Wendy Hutchison and her husband, Joe, of San Diego, have always been a romantic couple. "We're physically affectionate, and we tell each other 'I love you' a lot," she says. "We even light candles at dinnertime." When she became pregnant with their first child last year, she assumed their love affair would deepen. And it did -- to a point.
"In some ways, we became closer than ever. We were both blown away that we had created this new life," she says. "But we struggled with some unexpected issues." For instance, once she started gaining weight, Hutchison didn't feel as attractive. "Joe told me I still looked beautiful, but all I could focus on was my thighs," she says. "And he started worrying about how the baby would change our lives. As happy as we both were to be pregnant, we had moments when we thought, 'What have we done?' "
Most couples are prepared for the inevitability that a newborn will temporarily consign long conversations and leisurely lovemaking to the back burner. But the reality is, pregnancy can also take a toll on intimacy. "Women are experiencing hormonal changes, and both partners may be dealing with a wide range of issues, from physical and emotional changes to career and financial decisions -- all of which can get in the way of romance," says William Nordling, Ph.D., clinical director of the National Institute of Relationship Enhancement, in Bethesda, Maryland. However, by making a commitment to communicate those thoughts and feelings to each other, you can create a closer bond.
"One of the biggest mistakes couples make is expecting their partner to read their mind," says Dr. Nordling. You can't expect your husband to know how much your back hurts or that you have an insatiable craving for pistachio ice cream unless you tell him. And you won't know how frightened he is of his impending responsibilities unless he has the chance to discuss it. Regular heart-to-heart talks, over dinner or while you're lying in bed, will enhance your sense of togetherness and help you see the world from your spouse's point of view.
What's more, by expressing your needs, you'll give him an easy opportunity to be gallant, whether it's with a massage or a pint of Häagen-Dazs. "Most people feel that if they have to ask for something, it's not as good as getting it out of the blue," says Aline Zoldbrod, Ph.D., author of Sex Smart: How Your Childhood Shaped Your Sexual Life and What to Do About It (New Harbinger Publications). But keeping your expectations to yourself just sets you up for disappointment and resentment.
"I tell husbands to read as much as they can about pregnancy so they're not shocked if their wives are tired or emotional all the time," says Dr. Zoldbrod. "That way, it's easier for them to be supportive and understanding." In fact, you may be surprised by how much you appreciate his small loving gestures. "I find it really romantic that my husband, Blair, always makes sure to leave the light on in the hall before we go to bed so that I don't trip on my twice-nightly trips to the refrigerator for a glass of water," says Cheryl Cohen Effron, of New York City.
Going to your obstetrician's appointments together will help your partner stay informed and involved. He'll also have the chance to ask about any concerns he has, particularly those relating to sex. "Many men are worried that having sex will harm the baby, so getting the green light from your doctor can help you both relax," says Diane Ross Glazer, Ph.D., a psychotherapist in Santa Monica, California, who specializes in pregnancy and childbirth. (Unless you're bleeding or have had previous miscarriages or some other preexisting condition, sex is considered perfectly safe during pregnancy.)
Of course, making love probably won't be the same as it was before you were pregnant. Not only are you likely to be fighting fatigue, but your breasts may be tender, your vaginal secretions may be thicker, and your genitals may be engorged -- all of which means you need to approach intercourse with a flexible attitude, adjusting your positions and the way you touch each other so you're both comfortable.
Some pregnant women feel more sexual than ever, particularly during the second trimester, when heightened blood flow to the pelvic area can increase sensitivity and make it easier to reach orgasm. And for many couples, being able to have spontaneous sex, without having to worry about birth control, can be very liberating.
As your pregnancy progresses, however, you may find that the size and shape of your body make you feel unattractive. "When it comes to body image, you need to figure out what you're afraid of," advises Dr. Glazer. If you're worried that your husband doesn't like the way you look, be honest and tell him that you'd appreciate some reassurance. If you're concerned that you won't ever squeeze back into your prepregnancy clothes, talking to friends and relatives about how they lost weight postpartum can help you feel more in control.
Certainly, pregnancy is a time when emotional closeness is as important as physical passion -- seeing your baby for the first time during an ultrasound and deciding on a name together, for example, are incredibly intimate experiences. "My husband always sends me funny e-mails from work about what to name the baby," says Effron.
One of the surest ways to enhance romance during pregnancy is to remind yourself how fleeting these months really are. "You're beginning a joint project that will last a lifetime," says Richard Rappaport, Ph.D., a psychologist in Philadelphia. "Even if it's not your first child, the dynamic of the family will change. This is really a time to savor what you have together."
Copyright © 2000 Ginny Graves. Reprinted with permission from the February 2000 issue of Parents magazine.