“Having children ruined my marriage”

I craved emotional intimacy with my husband, but the idea of physical intimacy repelled me.
I craved emotional intimacy with my husband, but the idea of physical intimacy repelled me.
Image: Unsplash/Steven Van Loy
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This story is part of a series called Craigslist Confessional. Writer Helena Bala has been meeting people via Craigslist and documenting their stories for nearly two years. Each story is written as it was told to her. Bala says that by listening to their stories, she hopes to bear witness to her subjects’ lives, providing them with an outlet, a judgment-free ear, and a sense of catharsis. By sharing them, she hopes to facilitate acceptance and understanding of issues that are seldom publicly discussed, at the risk of fear, stigma, and ostracism. Read more here. Names and locations have been changed to protect her subjects’ anonymity.

Susie, late 30s

I was introduced to my now-husband at a work happy hour. We dated for about a year, and then I found out I was pregnant. I hadn’t been taking precautions against pregnancy and I was already in my thirties, so it was a sort of foregone conclusion that I would keep the baby. He had options, though. I told him that he could be as involved in the baby’s life as he wanted to. A month later, he proposed.

I’m pretty heavily pregnant in my wedding photos. I’ve been looking at them often lately because I’m searching for some clue hidden in our faces that things would go terribly wrong. Granted, he and I didn’t get married the way most couples do—we didn’t follow the correct timeline. But when I think about it objectively, I do believe that we would have stayed together even had I not ended up pregnant.

The first year after the baby came was really lovely. I took some time off of work and was able to dedicate all of my energy to baby. I felt totally overwhelmed with love, and totally happy. When I finally went back to work, it was with a little relief and a lot of regret. I really wanted to stay home with my son, but I also realized that I’d wrapped my whole identity up around him: I was his mom, his vessel for food, and little else.

I realize now that for long while after my son was born, I stopped being a wife. These are things that nobody talks about: my body changed in a way that I found ugly. The feeling of taking pride in one’s body because it is powerful and has created and carried a human being didn’t apply to me. I had loose skin on my stomach and stretch marks everywhere. My breasts completely changed shape. My vagina changed colors! It honestly felt like I was living inside a stranger. Because I didn’t feel comfortable in my body, I didn’t feel comfortable with sex.

I craved emotional intimacy with my husband, but the idea of physical intimacy repelled me. Sex was painful sometimes, and because I just couldn’t get into it, it started becoming more something that I did for him than something that I took pleasure in. So I found myself doing things constantly for other people: for my son and then for my husband. And I was left afloat, with no one to take care of me, with nobody to replenish the energies that were so quickly burned throughout the day.

As you can imagine, this situation took its toll on our marriage. We were constantly on edge, constantly bickering, and unable to really communicate our feelings because we’d get about 10% into everything, and we were both too exhausted to continue. And then we made the biggest mistake, according to me, in our marriage: we decided to get pregnant a second time.

The decision was a Hail Mary for our relationship. We thought that another kid would bring us together in our shared responsibilities and love as parents. That totally backfired. The months of pregnancy were great, again, but once our second child was born, the situation just got worse. It was more of a time-suck, a huge financial drain, and the baby made it impossible to keep balance in our relationship. Again, I was totally glued to her, trying to ignore my body (which felt like a nuclear disaster), and my husband was last on the list of priorities.

Of course, he got to go back to work almost immediately while I spent what felt like whole months on end acting as a feeding machine, reeking of breast milk, inhabiting this constantly morphing mom-body that felt asexual. He couldn’t understand the tears and the depression that followed, and I couldn’t talk to anyone about it because I felt like I was failing as a mom and a wife. Most women go through this, right? So why was I having such a hard time of it?

Fast forward a couple of years, and now we have toddlers on our hands. I honestly don’t feel like I know my husband at all—he goes to work, he comes back, he plays with the kids, and our interaction is minimal. We don’t have sex and I feel like it’s only a matter of time before he cheats on me. I don’t know what to do; if I had a do-over, I definitely would not have had my second baby. I don’t know if we should have even had our first. I feel so guilty saying this but I feel like having children ruined our relationship.