Pssst, want to talk about something intimate? I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the physicality of motherhood…
Before having a baby, I didn’t touch people that often during the day–I mean, who does? Most of my day–at work, on the bus, in the grocery store, at a movie–was spent without any physical contact, save the odd handshake. Even when I met Alex, and we moved in together and got married, although we were very affectionate at home, the vast majority of my day was still spent keeping my hands politely to myself.
When you have a baby, you instantly dive headfirst into a daily routine of touch, cuddling, smooching, bathing, holding hands, breastfeeding, tousling hair, patting bellies, napping together, rubbing backs, changing diapers, pinching cheeks, rocking to sleep, giving high-fives…you’re suddenly touching another person ALL the time.
You come to know your own baby so well. I could tell you exactly what every part of Toby feels like: his velvet cheeks, fat belly, warm neck, teeny toes. I know how he breathes slowly when he’s sleeping and how he breathes loudly when he’s concentrating on stacking blocks. I know how he slouches in the bath and how he sits up straight and waves when he wants more Cheerios. How, if I change his diaper in the middle of the night, he’ll always take a moment to stretch out his short chubby legs, so I know to wait a second before I pull the diaper on. I would guess that a mother could hold 1,000 babies with her eyes closed, and as soon as her own baby is placed into her arms, she would immediately recognize his exact weight and heft, his specific wriggles, his supple skin.
And all that touch can be an amazing, bonding, fabulous thing.
But what about your romantic partner?
The other day, I had a fascinating conversation with my friend Anna, who had just heard a talk by Esther Perel, the author of Mating in Captivity, a book about sex within a marriage (and after having kids). Perel believes that there’s a badge of honor among American women to not prioritize yourself or your marriage: It’s all about the children. Without realizing it, she said, women can end up getting their emotional intimacy and physical satisfaction from their children, instead of their partners, said Perel. They give their babies tons of wonderful affection–and then don’t have anything left over for their spouse. The marriage can become an afterthought.
Perel’s points sound strange (and a little disconcerting), and at first I was like, Oh, not me, never! But, Perel asks, when you have a baby, at the end of a long day, “Who gets the long languorous hugs, the playfulness, the fun, the fashion shows, the teasing, the multiple kisses? The child!”
Oh, wait, that sort of rang true!
I distinctly remember one night when Toby was about eight months old. Alex and I were in his nursery putting him to bed. The lights were dimmed, and we were sitting on the double bed together, and Toby was in my arms. We were having a sweet moment singing lullabies, and I was smothering Toby with kisses–his cheeks, his forehead, burying my face in his neck. Alex was humming along and waiting patiently for me to put Toby to bed, when suddenly I realized, Oh my goodness, I should plop my baby in his crib and go kiss my husband! It struck me, like a lightbulb moment. I saw how how easily you could transfer the majority of your physical affection to your baby.
Obviously, kissing your own baby is one of life’s greatest joys, and children thrive with tons of physical affection from both of their parents, but, at the same time, I realized (with a forehead slap) that parents need that physical affection from each other, too (and obviously in a wildly different way:), and over the past year, it has been great to prioritize that, as well. I think our whole family is happier for it!
What do you think? Aren’t Perel’s points fascinating? Do they ring true at all, or no? Are you affectionate within your marriage? How do you keep up the romance? Has your sex life changed since becoming a parent? I would love to hear your thoughts! Feel free to comment anonymously, if you’d like! xo
(Top photo by Charles Gullung)