Sex with my husband saved my marriage.
Making love connected us not just physically, but also mentally and spiritually. Our lovemaking was a beautiful reminder of why we were together, and why we’d chosen each other to share our lives. Sex with my husband was a moment of calm and tenderness that we both desperately needed. Making love was showing up for each other. It was offering proof to each other that we mattered and were individuals who were important in a marriage that was so difficult to maintain at times.
To say that my marriage was tested is a true understatement. My husband and I had been married for 3 years when my daughter was born with a severe brain injury and our world was turned completely upside down.
After a wonderful healthy pregnancy, my daughter’s birth was riddled with medical mistakes that lead to precious minutes of oxygen deprivation, brain injury, a seizure disorder and a diagnosis of the most severe form of cerebral palsy. My daughter was an extremely medically fragile child. Our lives were shattered and drastically changed, literally overnight when she was born. All of a sudden, my husband and I were caregivers in the most extreme way. Our daughter’s daily care was far beyond the scope of normal newborn care and lasted until her death at the age of 11.
Very early in my daughter’s life, my husband and I found and made time to make love several times a week. Our daughter’s sleep patterns were very disrupted because of her brain injury, and she often stayed awake all night long and would only sleep a few hours during the day. My husband and I took advantage of this quiet time to quickly make love and nap together while our daughter slept. I found it very difficult to sleep during the day even if I hadn’t slept all night. I thought I should be doing laundry, cleaning the house or doing research on my daughter’s condition while she slept. Having sex with my husband before we napped helped to calm me down, tired me out, and gave us permission to snooze for an hour or so. Sharing our bodies was our sanctuary, the only time either of us was able to think about something else other than caring for our daughter. These moments of tenderness were brief but saved us from letting raising a child with severe special needs rip our marriage apart.
Statistics aren’t promising for the longevity of marriage when raising a special needs child. 85% of marriages that produce children with special needs end in divorce. Daily, my husband and I were making life and death decisions for our daughter.
We survived on very little sleep and each day we received more devastating news regarding our daughter’s condition. I blamed myself and my body for not being able to deliver my daughter safely into the world. I blamed my husband and the birthing center staff for not listening when I expressed my concerns during her long delivery. My blame led me to guilt which led me to anger at myself and anyone close to me.
I wanted someone to take responsibility for the terrible mistakes made during our daughter’s delivery. My husband was the closest one to blame. Of course, I knew it wasn’t his fault, and that he was in as much pain as I was over our daughter’s tragic birth injury. Connecting physically and mentally in bed was a gentle reminder that my husband should not take the brunt of my anger and guilt. Arguing only divided us and made us weak. Making love united us, helping to make our partnership stronger for the unknown challenges that lay ahead. When life is so far out of your control and the future unknown, there’s a desperate need to find comfort, a reminder of what your life was before the chaos began. I enjoyed sex with my husband before our daughter was born, and before our lives became so uncertain. Making love was a way to remember that pleasure and that I had permission to feel pleasure, if only for a few fleeting moments.
Bringing a child with complex medical issues home from the hospital is terrifying.
The liberation of finally getting to leave the hospital is short lived when you are responsible for keeping your child alive without assistance from medical professionals. Our living room was suddenly filled with medical equipment to aid our daughter. We had to learn how to operate the medical equipment, how to check our daughter’s airways, insert her feeding tubes, and monitor her seizures. We were in constant panic mode, fight or flight 24/7. We were forced to open our home to complete strangers- nurses and countless therapists who came to evaluate and work with our daughter. Managing daily household tasks stopped. Mail piled up, trash piled up, and life piled up. Taking time to escape the chaos for some sweet, tender lovemaking was crucial to our survival as individuals and as spouses.
We didn’t always have mind-blowing sex, which was fine, however, sex always felt necessary.
When life felt so out of control, we made love to regroup, and to remember that we were on the same team and we needed each other if we were going to survive this. Whenever we started snapping at each other, blaming each other or feeling completely broken, we would head into the bedroom for, “Horizontal therapy.” Connecting sexually reminded us that we were human, humans who loved each other very much and had chosen to spend our lives together. Humans who were forced into the roles of super-human special needs parents.
For the 11 years that my daughter was alive, sex with my husband was the key to the good health of our partnership. Non verbally we expressed our appreciation for the sacrifices each of us were making for our daughter when neither of us had the strength or words to express it otherwise.
Often my husband would come home and find me crying, curled up on the couch in clothes stained with my daughter’s vomit and other bodily fluids. No matter how low and desperate I felt, I knew I was beautiful in his eyes.
Perhaps even more beautiful because he understood how difficult our lives had become. Even after the tragic day that our daughter died in our arms, my husband and I used sex to comfort each other and remind us that we were in this for love. We would survive, together, just as we always do.
Three months after our daughter died, my husband and I drove across the United States, camped in our van and traveled to Hawaii for a few weeks. We were on our way back across the country when I felt ill. I took a pregnancy test and it was positive. 9 months later, I gave birth to a healthy baby boy. A beautiful baby created from true, pure love. He is the embodiment of the strength of our marriage, full of love, full of joy, full of grit and determination. My husband and I are embracing and fully enjoying this joyful spirit we created with an ever-present awareness and appreciation for the journey that got us here. However, now that we have a healthy, rambunctious toddler running around, our stolen moments of pleasure are not as frequent, though they are still just as special. Our moments of intimacy have evolved as our circumstances have changed. A quick kiss good-bye in the morning, a brush of the hand or bumping into each other in the kitchen tickles my heart as a different kind of chaos still surrounds us.
A different kind of chaos when raising a healthy child, a chaos that my husband and I can enjoy knowing that we survived the past.
Such depth, beauty, and honesty in this post. This really spoke to me and gave me a new perspective. And I love “horizontal therapy.” What a great phrase.
Thanks so much for sharing this, Julie. The brave writing is always the best!
Thank you for sharing this Julie. I agree, imaking love is incredibly important to a marriage, yet not something everyone is willing to talk about. We can all agree that kids and the daily “stuff” can get in the way. Making the time for each other is crucial, and if you and Dave could do it while caring for Ella, anyone can. I enjoyed reading how your “horizontal therapy” connected the two of you when you needed it most, and in the end, that love and commitment produced a beautiful, healthy boy. Love you Jules!
I love this article! I agree that sex is the best therapy of them all. This is not a subject most people are comfortable talking about but is so important. Excellent work putting it out there! Thank you