If you’re thinking that little blonde down at his office with the “butter-wouldn’t-melt” eyes, who he says so sheepishly reminds him of you, think again.
Yes, when it comes to your sex life, Public Enemy Number one is none other than your beautiful little new born bundle of joy; the creature from the meconium lagoon, who will single handedly do what disapproving parents and common sense failed to do: stop you making love to the man of your dreams.
I hate to say it (and I hope you appreciate the risk I’m taking here of being terminally unfriended on Facebook by my 3 grown-up daughters) but that adorable moppet which you will both invest more love in than you ever thought you had in you, is the one thing that will test you both to the core.
The problem, as I see it, isn’t dissimilar to the one we girls face as brides when we inevitably focus entirely on our one big day and not at all on the decades of marriage which will follow. When pending our baby’s delivery (“Would Madame like gas with her epidural?”) we hardly spare a thought about the big, plump, 7 ½ kg baby fly which is about to crash land in the ointment of our perfect marriage.
Before I share with you my post-pregnancy litany of what-not-to-dos, I’d like to ask you a question. When you look back on your life, what’s your most cherished memory? For me, it wasn’t the day Ralph proposed, (or rather, the day I booked the restaurant, made him wear a blue nylon punk rocker tie, finish his prawn cocktail and get down on one knee to pop the question.) Nor was it standing at the altar and declaring, “I do.” No, my most cherished memory was a simple picnic in Parsley Bay, Sydney, some 30 years ago, with Hayley, our first born, just days out of hospital. There we were, the 3 of us, in our freshly formed family bubble, nestled within a grove of she-oaks, enjoying those precious few moments where all was ahead of us, and nothing else mattered. Little did we realise that this was the marker in the sand; the last time our lives would ever be so simple, relaxed and perfect, as we stared in awe at the little miracle who would change our lives forever.
To start with, we now both kicked into serious high achiever mode and became obsessed with building a great life for our perfect family. And for Ralph it was, as it is for most men, the great unravelling of our early love affair; the day his hot, insatiable sheila transformed into a leaky, lactating mum in waist high cotton tail undies. The perky breasts he used to joke he could hang a wet towel off would now score a blue ribbon in the Royal Easter Show watermelon division.
Every moment was filled with soaking up the reality of our baby. In the days when nobody owned video cameras, we would trek out to Radio Rentals and hire one for the weekend, spending 72 hours with the lens trained on various parts of Hayley’s anatomy, patiently waiting, like bird watchers, for any further sign of brilliance and thrilling when she made a sound, burped or farted. Worst part was we would then inflict these tapes on family members, fully expecting them to be every bit as enthralled as we were.
The fellow at Rabbit photo became my new best friend. Ralph and his Pentax macro lens made sure there wasn’t a pore on Hayley’s face that wasn’t recorded in microscopic detail.
On the surface, we were one big happy family but not far beneath, Ralph was quietly going stir crazy; his lifelong sex slave had checked herself into the nunnery for a good night’s sleep.
The valiant “I’m above being so crass as to need sex” was as convincing as a politician’s promise not to contest the leadership.
So I did something which finally convinced all my friends that my brain really had drained out with the afterbirth. I told him I’d organised for him to spend an hour (two was the limit due to the financial constraints of having a baby) with a beautiful young euphemism for a masseuse, called Candy.
He was in two minds about it but I know Mr Twinky better than he does so handed him our Amex card and sent him off. And then I promptly went to sleep.
I didn’t even stay up to see if I’d just committed the ultimate folly and next day waited for him to tell me all the gory details. I suppose I knew what really would happen with my hopeless romantic and sure enough he ended up going to the pub with his mates.
So here we were, right back where we started. Fortunately, the fatigue eventually faded and I now had the energy to get a bit creative. Which is something I recommend to every woman. You have no idea how dirty and utterly degenerate men really are until you let your mind wander down their sordid little alley way. And it worked. We fumbled through enough adult products and lingerie to open our own S&M salon, and we pulled through - so to speak.
But then the next baby raptosaurus raised its horny little head from the baby capsule. And we watched a new scene play out as it has since the beginning of time. A child’s most pressing needs are to poop everywhere, and divide and conquer. We all do it as babies; become obsessed with our primary carer (the one with the yummy melons) and feel the need to marginalise the other hand that feeds us, Dad.
The arrival of a child suddenly turns the simple line between two points (not your boobs, the one between you and him) into a triangle. Which means one side versus one individual. And seldom can 3 people relate to each other in balanced harmony. Which is why threesomes sound wildly kinky but are in truth wildly dangerous to any relationship. It always leads to one versus two.
Usually what happens is it’s bub and mum against dad. And it’s here that we mums need to consciously wise up and re-establish the balance. It’s so easy to feel like the all-important mother hen. That we have singlehandedly guaranteed the future of our species and found the missing bits of our self-esteem and self-definition at last, in being the fierce protector of our brood. And in the process, side-lining or even denigrating our man.
Overnight my knight in shining armour went from being my best friend, lover and confidant to a piece of the furniture, a comfortable lounge that offered support and little more, so engrossed was I in exploring these new relationships.
30 years later, I realise the damage that was done and how it could have proved disastrous. He was like so many Baby Boomer men, already uncomfortable and unfamiliar with the whole notion of family and fathering and kids, coming from a very dysfunctional family and having spent all of his childhood and adolescence in boarding schools. No wonder 30% of first marriages begin to crumble under the pressure of kids and the inexpertise of brand new parents.
Relationship charity, One on One, conducted a survey which revealed that 40% of new mothers fear they are no longer sexually attractive to their new partners. While 25% of men become convinced that the woman they have sworn eternal love to is not the same person as the woman who is the mother of their children.
This is all the more reason why it’s critical that during these first 18 months after the arrival of a baby we make ourselves more aware of what’s going on, and not less, simply because we feel entitled to revel in the role of noble, overworked mother.
So, knowing what I know today, what advice would I give to a newly wed woman or aspiring mother?
Don’t imagine that a love built on romance and infatuation will simply survive on its memories. Everything changes with a baby. You must remain actively aware of the rapidly evolving dynamics between you, and never so much as when you discover the enormous power and fulfilment of becoming a mother while he is relegated to the sideline often with the status of mere sperm donor.
Fortunately, young couples today tend to share a lot more in the new parent role than ever before, but old social patterns can be very resistant to change.
So here are some hopefully helpful pointers.
- PILLOW TALK
Discuss what’s going to happen before it does, while you’re pregnant, or even before you decide you want to have children and prepare, mentally and physically, just as you would for an army boot camp. No matter how tight a unit you are, it’s going to test you like nothing else.
- ME TIME
Get selfish, it’s in everyone’s best interests that you do. There’s nothing as tedious and ultimately destructive as a self-sacrificing martyr who gives to everyone else except herself. Even worse, a woman who becomes so defined by motherhood that everything else goes out with the baby’s bathwater. Their baby becomes the new centre of the universe and will invariably end up spoilt rotten, neurotic and plain obnoxious. Don’t lose yourself in motherhood, you’ll do it so much better if you keep both your perspective and your husband.
Remember to let your child find out the hard way, to learn by their own mistakes. An over protective mum creates an ill-prepared adult. And don’t argue with your husband about whose parenting style is best, sort that out privately so you always present a united front. Then back him, don’t contradict him.
Set aside even just 30 minutes a day to remember who you are and why you deserve a life beyond babies. If that’s not possible, at least set aside 5 to 10 minutes to do things which recharge your batteries. It’s taken me 55 years but now I devote myself to my morning ritual: filling in my gratitude journal, 10 minutes of meditation, and doing what I love most, writing these blogs. It doesn’t matter what bombs going off during the rest of the day, I’m fully charged and ready for it.
Be aware that you will change hormonally and emotionally much more dramatically than he will. Your guy will do his best to be the selfless supporter and a great dad. But he is in unchartered waters here. Men aren’t given any support or guidance on childbirth, fathering and its flow on effects. They have to pick it up on the run and most will make a Herculean effort to help and not put any more pressure on you even if they are going slowly bonkers - from bonking deprivation.
How hard is it really to dress up like the goddess of old? And don’t worry about the post-baby bulges.
After he’s watched you give birth, he’s never been more in awe of you or more in love.
Splash out on French bubbly, buy a faux bear skin rug and go to sleep on it in front of an open fire. Investigate the sillier side of sex. Think kinky fantasies and see where they take you. Show you’re still as interested in him as ever, that although you’re a bit battle weary, you won’t let your sex life fizzle out just because you’ve discovered how incredible children are. You want him to be around to help them grow up with all that healthy role modelling – that they will need to have learnt when it’s their turn.
And remember, people are usually disloyal to their partner only when they’ve convinced themselves that they’re entitled to be, usually because their partner somehow changed the rules.
- RELATIONSHIP FIRST
It stands to reason that the captain who safely steers his ship so all on board make it to their final destination is preferable to the one who lets everyone pull the motors apart. Put your relationship above everything, including your children, because it’s in everyone’s interest - especially theirs.
If you pander to them against your husband, let them marginalise him or feel it’s you both against him, you gain the illusion of temporary one upmanship, but your marriage will ultimately end in a very rocky place.
Let your kids know from the start that you and dad are a single and insoluble unit, that they cannot divide you. That is the ultimate source of reassurance and security which every child needs most. And certainly a lot more so than feeling they have Mummy wrapped around their little finger. The tightness of my relationship with Ralph often frustrated our children because at times one of us has indeed been wrong, but that security of knowing that Mum and Dad are inseparable has been the bedrock of our family. We may not always agree about things (in fact we almost never do!) but all 5 of us know we are a family, where everyone is loved and cherished equally, and that relationships and life partners can be trusted. And that driving a wedge between Mum and Dad no matter how seemingly justified at the time, is always doomed to failure.
What I realise looking back is the reason that Hayley, Rosie and Clover have each grown up to be such compassionate, principled, loving and very independently minded young adults - despite their extremely disparate natures - is because they were made to understand that they would one day need to find their own partner to stand by at all costs. So they too will create the consistency, predictability and certainty which are the very foundations of a child’s sense of security, which in turn is the foundation of his or her emotional development and well-being.