Issue #17 | August 2010


Today’s Topic: New baby challenges will GROW your relationship

Dear friends,

Babies are in the air! My new great-nephew has just arrived – and two more babies are on the way in my extended family. I’m excited! And I am freshly reminded of the challenges and joys that a new baby brings to any relationship.

There’s an old saying that “forewarned is forearmed”. So this is the first of two newsletters, devoted to discussing the momentous adjustments that come with the birth of a baby.

There is much to be said on this topic! So this issue will look at the challenges facing new parents, while my next issue will focus on strategies for coping and thriving. This is written for new and expectant parents – and for those who aspire to being parents one day. I hope it will be a trip down memory lane for others -- and a useful review for those who have loved ones embarking on this exciting journey.

(Please note: Though I will speak in terms of Mom-and-Dad couples, my comments extend to and include gay and lesbian parents, who experience many of the same challenges.)

Warmest regards,
Shirley

Something to think about

Babies are always more trouble than you thought - and more wonderful.

~Charles Osgood

Transitioning to parenthood

The birth of a new baby -especially the first baby – is a significant relationship milestone. While this new life brings unimagined wonder and joy – it can also bring disruption and disorientation for the new parents. Even the most stable of marriages may be rocked by the addition of a child.

A personal story

On our first date after the birth of our daughter, I must confess that my husband and I spent the first hour arguing over who was the most stressed and exhausted. We were at the three week mark. I was adjusting to hormone fluctuations, breastfeeding and the 24-7 demands of a newborn. My husband was juggling work, learning about babies, trying to be supportive of me and worried about making enough money to support us. On top of that, we were both sleep-deprived.

We learned a valuable lesson that day. We learned that when we devolve into competing over which of us is most stressed, this is a sign that we are BOTH in rough shape. At those times the tendency is to blame the other for not doing more -- when we really need to work together to deal with our shared challenges. In short, we need to view the other as an ally, not the enemy.

As that first year unfolded, we had many rocky moments as the changes in our lives and our relationship came thick and fast. We knew that a baby would shake things up, however we underestimated how profound those changes would be. When good friends of ours had a new baby recently, I was reminded again of those challenging times - when euphoria and exhaustion are but a fine line apart.

Even a "good" change is often accompanied by stress and anxiety. Understanding new-baby stressors can help a couple normalize the changes they are experiencing in their relationship - and strengthen their faith that they will find their way through.

Here are ten challenges that may impact the relationship of new parents:

1) The recovery challenge

The new mother is dealing with both physical and emotional recovery from her labour and childbirth. Her recovery will be impacted by:
• how difficult or complicated the birth and pregnancy were
• whether her expectations regarding labour and childbirth were met or disappointed and
• her general health and resiliency.

2) The overwhelming-needs-of-a-newborn challenge

New parents may feel unsure of themselves, as they struggle to keep up with the continual demands of their new baby and the new skills they need to learn on-the-fly. This is compounded by the lack of a predictable schedule and negotiations with their partner over who does what. It will also be affected by any health issues of their baby.

3) The financial challenge

Pressures regarding money may emerge if the couple drops from two incomes to one – or if maternity benefits fall below what they’re used to. This occurs just when costs are going up, with all the new purchases associated with a baby. Financial decisions and conversations may provoke anxiety. The new dad may feel intense pressure to produce, while the new mom feels the vulnerability of earning less or nothing at all. They may also face difficult choices around when or if she returns to work.

4) The breastfeeding challenge

If difficulties or complications with breastfeeding arise, they can be painful and require immediate help. Whether or not to persist with breastfeeding, when faced with problems, can be a stressful decision, with guilt-laden overtones. All feeding decisions affect BOTH new parents and how they are able to care for baby.

5) The fatigue challenge

Both parents will be affected by interrupted and unpredictable sleep. When sleep deprivation sets in, irritability and disorientation soon follow. (It is no accident that sleep deprivation is used as a method of torture!) Couples may find themselves arguing over who most deserves to sleep – and will need to negotiate how night time duties are handled.

6) The sex challenge

Pregnancy and childbirth affect and disrupt a couple’s usual sexual relationship. Post-birth changes and breastfeeding may affect a woman’s interest in sex and her physiological responses. Healing from an episiotomy or a Caesarean section takes time and it may be awhile before sex feels “normal” again. Many nursing mothers don’t return to prepregnancy hormone levels until after their baby is weaned. Fatigue and reduced privacy also impact the couple’s sex life. Both partners may fear that things will never return to pre-pregnancy “normal”.

7) The isolation challenge

In the early stages of infancy, parents may be so consumed by the care of their baby that they stop socializing. Friends may leave them alone out of consideration and one or both parents may find themselves feeling isolated or alone.

8) The emotions challenge

After baby comes, mood swings ranging from euphoria to depression are common, especially for the new mom. Baby + fatigue + hormonal changes + steep learning curve = intense emotional fluctuations! Post-partum depression can become a serious issue for some women, requiring support and/or medical intervention.

9) The extended family challenge

New boundaries may need to be navigated with extended family and grandparents. Welcome and unwelcome advice may be forthcoming, and the new parents will need to establish how much family involvement they want – or deal with lack of family support, if family is far away. As new parents, the couple may also discover that they have some differing ideas about parenting practices (based on their own family history), which they’ll need to work out.

10) The reduction in free-time challenge

The new parents may find it challenging to carve out time and space to relate to each other as friends and lovers -- as opposed to relating as co-parents. Whereas it was relatively easy to be alone as a couple pre-baby, it now requires planning and intentionality – and a trustworthy babysitter! Getting free time as individuals now requires a conscious agreement to “spell each other off”. The result is less individual free-time for both parents. For those introverted individuals, who need peace and quiet to regenerate, this can be a big challenge.

Don’t be discouraged!

Given the many challenges that a new baby brings, it is a blessing that he or she comes in such a sweet and love-able form! When you're ready for parenthood (and even sometimes when you're not), a new baby is worth ALL the challenges.

Watching and supporting your baby's development is one of the grandest adventures that life offers. He or she will bring profound joy and meaning into your lives. Wrote author Deborah Keenan, "Our new baby has done his job well, the job all babies are assigned: he has broken open my heart."

Although the challenges are many, the delights will exceed them. And in the process, you and your relationship will grow, along with your baby.

Invitation to action

New and prospective parents: Be compassionate with yourself and each other as you grow into parenthood. Talk about these challenges together. Discuss how you are dealing with them (or plan to) -- what is working and what needs improvement. Then give yourselves a big pat on the back for all your growth as parents and partners. Stay tuned next issue for more strategies for coping and thriving.

Friends and family of new parents: Lend them whatever support you can. Ask them how you can best help, respect their wishes and express your confidence in them. (You can’t go wrong with a prepared meal for their freezer too!)

Shirley Vollett BSW PCC is a Life and Relationship Coach, with over 20 years of combined experience in counselling and coaching. She delights in helping pro-active individuals make positive changes in their lives, their work/business and their relationships. Her clients appreciate her ability to listen deeply, her compassionate wisdom and her support in staying focused. Contact Shirley for a complimentary intro phone session. If you are experiencing a challenge or are eager to make some changes, explore how coaching works and how she can help. Click on a link below or visit her website at http://shirley.vollett.com
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Copyright © 2010 by Shirley Vollett. All rights reserved.