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.
Alyson and Joe Fenty, California residents who have been together for 15 years, had conversations about their upcoming baby, but had no idea what parenting would actually be like. The couple, who have a seven-month-old daughter (their first), discuss how they tried to prepare their relationship for the arrival of their baby, what things have helped them re-calibrate, and what their sex life is like now that there’s another (very demanding) person in the home.
Few parents are prepared for what life after baby truly looks like. Did you talk about what the future would look like before you had your daughter?
Alyson: We of course had conversations, but they were more like fantasies. My belly was expanding, so we’d be like “What will she look like? How are we going to discipline her?”
But I don’t think anything can match the reality of having a baby. It is the most amazing, unbelievable experience. Unless you do it yourself, you have no idea. I didn’t get that until joining the club.
Joe: No matter how much planning you do, it just doesn’t prepare you.
A: We would sit in bed at night, and just fantasize about what our lives would be like as parents. Honestly, it still doesn’t feel real. It’s amazing, It’s terrifying, it’s exhausting. But, I think I wouldn’t change anything.
Did you have any specific conversations about how your marriage might change?
A: We wanted to make sure that we could keep our relationship a priority. Has that happened? Not as often as we’d like. We do have family close by, so we can go out, but it’s amazing how life just whizzes away.
If anything, we take our time to prioritize each other when we go to bed. We enjoy movies together and meals. But we’re just so tired. We don’t even want to go out. Or at least I feel that way.
A: It was just my birthday the other week. Joe was asking if I wanted to go out somewhere, or what i wanted. My answer was just a nap. We’re still kind of in the thick of it right now.
Have all the changes been tough on your marriage?
A: If anything, I feel like we’ve gotten closer from having to work together as a team. I think you can have as many conversations as you want about “Oh, we’ll have a date night a month,” or whatever, but until you have a baby…
It’s a bit different.
A: I mean, first of all, the thought of leaving her, even with family, is tough, especially the first few months. And then honestly it’s just about having time.
J: The first few months were the hardest. You forget about each other, because you’re so tired and overwhelmed with everything. All you want to do is take care of the baby and go to sleep.
Now, seven months into the whole parenting thing, did your relationship get back on track a bit?
A: At about four or five months, we transitioned her into her nursery. I think there’s something to be said about the baby being physically in your bedroom, right next to your bed. As much as I loved that, and it was a really tough couple first nights away from her, I think it really did improve the intimacy in our relationship. Having a few hours at a time in between when she needed to be fed, where it was just the two of us.
Joe gets home from work earlier than I do. Oh, I’m going to start crying now, because when I pull up in the driveway, and I see him holding her, like, dancing. Just seeing him as a father, has just changed the way that I look at him and feel about him on such a deep and profound level. My love for him has just expanded. I know it sounds really cheesy, but it’s the sexiest thing in the world. He’s blushing — but to see this big, strong military guy turn into such a mush ball and be playing peek-a-boo with his daughter…
Do you feel the same way, Joe?
J: It’s a little different for me. My wife breastfeeds. So when I get up in the middle of the night with my daughter, I’ll change her diaper and see if she goes back to sleep and if she doesn’t, I’ll tell my wife she’s hungry. My wife will come over and take her. It’s like this magic moment between a mother and daughter. Sometimes I just stand there and watch. It’s just beautiful to me. It reminds me of how wonderful a mother she’s being to our daughter. I love her every day for what she does.
How about your intimate relationship? Have you been talking about having sex?
A: We’re just getting back to a routine. Normalizing. It’s so funny. We know now how long we have once we put her down to sleep. We could pretty much set a timer and know the next time she is going to wake, to help minimize interruptions. Honestly, it took quite a while for us to get here. Longer than I anticipated. You have to wait six to eight weeks in order to even get cleared by your doctor, and then, emotionally, I think we tacked on at least another month.
J: From my point of view, with her going through the whole labor process, and you have her leg up on your shoulder —
A: Oh my god!
J: And you watch your baby come out of there. That, really, I don’t know. Yeah.
Do you think anything in your relationship has gotten better since you had your baby?
J: We communicated before she was born, but we had a lot of lulls. We had all the time in the world. Now we don’t have that time to talk to one another, so we take the time we have and we use it. That’s one thing, I think, that has really improved.
A: I would agree with that. I would also say what’s gotten better is my appreciation for the little things. He gets home before me, and he has dinner ready. I’m able to appreciate everything he does so much more. I can’t tell you the last time I cleaned a pump part. He does all of that. He handles setting the pump up every day. I don’t even have to worry about walking out the door to work and getting everything together. I never even ask him to do it. It’s just already been done. I don’t think a lot of women get that. It’s really just shown me a new level of appreciation for him.