You and your partner had some ups and downs. Maybe a surprisingly shattering argument about choosing a floral pattern (or lack of) on your new accent chair. Or maybe it was a comment from your mother-in-law about your cooking (or lack thereof). But most of the time, you were enveloped in an intense, highly sexual relationship; finishing each others sentences and craving his body against yours. You ate out when you felt like it, had fun cooking together, and spontaneously escaped to romantic getaways. A life of freedom and fun!
Then, you and your husband started to try for a baby. Baby sex was heavenly. No need for birth control. The primal feelings of making love to have offspring were intoxicating. And when you found you were pregnant! The excitement! You can’t wait to become a mother and a family.
Baby Makes Three
Your baby is finally home after all the planning, after all the trying, and after all of the drama of the birth. There is a mix of emotion: passionate love, resentment, confusion, perhaps withdrawal, depression, anxiety. Your lives are now organized around your child. Maybe you are overwhelmed from numerous responsibilities: breastfeeding, holding, lack of sleep, doctor appointments. Parenthood is not what you thought it would be. You wonder, am I a good mother?
Out of Sync
Everyone seems to be giving you advice, from sleeping to feeding to teething! For some reason, your baby does not sleep quietly in a crib in another room for long hours like on the soaps on TV.
You feel tired and sad. Your relationship with your husband has shifted. You seem to be bickering more than you used to. He wants sex when you don’t, and when you want sex, he doesn’t. You don’t feel in sync anymore. You feel like you know more about parenting your baby then he does, and you criticize him, almost for no reason. He feels hurt and left out. You get the awful feeling that your relationship might be over even at the time when you are feeling most vulnerable. You are scared. You want things to get back to pre-baby, although you love your child. And those fun evenings of cooking together don’t seem to happen anymore.
What’s Going On?
What you are feeling is normal. Numerous studies show that rates of depression, anxiety and couple conflict are higher for new parents than the general population (Feinberg, Kan & Goslin, 2009; Gottman & Gottman, 2007). You are not alone. There is hope for your relationship.
You and your husband are going through a seismic shift in identity. You are both expanding your identities to include parenthood. You are learning to parent and to co-parent. Even if you think these skills are instinctive, much of parenting and co-parenting is learned behavior. Learned from your own family, learned from the culture. But there are other pieces no-one tells you about. Sometimes included with parenting are mixed feelings about the love and care you did not receive. Old feelings of resentment may spillover into your feelings for your child as you love and care for him. Your role as a mother can overtake your entire personality until all thoughts and emotions are about the baby.
Who am I?
Think long and hard about your identity. Think about a way to integrate the pre-baby you with the post-baby you. Keep some of the fun things about you before baby. Maybe you don’t like lullabies but love soft folk music. Use your music in your house instead. Rebecca Griffin has a nice chapter in her book about losing and finding herself in motherhood.
Dr. Harvey Karp’s DVD, is a great primer on infant care, parental coping with crying and on helping a baby sleep better without crying. There are lots of other infant sleep methods. It can be confusing. I plan to write another post comparing about seven of the existing methods, but I am partial to Dr. Karp.
What about Us?
If you are feeling overwhelmed in your relationship and hostility is escalating, depression is setting in, and you feel lonely, it is time to sit down and discuss things with your partner. Discuss how lonely you feel, discuss how you want to be close again. Come up with a plan for self-care and for care in the relationship. If you end up arguing and stonewalling and cannot speak authentically with each other, then take the time to consult with a couples therapist.
Multiple studies have shown that just eight weeks of therapy focusing on infant care, co-parenting and non-defensive communication, reduces postpartum depression and improves family relations (Feinberg, Kan & Goslin, 2009; Gottman & Gottman, 2007). To get the most out of therapy, focus on reducing hostility and defensiveness, and enhancing co-parenting, rather than being competitive with each other.
There is no simple how-to for this work. It is an emotional process that takes time and thought and commitment to making it work.
How did having a baby change your relationship?
Bio: Kathy Morelli supports women and their families in the childbearing years around issues of pregnancy loss, anxiety & depression, PTSD/ birth trauma, sexual abuse, abortion, prematurity, adaptation to motherhood, and the couple’s transition to parenthood.
She is a Licensed Professional Counselor located in Wayne, New Jersey. Her practice is Marriage, Motherhood & Mental Health®, specializing in Couples Counseling and the Emotions of Pregnancy & Birth.
You can connect with Kathy on her blog and on Facebook.
- Gottman, J.M. & Gottman, J. S. (2007). And baby makes three. Three Rivers Press: New York.
- Griffin, R. (2010). Why didn’t anybody tell me? Acer Press: Australia: Victoria.
- Karp, H. (2006). The happiest baby on the block (DVD).
- Feinberg, M.E., Kan, M.L., & Goslin, M.C. (2009). Enhanced co-parenting, parenting, and child self-regulation: Effects of family foundations 1 year after birth. Society for Prevention Research (10), 276-285.