Tom and Christina Furnival live in Ventura, California. They have two kids under 3 and, like many new parents, a very packed life. Christina takes care of the kids; Tom works from home. While they technically spend a lot of time together, it’s not quality time and they make a big effort to carve out real and intentional moments with one another. It definitely took them some time to adjust to the demands of parenthood, but they’ve found a nice rhythm. Here, the couple discusses how their relationship and sex life changed after kids, the postpartum issues they dealt with after their first baby, what steps they took to address their mental health, and the small, special ways they make time for one another.
Christine: It is hard with two toddlers. I don’t think that we had fully thought that through when we were trying for number two — they’re only 21 months apart. But Tom works from home for his company. So, since I’m at home with the kids, and he works from home, we actually see a lot of each other during the day. It’s not, you know, quality time. But we get to have coffee while he’s on a break, I get to say hi to him when I drop my dish off at the sink, and give him a hug.
Outside of that, my parents live local, so they’ve been really helpful in taking the kids on when we ask them to babysit, but we also spend a lot of time at their house together, which gives us that chance to talk and connect.
C: Both of my pregnancies were really good. Our daughter is a tougher personality — and she was as a baby. She had a knack for waking up and crying the moment we were finally going to watch a show, settle, or sit down to eat. She would manage to wake up and need our attention in all of those moments when we’d get a second of time to reconnect.
We found her infancy to be really tough. I had some postpartum depression and anxiety. We just weren’t sleeping; nursing didn’t go well. So the first four to six months of her life, I would say, were really intense.
Tom: A lot of the commentary that we received from other parents or our parents, a lot of them just said, “Oh, get your sleep now!” Like we’re hibernating bears. But the reality is, that’s not very helpful. Yes, you get an understanding that you’re not going to get much sleep, but that’s not actionable. What can we do with that? It’s not specific. So, when we speak to other future parents, we may scare the crap out of them…
C: Yeah, we’re brutally honest.
T: We get really specific about stuff and we say, “Look, this may or may not happen, but if it does, you might feel like this, and if you do, it’s okay.”
C: That it will pass.
T:. The first couple weeks, we just found incredibly difficult. We were very fortunate to have a strong support network. They provided us frozen meals. I think it was, we ran out of meals…
C: …about two months in.
T: Yeah, two months in. I remember the thought of making a slice of toast was almost insurmountable after two months, which sounds ridiculous. We both love to cook, so it’s not like we’re scared of being in the kitchen.
I went to the supermarket a couple of weeks after our daughter was born and felt like a zombie. It was just beyond anything that we had expected. And then, most of our friends either had far more enjoyable experiences, or they coped with it better, or they were liars.
Everything was just roses and butterflies for them. It was just this incredible experience where the baby was sleeping through the night, incredibly early, and their poop smelled like honey. But for us it was quite the shock the first time around.
C: When we had our second, we put a better plan into place, having gone through what we went through with our daughter and then with my experiences with the postnatal mood disorders. I saw a therapist. We wanted our second experience to be better.
I did not expect to have depression or anxiety after having our daughter because I’ve never had it. I didn’t really have any warning signs that that would be the case leading up to the birth. I was really blindsided by that. So the second time around, I went to a therapist who helped us institute a plan where, for the first six weeks, which are the hardest, we would have full-time support. So, instead of Tom taking off the first two weeks of the baby being born, my mom actually happened to be available.
Tom kept working, my mom came over, and stayed in bed with me. I would nurse our son and then hand him to my mom and she would do whatever she needed to do to get him back to sleep and I would just go straight to sleep. So our sleep deprivation, the second time around, was so much less. That was really significant for helping us handle everything. Then Tom took two weeks off work, and then Tom’s parents flew here from England and stayed for six weeks.
We also had more meals prepared, and I was prepared for, if nursing didn’t work, that we would just move on to formula. That was actually another big thing with our daughter — nursing was not as successful as we hoped. I tried to increase my milk supply and my focus and energy was drained by that.
T: Our son was just objectively easier than our daughter. We did learn from that first go-around, too, both in terms of planning but also just in terms of breastfeeding. It didn’t go well the first time and it resulted in — well, you don’t know, right? You don’t really know if breastfeeding is really working. You don’t know what the child is consuming or not consuming.
C: You don’t know quantity.
T: My last week of paternity leave with our daughter, I was going in to work the next day, and our daughter cried from one in the morning until seven. I start work at 6:30 a.m., so my first day back at work after paternity leave, I had 3 hours of sleep. Plus a night of screaming and trying to figure out what this 3-week-old child needs. It wasn’t a few weeks until we realized she wasn’t getting enough food.
C: We thought she had colic.
T: The guilt that followed — we were like, what’s the remedy to that? The first months were definitely in the trenches. Our daughter wanted to be with Christy all the time, too.
C: She didn’t want to be put down.
T: Christy was either nursing in vain, pumping, or holding the crying baby 24/7 for a couple of months. That took its toll. But once we got through that and our daughter was sleeping better, it was just night and day, that shift, in our experience. But the positive piece about the challenging first couple of months with our firstborn was that it definitely made the second time around so easy. It was so easy. And unfortunately, some people have it the other way around — they have the easy kid first and they think they’ve got it made. They’re like, oh, we’re great parents, we’re doing all this wonderful stuff, and then they have their difficult child and their world falls apart.
T: Now that we’re into parenthood, we try to make time for one another. That’s something we’re constantly working on. But for 2019, we set the goal of a date night a month. So, pretty much as the first of the month rolls around, we sit down and plan our date night for that month, and get the babysitter lined up. We’re very fortunate to have quite a few friends who are also parents, and they are socially active people, so we have quite a few, probably four or five events a month with the kids and with those friends.
C: We can enjoy an adult beverage while we have a chance to chat with our friends while the kids are safely in the backyard. We’re also strict on bedtime. The kids are down around seven. That enables us to have two or three hours of just our time before we go to bed.
T: We really protect that time.
C: Last night, we waited to have our dinner until after the kids were in bed and we took it in the backyard and enjoyed the weather and ate our dinner together. So without having to go out, we had our own date-like evening. Also, we go to the gym together.
C: Our sex life? Well, the doctor cleared me about six weeks postpartum. I don’t think I had the energy for intimacy around that time. We were just so drained that that was far off my list of to-dos.
We worked into it slowly. Tom was really good about taking things slow and figuring out when I was ready. There was no pressure, which I’m so thankful for. I know that we have a lot of friends that they feel like they need to perform, in a sense, pretty quickly. And I think that’s unfair — even though it’s natural, your body has gone through trauma.
So, Tom was great. He just let me take the lead. I think, with our son, we were maybe quicker. I wasn’t as afraid. I think the first time you have sex after a baby, it’s really scary. I think since we had done that and it had been fine after we had our daughter I was like, okay. This doesn’t need to be as scary as it was the first time.
T: The sleep deprivation, at least for us, did play a fairly big part in numbing our desires. When it comes down to it, you just don’t want sex as much. I’m not going to say it’s perfect, but a reasonably smooth acknowledgement that we’ve entered a new stage in life.
I think we realized that we are moving from quantity to quality, and we acknowledge that if we’re too tired, it’s fine. We’ve done a lot of shit today. It doesn’t mean that the relationship is breaking down or that we’re not attracted to one another. It means we’re absolutely bloody exhausted and we need to sleep. We’ve acknowledged that and we need to make sure we have quality and we enjoy it and we don’t burn ourselves out making it happen.
C: There’s no “we should be” or “we have to be.” But I also think you can find intimacy in other ways. Tom and I are big on hugging, squeezing, strokes on the arm. We give kisses throughout the day and we say I love you a lot. Even just snuggling up to watch a movie provides a level of intimacy.
T: I’m not sure about other people, but we definitely are best friends. It’s not a relationship that’s based in sex.
C: Say what!?
T: That’s not to say in any way that it’s platonic. But we just love one another’s company and spending time together. We value each other. We have a decent balance.