Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Sexual Healing

After her bath, I massaged lavender lotion onto her warm, damp baby skin as she coo-ed with delight. My heart began to pound in anticipation of what was to come in a few minutes. Establishing this pre-sleep routine was key. We had been co-sleeping since she came home because, well, it was the only way she slept for more than 15 minutes at a time. To keep my sanity, I kept her close to the warm comfort of my body where I could nurse her with ease. With her in the bed with me, my own sleep never went beyond a shallow nap since every sound or movement sprung my eyes open to see if she was okay.

"You have to do it, Sheevani, it'll be hard, but SO worth it!"

"The first two nights will be AWFUL, but then you'll be in heaven."

"Just be prepared for tons of crying the first night and then it'll get easier and easier after that, I promise!"

My thoughts were consumed with all the advice I had received from friends and family. The past 4 months of operating on 6 hours of very broken sleep were taking it's toll and tonight that was all going to change. Tonight... I was sleep training. Oh god, can I really let her cry and cry without comforting her?!

Shut up, Sheevani, just DO it! You've read the books, discussed methods with friends and heard countless times that it's guaranteed to work!

Paul was across the hall in his office. We were 5 months away from the end of his EMBA program and his time was more occupied than ever. I was on my own with this sleep training stuff because that was the agreement. I knew he'd help me if needed, but as with all of his marathon study sessions, I never felt quite comfortable interrupting.

My girl succumbed to the swaddle with very little resistance... hmm, that was encouraging. We walked laps around her dimly lit room as I held her heavenly-smelling cheek up to my lips and hummed a couple lullabies. I noticed her eyes getting heavy. Slowly, I lowered her into the crib, humming until the little burrito was out of my hands. Her eyelids were barely clearing her pupils...  oh good, maybe this will be easier than I thought!

Twenty Minutes Later...

She had fought her way out of the swaddle when I scooped her up and held her against me.

"Mama's here, baby, Mama's here..."

Her body was shaking and the cries seemed almost involuntary. Her tiny fingers dug into my shoulders and tears burned in my eyes.

"It's okay, I'm here, don't worry...."

The crying slowed and I cradled her in front of me to kiss her tear-soaked face. She immediately vomited all over my chest, no doubt a build up of air from the desperate gasping cries she suffered through for over 15 minutes.

Well, I tried and failed. I was not cut out for sleep-training. We went back to co-sleeping and my sleep would be terrible for about another 10 months, while my girl was as comfortable as could be. Motherhood has been full of those types of situations; choosing discomfort for the greater good of your kids. I just didn't realize this sacrifice would affect so much down the line...

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When I think about the stress I put on myself to sleep-train my daughter, I shake my head at those early days of parenting... where so many books are read, methods are researched, advice from family, friends, random moms at Target are given focused attention. I'm not knocking anyone who does that, hell, most of us read at least one book. But, once I accepted that both my babies would never be ones to follow methods, I felt a freedom to create my own method: keep them alive and relatively happy no matter how I felt.

This post isn't actually about babies, sleep-training or the stresses of newborn parenting. I may not have done everything perfectly, but today I look at my kids as happy, polite and loving little people (who thankfully sleep soundly in their own beds), so I must have done something right.

No, this post is about being in the "re-entry" period of my marriage to Paul. I read about this concept in a magazine a few months ago. It refers to a time in a marriage when you re-connect with intention after a long separation. This could mean anything from a military deployment to, in my case, coming out of the super-dependent phase of my kids' lives into a territory where Paul and I actually have more time to... re-introduce ourselves to each other.

Groomie Roomie
A baby in your bed doesn't really allow for intimacy. And honestly, in the beginning, we weren't all that in the mood anyway. When I'd hear about couples getting pregnant a few months after birthing one kid, my first thought was always, "How the hell do you have any energy for sex?!" Then again, if either one of our children slept like proverbial "babies," perhaps we would have been one of those couples. It's not just about sex either. The level of physical affection drastically lessened after we had children. Again, not intentionally, just an unfortunate side-effect of diverted attention and, if I can be so blunt... laziness.

Paul and I had sort of resigned ourselves to being cuddle bums with our kids versus intimate partners with each other. We weren't celibate, by any means, but it certainly wasn't the same as before the kids came along. The cliched traps of being young parents didn't miss us... we were exhausted, all our energy went towards our kids, romance was only reserved for anniversaries or Valentine's Day out of obligation to the occasion. I wouldn't quite say we were unhappy, but we were certainly neglecting our own needs for connection. This lasted for years... years that flew by before we knew how distant we'd become.

Not Tonight, Honey...
There was a lot of "we" in that last section. For many years Paul and I seemed to be on the same page when it came to romance and intimacy. But, if I'm being brutally honest here, I'm the one who had a harder time rediscovering our sexual connection. As our kids got older and we had more time to ourselves in the evenings, Paul's readiness to get back to our own "bedtime routine" arrived much quicker than mine. Don't get me wrong, I was excited to have time with my husband again, but for reasons I didn't want to face right away, I wanted to spend that time watching a movie or having a nice chat versus a sweaty romp in our newly kid-free bed.

I've mentioned in previous posts that digging into serious issues, especially between the both of us, isn't something at which we excel. For months and months, I just avoided the topic and Paul quietly accepted my rejections. When we finally did talk about it, I was so overcome with guilt and confusion that my garbled explanation was buried in tears, deep breaths and "I don't knows." What I didn't want to face was that maybe... I just wasn't into sex anymore and perhaps would never be again. My mind would spring into scenarios of being a frigid wife who finds out her husband is having an affair... sure I'd be pissed but deep down I would think, "Well, what did I expect? He's not getting any at home!"

What those scenarios didn't factor in, however, was that Paul's dedication to me is far beyond what I deserve. The first chat went really poorly and we didn't get anywhere with the 2nd or 3rd chats either, but eventually we started to crack the fragile eggshells on which we'd been walking. My lack of interest was opening up some old wounds for Paul that I never even considered. Unbelievably, I had never put myself in his shoes. If I were the one being rebuffed, of course I'd question my attractiveness and self-worth in the relationship. Once I got over feeling "attacked" over my extinguished sexual drive, I began to approach my feelings with a different lens... and I was slowly figuring out why I needed more time to reach the same place where Paul had been for months.

Perfect Strangers
Paul and I have gone through a lot in the last 9 years. Besides having two kids, we've gone through a masters program, the loss of my father, career changes, building 2 houses, postpartum anxiety, extended colic, moving to a different state, and many other ups and downs surrounding all of those transitions. Making it through all of that changes people... and we are changed people. The part of marriage that I think often gets buried is that your relationship is ever-evolving, and that every major life event reveals a new side to the person to which you have promised yourself.

We have both revealed a lot about ourselves during the past 9 years; some bad, some good, some GREAT and some just f*cking terrible. Up until 2010, our relationship had never been tested very much and I naively thought, "Sure, having kids will put some stress on us, but once we get used to all the changes, we'll go back to normal." Only, I didn't take into account the amount of "new normals" that would take place in the years to come. And this is typical life sh*t that millions of people go through all the time. It's not as if we suffered through tragedies that happened to us... we dove headfirst into transitions with our hearts in the right place... and that place was blind optimism.

Once we moved to Denver and the isolation of being in a completely new place forced us to face our issues, things started to shift. First off, I began to forgive myself for the way I was feeling. It was almost as if I needed to float over the timeline of my life and figure out who I was again, and only then could I figure out who WE were again. I had spent so much time feeling an incredible amount of shame, that I never really allowed any compassion for myself. When I woke up to the reality that the past few years have been an emotional rollercoaster, my nurturing side spun inward and I finally realized it was okay to take a little time to rediscover my intimate side. I needed to be patient, and I asked Paul to be patient as well.

We are still traveling on that road back to a solid intimate connection, but I feel better than I have in years about our progress. Everyday an effort is put in to connect, whether it's a shmoopy text, an extended hug or kiss, a boob or butt graze... we are putting in the work! It's almost like we're dating again. I'd say that's weird, but when you think about it, I have to get to know this man I married all over again... he's not the same guy I knew back when we took our vows, and lucky for me, he's a much better guy after everything we've gone through. It may take a bit until I put-out on the regular... after all, I'm a lady.

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I'd be lying if I said I'm 100% comfortable sharing all of this on my blog. There was a lot of back and forth in my head about putting this out there, but one nagging thought kept drowning out all the others. During that time of feeling sexually dead, I felt so incredibly alone and embarrassed. My closest friends in the world didn't even know I was going through this because I feared their reaction would be, "Oh man, I have no idea what you're talking about." I rarely have an agenda with my posts, but with this one I hope I can comfort anyone who may be going through a similar situation. For months I just wanted to feel like I wasn't a horrible partner. If this incredibly revealing post can help anyone, then I'm glad I wrote it.

Also... I just realized how dirty "re-entry" sounds and well, I'm here for it.

2 comments:

  1. Gurl. I am 100% in the same boat as you, thank you for sharing. It’s very comforting to know that we aren’t alone in these kinds of struggles. Love this blog - keep it up!

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  2. ME TOO!!!!! This is so relatable and is refreshing to hear because you realize you aren't loosing your mind or your marriage and it is normal!

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