Similarly, you may want to have a deeper conversation about your respective experiences of the birth itself. So many men feel that something is wrong with them if they found the birth overwhelming or off-putting or even disturbing, because they believe that they were supposed to be able to appreciate the beauty of their child being born, or of the female body doing something natural. They worry that they’ll be criticized by their partner for whatever they felt, or that their partner will feel insulted and get angry. Many men keep quiet about these feelings, which only contributes to their sense of isolation.
In one couple’s session in my therapy office, a woman became offended when her husband, talking about the difficulties with desire he had been having since his wife gave birth, used the word traumatized to describe what he was feeling. It wasn’t until he asked her to imagine his experience—in the reverse—that she understood.
“What if my penis suddenly expanded to 10 times its size,” he said to his wife. “And then I defecated on the sheets while a human being with a full head of hair emerged from my privates—and it was tethered to me by a cord. And then after that, a tsunami of blood came flooding out? And then milk came out of my nipples day and night. Maybe it wouldn’t affect you at all when it was time to have sex using these same parts of my body—but maybe it would.”
Of course, your husband may have had a very positive experience at your son’s birth, but whatever his experience, knowing more about it will help, and he should know about yours, too. What was joyful or funny or bonding about it? What was hard or unexpected or surprising or anxiety-provoking?
The same conversation can be had about your roles as new parents. In addition to the exhaustion, stress, and lack of free time (none of which is conducive to sexual desire), there can also be fear (of not being up for the job) or a sense of loss (of one’s pre-parenthood identity). And it’s also possible that there’s desire (for instance, masturbation, porn, being aroused by others out in the world) more generally but not in the relationship, because certain associations might be triggered by these new roles. For some people, seeing their romantic partner as “Mommy” or “Daddy” can bring up all kinds of feelings around desire. It may help to understand more about what your husband’s parents (and yours) were like when it came to affection and physicality, and what lessons you each took away from observing them.
The purpose of talking about all of this is to bring you two closer together, because I have a feeling that you’ve been hiding your emotional lives from each other, and it’s hard to feel desire for, or want to be intimate with, somebody who feels 1 million miles away. You say that after the birth you put on a strong front but kept your feelings inside, and I imagine that your husband selected what he shared with you, too, perhaps to protect you from the full depth of his depression. Now the two of you seem to get along swimmingly, but you both probably have a trove of undiscussed feelings about the fact that an important dimension of your relationship has gone missing.