It’s meant to be a perfect symbol of your union, a life created by you both, to be loved and raised together. But for many couples, a new baby unearths a whole range of issues in the way you and your partner relate to each other. Add to that two very tired people and a baby who will not settle, sleep or spend time doing anything you thought a ‘good’ baby would do and you have a recipe for trouble.
While couples do need to adjust to a new lifestyle once children arrive, there are many ways to help lessen the changes, and bring a new intimacy and closeness to your partnership and new family. The most important step in everything is communication. If your relationship is showing strain in some areas before a baby arrives, the added pressure from such a large change can magnify the problem.
The physical preparation for a new baby is seen as essential (new cot, new pram, new clothes, new room), but often very little time is given to the emotional preparation. It’s important to set up some time together to talk about how you see the new baby will affect your lives.
One of the biggest challenges for new mums and dads to cope with is the loss of control that comes with being a new parent. Even the easiest of babies will rule the roost a little in terms of their needs. This can be hard for adults who are used to managing people in their jobs, and now find themselves being dictated to by a baby.
Surrendering yourself to the unavoidable demands of having a few baby is one of the first steps to post-baby sanity. Work out how to help each other do every day tasks like having a shower and getting dressed – celebrate the small accomplishments.
Just where does it go to? You get caught in an endless cycle of feeding, changing, cleaning, settling. Each day seems to blur into the other and you can barely work out what month it is, let alone which day! However, both partners need time alone (without each other or the baby) to recharge batteries and feel like a normal person again. Talk about how you can make that happen.
Going from a two income family to one can be a huge change in itself. There’s often a huge loss of disposable income at a time when going out for dinner would be such a nice way to alleviate the stress. Make a list of free and very cheap things you can do as a couple before the baby arrives. This may include walks, fish and chips at the beach, a coffee out, DVD, or having a glass of wine at a local bar. Set aside a small amount of personal money for each of you to spend independently each week. This allows each of you the ability to grab a coffee without feeling like you have to ask for permission to spend money.
Before your baby arrives it is easy to picture going out without them, leaving them at home with a capable babysitter. The practicalities of this happening after the birth are often more difficult than anticipated. Parents (mums in particular) often cannot bear to be very physically distant from their baby, and want to limit their time.
This is a natural instinct to ensure the survival of the baby, and needs to be listened to rather than ignored. Short, local times of separation work better for the first few months than longer periods. Take the pace from the pull of the heart strings. They are there for a reason.
Support groups are an essential part of a parent’s early days. Here mothers (and often fathers too) can talk to others and socialise. Space for you and your baby is a great place to start.
Intimacy and sex
Intimacy and sex become completely different things after a baby. For a while, your love life will consist more of considerate, practical helping than physical intimacy. Doing the dishes is romantic. So is folding the washing. Even taking the baby for a long walk so your partner gets some space is a lovingly considerate way to be intimate.
Sex will be off the menu for a while, probably for six weeks or more, but it can be great again after childbirth. At first it’s going to feel weird and sometimes if doesn’t feel all that great physically the first few times. It’s a mind game to even get in the mood. The best advice is to make time for it. Schedule it in and look forward to it getting better and better.
Doing it all over again
One of the crazy things about becoming a parent is after a few years you often want to do it all over again. Every new addition to your family will bring an adjustment. If you had problems after the birth of your first child and didn’t resolve them, they will crop up again. See any reaction to the changes in your life as an opportunity to fine tune and make your relationship better.