Guest post by OMC Vendor, Jessica Psenski, licensed mental health counselor specializing in couples, perinatal care & sex therapy. Find more about Jessica & our other team members in the collective here!
We are thrilled to be teaming up with Jessica for our May Workshop: Babyproofing Your Relationship on July 24th! Find out more details & register here – this event is FREE for Om Mama Co. subscribers (but drop-ins are welcome!)! Partners welcome to join, too!
So, you’re having a baby…congratulations!
Perhaps you’re in the early weeks of your pregnancy, falling asleep at random and battling morning sickness with Saltines and ginger ale. You may be in the relatively calm and “easy” second trimester, enjoying your new bump and renewed energy. Or, God bless you, you may be in the final weeks of your pregnancy, feeling huge, sweaty, achy, and all-around miserable. We salute you, third trimester Mama–and the partner taking care of you! These months have likely been filled with excitement, nerves, and a lot of planning. Perhaps you’ve already painted and furnished baby’s nursery and installed the car seat. You may have already toured the maternity unit at your hospital, typed up your birth plan, and taken every class you could, from labor and delivery, to breastfeeding, to postpartum pelvic health. Not that I’m speaking from personal experience or anything—these are just things I’ve heard, ahem, other people have done. You’re ready. Let’s do this, bring on the baby!
But, what about your relationship?
Your home may be prepared for baby, with outlet covers and gates set up several months before your child will even roll over—but your partnership may be far less protected. You are in a season of anticipation, awaiting your bundle of joy. Many parents find pregnancy to be time of connection, as you squeal with excitement over a positive pregnancy test or see your baby on the ultrasound screen. You are growing closer, bonding over the life you’ve created together. You may assume that once baby arrives, those feelings will continue and so will the romance. If they do, YAY! More power to you. But if you’re not expecting much to change, you may be in for a rude awakening. Well, multiple rude awakenings, on account of having a newborn.
The reality is, for most couples, bringing a child home is hard. When I first typed the title of this post, I laughed out loud…because babyproofing your relationship isn’t really a thing. It would be not only unethical but flat-out incorrect of me to tell you that you can prevent parenthood from affecting your partnership. Here’s the good news: becoming aware of some of the pitfalls that new parents face may help you navigate them better.
Isn’t it just a season?
You may wonder, why is this important? Isn’t it just a season? Yes—but if you don’t care for your relationship in it, the consequences could be far-reaching for the two of you and your child. In their book, And Baby Makes Three , Drs. John and Julie Gottman discuss the importance of a healthy marriage (or relationship) in parenting. They emphasize that “Children can’t thrive in stormy seas”. When parents are under stress it stresses out their children, too. Parents who are at odds with each other feel distressed, and distress leads them to be withdrawn from their children (this rarely happens intentionally). This withdrawal in turn causes the child’s stress response to activate, which can negatively impact development. This video, taken from an episode of NPR’s “This American Life”, gives a helpful overview of this phenomenon.
So, what are some of the issues you can expect to face?
1. No One Sleeps.
No, really- new parents will lose an average of two hours of sleep per night. That’s about 740 hours of lost sleep in the first year! Yikes. Lack of sleep can lead to some significant issues, like high blood pressure, weight gain, memory loss, and depression. This is a fact of life for new parents, but you can strategize ways to maximize rest for each of you. Maybe you take turns waking with baby or take “shifts” throughout the night. Perhaps you call in reinforcements and have a family member or friend watch baby for a couple of hours while you sneak in a nap. However you do it, be sure to spend some time planning for sleep—it matters.
2. Mental Health Issues.
At least 15% of new moms will experience a postpartum mental health issue (depression, anxiety, or psychosis), while 10% of new fathers may experience these struggles. I say “at least”, as many cases go unreported or undiagnosed. If you spend time discussing the possibility of mental health issues and reduce the stigma surrounding them within your relationship, the more likely you’ll be to speak up if you’re struggling after baby. Know the symptoms, so that you can spot them in yourself or your partner. You may even research mental health counselors and support groups in your area, so you’re prepared with resources should the need arise –Postpartum Progress is an excellent resource for this.
3. So Much (More) to Do.
New babies take time—they have near-constant needs, and come with a staggering amount of dishes and laundry. Meanwhile, the bills still need to be paid, and at least one of you has to go to work. Showers may become optional, as does exercise. Many couples struggle with the question of “who does what?”- if this isn’t discussed, resentment is sure to follow. If one of you is able to exercise, shower, head to the office, and relax at home, chances are you aren’t dividing tasks up well. Before baby arrives (or you go back to work), sit down and make a list of the household tasks you do every day/week. Then discuss how to share the workload and still sneak in some time for self-care. Note: the goal of this task is not to somehow squeeze more hours into the day so you can both do all the things you used to. Some compromise will have to be made– create a plan that works for you both and commit to reevaluating it often after baby is born.
These are only some of the issues that may affect you in your journey into parenthood. Sex, romance, and adjusting to becoming “mom and dad” and still “us”, takes effort. Rekindling romance and intimacy is addressed in the workshop “Bringing Home Baby”, designed for new parents or parents-to-be by John and Julie Gottman. You can search for workshops in your area here. You may choose to see a counselor to address any issues in your relationship that may be a factor, as well. Most importantly, remember that the best way to minimize the negative impact of the transition into parenthood is to be proactive about discussing the struggles you may encounter and putting plans in place for when (not if) you run into them.