BABY... BOOM! Surviving the Newborn Stage Together

by Stacie Cockrell, Cathy O'Neill and Julia Stone

Do you have a new baby? Congratulations! Do you have one or more small people running amuck in your home? How wonderful. Does that home now more closely resemble a bomb crater than it does a dwelling place fit for human beings? Are you picking your way through the debris -- the rubble of strollers, bottles, dirty clothes, and talking plastic gizmos -- that now litters your domestic landscape?

Welcome to the foxhole, friend. Here's a helmet.

We know the feeling. The three (make that six) of us have endured seven major diaper-bomb assaults in the last five years and lived to tell the tale. Parenthood changed us, and our relationships, in the most unexpected ways. This is what they meant with the whole for better or for worse business at our weddings. Parenthood fills us with awe and humility and gratitude. It is also a soggy, uncomfortable, life-altering trial by fire. Babies are the great levelers. Like a drill sergeant who tears down his weak new recruits so he can rebuild them into soldiers, babies break us down and rebuild us into parents. They flatten everything in sight, and then make us better, stronger, and hopefully, wiser than we were before.

The newborn stage is precious, but it's also tough. The name of the game is survival. When you are going through it, it seems like it will never end. But it lasts just a few short months -- less time than a semester in college -- and things do get better. You won't have to get by on four hours of sleep for the rest of your life. Here are a few things we, and others, have learned the hard way that might help you ride out the storm together.

Humor

It's the first thing to go when we're stretched to the limit. But it is pretty funny -- or at least it will be when it's all over. We have two choices when the baby pukes on our last clean T-shirt -- laugh or cry. Given how much crying has likely taken place already, why not give laughter a shot? Some favorite funny moments people shared with us:

  • "A few weeks after the baby was born, I ventured out to buy a pizza. I returned an hour later with no pizza and no idea why I'd left the house in the first place."
  • "One time I fell asleep with the stove burners on while sterilizing bottles. I awoke God knows how much later to the smell of burning plastic and a hazy smoke filling the house. I grabbed the baby and ran to sit in the car while we waited for the fire department. The really funny part was when I did the same thing again two weeks later."
  • "One night I dreamed the baby was in bed with us, but had fallen out. I awoke in a panic and started ripping the sheets off the bed looking for her until my husband wearily pointed out she was sound asleep in her crib in the other room."

Perspective

It's not the time for a Relationship 101! Don't underestimate the potential for hormones, sleep deprivation, and general baby shock to trigger an argument or two. Some people panic during this period. We have a friend who, when their first child was five weeks old, told her husband that they needed counseling.

What they needed was a good night's sleep! You are not a couple at this time. You are two people treading water. Until you're getting an eight-hour block of shuteye for two consecutive months, you shouldn't even think of analyzing your relationship. Neither of you are capable of coherent thought. By all means shout, tell each other how you feel, and/or hurl bottles at each other, but remember that the way you feel now will likely pass.

Call a time-out. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. One of the great advantages of having more than one child is that we can avoid some of the minefields we stepped in the first time around. On the eve of the arrival of their third child, Stacie and Ross called a time-out on their relationship for three months. They told each other, "OK, let's get our game faces on. Let's apologize in advance for all the crazy things we're going to say to each other. We'll take a time-out and know that our true selves will resurface soon enough."

Get Some Help!

Bring on the village! Or dial 1-800-GRANDMA. Hired or otherwise, help is essential. Sure, the two of you can do this on your own, but why risk insanity or divorce if you have other options?

We know that there are few men who will refuse an offer of help, so this suggestion is mostly for women. We must fight the irresistible urge and basic instinct to do it all ourselves. This isn't easy to do. It's not just that we love and want to protect our babies; we also want to prove to ourselves (and others) that we can do it. Guess what? We can't do it all on our own, and we are not failures if we ask for help.

Furthermore, most women are delighted to be asked to help a friend with a new baby, because being asked is a vote of confidence, a sign that the new mom considers the potential helper to be a true friend. When you think about it, not asking for help deprives our friends of an opportunity to show how much they care.

Preserve Your Couple-Dom

At some point, call an end to the time-out and make some simple efforts to reconnect as a couple. Put a little distance between yourselves and the baby. Nothing radical -- the three miles between the baby and the local pizza place usually suffices.

The first post-baby date is terrifying for all new parents, though. The babysitter gets a three-volume treatise on how to change, feed, and burp the baby, and emergency numbers are printed in an EXTRA LARGE font on the fridge. It takes at least three attempts to get Mom out the front door as she remembers yet another vital piece of information: "He really doesn't like the second song on that Baby Mozart CD, so just skip that one." You finally make it to the restaurant and put in a quick call to make sure everything's OK.

Based on our extensive research, we've found that the non-baby conversation on these first dates lasts for approximately two minutes and thirty-six seconds. The dates themselves last only slightly longer, as both parents (or, most often, just Mom) are overcome with fear that the baby might be missing them. They drive home at breakneck speed to a baby who is, invariably, fast asleep, and has been since they left.

We've learned it is so important to pay attention to your adult relationship at this point, no matter how strongly the pull of parenthood distracts you. Try making it just the two of you a few times a month, even if it's just going to the gym or taking a walk together. If humanly possible, try to minimize the baby conversation. If you're like us, you'll vaguely remember that you had plenty to talk about before she was born.

Play Nice

It's rough in the big leagues. New parenthood will try the patience of a saint. Last time we checked, none of us were married to one. Are you?

We all need to make allowances for our spouse and understand that it's difficult for each of us. If you think your partner looks more beat up than you, try stepping in and give him or her a night off. Offer words of encouragement: "You're a great Mom/Dad. We'll get through this," instead of criticism: "Have you lost your mind? I can't believe you just put those clothes back on her when they have spit-up on them." -- at least sometimes.

Someone Should Be Sleeping

We don't just mean the baby. Sleep deprivation 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. Your ability to deal with everyday stresses and your partner's formerly-endearing quirks gets dangerously low when you're trying to get by on a wing and a prayer and a thirty-minute nap.

With the best of intentions, many first-timers try to share the division of baby labor "equally." If only one person is required to feed the baby, why is the other awake at 3:00 AM just to change the diaper? Surely one well-rested parent is better than two barely-coherent zombies?

The well-rested one can rally the exhausted one: make dinner, crack a few jokes, and take the baby for an hour or two. It should go without saying that Dad can occasionally take the baton so that everyone (i.e., Mom) gets a night or two a week of sound sleep.

Put an End to Midnight Chicken

Nobody wins this game -- you know, the late night battle of wills where each parent pretends to be asleep and blissfully unaware of the screaming down the hall -- in the hopes that their other half will get up and tend to the crying baby. End the late-night shenanigans by working as a team. Split up the night (for example, Dad does feedings until midnight, Mom goes to bed early and gets up after that) so that both of you get a solid block of sleep.

Stacie Cockrell, Cathy O'Neill and Julia Stone are authors of the bestselling book, Co-Authors of Babyproofing Your Marriage. With great humor and empathy, the "Babyproofers" have helped thousands of couples navigate the most common relationship pitfalls that occur when there are small kids in the house: the endless tit-for-tat Scorekeeping over who has it tougher, the wilted sex life, the bickering about the in-laws (and outlaws).

Stacie, Cathy and Julia are AOL coaches on kid and family matters. They have appeared on NBC's Today Show, Fox News, iVillage Live, Babytv.com,WebMD, and over 60 radio shows across the country, including Martha Stewart Living Radio and Satellite Sisters. Overseas media appearances include the BBC, SKY News and Canada AM. Babyproofing has also been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Parade, New York Newsday,The New York Daily News, Cookie, Parenting, Baby Talk, Fit Pregnancy and Best Life. Meet Stacie, Cathy and Julia at www.babyproofingyourmarriage.com.

Copyright © Stacie Cockrell, Cathy O'Neill and Julia Stone. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org, LLC.