How to Reconnect With Your Partner After Having Kids

HOW TO RECONNECT WITH YOUR PARTNER AFTER HAVING KIDS

Christina Caron

First things first: This is not another article that simply tells you to “go on a date night.”

Nothing against date nights. The best ones can remind you why you fell in love with your spouse or partner in the first place.

Or they can involve staring at each other in a sleep-deprived haze over an expensive meal while intermittently glancing at your phone for updates from the babysitter.

If date nights aren’t working for you, or if you’ve been struggling to maintain intimacy for months — or even years — after having children, here are some different ways to stay close to your spouse or partner, despite the stresses and frustrations of parenthood.

Try not to become complacent.

Just as there was never a perfect time to have children, there will rarely be a perfect time to rekindle a connection with your partner.

It’s easy to push your romantic relationship to the side: “Let’s get through sleep training first.” Or: “As soon as I get back into shape.” Or: “Maybe when I’m less tired.”

Then winter arrives. “Everyone’s sick again? Let’s wait until we get better.”

But if you keep waiting, experts say, regaining intimacy can become increasingly difficult.

“It seems to have been the norm for so many couples to say to themselves, ‘Now that the kids are here, we’ll focus on the kids. Our day will come,’” said Michele Weiner-Davis, a marriage and family therapist whose TEDx talk about sex-starved marriages has been viewed more than 5 million times. “But here’s the bad news from someone who’s been on the front lines with couples for decades. Unless you treat your relationship, your marriage, like it’s a living thing — which requires nurturing on a regular basis — you won’t have a marriage after the kids leave home.”

Couples may start to lead parallel but separate lives — and discover they have nothing in common.

“They’re looking at a stranger, and they ask themselves, ‘Is this the way I want to spend the last few years of my life?’” Ms. Weiner-Davis said. “And for too many couples the answer is no.”

But all of that is preventable, she added.

“It’s absolutely essential not to be complacent about what I call a ho-hum sex life. Touching is a very primal way of connecting and bonding,” Ms. Weiner-Davis said. “If those needs to connect physically are ignored over a period of time, or are downgraded so that it’s not satisfying, I can assure people there will be problems in the relationship moving forward.”

Slow down and start over.

If you had a vaginal birth, you and your partner may expect to begin having sex as early as six weeks after the baby is born, if you have been physically cleared to do so.

For some couples, that signals “the clock is now ticking,” said Emily Nagoski, author of “Come As You Are: The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life.”

But a lot of women simply won’t be ready that early. And that’s O.K.

“After the postpartum checkup, I didn’t feel like myself, I didn’t feel physically ready to have sex,” said Emily Stroia, 33, who lives in Los Angeles. “In terms of libido, I didn’t really have one.”

Ms. Stroia, the mother of a 10-month-old, eventually starting having sex with her partner once a month — but before she became pregnant, they had sex nearly every week, she said.

“I still kind of forget that I’m in a relationship,” said Ms. Stroia, who is struggling with sleep deprivation. “I have to remind myself that I have a partner.”

After any potential medical problems are ruled out, Dr. Nagoski advises couples to “start over” with one another by establishing a sexual connection in much in the same way they might have done when they were first getting to know each other: making out, holding each other and gradually moving in the direction of bare skin.

That’s especially important if there’s a birth parent involved, she added.

“That person’s body is brand-new,” Dr. Nagoski said. “The whole meaning of their body has transformed.”

It also helps to remember that “intimacy isn’t just hot sex,” said Rick Miller, a psychotherapist in Massachusetts.

“It’s steadfast loyalty, a commitment to getting through stressful times together and, most importantly, enjoying the warm, cozy moments of home together,” Mr. Miller said.

Put on your life preserver first.

Taking the time to nurture your individual physical and emotional needs will give you the bandwidth to nurture your relationship, too, so that it doesn’t feel like another task on the to-do list.

“When you experience your partner’s desire for intimacy as an intrusion, ask yourself, ‘How deprived am I in my own self-care? What do I need to do to take care of myself in order to feel connected to my own sexuality?’” said Dr. Alexandra Sacks, a reproductive psychiatrist and host of the “Motherhood Sessions” podcast.

That might mean going to the gym or talking to your partner about decreasing the invisible mental load that is often carried by one parent.

Enlisting the support of your family (or your chosen family) to take some time for yourself or discuss some of the struggles that accompany parenting can help you recharge.

“Relying on others is an indirect way of working on intimacy,” Mr. Miller said.

This is especially important for gay couples, he added, who may not typically share vulnerabilities “because the world hasn’t been a safe place.”

Practicing self-care as a couple is equally important.

Dr. Sacks recommends making a list of everything you used to do together as a couple that helped you feel close, and thinking about how those rituals have changed.

Is your toddler sleeping in your bed, spread out like a sea star between you and your partner? Have you stopped doing the things together you used to really enjoy like working out or going to the movies? Dr. Sacks recommends thinking about how you’re going to make an adjustment in order to create physical and emotional intimacy with your partner.

For example, if you always used to talk about your day together and now that time is completely absorbed by caregiving, the absence of that connection will be profound.

“You can’t just eliminate it and expect to feel as close,” she said.

Think about what turns you on.

According to Dr. Nagoski, one way to nurture intimacy is to remind yourselves of the context in which you had a great sexual connection together.

What characteristics did your partner have? What characteristics did your relationship have?

Then, she said, think about the setting.

“Were we at home with the door locked? Were we on vacation? Was it over text? Was it at a party in a closet at a stranger’s house against a wall of other people’s coats? What context really works for us?” Dr. Nagoski said.

When doing this exercise, and when thinking about your current libido (or lack thereof) it’s also helpful to remember that not everyone experiences spontaneous desire — the kind of sexual desire that pops out of nowhere. For example, you’re walking down the street and suddenly can’t stop thinking about sex.

Millions of other people experience something different called responsive desire, which stems from erotic stimulation. In other words, arousal comes first and then desire.

Both types of desire are normal.

Create a magic circle in your bedroom.

Dr. Nagoski suggested cordoning off an imaginative protected space in your mind where you can “bring forward the aspects of your identity that are relevant to your erotic connection and you close the door on the parts of yourself that are not important for an erotic connection.”

With enough focus, this strategy can work even if the physical space you’re using contains reminders of your role as a caregiver.

It can also help to think of your bedroom as a sanctuary, advised Ms. Weiner-Davis.

For couples who have spent years co-sleeping with their children, that can be somewhat difficult.

“I do believe there comes a point where it’s important to have those boundaries again,” Ms. Weiner-Davis said.

Don’t bank on spontaneity.

It’s easy to forget how much time and effort we put into our relationships in the early days: planning for dates, caring for our bodies and (gasp) having long conversations with one another.

“People feel sort of sad when they get that news that yes, it does require effort to build a connection across a lifetime,” Dr. Nagoski said. “You don’t just dive in — you don’t just put your body in the bed and put your genitals against each other and expect for it to be ecstatic.”

Karen Jeffries (a pen name she uses as a writer and performer to protect her privacy) said her sex life with her husband is better than ever after having had two children. They’ve always had a strong physical connection, she said. But they also plan ahead and prioritize.

“There are times where I’ll text him and I’ll be like, ‘We’re having sex tonight,’ and he’ll be like ‘O.K.’ or vice versa,” she said. “Sometimes I’ll send him a picture of a taco and he’ll send me a picture of an eggplant.”

Ms. Jeffries, 37, a fourth-grade dual-language teacher in Westchester County, N.Y., is the author of “Hilariously Infertile,” an account of the fertility treatments she endured to conceive her two daughters. Her children, now aged 6 and 4, are on a strict sleep schedule with a 7:30 p.m. bedtime, allowing for couple time in the evening.

Think of building good sexual habits just like you would develop good eating or exercising habits, she advised.

“Sex begets more sex. Kind of like when you go to the gym,” she said. “It takes you a while to build that habit.”

Then, she added, “You’ll notice little by little that it becomes more and more as opposed to less and less.”

Consider therapy.

A small 2018 study found that attending group therapy helped couples with low sexual desire as well as those who had discrepancies in their levels of sexual desire.

Individual or couples therapy can also be a good place to start.

For many parents, however, and especially those with young children, finding the time and money to go to a therapist can be challenging.

Esther Perel, a psychotherapist whose TED talks on sexuality and relationships have been viewed by millions, offers an online course, currently $199, that includes a section called “Sex After Kids.”

Ms. Perel also hosts the popular “Where Should We Begin?” podcast, in which couples share the intimate details of their troubles during recorded therapy sessions.

number of other podcasts also offer advice to couples, including “Marriage Therapy Radio” and “Relationship Advice.”

Regardless of what steps you take to rebuild a connection with your spouse, experts say it’s important to take action as soon as possible.

“The child is not going to take up less space over time,” Dr. Sacks said. “So the question is: How do you carve out space for your relationships around the child, as the child continues to develop with different but continually demanding needs.”

A Faithful Woman

A FAITHFUL WOMAN

Os Hillman

“Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her.” Proverbs 31:28

She was the Vice President of Household Affairs for her entire adult life. She had a husband, four daughters, and one son whom she managed. Her calling was not to the workplace; it was to the home. It was a calling that she fulfilled well. She often went beyond her job description to fulfill menial tasks like sewing clothes for her twin girls, playing dolls, and even playing catch with the only boy in the clan.

Things were going along well until midway in life a telephone call came that changed everything. The caller informed her that the love of her life had been killed in an airplane crash. She was in her early 40’s, still beautiful, with five kids to raise on her own in spite of the fact that she hadn’t worked in the business place for nearly 20 years.

The death of her husband removed their steady upper middle-class income, and she was now faced with the greatest test of her life. At her lowest moment, wondering how she was going to make it, she cried out to God. God answered, “Trust Me, Lillian.” Those audible words became the strength that she needed to care for her family for the next 40 years.

From that moment on, she came to know her Savior personally and shared Him with her family. Her children came to know Him as well. Grandchildren became the recipients of her prayers, and they came to know Him too. She was building an inheritance in Heaven, one prayer at a time, one soul at a time. She never remarried; Christ became her Husband.

Whatever wisdom and encouragement has come to you through these devotionals, it is only as a result of one who answered the call to the greatest and most important workplace there is: the home.

You can thank my mom, Lillian Hillman, for whatever grace you have gained from these messages throughout the year, because she remained faithful to the call to invest in those she was called to love and serve. “Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her.”

7 Hard Things You Should Start Doing for Others

7 HARD THINGS YOU SHOULD START DOING FOR OTHERS

Marc Chernoff

Don’t just rant online for a better world. Love your family. Be a good neighbor. Practice kindness. Build bridges. Embody what you preach. Today. And always.

About a decade ago, at one o’clock in the morning, my grandpa who was suffering from Alzheimer’s got up, got into my car and drove off. Angel and I contacted the police, but before they could find him, two college kids pulled into our driveway with my grandpa. One was driving him in my car and the other was following in their car. They said they overheard him crying about being lost at an empty gas station 10 miles away. My grandpa couldn’t remember our address, but gave the kids his first and last name. They looked him up online, found our address, and drove him home.

I was randomly reflecting on that incident today while sitting near the edge of a beautiful ocean-side cliff in San Diego. As I stared off into the distance, the sudden awareness of footsteps behind me startled me. I turned around to see a young lady who was almost in tears slowly walking to where I was sitting. I jumped up, walked up to her and asked, “What’s wrong?” She told me she was deathly afraid of heights, but was worried about my safety and wanted to get over her fear because she needed to make sure I was okay.

“You were sitting so close to the edge, and with a such despondent expression,” she said. “My heart told me I needed to check on you—to make sure you were in a healthy state of mind.” Her name is Kate, and her braveness and kindness truly warmed my heart.

I’ve spent the rest of the day thinking about what an extraordinary person Kate is, and about those amazing college kids who helped my grandpa, and about what it means to be a kind and giving person. As Kate and those kids found out, being kind isn’t always easy. Sometimes you have to go the extra mile, or face your biggest fears, or stand up against your own negative tendencies to make a positive difference in someone else’s life. Let this be your wake-up call today. It’s time to start doing the hard things—the right things—for others…

1. Start being a source of sincere support.

The closest thing to being cared for is to care for others. We are all in this together and we should treat each other as such. The very demons that torment each of us, torment others all over the world. It is our challenges and troubles that connect us at the deepest level.

If you think about the people who have had the greatest positive effect on your life—the ones who truly made a difference—you will likely realize that they aren’t the ones that tried to give you all the answers or solve all your problems. They’re the ones who sat silently with you when you needed a moment to think, who lent you a shoulder when you needed to cry, and who tolerated not having all the answers, but stood beside you anyway. Be this person for those around you every chance you get.

2. Start giving people your undivided attention.

There is greatness and beauty in making time, especially when it’s inconvenient, for the sake of someone nearby.

You don’t have to tell people that you care, just show them. In your relationships and interactions with others, nothing you can give is more appreciated than your sincere, focused attention. Being with someone, listening without a clock and without anticipation of results is the ultimate compliment. It is indeed the most valued gesture you can make to another human being.

When we pay attention to each other we breathe new life into each other. With frequent attention and affection our relationships flourish, and we as individuals grow wiser and stronger. We help heal each other’s wounds and support each other’s growth. So give someone the gift of YOU—your time, undivided attention and kindness. That’s better than any other gift, it won’t break or get lost, and will always be remembered.

3. Start respecting and supporting people who are different than you.

Life’s greatest privilege is to become who you truly are. You have to dare to be yourself, one hundred percent, however anxious or odd that self may prove to be. The people who support you in doing so are extraordinary. Appreciate these people and their kindness, and pay it forward when you’re able.

Never bully someone into silence. Never victimize others for being different. Accept no one’s close-minded definition of another person. Let people define themselves. You have the ability to show people how awesome they are, just the way they are. So act on this ability without hesitation; and don’t forget to show yourself the same courtesy.

4. Start being willing to be wrong.

The mind is like a parachute; it doesn’t work when it’s closed.

It’s okay to disagree with the thoughts or opinions expressed by others. But that doesn’t give you the right to immediately reject any sense they might make. Nor does it give you a right to accuse someone of poorly expressing their beliefs just because you don’t like what they are thinking and saying. Learn to recognize the beauty of different ideas and perspectives, even if it means overcoming your pride and opening your mind beyond what is comfortable.

Healthy relationships and human interactions are not a power struggle. Be willing to be wrong, while simultaneously exploring your truth.

5. Start giving recognition and praise for the little things.

A brave, extraordinary soul recognizes the strength of others. Give genuine praise whenever possible. Doing so is a mighty act of service. Start noticing what you like about others and speak up. Having an appreciation for how amazing the people around you are is extremely rewarding. It’s an investment in them that doesn’t cost you a thing, and the returns can be astounding. Not only will they feel empowered, but also what goes around comes around, and sooner or later the people you’re cheering for will start cheering for you too.

Also, be sure to follow this rule: “Praise in public, penalize in private.” Never publicly ridicule someone when you have the option not to. If you don’t understand someone, ask questions. If you don’t agree with them, tell them. But don’t judge them behind their back to everyone else.

6. Start giving people the space to save face.

What others say and do is often based entirely on their own self-reflection. When someone who is angry and upset speaks to you, and you nevertheless remain very present and continue to treat them with kindness and respect, you place yourself in a position of great power. You become a means for the situation to be graciously diffused and healed.

A spiritual teacher once told me, “When somebody backs themselves into a corner, look the other way until they get themselves out; and then act as though it never happened.” Allowing people to save face in this way, and not reminding them of what they already know is not their most intelligent behavior, is an act of great kindness. This is possible when we realize that people behave in such ways because they are in a place of great suffering. People react to their own thoughts and feelings and their behavior often has nothing directly to do with you.

7. Start being a bit more gentle.

Be gentle and compassionate with those around you. Mother Nature opens millions of flowers every day without forcing the buds. Let this be a reminder not to be forceful with those around you, but to simply give them enough light and love, and an opportunity to grow naturally.

Ultimately, how far you go in life depends on your willingness to be helpful to the young, respectful to the aged, tender with the hurt, supportive of the striving, and tolerant of those who are weaker or stronger than the majority. Because we wear many hats throughout the course of our lives, and at some point in your life you will realize you have been all of these people.

Now, it’s your turn…

The bottom line is that it’s time to be less impressed by your own money, titles, degrees, and looks. And it’s time to be more impressed by your own generosity, integrity, humility, and kindness towards others.

Don’t you agree?

Please leave us a comment and share your thoughts.

What part of this post resonated with you the most?

Getting Back to Sex After Pregnancy Loss

GETTING BACK TO SEX AFTER PREGNANCY LOSS

Jessica Zucker

Though your body might be ready to return to sex after a miscarriage, are you?

How soon can you have sex after experiencing a pregnancy loss? It’s a common question among women of childbearing age, considering that up to 20 percent of pregnancies result in miscarriage and approximately 1 in 100 in stillbirth. There’s not a standard — or straightforward — answer. Generally, physicians counsel patients to wait until they feel ready. But readiness for a woman and her partner can depend on a number of physical, and emotional, factors.

“From a medical and practical perspective, the primary thing is to ensure that the pregnancy has passed completely, the cervix has closed, and that there isn’t an increased risk of causing infection in the uterus,” explained Zev Williams, M.D., Ph.D., chief of the division of reproductive endocrinology and infertility and an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University Irving Medical Center. “The timing for this depends on how far along the pregnancy was at the time of the loss and how quickly the woman’s body recovers.”

A couple’s romantic readiness is another question altogether.

Emotional roadblocks are a big factor: Women may feel reluctant to engage in sexual intimacy while still grieving their loss. Miscarriage can also change a woman’s relationship with her body, and what sex represents to a couple might shift. If this seems hard to understand, it is: I am a psychologist specializing in women’s reproductive and maternal mental health, and I didn’t fully comprehend how complex returning to sex could be until I experienced a second trimester miscarriage firsthand. Then I understood all too well: There’s no one-size-fits-all answer.

“There are no guidelines with regard to telling patients what to expect about returning to sex after miscarriage. Routinely, we don’t discuss sex after loss unless patients bring it up,” said Jessica Schneider, M.D., an ob-gyn at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. “There’s research about how safe it is to get pregnant again after a loss, but not about sexual function or satisfaction.” And the fact is, sexual function and satisfaction can, and do, change.

I talked to several women about their experiences around sex after pregnancy loss to find out how they approached returning to intimacy. (The women preferred their last names not be used due to privacy concerns.)

Some women, like Ash, 36, felt ready to have sex right away. After experiencing a stillbirth, she turned to sex for healing. “It was a way to feel powerful in my body,” she said. “I felt like my body had failed me, and sex was a way to get that back.” There was one caveat though: She didn’t want to risk another pregnancy. “It felt better to engage in sexual acts that couldn’t result in one.”

Trying to get pregnant again is a sensitive topic medically and emotionally. The World Health Organization’s official stance is to wait six months before attempting another pregnancy. Recent research, however, suggests that having sex sooner doesn’t have a negative effect on future pregnancies and could actually help success rates.

“The doctor told us to wait until we were comfortable,” said Maria, 26, who has had four miscarriages. “It was nerve-wracking to return to sex. I think because I was terrified of getting pregnant again and losing it or not getting pregnant again. It was challenging mentally.”

It’s understandable to feel conflicted, but the odds of future success are good: Up to 85 percent of women who experience a pregnancy loss, and 75 percent of women who have had multiple losses, go on to have a healthy pregnancy.

Shame and self-blame can enter the bedroom after pregnancy loss and create trouble where there previously was none. Hanan, 27, thought she was ready to have sex again immediately after a stillbirth, though her doctor told her to wait six weeks. She said she felt arousal and the desire to have sex, and engaged with her husband in everything other than penetrative sex, while waiting for medical clearance. But the first time they had intercourse, she wasn’t prepared for her emotional reaction. “I cried so much after the first time. I felt very guilty,” she said. “My body wanted to, but my brain didn’t. It felt selfish and immoral — like I should have been celibate while grieving.”

These thoughts are especially challenging for women who are actively trying to conceive again. “I did not want to initiate sex after my loss, but at the same time, I did want to get pregnant again,” said Maggie, 32. “My vagina became a constant reminder of the loss.”

Some women said they resented their bodies for a perceived failure. “After my miscarriage, I couldn’t be with anyone for over a year,” Zachi, 27, told me. “The fact that my body failed impacted the way I felt sexually afterward. I carried the baby emotionally, long after physically.”

While a 2015 survey found that 47 percent of respondents who had experienced a miscarriage reported feeling guilty about it — and nearly three-quarters thought their actions may have caused it — the reality is that chromosomal abnormalities are the explanation in about 60 percent of miscarriages. Pregnancy loss cannot be prevented.

If you’ve been trying to conceive for a long time, sex following a pregnancy loss can become especially fraught — even unappealing.

“After my first miscarriage, we only had sex to conceive. It started to feel like a task,” said Gina, 30, who has experienced infant loss and two miscarriages. “That mentality compounded after my second miscarriage and killed all sexual desire for me.”

Sonali, 33, who has lost four pregnancies, had difficulty returning to the very place she got pregnant. “Sex with your other half in the bed where you conceived the babies you lost is so triggering,” she said.

“Sometimes, I’m thinking about where I’d be in my pregnancy now; how I wouldn’t be able to have sex in this position,” Maria said. “It makes me feel guilty to feel great, when I should be seven months pregnant and uncomfortable.”

Pregnancy loss can have unintended positive impacts on a woman’s sexuality, too. Zachi said that she is more assertive in her sex life because of her miscarriage. “I have to listen to my body now,” she said. “It becomes painful not to. I am a lot more sure in what I want.” A miscarriage ultimately brought Maggie and her husband closer together, she said. “During the loss, I felt like I was on an island,” she remembered. “The first time my husband and I had penetrative sex, I cried from relief, because I felt so re-connected to him.”

Having and enjoying sex again is really about one thing — personal readiness — which is what I tell my patients. It’s O.K. to feel grief and sexual desire simultaneously. “Moving on” is not a prerequisite for pleasure.

Discipline vs. Punishment

DISCIPLINE VS. PUNISHMENT

Richard Innes

1956, London, England, UK — Seretse Khama, later the first President of Botswana when it gained independence, with his wife Ruth, and children in the garden of their Croydon home. — Image by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS

God said, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline.” – Revelation 3:19, NIV

Nine-year-old Al had disobeyed his father who, as a strict disciplinarian, sent him with a note to a police station in London. When Al came in late after curfew, his father met him at the door and handed him a note and said, “Take it to the jailhouse.”

Al was terrified.

“The officer, a friend of his father, opens the note, reads it, and nods,. ‘Follow me.’ He leads the wide-eyed youngster to a jail cell, opens the door, and tells him to enter. The officer clangs the door shut. ‘This is what we do to naughty boys,’ he explains and walks away…. The jail sentence lasts only five minutes. But those five minutes felt like five months. Al never forgot that day. The sound of the clanging door, he often told people, stayed with him the rest of his life.

“The fear of losing a father’s love exacts a high toll. Al spent the rest of his life hearing the clanging door. That early taste of terror contributed to his lifelong devotion to creating the same in others. For Al—Alfred Hitchcock—made a career out of scaring people.” (From UpWords from Max Lucado, www.maxlucado.com)

True, discipline is important, but it always needs to fit the crime. Some children are impaired for life because of severe punishment as a child. Others are left terrified if they were beaten severely or abused. It is imperative that parents never discipline out of anger because that is punishment, not discipline. Discipline always needs to be in love. 

Those whom God loves, he disciplines in love—not punishes in anger. We need to do the same with our children.

Suggested Prayer:

“Dear God, thank You that when You discipline me it is always out of Your love for me and for my good. Help me to do the same when disciplining my children. May it always be in love and never out of anger. Thank You for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully in Jesus’ name, amen.”

After a Miscarriage, Grief, Anger, Envy, Relief and Guilt

AFTER A MISCARRIAGE, GRIEF, ANGER, ENVY, RELIEF AND GUILT

Jessica Grose

October is pregnancy and infant loss awareness month, and if your family has experienced any kind of loss, we are here for you. Miscarriage is common — as many as 15 percent of known pregnancies end in a first-trimester loss. We have guides on miscarriagestillbirth (far less common and incredibly heartbreaking), ectopic pregnancy (when a fertilized egg lands somewhere other than the uterus, also rare),and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

***

I had a miscarriage in between my two girls. I went in for an ultrasound at around seven weeks, and there was no heartbeat. My period is so irregular that I had to wait two additional weeks to confirm that the pregnancy was not progressing properly. My obstetrician couldn’t definitively date the pregnancy because he couldn’t definitively date the ovulation, so I trudged to multiple radiologists for multiple disappointing ultrasounds over 14 days.

I expected to feel sad during this painful two-week wait, and after — and I absolutely did. A guttural sadness that would take months to lift.

What I didn’t anticipate was that I would feel a lot of other things, and that the emotional ground would continue to shift under my feet. I felt relief when I was able to take a new job right around when I would have been due to give birth; I knew I wouldn’t have been able to take it had I carried that pregnancy to term. Then I felt guilty about feeling relieved. I felt anger — spiky and random, popping up unexpectedly and without apparent trigger. And most appalling to me was the envy I felt toward women who were pregnant, successfully. An acquaintance of mine was due around when I would have been, and I could not stand to be around her during her pregnancy. When she tried to make plans, I made excuses.

There’s a myriad of responses to loss, said Julia Bueno, a psychotherapist and the author of “The Brink of Being: Talking About Miscarriage.” “There may well not be any grief,” Bueno said, and the grief some women feel is “exquisitely nuanced, powerful and profound.” If the miscarriage is in the first trimester, it may also be hidden, Bueno said, because you don’t always look pregnant to the outside world, and it’s not customary to reveal a pregnancy until you’re past 12 weeks.

Partners of pregnant women may also feel a range of emotions. As technology allows us to know we’re pregnant just after a missed period, it allows partners to become bonded to babies far earlier than they might have been in previous generations. There’s a case study in Bueno’s book about a woman who miscarried twice, whose husband was grieving deeply. “He bought the pregnancy test. He saw that test emerge — he was drawn into it,” Bueno said. He was already forging a relationship with the baby that he had to mourn, too.

Nearly five years after my loss, I don’t think about the miscarriage much anymore. I was lucky to have a second child, which is what I desperately wanted, and that helped me. But lots of families still feel complicated grief even after having additional children. Bueno lost twin girls, Florence and Matilda, at 22 weeks, and she had three miscarriages as well. She went on to have two boys, and for her, “the nourishment and joy runs alongside the grief.” Bueno told me about an oral history she had read from a woman with nine children. That woman had a miscarriage, too, and though she was in her 80s at the time of the oral history, she still felt the loss acutely despite her sizable brood.

If you know someone who has experienced a loss, Bueno said, “err on the side of compassionate curiosity.” This could mean saying you’re sorry for a loss, and then asking something open-ended, like, “Tell me what it meant to you,” as it allows for the many kinds of emotion someone might feel. Be prepared for any response — a woman may not want to talk about it at all, or she may want to talk about the gory viscera. I recall making extremely dark jokes about what came out of me in the aftermath. Those physical side effects, “that stuff needs to be talked about,” Bueno said. Otherwise we run the risk of women feeling “icky and shameful and abnormal” about what they’ve experienced.

We need to make cultural space for every single kind of reaction to loss — there will always be a gamut of responses. And sharing these stories is a good place to start.

Gay Fathers, Going It Alone

GAY FATHERS, GOING IT ALONE

Avichai Scher

As the traditional concept of family continues to evolve, single gay men having children through surrogacy are beginning to emerge.

Dennis Williams and his 4-year-old son, Elan.
Dennis Williams and his 4-year-old son, Elan.

Julius Ybañez Towers was taking a walk around the Harlem Meer in Central Park with his twin 10-month-old sons and two dogs. A woman stopped to compliment him for giving his wife a break.

“There’s no wife,” he told the woman. “I’m a single gay dad from surrogacy.” He smiled at the confused look on her face.

Mr. Towers, 40, is still rare, but he is part of a growing movement. Surrogacy agencies across the country report a surge of interest from single gay men in the last few years.

Shelly Marsh, a spokeswoman for Men Having Babies, a nonprofit that helps gay men navigate the surrogacy process, said that the increase in interest from single men is part of a broader surge in gay families.

“Our volume has increased substantially over the last few years,” Ms. Marsh said. “But more so, single men are learning that they do not need to wait to find someone to fulfill the dream of having a biological child.”

Most single gay men pursue what is known as gestational surrogacy: the surrogate is implanted with a fertilized embryo taken from a separate egg donor. The surrogate is not genetically related to the child. She also has no maternal rights, so intended parents are legally protected from her keeping the baby.

For that legal protection however, the birth must happen in a state where it’s legal to pay a surrogate and that recognizes the contract. New Jersey recently approved compensation for surrogates; Washington State’s announced it would do so in January. New York, along with Michigan and Louisiana, are the only states where it remains illegal to pay a woman to be a surrogate mother.

Where it is legal, the total cost of the procedure — from paying the agencies, the donor, the doctors, the surrogate and the birth — can be anywhere from $80,000 to $200,000. None of this is covered by insurance.

Julius Towers with his twin sons, Galen and Asher. After a first try at pregnancy with a surrogate failed, doctors implanted two embryos with the surrogate mother; nine months later, Galen and Asher were born.
Julius Towers with his twin sons, Galen and Asher. After a first try at pregnancy with a surrogate failed, doctors implanted two embryos with the surrogate mother; nine months later, Galen and Asher were born.
Julius Towers and the twins and the dogs in Central Park. The family's nanny is never far, at least until evening, when Mr. Towers is on his own.
Julius Towers and the twins and the dogs in Central Park. The family’s nanny is never far, at least until evening, when Mr. Towers is on his own.

But for Mr. Towers, having biological children was a long-held dream that he was willing to work toward.

He grew up in what he called a humble home in Palm Bay, Fla., where he said he was bullied at school. “Growing up gay in a homophobic town, and in tough financial times, it was hard to see how I’d have my own kids,” he said.

His parents strung together several low-wage jobs, and he’s the first in his family to earn a bachelor’s degree. He put himself through law school at University of Pennsylvania. He was a corporate attorney in Manhattan for 15 years and is now pursuing a master’s in public health at Columbia University.

Gradually, after the death of his mother, a failed relationship and two dog adoptions, he realized that he was ready to take on fatherhood, even by himself.

“I wanted to have children more than I wanted a partner,” Mr. Towers said. He viewed being single as a positive because he alone would control the decisions about surrogacy and parenting. Yet control was still an illusion.

Because it is illegal to pay a surrogate in New York, Mr. Towers’s quest to become a father began all the way across the country. Through an agency in Portland, Ore., Northwest Surrogacy Center, he found a woman there who was willing to carry a fertilized embryo. The embryo itself was made with the eggs of an anonymous donor from an agency based in California. These eggs (which, according to the agency, came from an astrophysicist) were fertilized at Oregon Reproductive Medicine, a clinic in Portland.

After a failed transfer of a single embryo, Mr. Towers and his surrogate decided to transfer two embryos in hopes that at least one would take. They knew it could mean twins.

“I realized I couldn’t control everything,” Towers said. “I left it to fate at that point.”

Nine months later, he traveled to Portland for the surrogate’s scheduled C-section and held his sons, Asher and Galen, for the first time. Asher had a short stay in the intensive care unit, so Mr. Towers stayed in Oregon for three more weeks, until the twins were ready for the long flight home to New York.

As unpredictable as the medical prospect of surrogacy may be, some gay men prefer that to the possibility of facing discrimination in adoption.

Dennis Williams had his son, Elan, via surrogacy four years ago. Mr. Williams, who is 46 and black, said he chose surrogacy because the prospect of persuading a woman to allow him to adopt was daunting. “As a single, gay black man,” he said, “I figured I’d be at the bottom of the list for most women.”

Mr. Williams and his former partner had a failed egg donation from a woman they met through a friend. After he and his partner broke up, Mr. Williams still wanted to be a father. The donor, a black lesbian who didn’t plan on having children, agreed to try again for Mr. Williams.

Mr. Williams on the sidelines of Elan’s soccer practice.
Mr. Williams on the sidelines of Elan’s soccer practice. Credit: Sara Naomi Lewkowicz for The New York Times
Elan and his father on a museum visit with Mr. Williams’s friend Alexis Bittar, who is also a single gay father, with his twins Ivan and Sophie.

Once he became a father, Mr. Williams said, he felt as if he finally fit in with his big family in Kansas, where he grew up. “I was no longer an anomaly to them,” he said. “Once I had a son, it drew me closer to the tribe.”

For Mr. Towers, the race of his twin sons was more difficult to control. Both his parents are mixed race: his mother half-Filipina, and his father part Native American. He hoped to find a multiracial egg donor, but most of the donors, he found, were white.

“Some accused me of whitewashing my kids’ skin,” Mr. Towers said. “In the end, I don’t care about skin color. I’ll just have to work harder to make them understand their multiracial roots.”

One son, Asher, has the blond hair and blue eyes of the donor, while the other, Galen, has the dark brown hair and complexion of his father.

During the surrogate’s pregnancy, Mr. Towers enrolled in a twins class, did a daddy boot camp and took a baby-dog home-integration class. Even though he has a nanny seven days a week, he is on his own nights and mornings. Like any new parent of twins, he’s overwhelmed at times.

“I don’t like the feeling that I can’t do it all on my own, but sometimes I need help, even with a nanny,” he said. “Because I signed up to be a single father of twins, some people tell me I can’t complain. It contributes to the feeling I’m alone in the wilderness.”

The little moments keep him going.

After the walk around the Harlem Meer, Mr. Towers, with the help of the nanny, returned home and put the boys in their cribs.

He leaned in to kiss each of his sons on the forehead. “Daddy loves you,” he whispered.

As the boys drifted to sleep, he exhaled and stood watching them. He mentioned that he just renewed another year of storage for his remaining frozen embryos. Through a genetic screening test, he knows one embryo is female.

“Who knows?” he said. “One day, when the boys are out of diapers, maybe I’ll have a little girl.”

4 Steps to Overcome Gridlock That Harms Relationships

4 STEPS TO OVERCOME GRIDLOCK THAT HARMS RELATIONSHIPS

Kyle Benson

All couples are bound to have arguments. When they struggle to manage these ongoing disagreements with constructive conflict conversations, the result is what Dr. John Gottman calls “gridlock.”

Gridlock is like a Chinese Finger Trap. Each partner pulls for his or her position, making compromise impossible.

finger-trap

My Dreams Are Becoming My Worst Nightmare

Our dreams are full of aspirations and wishes that are core to our identity and give our life purpose and meaning. Gridlock is a sign that each partner has dreams that the other hasn’t accepted, doesn’t respect, or isn’t aware of.

Some dreams are practical, like obtaining a certain amount of savings, while others are profound, like owning a beach house in Hawaii. The profound dreams often remain hidden beneath the practical ones.

For example, Kurt wants to make a seven-figure income, but why is that so important to him? Underneath his dream is a deep need for financial security.

When couples are in gridlock, it is only by uncovering the hidden dreams and symbolic meanings that they can get out of the Chinese Finger Trap.

Overcoming Gridlock

The way out is to first identify the dream within conflict. When partners are gridlocked, they see each other as the source of difficulty. They tend to ignore their part in creating the conflict because it’s hidden from view.

If you find yourself saying, “the only problem is his lack of intelligence,” that’s probably not the whole story.

Uncovering a hidden dream is a challenge and it won’t emerge until you feel the relationship is a safe place to talk about it. If you don’t feel comfortable enough to open up, focus on the first three principles in The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.

My Dreams Are Silly

Personal dreams often go unmentioned because people worry they will burden their partner or negatively impact the relationship. It’s common for partners not to feel entitled to their dreams, but when you bury a dream, it can lead to resentment and ultimately gridlock.

When you share your dreams with your partner, you give your marriage the opportunity to have a profound purpose and sense of shared meaning. As Dr. Gottman explains in The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, “couples who are demanding of their marriage are more likely to have deeply satisfying unions than those who lower their expectations.”

4 Steps to Overcome Gridlock

When you begin to uncover the dreams beneath your gridlock, the problems in your marriage will not immediately go away. It may actually seem to worsen rather than improve. Be patient. The very nature of gridlock is that dreams are in opposition.

Step 1: Explore Each Other’s Dreams

Pick an issue that you both feel causes gridlock in your marriage. Take time to reflect on the hidden dreams that may underlie your position. Talk about it with your partner by using Dr. Gottman’s Conflict Blueprint for a truly effective conflict conversation. Focus on understanding your partner’s position.

What not to say:
Kris: I’ve always dreamed of buying a beach house in Hawaii.
Kurt: First of all, we can’t afford something like that. I can’t think of anything more stressful than trying to upkeep a property in the middle of the ocean. Think of all the wear and tear we will need to replace.
Kris: Forget it…

What to say instead:
Kris: I’ve always dreamed of buying a beach house in Hawaii.
Kurt: Tell me more about what it means to own a beach house in Hawaii. What would it do for you?
Kris: It would be heaven on earth. My family and I used to go every year and my parents always said they wanted to buy a beach house. I’d feel such a sense of accomplishment and we’d be able to invite my parents over! They’d be so proud.

Acknowledging and respecting each other’s deepest most personal hopes and dreams is key to saving and enriching your marriage.

Step 2: Soothe Yourself and Each Other
Discussing deeply held dreams that are in opposition can be stressful. Pay attention to your stress levels. If flooding occurs, stop the conversation, take a break, and use repairs.

Step 3: Reach a Temporary Compromise
Now it’s time to make peace with this issue (for now) by accepting your differences and establishing some kind of initial compromise. Understand that this problem may never go away. The goal is to remove the hurt so the problem stops being a source of pain.
To do this, refer to the Conflict Blueprint to separate the issue into two categories:

  1. Non-negotiable areas: Aspects of the issue that you are unwilling to give up on because it will violate your basic needs or core values. Try to make this section as small as possible.
  2. Areas of flexibility: Parts of the issue where you can be flexible. Try to make this section as large as possible.

Share your list with your partner and work together to come up with a temporary compromise. This compromise should last about three months. Afterwards, you can review where both of you stand. Don’t expect to solve the problem yet. Your goal here is only to live with it more peacefully. After all, 69% of all problems in a relationship are unsolvable.

Here’s what Kris and Kurt did:

  1. They defined minimal core areas they are unwilling to change. Kris says she must have a house in Hawaii. Kurt says he must save $40,000 in order to feel financially secure.
  2. They defined areas of flexibility. Kris says she can settle for a condo, rather than a beachfront house. Even though she wants to buy now, she is willing to wait 3 years as long as they can work together to make it happen. Kurt says he can be flexible about how quickly they save, as long as he knows both of them are working towards this goal. They decide that 5% of their income goes into this savings account.
  3. They found a temporary compromise that honors both of their needs. They will buy a condo, but not for another three years. Meanwhile, they will devote half of their savings to a down payment and half into a mutual fund. In three months, they will review this plan and decide if it’s working or not.

Both Kris and Kurt realize that the underlying perpetual problem will never go away. Kris will always be the visionary, imagining a life on a beach, and Kurt is going to worry about their financial security. By learning to work with each other, both partners are able to cope with their differences, avoid gridlock, and work support each other in achieving their dreams.

Step 4: Give Thanks
Overcoming financial gridlock requires more than just one discussion about the issues that have deeply troubled your marriage. The goal with this step is to cultivate a culture of appreciation in which you express your gratitude for all you have. This will feel difficult after talking about such an emotionally charged issue, but that’s all the more reason to make effort to end the conflict conversation on a positive note.

The best way to cope with financial gridlock is to avoid it in the first place. Don’t wait until resentment has set in to ask your partner about their dreams – Dr. Gottman suggests becoming a “dream detective.”

By building your Love Maps, turning towards each other, and cultivating fondness and admiration, you will build trust and deeply understand each other. As you do this, you’ll discover the disagreements that once overwhelmed your relationship actually bring you closer together over time.

Do your children feel led or pushed?

DO YOUR CHILDREN FEEL LED OR PUSHED?

Do your children feel led or pushed? Or asked another way, are you as a parent dominated by love or frustration? The two questions are inexorably tied together. Leading is born out of love and pushing is born out of frustration. Too often as parents we tell our children that we demand obedience and speak sharply because we love them and only want the best for them. Most likely our children are not buying this explanation. It feels to them as if they are being pushed into doing what mum and dad want.

In contrast, notice the sequence of thought and actions in Deuteronomy 6:5-7: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.

First, you are to love God with every fiber of your being, with all that you have to offer as a human living and being sustained by the grace of God.

Second, the commands of God are to dominate your inner being because of your profound love for God.

Third, these commands are to be deeply implanted into the lives of your children during every event and opportunity that God brings to you each day.

So, you as a parent are to deeply love God with all that you are as a person. This love is expressed by drinking deeply of his commands so that your heart is permeated with them. Then, this love for God and his commands is to overflow from your heart into the everyday situations of life that you and your children encounter.

It is this combination of loving God and living out His commands that will allow you to impress the love you have for God into the lives of your children. In this sense no pushing is required. This is what it means to lead. Even as you embrace this deep love for God that Deuteronomy requires you to have, your children will be still the same sinful creatures that desperately need the grace of God. The difference will be that you will not be pushing them to grasp what remains elusive to you. Rather you will be leading them to the same place that you long to go – to the cross.

Are you pushing or leading? Think about it.

4 Key Issues for New Parents and How to Solve Them

4 KEY ISSUES FOR NEW PARENTS AND HOW TO SOLVE THEM

April Eldemire

We all know that having a new baby presents unique challenges, and research shows that couples are more likely to feel dissatisfied with their relationship after a child is born. As much as expecting parents plan and prepare, there is still so much to learn about raising a child while keeping their relationship with their partner intact.

In fact, according to research by The Gottman Institute, 67% of couples had become very unhappy with each other during the first three years of their baby’s life. Only 33% remained content.

As with any life transition, challenges are inevitable. It’s natural to disagree with your partner on issues around parenting, finances, household chores, and marital expectations. But as overwhelming as that sounds, it is possible to reach a solution that everyone is happy with.

Different Parenting Styles

Differences in parenting styles are a growing cause of concern in marriage, and issues can arise between couples even before they bring their new baby home if there is no established sense of unity and connectedness in place.

Perhaps your partner is in favor of sticking to a strict parenting routine, while you prefer to be more lax. Maybe you disagree on how to hold or change the baby. Whatever the issue, it can become a source of tension in your relationship, particularly if the problem is brought up repeatedly with an inability to see eye-to-eye.

Learning how to handle stress and conflict effectively in order to understand each other more clearly and reach compromise is essential. For example, through empathetic listening, you might realize that your partner wants to develop a routine so that everyone sleeps better. Once you understand their views and needs, you could compromise by creating a schedule that works for both of you.

Communicating effectively is key, so be sure to schedule some time to discuss parenting. Incorporate a daily stress-reducing conversation and a weekly state of the union meeting—even just 10 minutes a day of quality face time can drastically increase a couple’s friendship and intimacy.

When you and your partner disagree on parenting styles, it’s a sign that you both feel strongly about what’s best for the baby, which is not at all a bad thing, and couples counseling can help you focus on these positive intentions.

Changes in intimacy

Research shows that fewer than 20 percent of couples return to sexual activity in the first month after childbirth, and many couples can face problems with physical exhaustion, low sex drive, and the competing demands of their new baby when they do decide to start having sex again.

New moms struggle with hormonal shifts, body changes, recovering from childbirth, and issues like postpartum depression that can significantly reduce their desire for sex after birth. While intimacy is an important part of sustaining healthy relationships, it’s really important to create a situation that both partners feel comfortable with.

Start by discussing your expectations for physical touch, affection, and sex openly and honestly with the understanding that you might both be coming from very different places, eagerly trying to bridge the gap. Practice a judgment-free zone without becoming defensive and try not to take denied requests for sex and intimacy personally. Determine how best to say yes, and how best to say no, so that you both feel understood and respected.

Your partner trusts you enough to be vulnerable and wants a positive sex life, and it is a crucial time to respect that trust and vulnerability. And if you feel that you or your partner might take sexual rejection personally, talk about ways to indicate that you’re not feeling up to it that you both understand and that won’t be hurtful to either of you.

Fair distribution of chores

It’s easy for chores to pile up after a baby is born, and finding the right balance can be tricky, especially after both partners have life demands to deal with like returning to work, running errands, trying to exercise, seeing family members (especially those who haven’t yet met the baby), trying to find a few moments of personal downtime, and, of course, taking care of the new baby.

To help with the increased workload of caring for a child on top of everyday chores, a weekly planning discussion between you and your partner is imperative to coordinate schedules, share co-parenting duties, and keep the house clean and tidy for the baby.

During this discussion, you might decide that if your partner cooks dinner, you’ll do the dishes, or if you complete a job you really despise (like emptying the diaper bin), your partner will do it next time and you’ll take turns.

Arguing about chores might seem minor, but disagreements can quickly escalate to become major sticking points, so it’s best to tend to them on a weekly basis. Voicing your concerns and complaints early on in a respectful, non-blaming way will keep negativity at bay and will allow you to effectively resolve your issues together.

Financial disagreements

Most people know that raising a child is expensive. According to a report from the USDA, it will cost a middle-income family $233,610 to raise a child born in 2015 through to the age of 17. That’s some serious money, and the spending starts the moment you find out that you’re pregnant. This can put a lot of strain on your relationship, particularly if one partner is a big spender while the other prefers to save and be frugal.

Try sitting down together to create a financial plan for the year. This should include budgets for groceries, clothes, bills, utilities, medical care, prescriptions, and other essentials, as well as plans for college savings, family vacations, and larger purchases. Try to check in and discuss your finances at the same time each month in order to stay on top of things and make adjustments as needed. Financial planning is a skill that will serve you well for the rest of your relationship.

If you can address each of these issues as part of an overall parenting plan, then you can reduce the amount of stress you and your partner will experience while adapting to the life of being new parents. The two of you are a team, and while raising a child is a big challenge, you have each other’s backs. Stick to the plans you make, and remember that despite the pressures of parenting, your relationship can still be a wellspring of trust, love, and devotion.

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