How We Kept Our Marriage (And Sex Life) Healthy After Having Kids

The first few months after the baby were incredibly hard for this couple. This is how they worked through them and made their marriage stronger in the process.

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 marriage and relationship. A baby raises the stakes. There’s 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.

Shamyra Howard and her husband, Jason, have been married for eight years. When they started dating, Jason was already a father to two kids. Since then, they’ve brought two more into the world. Shamyra, who works as a couples therapist and sex therapist and owns her own practice in New Orleans, struggled with issues relating to breastfeeding, attachment, irritability, and resentment. But she says Jason helped her through — acting as her breastfeeding pit crew, offering emotional support, and asking all the right questions. Soon, they were able to find balance again. And when their second child came, they were pros. Here, the couple talks about what they did to care for their relationship in those first few months, the trial of their first kid-free date night, and how they worked sex and intimacy back into their marriage. Hint: lunch dates are key.

Shamyra: When we met, Jason already had two kids. The two older ones, when Jason and I first started dating, weren’t living with us 24/7. And then, for a minute, we didn’t have kids, and then I got pregnant.

S: To prepare for our post-baby lives, we talked about some things. But there was, of course, stuff where, after I gave birth, it was like ‘Wow, we didn’t even talk about this.’ I don’t think it’s something that I could have necessarily prepared for, even being in this field. Especially because, you know, children and parenting isn’t really my forte, professionally. But based on what I thought I wanted, we talked about a few things. We weren’t trying to get pregnant when I got pregnant, so it was all a big surprise. I kind of freaked out.

Jason: I had it easy. I wasn’t carrying the child. But, it was a little difficult, because it was her first time being pregnant. So the difficult part was making sure she was comfortable and trying to ease her mind that everything is going to be okay, but, at the same time, I didn’t want to minimize her emotions or what she was going through for the first time. But we got through it! It was a good experience. And, like you said, we wound up having another kid, so it probably wasn’t that bad the first time around.

S: It wasn’t that bad for him! It was horrible for me. I hated being pregnant. I was always sick. The easiest part for me was the delivery, because it was like a few pushes and then our son was here. That was the easiest part. But being pregnant was really hard. I was afraid, the whole pregnancy, that something was going to happen or that I was going to miscarry. The ending was a bit better, because I was like, okay, at this point, he will probably live. He’ll be fine. But it was a struggle. It was also difficult after he was born.

S: I decided to exclusively breastfeed in the beginning. For the first seven days, I cried every day. I stayed in our kid’s room where we lived, it was a townhouse. So every day, every morning, he would come in and have food and water. I didn’t leave from that room. I didn’t get much sleep. I cried because the baby wanted to nurse all the time. And I wanted to give up breastfeeding. Jason was really supportive, as much as he could be.

J: Our sleep patterns changed a whole lot. Getting used to having a little bitty baby in the house and, at the same time, my wife adjusting to being a new mother, and me adjusting to being a new father, was tiresome. But after a while, once things settled down, it became much easier.

S: I was very irritable, not sleeping enough, and having to feed the baby, wake up, feed the baby. I didn’t want to co-sleep, because I didn’t want to roll over and smother him. I had the bassinet next to the bed. I knew that if I had him right next to me, I could easily see the baby. I remember one time, I was just so frustrated and Jason was like, “Well, if I could help feed the baby, I would.” I think that was the time I realized that I should start pumping. I would get mad sometimes when I would see him sleeping.

J: I was trying my best to help her do everything she was going through. I know a lot of the times, that there wasn’t really much that I could do physically. But emotionally, I just was trying to be there and talk her through it. At one point, I just felt helpless. The baby really demanded a lot from her.

S: Jason was sometimes able to predict what type of mood I was in. He knew when I was hungry. He was so amazing. He always made sure I was okay before he had to go to work — that I had food, enough water, towels and everything I needed. So for me, that was intimacy. He was supportive and recognized when I needed a break. For me, emotional intimacy was shown in a new way for us. He was able to see what my emotions were stemming from and he was able to provide emotional security for me. On the other hand, I don’t think I ever asked how I was supportive of your emotional needs, during that time, Jason.

J: You were supportive. Even though you popped me a few times when I was sleeping. But at the same time, you understood that there wasn’t much I could do. You never made me feel like I was useless, or that I wasn’t there. You were supportive in that way. That’s what kept me going to make sure that I could help you, however I could. You did good.

S: Okay, good. Thanks.

S: For my first baby, I was not open to anyone watching him. My mother-in-law — Jason’s mom — and my sister helped out, and they still do. The first date we went on after I had the baby, Jason’s dad owned a bar so we went to the bar. I remember Jason kept saying: “You’re out! You’re out!” I was worried about the baby, and his mom was like “Don’t call me. I had kids before. I know what to do.” I was like, “He’s going to cry!” She calls me Ms. Shamyra. So she was like, “Ms. Shamyra, don’t call me. Don’t call my phone.” So of course I was worried, but I didn’t call her.

When they were babies, we’d have to get real creative with date nights. We didn’t always have a babysitter, so we’d get in the car with the kids and ride around town and listen to music. We’d go outside and get some food and eat food in the car with the music on and ride around in the parking lot, to the club, just looking at people while the baby would sleep in the car with us, and then we’d go home. That was actually a good time.

J: Yeah, it was great.

S: I waited several weeks after I got clearance from the doctor to have sex after the first baby. Not the second one. But with the first baby, I waited several weeks to actually be sexually intimate. Jason was, he was, again, supportive. However, even before actual intercourse, we did have intimacy outside of penetration. But when it came to actual intercourse, it took some time to get readjusted to it. Everything was a bit tight for me, contrary to popular — or unpopular — belief, that after childbirth, the vagina is not okay. But for me, it was way tighter. I wondered if I needed to talk to my doctor about it. It actually stayed like that for me until after I gave birth again, and then it got better.

J: For me, it was different, which I knew it was going to be. I knew she had just pushed a baby out. You want to be careful and make sure that you keep in mind that nothing is really the same anymore — and also, leading up to the point where we did actually have intercourse, we talked a lot about how her body felt, what felt different. The end results were great, though.

S: For the second baby, I felt like I was a pro. I was like, okay, cool! I’m ready, I’m good for this. With the first baby, I would say that my sexual desires really dwindled. I was just nervous to have intercourse. The second baby, I was ready. I was like, screw this six weeks, four weeks is good. But with the second kid, my sexual desire was heightened, so intimacy was way more apparent than it was with our first kid.

J: We have lunch dates once or twice a week. We always put that on our schedule. And now we also have babysitters, friends, and families, because the kids are a little bit older now. So we take every opportunity we get just to go take a ride or go out to eat. That’s our thing: different restaurants. We always find time to go and check out the latest restaurant. I want to say it’s easy to make time for each other, but it is something that we have seriously said: “This is what’s going to happen.”

S: We do a lot of scheduling.

J: Yeah.

S: We have to use our calendars, because Jason works odd hours and I’m really busy. But the calendars are not a turnoff. We’re just making sure that we prioritize our relationship. We prioritize time. We make sure that we do something, just with us. We make sure we set aside time for family. Actually, what’s most important, and what I really love that we do, is that we make sure we set aside time for ourselves individually, so we can have enough energy to spend with each other. Jason has specific shows he likes to watch like Game of Thrones. So, he’ll watch his shows and I’ll be in another room doing something else. That’s his time and that’s my time. And then we’ll reconnect.