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.
Danielle Bayard Jackson and her husband Ryan were only married for three months before they got pregnant with their baby Elijah. They were trying, so it wasn’t entirely unexpected. It just happened a bit more quickly than they imagined. When they became parents, they hadn’t even been newlyweds for a year. This meant there were two sizable shifts in their relationship in a very short time. Here, Danielle and Ryan talk about how they handled the transition to parenthood and how they maintain their relationship now that they’re a family of three.
Danielle: We had been married for three months before we found out we were pregnant. We were excited to jump into this journey of marriage, just the two of us. But then, for the next nine months, we spent anticipating how our life was going to change. So we didn’t really get a chance to just be together. Um… what’s the look for, Ryan?
Ryan: On our honeymoon, she was looking up ‘best tactics to become pregnant.’
D: I didn’t google ‘best tactics!’ Like —
R: Like what to drink, what to eat, how old you should be, what it means if you have a high-risk pregnancy. I mean, when we got married, you were 30. Doing the backwards numbers, if we’re trying to have two kids, when to have them and all this other stuff, on the honeymoon, she was looking at it.
D: It sounds really sad but it’s true. I was not interested in having kids right away, but then you see the numbers like, once you’re this age, your eggs go down to this. And I just felt so overwhelmed. In my mind I was thinking, maybe in five years. We had even had arguments because I told Ryan I didn’t want to jump into having babies right away. But then once I started looking it up, I got fearful about all the data, and I was like, holy crap.
R: I had the apps downloaded!
D: So yeah. It happened right away, which is great, I guess. So now we’re just trying to figure it out.
D: I actually had a great pregnancy. The first few weeks was the classic nausea and that stuff, but the second trimester, I was feeling so good that we went to New York City for our baby-moon. I think emotionally, I was kind of all over the place. Would you agree?
R: Oh yeah. For sure.
D: Yeah. We actually wrote down parent vows. One night we were talking, and I told Ryan that I felt nervous about losing us and myself. Like, am I going to be that woman who always has spit up on me and who doesn’t go out anymore? And those things turned out to be true. But we wrote down our parent vows to each other. We vowed we’d always push each other to get out of the house and go do something fun with their friends, and we would have date nights as often as we could. I think so far we’ve been pretty good about both of those things.
R: I may have had rose-colored glasses on. I was looking forward to it, and my wife had me reading the books. So I knew some of what to expect. The sleepless nights and everything else and how that changes you in and of itself. But I didn’t fully comprehend how all the little things play together to change and mold your regular everyday life.
D: I thankfully was able to deliver naturally, which is something I wanted, and honestly, I would say that experience was just really spiritual and transformative for me as a woman. But I think as a couple, it made us closer. I really leaned on him. I had a doula in there and I had my mom, but he was giving me the ice chips, rubbing my back, and giving me a cool rag on my forehead. He was an advocate for me, because he knew what I wanted for myself and for the baby. Towards the end, when it was almost unbearable, he was just really pushing me. I felt a new layer of appreciation for him, because that’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I think, as a couple, it was maybe the most intense thing we’ve been through. I think it kind of added a layer of appreciation.
R: I’m not speaking for myself — this is something Danielle has told me before — the childbirth portion may have been her biggest fear. I don’t know if it was fear of the pain or fear of things going wrong, but I just remember that was what most scared her. So I knew that I had to reassure her going through it. I had to take her fears not just seriously, but also take control of the situation, because I knew that would put her at ease.
D: The first few weeks with a baby still feel like a blur. That time was really difficult. There’s so much demand and focus on the little baby that you brought home that you don’t worry about yourself. I was trying to heal. Little things like using the restroom or taking a shower were so painful.
But you don’t have time to take care of yourself. The baby wasn’t latching, so his weight was going down, and I was crying when he wasn’t eating and when he was eating it was painful. Psychologically, it was a lot. We were taking turns sleeping in the bedroom and the living room because he only wanted to sleep on his stomach, so my husband would have him in the living room, sleeping on his chest, and he would get a nap with them, and then we’d switch and I’d nap with him.
We were sleeping like an hour, two hours at a time and then swapping. It’s been harder now. But sleep did become in issue of tension in our marriage. We both want sleep. We can both justify why we need more than the other person. We’ve never been scorekeepers, but that is something that I would say now, that’s a thing right now.
D: I would actually feel resentful if Ryan took a nap. Because for me, even if the baby is sleeping, I’m not sleeping. I’ve got laundry to do. Did we pay our taxes? Did you get the oil changed? I didn’t want to say it outright, because it just feels so petty to be upset about him napping.
So I was a little passive aggressive and short with him because I was upset that he was sleeping and I wasn’t. I had to apologize. I told him I know that he wasn’t doing it intentionally to me. I said, “If I want a break, I have to be intentional too.” And if I’m verbal with him, he’s always like “Okay! Go do your thing!” If I have to take a nap, he’ll say ‘okay.’ So some of it was on me not communicating and just expecting him to know.
D: You hear the jokes about how things will change once you have your baby. We’ve even had comical situations where we do try to connect and then just like, out of the movies, the baby cries. As a woman, sometimes, it’s hard for me to go from nursing, a very primal thing to do, to using your body in an intimate way. I wasn’t prepared for that. I need to change, I need to be a mom, which demands so much of me physically, and I also want to be a wife and connect. Utilizing my body for both of those things? No one really prepared me for it. That’s new. And I guess like anything else, you have to be as intentional as you can, I guess.
R: We’ve had spurts, good weeks, and you know, not so good months. A lot of it is a combination of what my wife was talking about. Being a woman, you have to be in a certain mindset. And on my end, some days it’s just like, I’m tired. The physical and mental exhaustion at the end of the day, sometimes I just need to go to sleep. When I get home, it’s not like I just did my eight hours of work and watch a show or two and then it’s eight or nine at night or whatever. Now it’s like, I get home, I’m on baby duty, and then try to rock him to sleep, hopefully he goes to bed by nine and at that time I want to go to bed, too. I’ve been shushing the baby for an hour, I’ve almost shushed myself to sleep.
R: We aren’t doing anything regular yet in terms of date nights, but we have had several where Danielle’s mom or my mom has come over, or we have a baby sitter. Last week, we went to a concert in St. Pete. We had her mom come over and stay the night. It was a big ordeal. We’re not physically close enough to family to where they can come late and then just drive home. It’s a long drive home for them. We’re figuring out our situation and we schedule a little bit better. We’re definitely going to include that more and more.
D: But the date nights are really helpful. I’ve noticed that 80 percent of the time I see him as ‘Dada.’ I see him as he comes home as my partner. So it’s always about the next thing we have to do for our baby: Did he buy the diapers? Did he strap in the car seat? And all that.
Only 20 percent of the time am I reminded, through little things, that he’s my husband, too, and the date nights are good because he feels like my boyfriend. Those are really fun. I forgot what it’s like to just be out. To grab a beer together. To dance and chat. And when we go on dates, we don’t talk about the baby. We force ourselves not to. Date nights remind me that he’s my husband. It feels like we’re dating again.