We have a newborn and my husband and I are really struggling with things. Any ideas about how to cope with this? Is there life after birth?

Research shows that many couples view the birth of their first child as a precipitant to a “major crisis” in their relationship. Statistically, the most likely time of the family life cycle for marriages to end in divorce is in the family with young children.

A lack of information about the inherent stress of this experience leads many couples to catastrophize what is a “normally” stressful experience, assuming incorrectly that there must be something wrong with them or with their marriage if they are having difficulties at this “happy” time. In other words, not fully anticipating the additional emotional stress, financial burden, sleepless nights, increased responsibility and confusion over countless decisions regarding the infant’s care, (and on and on), etc., etc., can lead people to think they have a serious problem. It is hard to imagine that such a positive, long-anticipated event can simultaneously be so overwhelming, but it is! Armed with this information, new parents can alter their expectations and enter this new stage of life prepared realistically for “the best of times and the worst of times”. Parenting can certainly be both.

To add further complication, the presence of a newborn can also effectively thwart a couple’s ability to find the time or space to communicate and/or give each other support through this stressful period. Mom/wife is perhaps needing more support than she’s ever needed in her life, while dad is equally stressed out and feeling deprived. First time parents also worry needlessly about whether they are doing everything “right” or not.

Another challenge for couples in this period of time is in the re-negotiation of roles. Hopefully by the time a couple has had their first child, they have gone through the struggles and adjustments of living together, and certain roles and responsibilities for each partner have become explicit or expected. The birth of a child adds additional pressures and responsibilities that upset the apple cart once more, creating a need for communication and re-negotiation at a time when time as a two-some is hard to come by. Paradoxically, going through a birth experience can create new depths to the intimacy of a couple and yet the months that follow can bring a sense of distance as well.

As the infant matures, there is also potentially the additional stress of working out differing philosophies or practices of child rearing. Take the time to work out these differences while your child is an infant, -prior to when they become old or smart enough to exploit them to your disadvantage (usually by the second year!)

If the father is aware that the newborn will take most of mom’s time and energy for a while and can safely express his feelings of loss and jealousy, then much of the pain can be lessened and tolerated. It is normal and healthy for mothers and newborns to become bonded and even symbiotic for the child’s first year of life, but this can leave dad out in left field. Fathers often feel wonderful about the mother-child bond, yet struggle with the loss of “us” as a couple. Sexual activity for couples also hits an all time low due to stress, fatigue, and countless interruptions. It does not help that, at the same time, female hormones and recovery from the birth experience leave many women feeling asexual for months or even the first year post-partum. In general, women continue to be less active sexually as long as they are breastfeeding. Understandably, men feel robbed of one of the formerly pleasurable ways to feel intimate with their spouse.

It is important for men to understand that they will not be sexually abandoned forever, particularly after weaning, but it is a painful experience for them that can sometimes lead to a longer term pattern of disengagement from their wife and family. Similarly, the child’s preference for mom over dad, which will also change over time, can be hard to handle and potentially lead to dad’s feeling hurt and withdrawn from the child or family as a whole.

One of the most difficult things for moms is to feel pulled in so many directions at the same time. Not only does she have a baby who is 100% dependent on her, but also a husband (or perhaps sibling(s)) who might feel abandoned. No matter how much mom does, it never seems enough. And there is rarely time just for her to do things for herself. It is crucial that couples first understand that these changes and feelings are normal, and second, that they communicate about them in a non-judgmental fashion.

What else can you do? First, have appropriate (and therefore fewer) expectations during this time: Be easy on yourself, and on each other. Recognize the pain, yet know that it won’t last forever. Nothing does. Assume that each of you are doing your best to manage the stress and to be close. Try to be as positive and as appreciative as you are able.

Husband to wife:

How about-“I appreciate how much you are doing right now on so little sleep.”

Rather than- “Why isn’t the house clean like it used to be.”

or

Wife to husband: How about- “It must feel like you’ve lost me to the baby. I sure appreciate and love you for your understanding.”

Rather than- “Why do you just keep making even more demands on me? You’re just another child!”

Second, find time, make time, to be alone together (baby can be asleep nearby) to communicate about what you are each going through. Even a few minutes a day can help. Enter on a voyage of discovery where these new feelings and experiences of your mate are the hidden treasure. Help one another to be a safe shoulder to cry on or to express frustration to without taking it all so personally.

Third, reach out to others who are going through or have gone through the same thing. Find out that you are not alone. Find out how they coped. If you are a new father whose only friends are bachelors, you may feel that what’s happening in your family is more unusual, more unfair, more rotten than if you befriend those who are one step ahead of you. Moms can do the same!

Fourth, if you are fortunate enough to be parenting with another person, discover the ways that you can act as a “tag team” by filling in for the other person when they become overburdened or get their “buttons” pushed. Allow it to be okay to ask for help rather than trying to stoically carry the load beyond your limits. What are the times or trials that are most difficult for you and more easily handled by your mate. (For some reason it has usually been easier for Don to handle the children in the early morning hours whereas nighttime stresses are easier for me! It has been very helpful to arrange our “shifts” accordingly. …Debra.)

Fifth, previous strategies for reducing stress need to be replaced by creative alternatives. (Taking my son with me while jogging has been quite a challenge. When I sat him down at the playground in the park he would freak out if I got more than 100 ft. from him. I finally figured out that running in small but increasingly larger circles around him worked well – presumably because he got used to the idea slowly. . .Don.) As hard as it is in terms of scheduling the time, it is so important to take breaks, walks, deep breathe, read, or do whatever it is that can help you to relax during this stressful time.

Finally, get professional help if you feel you’ve tried what’s been mentioned and it hasn’t worked or you just can’t do it. Treat your family at least as well as your car! Don’t wait for the engine to fall out before you call the mechanic. Having young children can be the best of times or the worst of times. It’s up to you.

Comments

  1. jonaki says:

    As we know, babies start communicating from the time they are born–by crying. I am a mother of a one year old and have some experience which is why i am sharing my thoughts with you. You can also find in details in this blog from nappytimes http://goo.gl/5ZJ92 which helped in knowing the issue in detail.

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