Cool Mom, My wife and I recently had a baby. I was involved in the pregnancy and birth. I’m an involved dad. Everything is mostly great, except that my wife’s postpartum body is confusing me. I have so much respect for my wife, and watching her grow a human and then birth it was extraordinary: she’s awe-inspiring. I mean, she created a fucking person. I helped, of course, but she did the work. At the same time, a head came out of her vulva, which is a place I liked to consider mine, dumb as that sounds. Milk drips out of her breasts, and her body seems so…animal. I’m an animal, too — I get it. But also, I don’t? My image of the human body is radically changed, and her body is the place where that is manifesting, which seems unfair. I’m attracted to her still, but… something’s different. It’s not that the changes to her body are a turn-off — they’re not. But now, she’s some kind of goddess beast animal mother that my libido doesn’t know how to respond to. I’m almost afraid to touch her, which I think she’s picking up on and which I’m afraid is making her feel bad — it certainly makes me feel awful, because I’m also more in love with her than ever. What the hell is going on with me? — Stephen, via email.
So, as an advice columnist, I’m supposed to be judgment-free and practice radical empathy and provide a safe space for straight men to confess their deepest darkest concerns and what not. I’m supposed to hear people out and take their issues seriously without engaging in things like name-calling. But after reading your question, I feel like that job description needs to be revisited a bit. Because I can tell you exactly what’s going on: you’re being a fucking asshole, and your wife thinks you’re being a fucking asshole too.
It is completely understandable that your wife is going through some bodily changes right now that may feel foreign to you (though I should probably say, as a naturally slender person who gained 65 pounds and went up four whole cup sizes during my pregnancy, I can attest to the fact that these changes feel way more foreign to her). It is also understandable that your feelings of attraction to her may change postpartum (though I should also say that chances are she’s feeling the exact same way about you — now that she’s averaging two hours of sleep per night and watching Judge Joe Brown while being attached to an actual milking machine, fucking you is probably the furthest thing from her mind).
In a way, this is good because it renders your temporary lack of attraction to her (and yes — this is temporary) during the postpartum phase moot. (I know, I know — you’re “ attracted to her still” and this isn’t a “turn-off” and yada yada yada, but clearly that’s not true right now, or else you wouldn’t be describing these bodily changes in such grotesque terms.) But I think part of the reason why you’re not attracted to her right now has nothing to do with your wife. It has to do with your mindset about your historic relationship to her body.
What you need to understand is your wife’s body does not and has never belonged to you. It doesn’t even belong to your baby. Her vulva does not belong to you. Her stomach does not belong to you. Her breasts do not exist for the purposes of your own sexual gratification, and they don’t exist for the purpose of gratifying your baby’s needs, either. Your wife’s body belongs to her, and the sooner you can wrap your head around that the better.
I feel like there are varying degrees to which men understand this (with you obviously falling on the lower end of the spectrum), but it’s really important to learn: the hardest thing about becoming a first-time mom isn’t the lack of sleep or recovering from the pain of a C-section or developing mastitis or any of those other lovely things. It’s dealing with the feeling that your body is no longer your own; that it exists to serve not just your baby’s physical needs, but also your partner’s at the same time. And most of the issues that arise in the year after childbirth stem from the latter party falling by the wayside, simply because the former party has so many more demands. And that is completely normal. But it also causes a lot of feelings of guilt and self-loathing, especially if you and your wife had a pretty healthy sex life before.
I can almost guarantee that your wife feels exactly the same way about her body that you do. I can also almost guarantee that she is picking up on how you’re feeling about her body right now, too. And that’s a big problem — not only because your wife is very vulnerable right now and needs to feel sexy and loved and validated more than ever, but also because your failure to sufficiently do that for her is going to create bitterness and resentment and longer-term marital problems down the road.
Listen: You can’t change the way you feel about your wife’s (again, temporarily) altered body. But you can change the way you make her feel about it, and the first step is recognizing that her body does not, and never has, fucking belonged to you at all. She’s the one who has to come to terms with how it has changed, not you. All you have to do is be with her on that journey and support and validate her as much as possible.
Does that mean you have to constantly tell her how beautiful and sexy you find her and that you feel like she could be on the cover of Hot Postpartum Bitches Magazine? No. (That magazine should be a thing, though.) Will that sometimes entail not being totally, 100 percent honest with her about your own feelings? Yes, of course (not referring to her as an “animal” to her face is a good start). But it’ll be much easier for you to come to terms with her body, when you realize that it’s not on you to come to terms with it at all.
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