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.
Melissa and Gaspare Randazzo had far from the typical pregnancy and birth experience. Melissa, who suffered from stage four endometriosis and had to go through fertility treatment to conceive their son (who just turned two), gave birth three months early. Their son spent the next few months in the NICU while Melissa recovered from her emergency c-section and Gaspare returned to work. When their son could finally come home, they were so relieved but also stressed and sleep-deprived, trying to do their best to keep up with the set schedule he demanded. The entire ordeal put a lot of pressure on their marriage, too. Here’s how they managed to keep it in tact.
Melissa: We both really wanted a baby, right after we got married. But I was diagnosed with stage four endometriosis at that time. I had to have my fallopian tubes removed and we had to go through a couple of surgeries and fertility treatments.
Gaspare: One night, we were going to go to bed and it looked like her stomach was pregnant. She had almost a pregnant belly. We were like, what the hell? We went to the hospital and it turned out her stomach was filled with blood. Her fallopian tubes were infected. They basically told us she was never going to be able to get pregnant the traditional way.
M: Because of all that, we went through fertility treatment, then we did get pregnant. But then our son decided he was going to come three months early — that was a whole other ball game we had to deal with.
G: We didn’t get to prepare. She wasn’t even showing when the baby came.
M: I didn’t have my baby shower yet. We didn’t have anything.
G: I’m a teacher and she’s a school social worker, so the mayor closed schools for the next day. As a joke, I said: “Don’t go giving birth in the middle of the night, because I want to enjoy our snow day.” I was joking around. And then three hours later, in the middle of the night, we both woke up to watch the snow and she was like, “Oh my god, babe. I just peed myself.” I was like, what the hell? And then she ran to the bathroom and her water, not just broke, it exploded.
Her water broke everywhere. I was throwing towels underneath her, it was blizzarding out, we were stuffing a to-go bag — we didn’t have any of that traditional to-go bag packed or the hospital tour. We called my father because he was a cop and he was good at driving in that weather – and he ended up driving us and the doctors tried to keep the baby in her for as long as possible. They kept giving her shots to keep the baby in, basically. She was in labor for four days. And then the baby came.
M: I was scared to death. It was the scariest experience I’ve ever had to deal with in my life. It was extremely painful. The medicine they give you burns your insides, but I didn’t care. I was just so worried about the baby and not knowing if he was going to be okay or not.
G: Our son stayed in the NICU for two months.
M: That was really hard, going home without him.
G: She couldn’t go back to work because she had a c-section, but they told me to go back to work because the baby wasn’t home so there was nothing I could really do. In the mornings, I’d drive her to the hospital and she’d stay with the baby. I’d get out of my last class early, and from 2:30 to 7:30 we’d be the NICU with the baby. We’d go get dinner, and then we would go back until 11 at night, and do the same thing every day over and over again just to hang out with him.
G: Honestly, it’s so weird to say, but I don’t even remember how we handled those two months.
M: I know exactly how you did it. You got through it with humor. You laughed and found the humor in everything. And I cried and cut off the entire world. I really did. He’s very close with his family, and I pushed everyone away. He was like —
G: The buffer.
M: The positive one. And then I would be the negative one. I hate to say that, but it’s true. Our relationship was hard because he’d be at work all day and I’d be at the hospital all day. I couldn’t sit at home. I’d feel guilty. He’d be the sensible one. He’d be like, you can’t stand over this baby that you’re not even allowed to touch for 12 hours a day. You have to go home. He was at work all day and by the time we did hook up at the end of the day, we were both so beat that we went to the hospital, came home, showered and both went to sleep.
G: All of this definitely made our relationship stronger in some ways, because we had to get through this together. But in the moment, it was hard. I come from a big Italian family, my family was like, waiting outside the hospital doors because they couldn’t come in the room all day every day. I was still at work, too, and I was a teacher. I couldn’t go in and be miserable for two straight months. My day would be like, all this happiness, being with kids. I would go from doing that and standing over the baby for a few hours and then interacting with the nurses and then trying to be a buffer between Melissa and my family. She was pushing everyone away, and I was bringing everyone close. There were problems with that.
M: One-thousand percent. I put my husband and my whole family on the back burner until the baby was fine. But luckily, I have a husband who is understanding and gets it. Not only did I go through an emotional trauma, but I went through a physical trauma, too. I had an emergency c-section, and that’s not very fun. And then I was up, pumping, because I was like, if I couldn’t keep my baby inside of me, the least I could do is pump. I was up every two hours.
G: A few nights ago we were like, “Remember when we hated each other?” We were irrational and angry at each other. We were like, “Why is that wall painted white?” At 4 in the morning. You’re just mad that things are the way they are. You don’t know what you’re even saying.
G: There was one hundred percent a link between relationship matters and our sleep deprivation.
M: One thousand percent.
G: Once you sleep, you love each other again.
M: Because he was a preemie, he was so tiny — he weighed only four pounds when we brought him home and so he was on a different sleep schedule than most kids. They say to let most kids sleep and when they are hungry they’ll wake up. We had to wake him up every three hours to eat. Once he hit six months, and his weight was sustaining and he was able to sleep for longer stretches. Then I slowed down on pumping because he started latching. That was when we started to get along again.
M: Now that our son is two, we’ve made an effort, especially in the last year, to make sure that we have a date night and alone time. I would not leave him for like his first year of life. I just wouldn’t. I had so much guilt about leaving him with anyone.
But we’ve definitely made a stronger effort. Gaspare will tell me we have to go out one night where I don’t talk about the baby, so like, that’s something that I’m working on. And we’re doing more for ourselves now.
M: We literally didn’t have sex for like, a year. Well, maybe not a year.
G: It was a while. There was pain on her end. It’s not enjoyable if I feel like I’m hurting her.
M: Truthfully, I’m not even ashamed to have this published — it did get to the point where I felt like my body wasn’t mine anymore. I had to go to therapy to be able to enjoy that physical aspect of our relationship again. It took a long time. It really did.
G: As a husband, if you can’t understand it, you’re kind of an asshole.
M: He was super understanding.
G: If you’re pressuring someone, that’s bizarre. It sucks, but that’s what you signed up for.
M: My relationship with my body completely changed. You don’t recognize yourself. I physically didn’t recognize myself. Mentally, it’s just a weird feeling. I’m happy that I found a really, really great therapist that helped me through it, and that my husband was great and understanding. You can definitely plan all you want, but your plans can be thrown out the window through the blink of an eye. We bounced back pretty well. We do not have, under any circumstances, a perfect relationship. But it’s grown stronger the older our son gets. A lot of the hurdles we had to jump over made us put our relationship on the back burner.
G: But now that we can do things with him — you know, when they’re an infant, it’s not fun to go places. You can spin it any way you want, but when you’re in the car heating up a bottle, or trying to pump in a car with a sheet over you in the middle of a garlic festival in Pennsylvania — yeah, it’s cool that we’re there, but it’s not as fun. But now, he can run around and enjoy it, and we can too.