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The Truth About Fatherhood

Married With Child

Perhaps the biggest transformation your husband will face is his demotion in the household. If he was once number one on your list, he is now number two. This is practical evolution: The baby can't fix herself dinner or get herself dressed. Dad can. His desires  -- companionship and clean laundry  -- are put on the back burner. "I missed my wife," says Tomas Rossant of Brooklyn, New York, about the first few months after the birth of his elder son, Luca, now 3. "She didn't have energy for me. The baby was tiring, and breastfeeding took a lot out of her. It's no wonder she didn't want to hear about my hard day at work when she'd been home alone with a colicky baby. Before Luca, we used to talk about our future, our thoughts and ideas. But after he was born, we talked about him. And only him." Which means something's got to give: "When all you think about is the baby, your relationship gets left behind," says Dave Kushner, also of Brooklyn, and father of Samantha, 3, and Mia, 1.

"We had twins, so I didn't become second banana, I was third banana," says Michael Schaus of Greenwich, Connecticut, father of Caroline and Virginia, now 4. "That was to be expected. But the constant fighting with my wife was a surprise. I guess when you haven't slept longer than an hour and a half at a stretch for two weeks straight, you get on each other's nerves."

And with an infant in the house, the usual way husbands and wives make up after a bickerfest may be off-limits, unthinkable, or just plain old inconvenient. "We started having sex again after six months, but it was a year before I touched her breasts," says Brian Feit of Owings Mills, Maryland, father of Trevor, 5, and Zoey, 2.

Rossant: "Two months."

Schaus: "Five years out is our target for having sex again. I'm kidding. Kind of."

Since so often the tenderness and intimacy between new parents erode in the face of diaper-bin aromas, ointment-slicked hands, and wailing infants, it's not surprising that dozens of studies report a marked drop in marital satisfaction after the arrival of the first child.

That's why it's important for Dad to remind himself that some changes  -- like the lack of sex  -- are only temporary. And to try to immediately address any conflicts that erupt, before they grow too large.

Maintaining a sense of humor about these new frustrations can be helpful. Of course there's always the risk he'll maintain his sense of humor about something you think is deadly serious  -- like his promise to be home at 6:00, not practically 6:30!!! If, however, your breasts shoot milk across the room during orgasm (yes, this can happen), laughter is the only appropriate response.

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