Welcome to ‘Sex After Kids,’ a column where parents frankly talk about how their sex lives shifted after they had children and what steps they took to recalibrate their relationship. A baby raises the stakes. Couples have less time to devote to one another, emotional intimacy can dwindle, date nights — at least for the first months — are nearly non-existent, and sex is often a non-starter. Couples must adapt. Here’s how they do it.
Caitlin and Michael Doemner understand what it takes to transition into life after kids. The Mojave Desert couple, who have four kids — a 16 year old from Michael’s previous marriage and three kids under seven — have never not had kids in their relationship. That forced them pretty early on to prioritize each other, They realized very quickly that, without a stable partnership themselves, their kids would never feel stable. It took some time, but here’s how the couple, who’ve been married for ten years, run a business together, and even wrote a book filled with their own marriage advice, shifted gears to maintain intimacy. Sleeping naked is a big help.
So tell me a little bit about your relationship.
Michael: I’ve always had sole custody of my 16-year-old son, who lived with his mom on the weekends. Before our daughter was born, we did have a period of three-and-a-half years or so where we basically had weekends to ourselves, and during the week he was with us. That gave us time to be alone but also have a kid at the same time.
Caitlin, do you think that prepared you more for becoming a parent?
Caitlin: Yeah. I really feel like I got thrown into the deep end. I have such respect for fellow step-parents because you go from living your single life to becoming a wife and a mom simultaneously. I was building an entirely new relationship with a human who isn’t sure they can trust you. So there’s a lot of complicated emotional landscapes that you need to navigate as a step-parent, that you don’t have to worry about when you have a newborn you just gave birth to. I do sometimes apologize to Nathan. I say, “You’ve been the guinea pig son, I apologize,” because he’s taking everything as I’m learning how to do all this. He bore the brunt of my learning curve.
M: In your defense, honey, I think that the first kid is always the guinea pig.
But then you had three more kids together. What was that like for you both?
M: We had a miscarriage before our daughter, so we’ve been through four pregnancies. But, one of the things that having our oldest son helped with is prioritizing ourselves and our relationship. A lot of parents lives revolve around their kids lives. Having Nathan during the week helped us internalize [the need to be] intentional about our relationship and the fact that we need to be intimate and we need to have our relationship come first. Our kids lives are based on the stability and comfort they feel at home, which is essentially based around our relationship. It gave us a chance to put that first.
C: I would give Michael a lot of credit, because as I was coming into our oldest son’s life, any authority that I had as a parent was really given to me by Michael. He made sure that he and I were always on the same page, that he supported me in every decision. That really set the tone in our parenting of the next three as well. We always need to be on the same page. Kids can’t ask one parent for something when the other parent has said no.
What about the physical conditions of pregnancy? Was that difficult in any way, or an adjustment?
C: Pregnancy makes me feel like a goddess. I always feel like, ‘I’m bringing life to the world, get out of my way! I am amazing!’ I actually found that I was more easily aroused during pregnancy. So I had that advantage, that I think a lot of women who have the opposite [experience and] don’t feel beautiful or like being intimate with their husbands during pregnancy.
What about after giving birth?
C: I think that was probably the hardest period for me, because I ripped every time. I did vaginal births for all three. I was not very interested in sex during that period of recovery for about three to four weeks, where I was just recovering and letting things go slowly. I wanted to make sure my husband’s needs were met.
We have what we call the ‘menu.’ Every night, we asked each other what we would like from the menu. It was a way to open up dialogue. I really needed words of affirmation, that I was doing a good job, and that I was a good mom. I needed that emotional support during that season more than I needed physical intimacy.
How did you guys keep the sense of physical attraction turned on when Caitlin might not have been interested in specifically physical intimacy?
M: Expressing love to each other, being kind to each other, doing the little things that aren’t sex or necessarily what we think of when we think of a passionate relationship, those minute by minute and hour by hour things set the stage for those conversations. It’s not just about going through our day of craziness and laying down in bed at night and just jumping right into it or asking what’s on the menu. The stage is set all day long. Through our conversations and our interactions of just being kind and generous with one another, we make sure that we’re maintaining that relationship all the time.
C: Another place where Michael and I have an advantage is I actually fell in love with him when 14, back in high school. He was 16, and ended up marrying somebody else —
M: I know. Terrible decision!
C: But, that marriage taught him that marriage is work and that it takes priority. For me, it taught me that we really did get a second chance. We’ve always had that deep sense of gratitude that we were able to get this opportunity to be with each other. I remind myself every morning: “I am so grateful I get to be with this person and share my life with this person.” It’s really helpful even if you are having the crummiest of days.
So, given that you just absolutely have less time for one another than you did before you had four children in your house, how do you maintain intimacy over the long term?
C: We go to sleep naked. By sleeping naked every night, it accomplished a couple of things. One, it’s very difficult to hide things from your partner, like anger, resentment, and shame, when you’re naked in bed together. It’s almost a metaphorical vulnerability. And prioritizing intimacy every night really becomes something of a no-brainer when the clothes are already off and you’re under the covers together. Having that as an established rule very early on in our relationship has been fairly easy to maintain.
Now, having kids are getting to be older, we have to keep bathrobes near the bed and we teach them to knock before they enter, but I would say that has still been a very easy ritual that has allowed us to maintain daily intimacy almost unconsciously. It’s not something we have to think about anymore; that’s just a status quo.
So when you were cleared for intimacy again after all of your pregnancies, what was that re-introduction to sex like?
C: Most of that is actually a blur at this point. I think there’s this species-wide survival instinct where you just sort of black out those seasons.
M: On the other hand, I do think it comes back to being intentional about it. I don’t even think it’s consciously thinking that we need to be intimate every day. We created that pattern in our early marriage and it continued through the hard times.
C: Something Michael does really well is he gives me time to transition from being in mom mode to being back into wife mode. There’s usually an hour between us putting the kids to bed and initiating intimacy where I get to take a bubble bath, read a book, or we can talk and communicate. As new moms, we’re covered in puke and pee and poo. It’s the least sexy time of your life. You need to have some transition period, where you go from being a mom back into being a sexually attractive and aroused person.
Do you guys often go on dates?
M: We do at least one date night a week. We hire a babysitter, go out have a nice dinner, and watch a movie and just enjoy “us” time. Financially, it’s not inexpensive. Usually the babysitter is almost as much as the date itself. But we decided to do that. Being able to exclusively talk to each other and have conversations and just have that ‘us’ time is critical to us. So we have one date night a week, religiously, for at least a three hour evening. The babysitter lays the kids down. That’s almost just what’s worth what the babysitter chargers. Coming home with the kids in the bed is close to the best part of the evening.
But, it’s probably only been about the last year that we really made it a weekly thing. Before that, it was a harder. The kids were younger, and there’s always that pang as a parent where you just don’t like leaving them with babysitters. But before that, we did it monthly. We still prioritized it but not quite to the extent we do now.