It’s like a never-ending chicken and the egg situation. Which came first? How body image impacts sex impacts relationship satisfaction. Working with new moms and their partners often brings up this cycle. There may be disappointment with body after baby, disappointments with what sex after baby looks like or feels like (or that it is nonexistent), and these may impact the relationship with our partner. Here we are and it sometimes feels like a big ball of yarn that your grandmother let you play with and now you have two ends and a big ol’ mess in the middle. Where do we even start?! Sometimes it feels so overwhelming that throwing your hands in the air and forgetting about it feels like the best option. Sometimes getting to the root of the issues can get clients feeling “unstuck,” and breaking it into baby steps (no pun intended) can feel like movement, which creates momentum, and movement in a healthy direction feels good.
First of all, remember it is all related to relationship. After having a baby, relationships have to be redefined. It doesn’t matter if it’s the first baby or fourth baby, roles will change or shift, and responsibilities will too. Feeling safe, encouraged, isolated, or rejected all play a role in our relationship with sex, our partner, or our own body.
Relationship with Our Own Body. Yes, I said with your own body. We forget that we have to have a relationship with our body. How we feel before we have a baby can magnify how we feel after baby. Often times, we have identified ourselves a certain way, and after having a baby, there can be a disconnect with our bodies. It looks different, it feels different, it’s harder now to lose weight. It is ALL DIFFERENT! Sometimes we feel that our body may have betrayed us somehow. Remembering that carrying a baby, growing a baby, and delivering that baby, regardless of how that exactly happened, have a definite impact. Often times with my clients, I work with them on connecting with their bodies, finding ways to thank their bodies, check in with their bodies, allowing their bodies to heal and recover. In the world of social media and expectations, we forget that the body just grew a human being in it! The reality is that we have to develop and create a new relationship with our bodies.
Our Relationship with Sex. Yes, sex. It’s something that clients don’t typically bring up until I do. How sex can change after a baby both physically and emotionally for women continues to be one of the “hot topics” during session. Many times, moms feel “touched out,” overly “needed,” exhausted, and drained by the end of the day. Along with hormones and sleep deprivation, interest in sex can dwindle. Yes, this can be nature’s way of spacing pregnancies, however it can be a confusing time for partners to navigate. Couples that never had an issue in the intimacy department now are faced with this. This is the number one reason that couples come in together to sessions. How we view sex can directly influence our relationship with our partner and is directly influenced by our relationship to our body.
Relationship with Our Partner. How do we continue to connect with our partner when we are just reconnecting with our own body? There seems to be this expectation that along with the baby’s needs, we will meet the needs of our partner and other children, job, house, etc. It is not uncommon to have sessions discussing how to juggle all of the demands, and with partners, being intimate is often a topic of concern. Reconnecting with partners may look different than it did also before baby. Redefining the role as a couple, as a parent, with new financial constraints and time demands all influence what your relationship as a couple will look like.
So now looking at all three of these areas as intertwined, where do we go from here? How do we grow, develop awareness, and embrace our roles as mother and partner and continue to love our bodies? I could go on and on and on about all three of these, but here are a few ideas on unraveling this intertwined ball of yarn we are left holding:
Recognize the power of self-talk. Listen to yourself. What are you telling yourself? If you wouldn’t let someone talk to a child that way, you shouldn’t talk to yourself that way. Replace the negative talk with positive. Find a phrase, quote, or scripture that you can place on sticky notes where you can be reminded during the day.
Journal to yourself. Write love notes to yourself. Journal about the things you are grateful of, the things you notice are different. The things you would like back. Journaling can sometimes help us to find a place to start, too. Write a letter to your body, both pre-baby and post.
Partners are not mind readers. As much as we would like them to “just get it,” a lot of the time, we need to ask for help. We need to let people close to us know how we are feeling. Whether it is in relation to sex, intimacy, or needing help, people don’t know unless you let them in.
Surround yourself with others who “get it.” Breastfeeding? Find a group! Attachment parent? Find a group! Working mom? Find support! Stay at home mom? Find a group! Get plugged in. Surrounding yourself with others who are going through the same thing can help you normalize and ultimately feel less isolated and alone. You aren’t alone; most new parents are dealing with some variant of the above. Even if you aren’t a “group” person, you can still be a part of something: look into groups at the library, church, mall, etc. Sometimes being in the presence of others can increase awareness, too.
Remember, be kind to yourself. If you are feeling like you need extra support, professionals are there. You don’t have to navigate this journey alone.
Teresa M. Eltrich-Auvil MS, LMHC, is a therapist in the Puyallup, Washington, area and has been in private practice at Picket Fence Therapy & Consulting since 2006. Specializing in Perinatal Mental Health, she finds great enjoyment in working with new parents navigating this transition and creating a safe place to gain insights, skills, and support as it pertains to identity, relationships, and empowerment. Teresa also specializes in Postpartum Anxiety & Depression as well as Infertility, Miscarriage, and Loss.