I will never forget bringing home our baby from hospital. The nine-month wait was at an end: The pregnancy was a dream, the birth as good as, and the first days in hospital went fine. I learned how to change her nappy, feed, and bath her, and give her cuddles without damaging her fragile body. Then the moment arrived, my husband showed up on time, my bag was packed, our baby was slotted into the appropriate car capsule, and we were off home to start our life together as a threesome. From two to three, this had been our dream for so long and now we were on our way to live it.
Was she the cutest baby we’d ever seen – yes!
Did we love her even before she was born – yes!
Did we have any idea what we were doing – no!
Did we have any idea of how much this little bundle was going to change our life – no!
Looking back after 28 years was it all worth it – absolutely!
Over the years I have heard so many couples say when becoming parents for the first time –
“Our baby will not change what we do as a couple”
“Having a baby will not change our life!”
Some couples do seem to breeze through. They always seem to have it together while others struggle from day one, not only trying to keep up with baby’s demands but also in their couple relationship.
In their book “And Baby Makes Three”, John Gottman’s and Julie Schwartz’s research has shown that at least two-thirds of couples experienced a deterioration in their relationship after the birth of their first child (2007, p. 8). Gottman and Schwartz write, “They found themselves fighting much more. Their emotional intimacy deteriorated. They became bewildered and exhausted. Not surprisingly their passion, sex, and romance plummeted.” (2007, p. 8)
This was meant to be fun – What went wrong?
Firstly, moving from a couple (2 of us) to being 3 of us is a transition and transitions create stress.
Secondly, well, let’s face it, babies are hard work!
- With baby on board the workload increases
- Babies cry a lot and on demand – What does baby need?
- Parents need sleep, but baby decides when – there are multiple feeds and nappies to change, during the day and
- It is impossible to ignore our baby. They are our responsibility and totally reliant on us, their parents.
I feel so stressed!
Having a baby, trying to keep the old routines functioning while adding new ones, and topping these with the inevitable sleep deprivation, can lead to stress. As a result, we can find ourselves feeling mildly depressed. Daily hassles can seem amplified and more intense. Feelings of exhaustion lead us to not cope as well and we may lose our sense of humour. In our relationship with our partner we can feel overly emotional and out of control, we can hear one thing and interpret it as something else and find ourselves snapping back at our partner for the most innocuous of comments. Falling as we do into the Blame Game.
If we think about it, most couples will fight when they are stressed and tired, and every couple has conflict at some stage.
“It doesn’t mean our relationships are bad. It simply means that we’re tired and going through a tremendous transition in our lives.” (Gottman and Schwartz, 2007 p. 20)
Apart from the changes that Baby brings and the extra workload for both parents, there is also the question of our expectations. Gottman and Schwartz (2007, p.24) point out that either intentionally or unintentionally we set up expectations about what it will be like when baby arrives. These may be individual and/or couple expectations.
Expectations may include:
- Nothing will change
- Both parents want to continue in full time work
- How I want to be as a parent – the same or different from my own parents
- How I see my role versus how I see my partners role
- Intimacy and emotional connection with my partner will improve when baby arrives
How then do we navigate well the transition from the 2 of us to the 3 of us?
In the second of this two part series on Growing a Family: From Two to Three, I will be using the book And Baby Makes Three based on the work of John Gottman and Julie Schwartz, to look at ways to navigate the transition smoothly to parenthood so as to build a lasting legacy for you and your baby.
Gottman, J. & Schwartz, J. (2007), And Baby Makes Three: The six step plan for Preserving Marital Intimacy and Rekindling Romance After Baby Arrives. New York: Random House.