple on a date photo available from Shutterstock
Brown, H. (2012). Use It or Lose It. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 5, 2015, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/bonding-time/2012/11/use-it-or-lose-it/