Parenting Baby B is a little like taking a 10lb + weight and fixing it permanently to your nipple!!! Your boobs are out more than Kim Kardashian’s butt! But your OWN ass is almost constantly welded to a chair, surrounded by everything you might need for the next 12 hours within grab range – snacks, water bottle, phone, breast pump, laptop, books etc.
Because you’re not going ANYWHERE!! Because whenever you try to unattach the 10lb + weight to do, oh I don’t know, trivial things like go to the loo or grab some more snacks, it gives off an instant loud klaxon noise, to alert the world that horrific child abuse is taking place 😉 And hearing that noise, and seeing that little face so unhappy, hurts my heart more than sitting in one position for hours on end hurts my body, even with my joints seizing up so that when I finally move, I’m like a cripple until I can stretch them out and gently ease them into moving again!
So it’s a good job that 10lb + weight occasionally opens its beautiful blue eyes, looks up at me from beneath long, beautiful eyelashes, and beams the most angelic smiles that would make even Emperor Palpatine turn away from the Dark Side 🙂 And is why, despite the challenges, I wake up every morning, feel my heart burst with pride and joy when I see that little 10 + weight, and attach it to me again, for another day of the same…
Recently, someone asked the following question:
“My husband is a being a complete nightmare. My baby is 8 months old and I’m breastfeeding. I really can’t think of anything I want to do less than have sex. He’s now acting like a toddler, stomping around the house and having a tantrum because we have only had sex three times since our baby was born. He told me he’s going to stay in a bad mood until I put out, lol! I just want to know if after 8 months my sex drive should be back or whether I’m still normal!! Men, eh?”
My response to this is:
Both of your feelings are perfectly valid 🙂 The problem comes from each of you viewing the other person’s feelings as unacceptable, which creates disconnects in your relationship. Men tend to view sex differently to women; to them, we show our love for them through our sexual interest in them, so that very valid feeling we have of feeling touched-out, in pain, exhausted etc, is interpreted by them as “My partner doesn’t love me any more”, the thought of which would create sadness and a sense of rejection in anyone, regardless of gender.
His behaviour, whilst seeming ‘childish’ to you, IS a cry for attention, but not perhaps in the way you might think. He needs to feel still loved by you, which for men, as I said, is more about sexual interest in them, and also respect and appreciation. The huge changes we go through during pregnancy and birth, and parenting afterwards, affects both partners, but in different ways, and both parents need to still feel they are getting some of their needs met.
Can you show sexual interest in him again, even without the actual act of full sex, if that is painful/uncomfortable for you? Even something like giving admiring compliments of his body again, or trying to make a point of kissing him more passionately when he gets in from work, could give him a sense of “She DOES still love me” and start healing that disconnection in your relationship that you both feel is starting to happen.
The key is to rebuild that connection between you, IF you want the relationship to last, by trying to understand what is going on for the other person at a deep level, rather than just surface behaviour. I’m sure you equally feel unheard by him and that is causing some of your exasperation, but if the long-term goal is to stay together, it’s important to start connecting again by attempting to start meeting some of his needs, in a small way that isn’t compromising your needs either.
I recommend The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts as a great resource for helping identify each others needs and working towards meeting them, something you could do together and rebuild your sense of yourselves as a team working together rather than both at different ends of a spectrum, pulling against each other…
“But not all men act in this manner and behave so childishly when they don’t get their needs met…?”
No, people don’t all act the same way in certain circumstances. But since you are asking about your OWN husband’s behaviour, and since I’ve studied relationship psychology, counselling, and communication skills, I was attempting to understand what underlying thoughts and feelings might be driving his outward behaviour from a point of rebuilding connection in their relationship, because calling someone names usually creates MORE tension, negative feeling and disconnection, rather than rebuilding connection.
If you had said you’d had enough and wanted to leave, my response would have been very different, but my sense is that you want to stay with him rather than feeling more conflict with him. If I’ve misinterpreted your intentions, then, just like everything else on the Internet, you can take what resonates with you and ignore anything that doesn’t 🙂
I have a view that it’s better to have access to a full tappas bar of perspectives to listen to and choose from, and even between a couple that have been together for a long time, each individual can have their own views/beliefs/values that drives their outward behaviour, often without them even realising it. Attempting to interpret this man’s behaviour in the context of his sense of rejection (something research shows occurs a lot after the birth of a child) wasn’t an attempt to justify his behaviour, but to explain it in a way that might help you view it from a more connecting perspective rather than getting into a more “him versus me”, he’s selfish etc etc mindset. There are other perspectives that offer that view; I just offer an alternative that may or may not be correct, so you can take what I’ve written and decide for yourself if that could be what’s going on with him from the context of what you know about him as a man already. If he’s always behaving in this manner, even before the pregnancy, it’s up to you to weigh up if this behaviour is something you are not prepared to tolerate. But if he’s a generally decent man who normally is kind and considerate, what I’ve said could allow you to view him as just having a ‘blip’ and even save your marriage….
The point here is about intimacy. Things have changed, of course, with the arrival of a little one, but if you both try to make sex/intimacy one of life’s priorities, not as a chore or to please him, but as something that could bring you closer together on all levels, you may find things shifting for the better between you again. It can be such a powerful ‘connector’ for couples and it’s so easy to put off, but it’s another way of ‘connecting’ with each other and I can imagine he just wants to feel close and intimate with you again after the arrival of a new baby has brought such a steep learning curve and drastic change of lifestyle into both your lives.
You have all that rush of the love hormone oxytocin that helps with bonding with your new baby, something which happens physiologically with every feed naturally. But he doesn’t have that at all as men obviously can’t breastfeed, so his only source of hugs and kisses (and that delicious feeling of being loved) is now only interested in someone else, even if that someone else is his child. For men, when a new baby comes along and his partner falls totally in love with them, it can feel like she’s having an affair on an emotional and physical level, even if logically he knows it’s his own child that is taking all her attention away. But emotions are rarely logical!
So I offer this perspective to any new parents struggling with this issue, and strongly suggest that you recognise the need to keep intimacy alive in your relationship, prioritising it in ways that strengthen your connection.
One of the common things pregnant women and new mothers complain about is that they have developed ‘Baby Brain’ (sometimes known as ‘Nappy Brain’) – the seeming inability to function as the rational, logical human being they were BEFORE they conceived. But there IS a good reason for this apparent ‘loss’ of brain function, you’ll be glad to know!
To begin to understand why this happens, we need to look a little bit at the structure of the brain as science currently believes it to be. Any neurologists reading this article can just skip the next bit! To anyone who ISN’T a neurologist; I promise, I’ll make this as painless as possible…
Brain Science for Dummies!
A healthy adult brain consists of two sides (known as hemispheres), and a collection of tissue between the two hemispheres that links them together, called the corpus callosum. When a baby is born, its brain is not fully formed. During the first year after birth, a baby’s brain develops at the SAME rate as it did before the birth, and the corpus callosum is not fully developed until about 3 years old.
The two sides of the brain process information in different, but both equally vital, ways. The left side of the brain deals with the logical, rational, linear, linguistic etc, information we receive and the right hemisphere deals with the intuitive, creative, body language etc. It registers painful feelings and picks up emotional atmospheres. It has much stronger links with the body than the left hemisphere so can quickly register how your body is coping with an emotional event.
The corpus callosum, when fully developed, allows communication between the two hemispheres. But until this time, babies and young children do not have the words (a left-brained function) to explain their feelings (a right-brained function). They have no real left-brain activity until they reach 3 years old, so need to use their instincts/intuition to survive and their body language to communicate their needs to their care givers.
OK, the lesson in brain science is over. Now there’s one more thing we need to understand, and that’s hormones and how they change during pregnancy and birth. One of the key hormones is oxytocin. Oxytocin is the hormone that makes us feel love (of ANY kind, not just the love we feel for our babies) and is at its highest levels when we fall in love, during love-making, during labour and when we are breastfeeding. A good way to remember its functions is to remember it’s the hormone of the 3 L’s – labour, love and lactation! It’s also been called the hormone of the 3 F’s – and there’s a gold star to anyone who can email me with the three F-words!! Another useful way to remember what it does is “tend and be friend” (a bit like the good old “fight, freeze or flight” for another hormone, adrenaline). Incidentally, the level of oxytocin also rises when we share food with somebody else, hence the importance of sitting together for meals in creating and maintaining strong family bonds.
Mothers are in their Right Minds!
Before pregnancy, particularly in our Western culture, the focus of our adult brain largely tends to be on the left – the logical, linguistic side. But when we become pregnant, our brain focus tends to start naturally shifting to adapt us to use the right side more. The way this happens is that oxytocin works to muffle the left-brain so the right-brain can take over more. This is a necessary part of beginning the transition to parenthood and is vital for nurturing. As already stated, babies and young children do not have a fully developed left-brain until about 3, which is why you can’t reason with a toddler, particularly a tantruming one!! Therefore, in order to be able to nurture our babies and toddlers, and understand their needs, we need to have our instinctive antennae for body language and other non-verbal behaviour tuned into our child’s frequency, which means using our right brain much more.
This shift can be disconcerting for women if they are left-brain dominant – particularly as having ‘baby-brain’ tends to have negative connotations; we never hear anyone say “Great, I’m so forgetful today! Must be my right brain taking over so I can tune into my baby better!” This shift isn’t permanent, but will remain whilst our children are young. Eventually, we can even switch brain dominance during the course of a day, allowing women to function in their pre-pregnant left brain state whilst, say, at work. But switch back to their right brain state when they are back with their children.
Ultimately then, it’s not so much that our brains decline, but that we spontaneously shift the focus of our brain to become intuitive, nurturing mothers. So the next time you feel less than logical, instead of berating yourself, simply remember that you’re actually in your ‘right mind’ and that you’re instinctively doing exactly what you need to do to be the best mother to your baby!!
Margot Sunderland – What Every Parent Needs to Know, published by Dorling Kindersley (2007)
Michel Odent – Birth and Breastfeeding, published by Clairview (2003)
Michel Odent – The Caesarean, published by Free Association Books (2004)
Dr Sarah Buckley – Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering, published by One Moon Press, Australia (2005)