by Stacie Cockrell, Cathy O'Neill and Julia Stone
It's been said that having a baby is like throwing a hand grenade into a marriage. A hand grenade? Why the violent metaphor for such a precious, peaceful little thing? They're so beautiful. They're so lovable. How can anyone defame such a cutie? But it's true. Those babies just explode right into our hearts and our lives.
As we cross over the threshold of new parenthood together, we feel a tremendous bond with our partners. But most of us also feel afraid, confused and downright irritable with one other. Having a baby can put a strain on the strongest of relationships. The good news is that there are things you can do to make sure that becoming parents doesn't mean sacrificing being a couple. In fact, there are things you can do before the baby arrives to help make the transition from couple to family as easy as possible.
Figure Out a Nighttime Game Plan. (Or avoid playing Midnight Chicken!)
The sleep deprivation caused by caring for a baby can turn the sanest of women into bottle-wielding shrews, reduce grown men to tears, and cause both of you to turn marital molehills into mountains. Don't underestimate the impact sleep deprivation can have on your relationship! Talk to your husband now about how you're both going to avoid playing Midnight Chicken and survive the early months. For example, plan to split up the night, and occasionally, take turns doing all-night baby duty and give each other the ultimate gift - an entire uninterrupted 8 hours of shut-eye.
Accept the Great Mom/Dad Divide. Men and women respond differently to becoming parents and those differences can become apparent during pregnancy. For example, for women, the Mommy Chip kicks in.
We start to get compulsive about the impending arrival and can get upset with our husbands when they don't swoon over the adorable baby outfits or want to spend all afternoon picking out the paint for the nursery. Don't be disappointed because your partner isn't as excited as you are. He doesn't have the Mommy Chip. Most men bond with the baby on a very different table -- he'll catch up with you soon enough!
Also, it might be helpful to agree on a "feathering the nest" budget. Most pregnant women want to get everything ready for their little chick...the best stroller, the perfect crib, etc. It's that Mommy Chip! A lot of soon-to-be dads don't put as much value on these things and many of them start to suffer from Provider Panic, a fear that they won't be able to adequately provide for the family. That Panic can escalate when dad sees the bills piling up before the baby even arrives.
Avoid Coitus Non Existus. It's helpful to talk and, if at all possible, laugh about the looming sexual drought. Tell your partner that your interest in sex will likely go MIA after the baby arrives, and that it will remain MIA for quite some time. Your "supply" might not meet his "demand."
You can tell him, though, that there is good news -- there are things he can do to help coax it back. For example, don't reduce foreplay to a Ten O'Clock Shoulder Tap, keep making a romantic effort, and do a fair share of the baby and house related work so that you'll have energy left over for him. Also, if finances allow, book a hotel now for a night away when the baby is about 3 months old. Getting away for a night will help you get out of Mommy Mode and reconnect with your partner. It also gives him something to look forward to!
Finally make a commitment now that neither of you will forget about the SGIs, the small gestures of intimacy, like hugging, kissing and handholding. Just because one of you is not up for sex, that doesn't mean that all physical affection should stop.
Beware Of Turf Infringement and Other In-Law Issues. The in-law/grandparent issue is a potential minefield that can cause real tension between the new parents if not managed carefully. There can be problems with Turf Infringement, when grandparents have interventionist tendencies and step over the line. Then there's The Clash of the Grannies, when both sets see the other set as the opposition and compete for Alpha Grandparent status. You can both end up in a Family Tug of War!
Before the baby comes, talk about and agree on a grandparent visiting plan with your husband. For example, which set of parents will visit first? And how long will they stay? Keep in mind that grandparents are a huge blessing. They are among the tiny handful of people who will love your kids as much as you do. Even if they're annoying, assume they mean well and accept their offers to help.
Help Each Other to Have It All. Your free time is going to be squeezed when you have a child. Of course you're going to prioritize your new role as a parent, and you'll find that role hugely fulfilling. It is important, however, to carve out time for yourself. When we don't do the things that recharge us - exercise, time with friends, reading etc. - we get testy and start to feel worn out and we can become damn difficult to live with. So, talk now about how you're going to help each other "have it all." What activities are central to your sense of well-being? What about your husband? Figure out a time-off schedule for both of you. For example, he takes the baby every Saturday morning and you do the same for him on Sunday. That way, you'll both get a chance to recharge.
Stacie and Cathy live in Austin, Texas, and Julia, an Austin native, now lives in Pennsylvania. Among them, they have seven kids, the oldest of whom just started Kindergarten. They each had a second (or third) baby while they wrote this book. They don't recommend combining the two experiences. They are co-authors of Babyproofing Your Marriage (Harper Collins, 2007).
Copyright © Stacie Cockrell, Cathy O'Neill and Julia Stone. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org, LLC.