In Part 2 of “Behind the Curtain of Motherhood,” Jessica and I will cover sex after having kids, threesomes we’ve all been in, being diagnosed with “Cockblockers,” why early motherhood is like triage, and what one dad learned about how foreplay changes.
Brandy: Hello and welcome to Part Two of my conversation with my good friend Jessica, and fellow childbirth educator. Last episode, we tackled marriage in a big way. Today, it’s sex after having kids. “It sounds like you have a diagnosis. I was diagnosed with ‘cock blockers.'” As an added bonus today, you will learn the secret about foreplay that one Dad figured out all on his own.
Jessica: “I know, I was sitting there trying to not drool out the side of my mouth, like oh my god.”
Brandy: So let’s get down and dirty. Hello, Jessica. A topic that we have to tackle is… sex.
Brandy: This is something that we talk about on WhatsApp.
Jessica: Sex, or lack thereof.
Brandy: Yes. How our sexual lives and our sexual identity changes after becoming mothers. I mean that could be an entire podcast, but let’s just at least throw that out there a little bit. What surprised you most about that change?
Jessica: I think it’s very hard after you have a baby to separate your sexuality from being a mother. Your body is being used by this baby, if you’re breastfeeding. Let’s be honest, even if you’re not breastfeeding, your baby is on you with a bottle, spitting up all over you. Your body is used in some way by this tiny human that you gave birth to.
Jessica: Whether or not you had a vaginal birth, it’s just like too close to sex. It’s that whole “what got the baby in gets the baby out” thing. Then the baby’s out and you’re like, ugh. Right?
Jessica: It’s like you inherently don’t feel super sexy after you’ve given birth.
Jessica: And I’m not talking like, oh yeah, sure the first eight weeks you don’t feel super sexy. Finding your mojo again. I always have been very in touch with my sexuality, very flirtatious and fiery and I own my body, and then after you have a baby, your body is just not yours anymore. Really starting with pregnancy, if you want to back that train up a little bit. Think back to sex in your third trimester. Trying to feel hot when you feel like a beached whale?
Brandy: Worrying if your baby’s getting stabbed by a penis. The visual of that, yeah.
Jessica: When I’m hooking up, I don’t want to feel my baby moving.
Brandy: Yeah, oh my gosh. Right.
Jessica: This is not a hot threesome right here.
Brandy: Technically all of us who’ve had sex while we’ve been pregnant have been in a threesome.
Jessica: Yeah. And I mean if you were pregnant with multiples…
Jessica: But do you know what I mean?
Jessica: All of a sudden, what used to feel, again, the autonomy.
Brandy: Right. Gone.
Jessica: The hurdle, the mind fuck that it is to get yourself beyond that is again, one more thing you have to do. More work, more effort to get yourself in that place to put your relationship first, find times to nurture your relationship, find times for intimacy – whether it’s sexual or not – it’s another job.
Brandy: I feel like one of the things that surprised me about the way that sex changes after you have a baby is you have these compartmentalized roles like mother, then you have wife, then lover. Finding a way to fall into that lover when you also are mother, I have a hard time doing the transition, doing that switch. It’s not something where it’s like, okay, shut the door and the kids are sleeping, and all of a sudden I can turn on this lover personality. Especially if every day for 12 years, I’ve been in mother mode. You know, it’s like, how are we expected to just do that? I know for men, I don’t know if that speaks to “Dad privilege” at all, just that they can turn it off because maybe they’re not so often in full Dad mode, like we’re in full Mom mode. Also I think they’re men, they have dicks, they have their needs and what not. I think that probably makes it easier for them to flip that on.
Brandy: I mean, I remember with my first, it took us months to get back on the bandwagon. Finally when we did, I did it because I was like, it’s been so long that we have to do this so that I don’t feel bad about this anymore. It didn’t feel great. It wasn’t at all what it was before. We’ve built up since then, but it’s a whole different thing. Even, I remember one of our first times, we were having sex after my son was born. Again, it was months, but there’s a baby monitor next to us.
Brandy: I remember one time he woke up in the middle of it, and I went from lover to immediately nursing him back to sleep.
Jessica: Yes. Yes.
Brandy: That’s a little strange to wrap your head around.
Brandy: I think that piece of those identities and feeling like it’s too abrupt to make that change. In order to make that change for me to go from mother to lover, I feel like I need a five day vacation in Hawaii alone with my husband. It takes like a day and a half to melt all my duties and all my things as Mom, and then find myself able to let go because I think for sex, that idea of letting go and not being so uptight or managing has to be there. How do you do that when you have a monitor that you hear the static on and you see your baby rolling around? Not so easy.
Jessica: Yeah. If you add in that you’re sleep deprived, then any sex you’re having, is taking away sleep time.
Jessica: Let’s talk about that for a second.
Brandy: Yeah. Right.
Jessica: Then when you add in the resentment piece, it’s like okay, so especially if you’re at a place with young babies, and you’re like, I’m going to be the one who’s getting up and feeding here, you’re watching the clock like, every minute that we’re hooking up is less time that I get to sleep before I get woken up. And I’m still sitting here with the clock ticking going, okay now I might be able to get two hours of sleep. Now I might be able to get one hour of sleep.
Jessica: For them it’s like, right on. We hooked up. Now I’m going to sleep. Right?
Brandy: There’s no story about it for them, but for us there’s the management of all the things. This idea of the resentment. This is where that resentment – when you’re first in it, you’re not sure what it is. All of a sudden it’s maybe you have a moment – not that you want to do it, but you feel like obligated that maybe you should do it – and then the person that you’re going to do it with, you kind of can’t stand their face. So then this is another topic, which is consent in your own marriage. There are some people, some women, who have really high sex drives. This is kind of almost not an issue because maybe they’re more matched with their husbands.
Brandy: I feel like most of my friends and myself, we have pretty unmatched sex drives. I don’t know if that’s a female male thing or what, and then motherhood just makes that divide even more. The things that go through our mind. This is in childbirth classes what we talk about too, how sometimes the last thing they want to do is have somebody touching them after an entire day of a baby laying on them. That oxytocin when the baby’s nursing, or just laying on them, they’re getting this hormone, the love hormone of oxytocin is just releasing all day. So this idea of being touched out is a real thing.
Brandy: At the end of the day, then you have your husband who’s kind of like in line, like, “Hey, what about me?” And you’re just like overloaded. We’ve been touched enough. But then you think to yourself, oh I should do this because we haven’t had sex in a month, or however long it’s been. I know that since I’ve become a mom, I’m maybe less fun, or we get to spend less time together, or whatever the thing is. I’ve been so sleep deprived, or I’ve been snappy, or whatever it is. Okay, so I should just do this because I don’t want him to – and this is an extreme version – but I don’t want him to look elsewhere, but I also want to keep my marriage intact. So this is the last thing I want to do but I’m going to take one for the team of our marriage. I think that that is a pretty common experience. I really don’t know what to make of that. In a sense, it’s non-consensual. If this was a situation in which you weren’t married to the person and you were on a date with somebody and they kept being like, “Come on, I want to.” If they were trying to manipulate you and you’re like, I don’t really want to do it. You would be like, “That dude should step off. She doesn’t want to do it.” But in your marriage, it’s like, well I do have to keep my marriage going and there’s so many things we aren’t connecting on because our lives are so different now, or we don’t get time to even have a conversation that I guess I should throw him a bone, so to speak. Then that feels like, what am I doing? But also, I need to do this. That’s another one of these things that’s just so conflicting.
Jessica: You know, it’s so tricky because I think what it comes back down to for me – and I think of this for a lot of people – is it’s one more place of this desire for what used to be. Who I used to be as a woman. I want to want it. I want to connect with my husband.
Jessica: Intimacy is a huge part of our relationship. When too much time goes by, you can feel there’s more tension. Things are just easier when we’re all having orgasms.
Brandy: Right. Right.
Jessica: I hate feeling too tired. I hate feeling touched out. It’s all one more piece of not being my former self, or not being who I would like to be. Often, it’s more of an internal dilemma. I am also very lucky that my husband isn’t pressuring me in that sense, but I know a lot of women who are getting that, like an actual verbal, “I’m a man and I have needs.” Shit like that.
Jessica: The pressure is probably more self-imposed in my particular circumstance.
Brandy: Oh me too. Oh it’s all self-imposed. Yeah.
Jessica: You know, what is the alternative? In one case, it’s like, alright, I occasionally take one for the team, so to say.
Jessica: Or it’s been too long, we need to make this happen. The alternative is you have this dry marriage, it’s like a desert. All the plants have died. Again, there’s no winning.
Brandy: That’s why you really appreciate once you have kids, those sometimes rare moments in which you actually feel in the mood and feel goodwill and kindness towards your partner, and they’re in the mood, AND you have the time. Those three amazing stars aligning is, I mean I feel like that’s enough to keep everybody going for a month. I know that I felt like, when my kids were definitely smaller, it was all day with kids, being touched out, especially being a nursing mom. I would get in bed at night, and then my husband would get in bed, and there was an unspoken – again, it was possibly internal – but I know him. He’s definitely loves to be touched and his love language is physical contact, I think, whereas mine is just like being alone, or asleep. It’s like, at the end of the night, in my last moments, I’ve been care-taking everybody today. My last moments, and then, oh, don’t forget, there’s one more thing on your list. You have this person that you’re married to and a lot of times, people who are married do this thing called “sex.” I would go to bed feeling guilty because … And it wasn’t like, again, it wasn’t like my husband was asking me for sex.
Jessica: You can feel it. You can feel the tension.
Brandy: You can feel it, but I knew that we hadn’t done it in X days or X weeks or X months or whatever, and then there’s the resentment and rage comes in. I’m doing so much for my family. I’ve basically given my life for this decision that we decided to make, and yet I go to bed at night feeling guilty that I’m not doing the one more thing to fulfill the wife duty. It’s just fulfilling all of those parts of ourselves. It feels impossible. When you finally do give in and have sex, they are so much happier.
Brandy: Then that’s complicated because you’re like, oh my god, their happiness lies in my vagina, and also you’re like, wow, that’s amazing that being connected to me in that way can help them SO much. It’s again, it’s one of these complicated, conflicting things that builds tiny resentments.
Jessica: I do think a huge part of it is when you are in the thick of it in your relationship, having to manage expectations. Our relationship is not what it was like before children. There will be a time in our lives where children have left the house, god willing.
Jessica: Right now is not about having the hottest sex life we’ve ever had, right now it’s about maintaining, again, liking each other, maintaining connection – hooking up enough that we both feel like we’re having our needs met, that we both feel like we still share that intimacy, and we’re going to be able to ride out the storm together.
Jessica: There can’t be an expectation that it is what it was before children.
Jessica: It gets better, it definitely gets better from when you have an infant crying on the monitor. It for sure does, over time. I think that’s where we have to let ourselves off the hook too. I think we are feeling guilt that we are not putting out like we did in the hot and heavy days, but that’s not what this is about right now.
Brandy: That’s right.
Jessica: It’s managing expectations.
Brandy: Yes, and I think it’s so helpful to know that, and I think it’s helpful for people who are in it, and people who are entering it, to know that that these early years are triage. It’s like, there’s been an emergency, and we’re trying to-
Jessica: Man down, man down.
Brandy: Yeah exactly. We’re trying to clean it up, and this wound over here is gaping, and the monitor is beeping. It’s like, you’re just trying to keep something alive. I think for moms to know that – but then I think the key is, which is one of the harder parts – is for dads to also know that, and to really respect that. I mean our society doesn’t respect that at all, shown clearly by the fact that we are the only developed nation that has zero mandated parental leave. The message that that sends to our entire society about how we value what happens after you have a baby, and then the needs of the mom and baby together – our culture? We don’t give a fuck. How do we – how do our husbands, how are our husbands supposed to understand that when they’ve been raised in a society that doesn’t give a fuck?
Brandy: I mean, I’ll answer my own question here, which is I think that this is where the communication piece needs to happen, where you have to be able to have the conversation with them and talk to them about this. Again, I imagine there are some women who do say this, and the husbands are like, “Yeah, but that’s not going to cut it. I need it X amount of times.” I know somebody who has the setup in her marriage that they have specific days each week that they have sex. I asked her one time about that, you know, because that’s immediately what you ask people when you have conversations with them, “What is your sex life specifically?”
Jessica: Of course, it’s a first step!
Brandy: It’s question number one! I said to her, “Are you resentful that day, ’cause you know it’s coming, regardless of if you want to do it or not?” She’s like, “Yeah, but it’s just how it has to be, and it makes him happier. That’s just how it is.” I’m like just in awe of that. I think, god, I wish I could do that. I wish I could just flip it on, or I don’t know if it’s possible to be in a healthy denial of my own feelings, just to make him happy. I heard that and I was like, maybe that’s what my relationship needs. I mean, I wasn’t going to do two times a week for sure, but … So I came home and said to my husband, “Okay so let’s try this thing because then maybe if I know it’s going to happen, then I can go to bed at night and not feel bad because I know it’s happening. Maybe we can plan it.” Of course. My husband was like, “Yeah, let’s try this.” He’s so respectful and nice that he was like, “Are you sure you want to do this?” I’m like, “Well, let’s just give it a try and see how it goes.”
Brandy: I forget which day we had planned, but I was crawling out of my skin that entire morning, just knowing I have to do this thing, and it’s not about if I want to do it, it’s something that’s set. I told him, I was just like, “I’m so sorry but we didn’t even last one time because I can’t do this.”
Brandy: It just, it doesn’t feel authentic to me, and he was like, “Yeah, and I don’t want to have sex with a person who doesn’t want to have sex with me, so like-“
Jessica: Now here’s where I think it can work for a couple. If you were the type of person – and I fall into this category – it’s not that I have a low sex drive, it’s that I have children.
Brandy: You have cock blockers is what you’re saying.
Jessica: I have cock blockers, who directly inhibit my sexual desire, but it’s there right? Then I think you have the type of person who’s like, I could never have sex again the rest of my life and be perfectly fine. That’s not me. I just have cock blockers.
Brandy: It sounds like you have a diagnosis. “I was diagnosed with ‘Cock Blockers.’ See what your doctor can do for you about ‘Cock Blockers.'”
Jessica: I think if you’re the type of person, and this is me, I almost never would regret hooking up. I always feel better afterwards, I always enjoy it, and I always love the connection with my husband, and I love how better we are when we’re hooking up frequently.
Brandy: Yes, me too.
Jessica: It’s just, I have to get over a hurdle. I have to get over the cock blocker part.
Jessica: Most days that hurdle just feels insurmountable. If you’re the type of person that a little reminder, and a little like, “Okay, I’ve put on my calendar I’m going to do this thing. I know I’m going to like this thing, I’m going to be glad I did that thing,” then I think it might work for you.
Jessica: But if you’re the type of person who doesn’t want to have sex and is going to feel resentful and feels like they’re only doing it to save their marriage, that’s clearly a non-consensual, unhealthy thing to throw on your plate.
Brandy: Yeah, that’s such a good point. I know once I’m in it, and afterwards, I’m so glad I did it. There’s a handful of ways that this can happen, and I would imagine that for different people, you have different things that are sort of your foreplay. I’m not kidding when I say that cleaning and helping with the kids is foreplay. And I don’t think guys understand this. I’ve heard guys say something like, “Oh my god, I did the dishes and cleaned the kitchen, and then she wanted to have sex with me. If I knew that would happen, I’d do it more often.” It’s like, well that might actually work.
Brandy: Really, it’s not about necessarily that you’re doing the thing for her, and she goes, “Oh, he’s so nice, I’ll suck his dick.” It doesn’t work specifically like that. What I’ve had to tell my husband is I need help setting the stage, so that I can transition from Mother to lover more easily. Maybe that means that there aren’t dishes for me to do at the end of the day, or I’m not doing homework with kids, or something like that. That at the end of the night, or whenever, I don’t have a big to-do list of the daily Mother chores. Then, I can let that go more easily. I think really getting our partners involved in helping create the environment that makes me want to be sexual with you. Sometimes in our marriage, it’s like, “Hey, how about you put both kids to bed,” ’cause we still do this thing where we lay with our kids, for the most part, which is insanity and deserves an entire other podcast. But okay, so you put the kids to bed, and I’m going to go take a bath, which helps me unwind.
Brandy: I think that that’s one way that, again, it’s this communication piece. It’s having to figure out for yourself what you really need. In some cases, maybe there are partners who already know this about you, who know the thing that puts you in the mood, and then will exploit that thing without you having to ask and tell them. I think that that probably could exist too.
Jessica: This is making me think of this dad I had in a class I taught. He was spectacular. Their relationship was so tight. There were so many physical displays of affection throughout the whole class. They already had I think two or three kids, and then he had had a vasectomy reversal to get pregnant with this one.
Brandy: Oh wow.
Jessica: He was just so clearly care-taking her, and just adored her. He was a big beast of a man, he used to play for the LA Rams.
Jessica: I always do this thing where we do a little post-partum preparation type thing, but then I’ll separate them, I’ll get just the dads together. This time I said to him because he clearly just had some things figured out. This was like his third or fourth child. I was like, “You know, do you have any secrets?” We were talking about sex life, and we’re talking about how things change. I was trying to plant a seed for these dads ahead of time that things are going to change, and you’re, you know-
Brandy: Yeah, you’re going to be having long showers for years.
Jessica: Basically, my rage about motherhood and parenting would fuel my curriculum.
Brandy: Yeah, I hear you.
Jessica: Anyways, so here we are, and I said to him, “What are your secrets? Do you have any secrets or tips that you’d like to share with these first time dads?” He said exactly what you just said, he’s like “Listen guys, I figured out my first baby, I was never, ever getting it. Right? She was tired all the time, I couldn’t even look at her. It was like, ‘do not touch me.’ I’m touched out.” All the guy’s eyes are huge, like “oh fuck.”
Brandy: Right, yeah.
Jessica: He’s like, “And then I started to learn. You know what, foreplay changes. Like I’d do some dishes, I’d be like, ‘Baby, no I’m cooking dinner tonight. Baby no, you go take a nice long shower while I put the baby down to bed tonight.’ She couldn’t get enough of me. She kept coming back for more. I’d do more things in the kitchen, I’d do more things around the house, she could not get enough.” I know, I was sitting there, trying not to drool out the side of my mouth. Oh my god. Talk about a man who just got it. The gift he gave those first-time dads. It’s like listen, foreplay changes, and it’s not about the act of doing the dishes – you saw her, you saw that she’s overwhelmed, and you took something off her plate. Now she has a little bit more to give to you.
Jessica: I think that’s the problem in relationships, what we want to try to avoid – and we all end up there some days in some way – is like, you don’t want your husband to be one more thing on your to-do list.
Brandy: Exactly. Right.
Jessica: You want to have the energy reserves, past the cock blocker hurdle, that it’s a mutual, consensual, “I want to be with you.” Not like, “I’ve given so much to everyone all day long that I have nothing left to give.” And I think that’s what most of us feel often, in just motherhood in general.
Brandy: Guys aren’t having this conversation, I’m assuming. I mean, that’s another part of it. I don’t think that dads have the sort of community and conversation that we tend to as women and moms. What if this dude who had it figured out was educating dads about the reality? What if guys got into parenthood knowing A, these years, possibly even five years, are triage, so it’s going to be totally different. And B, here are the ways that you can help have a stronger marriage. It’s not her telling you what to do, it’s YOU looking around and seeing what takes her new duties off of her plate. I mean it’s so obvious, it seems, but to have a male mentor – to have a Dad mentor saying that – I feel like would help all of us.
Jessica: I say those things in every class I used to teach. There was something about having this man, who had done it several times, had several children…
Brandy: That guy needs to write a book.
Jessica: He does. I should reach out to him.
Brandy: You should, honestly, if he would. Even an article. Something, Sir, please just educate. Just tell the men. Tell them! Tell me, in the beginning, you mentioned about “we just moved across country for my husband’s job, and I’ve completely lost myself.” Will you tell us more about that?
Jessica: Yeah. You know I think like most huge things we do in life, I was completely naïve to how hard it was going to be. Even though I’ve been through it before – not cross country, but I moved from Northern to southern California, when I had just created a pretty thriving birth practice – and I left everything and started all over again. It was really hard. I really underestimated how much I was giving up. I really did.
Brandy: What do you feel like you’re missing the most? What are the things that you gave up that you didn’t realize would be so hard?
Jessica: Initially, the biggest shock to my system I think was that I had routine childcare, and I had an outlet that was for me that I felt I was using my education, my skill set – I felt like I was doing good in this world outside of just my family. Then when we moved, we didn’t have any childcare. It was summer, so I had both boys. All the acting out and fighting that was going on. Obviously, age three and seven, it’s not, “Hey Mom, I feel like I really gave up all my friends and everything I know.”
Brandy: Right, “Could you help me work through that?”
Jessica: Yeah, “Can we talk this through? I’m feeling really lost and uncertain about my future.”
Brandy: Right, instead it’s like, I punch my brother in the face.
Jessica: That’s exactly what I was going to say. It’s like pounding each other’s faces and screaming.
Jessica: I felt like I was the one holding everyone else together, and everyone was falling apart. I had no space. Zero childcare.
Jessica: My husband was starting something new so his days were long. My rage would just build and build. By the time my husband would come home, I was so fucking angry. I would start my day trying to have all those conversations with the kids. “When you do this, I feel that…”
Brandy: Yeah, right.
Jessica: I was just screaming by the end of the day. They weren’t listening, it was just awful. I was not the type of parent I wanted to be. It was awful. My husband would get home and I was – I mean he didn’t know what to do with my rage. It was a big problem. I needed to be heard. In order for him to see me, I just trying to like really show him how angry I was. He was really uncomfortable with my rage and anger and didn’t know what to do with it. I wanted him to see how much I had given up.
Jessica: Again, I think it kind of comes back to that same thing with the husband representing how much sleep you didn’t get, or the run you didn’t get or whatever.
Jessica: It was consensual, you know? He would never had taken the job if – I always have the option to say, “I’m not willing to do this.”
Jessica: It was consensual. I really felt like this was the best move for our family, for our relationship, and for my health and for me on a personal level. It all happened very fast too, by the way. From the time he was given the job offer, until we left California, was like a month.
Brandy: Right, that was like a whirlwind.
Jessica: Yeah, so there wasn’t a lot of closure. There were so many close friends I didn’t get to see or say goodbye to.
Brandy: Real fast, this is one of the other conflicting tricky parts of motherhood: you say yes to this thing because obviously it’s to further your husband’s career, which ultimately affects you and your family, and his well-being is really your family and financial well-being too. That’s why I feel like sometimes it’s hard – even though your mind knows that this is good for me too, your soul still feels it, like I just left, and it wasn’t because of something that specifically was going to be yours. You left for somebody else, and yes, you are the beneficiary of those things, but you’re also the person who has to make a new world for your family, especially as moms staying home and raising our kids, even if we’re doing stuff on the sides. That whole aspect of world-making and finding the pediatrician, and finding the childcare, and which grocery store are you going to, and which friend group and all that. That’s usually the stuff that we are doing. That’s a lot to take on.
Brandy: The complicated nature of, “Well yeah, but this was better for us financially or whatever.” It’s like, yeah, my mind knows that, but my heart still feels the hardship.
Brandy: So then when you were raging and you said he came home from work, how did that blow up, or how did you guys communicate that?
Jessica: Some really honest – “I’m fucking angry and I need you to see it. I need you to hold it for me, I need you to help me make it better.” The hard part was I wasn’t even sure what would make it better.
Brandy: Right, oh my gosh. Oh yes.
Jessica: That’s the hard part, he couldn’t fix it. How do you fix that? You don’t, right? It’s not something that can be like we do this thing and you no longer feel rage right? It really had to be having those conversations. You and I had a lot of conversations during this time of peeling back the layer of the onion, and okay where is this rage coming from, what’s one small thing that could help? So many of our conversations are like that.
Jessica: I think the first thing that started to make things better was finding a preschool for Nick, finding daycare that I wasn’t necessarily going to find at that moment. It really was encouragement from you, honestly, to carve out some amount of time for myself every day, or a couple times a week is basically what it was. A little bit of time. The smallest amount of time to just breathe. To just have space to breathe where children are not yelling around me for a small amount of time.
Brandy: Gosh. You said something that just so resonates with me when you said, “And I didn’t even know what could be done.” I remember the conversations with my husband that first time around when I was like, “Hey, by the way, I’m super resentful and we need to talk about this. I don’t want to be this way.” I remember that it feels like you’re grasping at straws. You’re like, oh, maybe I need to get a babysitter more often. Okay, I’ll do that, but maybe I need to get a job. Maybe I need to get a part-time job. Oh maybe it’s we need meal delivery service, or you know, all these different things from a scale of privileged to not privileged, that you try to do. It’s all sort of a Band-aid in a way, to get through the triage.
Brandy: I feel like once kids get older, the needs aren’t so intense and constant. Then you can breathe a little bit. In that time, you’re just looking to stop the bleeding. If you don’t know the root cause, you just have to put something over it. I think that’s inherently a frustrating place to be, especially for men who want to be able to fix something, who want to know what the thing to fix is. Then it puts us in a hard spot because then we’re trying all the things. “I’m going to try this, no I’m going to try this.” Some of it we have to ask for their help or permission to try.
Brandy: Then when that doesn’t fix it, it’s like what the fuck is wrong? Is it me? Why are all the things I’m doing… Nothing is working. Then we feel like oh my god, is it just motherhood? Am I just not made for this? Is this just going to undo me? There’s a whole rabbit hole there that we can go down, but I appreciate you putting words to that very real sentiment of, I don’t even know what it is that I need. The answer is probably something like, I need like a three-month break from motherhood, which is not possible.
Jessica: Exactly. Exactly. What it would actually take to heal the situation is impossible and unavailable. It’s… I think things get better slowly, and inperceptively sometimes. What heals it or what fixes it or what makes it better is not any one thing. I think there always seems to be this critical mass, like “Our patient is bleeding out. She’s bleeding out! She needs help.” Right? Then we really try to put these Band-Aids over an artery, but there’s still blood spurting out of there. It’s a lot of little things to take the edge off, and some days are better than others. I think it’s acknowledging that you’re bleeding out.
Jessica: Saying to my husband, “I’m not going to survive this. I’m bleeding out, and I need you to help me.”
Brandy: Right. Even the sentiment of that being also, “And I don’t know what this looks like. I don’t know how to fix this just as much as you don’t know how to fix this, but I need your help to sit with me, and to think with me. You know me probably better than anybody else knows me, so help me brainstorm, what do you see happening with me? What do you think would help me?” Not just having to save ourselves all the time, which is partially why I hate self-care.
Brandy: This idea that no one is coming to save us. Not that we need a savior, but it would be nice to get some of this care-taking that we do for all of the people in our world, to have some of that come back to us.
Jessica: Definitely. I think even before that, just acknowledgement and validation that this is a really fucked up situation. “What you’ve done for me, what you’ve given up for me for our family is huge. It sucks. The boys are a nightmare. And I don’t think this is my husband in general – I think it’s men in general. There’s this desire to kind of fix it, see the positive in things, and when you are really in the shit, you just need somebody to acknowledge that you’re sitting in the shit.
Jessica: Not like, “Oh, maybe today will be better, or maybe if you try this.” That was definitely huge for me. I mean I still remember the day I bled out. He had to sit there, and it was very uncomfortable for him to hear me spew all my rage.
Brandy: What was it like after that? What changed?
Jessica: I feel like he was aware of how critical it was to make steps, and not just assume this will get better with time, we’ll get into the house and it’ll get better, the boys will get into school and it’ll get better. It’s like no, we’re critical mass right now.
Jessica: I can’t remember specifically, but I know there were things like him encouraging me to go do something by myself, go sign up at the Y that had childcare (that the kids were then going to revolt against). There were lots of little steps that started to happen from there.
Brandy: Got it.
Jessica: To kind of just find some semblance of not losing yourself in motherhood. Which I feel that. I feel that. In the 18 years, there have been multiple times where you feel like you’re kind of riding the wave of motherhood. Sometimes you bob under water a little too long, it’s hard to take a breath. But then there are times where you feel like somebody tied bricks to your ankles, and you are going down. That’s definitely how this moment felt to me. I’ve been lost. I’m lost. That overwhelming feeling of, I don’t even know how to be found.
Brandy: Ugh. Yes. And also knowing that our partners sometimes are the only people… I mean, I think our close friends actually are the people who sometimes help pull us up enough so that our partner can then come find us. I think that that’s one of the most vulnerable things about motherhood. It makes me tear up about it. (Pauses). But one of the vulnerable parts of motherhood is having to ask permission of your spouse, but it’s also like, they hold so much power. They can find you – a good spouse who’s really connected and really loves you and respects you – can help find you. So many of them don’t exactly know that that’s even possible. They don’t even see that that’s happening. They are our lifeline. It’s so hard to be really reliant on that in so many ways. Having to ask for the shower, but then also, “And by the way, when I’m in the Underworld, I need you to see that I’m there, and I need you to put a hand down and try to pull me up instead of push me down further.”
Jessica: Huge, right?
Brandy: Damn. That just feels heavy.
Jessica: Yeah. Hoping that you kept enough connection there that they notice that you’re gone.
Brandy: Damn, dude.
Jessica: It’s true. If that’s kept alive there, you don’t have to go as deep down into the Underworld before they realize you’re missing and start trying to help you out a bit.
Brandy: Man. Just even that question, “What if they don’t notice that you’re missing?” Fuck. If you’re so far down and that person can’t even hear you and you don’t even have the energy to even scream help, damn. That’s some heavy-ass shit right there.
Jessica: It is.
Brandy: It’s real. I feel like it wasn’t until just now that I realized that the same person who can save you is the same person that can also push you further in that hole. That’s a lot of power.
Jessica: It is.
Brandy: Yeah. Shit. You know, you’ve been at this parenting thing longer than I have. You’ve been at it 18 years. If you could give anybody any sort of advice, something that’s helped you get through that we haven’t talked about today, is there anything in closing that you would add to this?
Jessica: I think what’s really important, or at least it has been for me, is to not lose myself in motherhood. When I talked about even that feeling of there being times over the last 18 years where I felt like I’m sinking in it, it’s been so important to me to not lose who I am in this world outside of motherhood. I feel that motherhood is a part of who I am, that being a mother is part of who I am, but it’s not all of who I am. In order to do that, it’s been so important for me to have lifelines, to have friendships like ours, that I know if I am hitting rock bottom, I know you’re there for me.
Jessica: To put in the effort with my relationship with my husband so that he still recognizes me and knows when I’ve dropped into that dark place so he can come for me. Here’s one little small tip that I like to do for myself. Before I became a mother, what were a few things in life that brought me joy? Just pure joy that don’t have to do with my kids, and still find some way, some small way, to integrate that into my life. So, I love to read. It’s really hard to read.
Jessica: It starts really small. When they’re little, it’s infinitely small.
Brandy: Oh my gosh it’s the shower.
Jessica: It’s the shower. Yeah, there’s no hobbies. It’s a shower. And then as they get older, – we just had this conversation – I just took back up snowboarding, it’s been 22 years.
Brandy: Real fast that we’ve deemed your mid-life crisis.
Jessica: Yeah, it’s my mid-life crisis lessons on Fridays.
Brandy: No, but it’s awesome.
Jessica: That’s the piece that I want. Don’t lose yourself. Don’t lose yourself. You’re still in there, on the hardest of days, what’s the smallest of things you need to feel alive? Is it a shower? Maybe a little mascara?
Brandy: Yeah. Right.
Jessica: You know, what is it? We just keep putting one foot in front of the other and hoping we make it out.
Brandy: Man, Jessica thank you so much for your vulnerability always, but your vulnerability here, and for spending your child-free time, which is gold, we all know. I am so grateful for you as a friend, and I am so grateful for you and your time and insight here today, so thank you so much.
Jessica: You’re welcome. Likewise. I’m really happy to be able to have done this with you.
Brandy: Join me next episode when I interview one of my favorite people of all time, a mother of seven and a grandmother who can drop an F bomb like no other. She’ll be giving us a much needed look at the long game of motherhood and answering all my burning questions about what she wish she’d known in the early years, does she have any regrets? How was motherhood different 40 years ago, is there a way to not fuck up your kids? And we get into something a little unexpected, mother wounds and how that affects our own mothering.
Brandy: Thank you guys so much for listening. Please make sure to subscribe, leave a review and tell your friends. If you want to throw some chump change in my virtual tip jar, head over to patreon.com/adultconversation.