Your Toughest Year of Marriage - Welcoming a Child
An adorable baby bump, lot's of relaxing, pretty nurseries and baby moons. Sweet newborn cuddles, watching your husband become a father, the smell of fresh baby, tiny and adorable outfits. That's what having a baby is made of.
Those are the good things we think of, the sweet things that are shared with us, the nice things that put out into the universe from others embarking on this journey.
There are so many sacrifices made that no one tells you about in becoming parents. The suffering of your partnership; lack of communication, closeness, and intimacy are things I had no idea would change in my marriage. I NEVER dreamed that a baby could change my marriage the way that it did- the good and the bad. Plus, it's such a gradual change that it's almost undetectable. Allow me to share my experience.
After 6 years of dating, we were married in the Fall of 2013 after a 9 month engagement. We had a simple outdoor wedding, with a low budget and lot's of DIY on my end. We paid for it ourselves and because of being engaged and married in the same year, my husband didn't have enough vacation days left to enjoy an immediate honeymoon. Just a few short months later, we had planned a February 2014 honeymoon, and also felt confident in starting a family. Everything fell into place easily and we conceived our oldest daughter in Aruba, that February.
I gained 11 pounds in 4 weeks. We told our families and friends right away and I began planning all the things I was going to change in our home and the nursery. Slowly our pregnancy became the center of our world. Shopping for bargain furniture, debating paint colors, going over lists and lists of names, and eating whatever we wanted together. We read books to our unborn child each night, and Pinterest was the first thing I looked at each morning. We were SO happy and SO consumed in our soon-to-be daughter.
Fastforward. She's here! In November of 2014 we welcomed Savannah and she instantly became our universe. I fell in love over and over and over again with my husband each time I witnessed his love for our new baby. Seeing him become a father was one of the best things I've ever experienced in my life. I spent my 7 weeks of maternity leave at home with our baby, where he continued back to his normal life after 7 days. I wish I would have noticed then that our relationship was changing, but I was too confused. I felt frustration and sadness but it wasn't directed at anyone or any situation. I was just hormonal, crying over silly things, over sad things and happy things. All of my relationships changed though. It was like being transported into a different dimension than the rest of the world; all of my friendships were altered, even the closest ones, my expectations for those around me heightened, but yet I didn't see the changes in our marriage.
Today, we are on baby number two [she's 14 months old now!].. We both see the changes that have taken place in ourselves and our relationship over the last 4 years. Welcoming baby two was much different than baby one; it wasn't as euphoric, it was much more difficult, it was more of a tag team style parenting, rather than than team work, we both experienced PPD.
The journey into parenthood is different for everyone and if you're just beginning yours, or thinking about starting a family; my main advice to you would be to keep tabs on your marriage. That seems silly and obvious and simple, but it's so difficult. Planning a family is so exciting! It easily consumes you, and while you may think, "that's alright, we deserve to enjoy this time in our lives fully" YOU ABSOLUTELY DO, but your marriage deserves to continue have the work put in. Believe me, a little bit of work now, is much easier than a lot of work later.
During your pregnancy continue date nights, block off time where there's absolutely no baby talk. When you come together after a work day avoid asking, "how was your day" and dive into a more meaningful conversation. [I would say this is the most vital habit you could build, when your in the midst of raising children, it's easy to get stuck in the most mundane, mindless converstaions. So starting this now, could set you up to stay genuinely connected with one another during the busyness of parenting.]
PAUSE. There is never a time, that you're too busy to really talk and enjoy communication, dream a little more, have a genuine embrace or spend a whole day focussing on each other. Be romantic and intimate, it's easy to loose the 'sexy' when your pregnant [this goes for dad, too]. Take this opportunity to put the focus completely on satisfying the other person, you don't have to think about you, when you're only thinking about them.
After your baby has arrived, its a little trickier. The postpartum experience is so different for everyone, but one common thing all women share is HIGH emotions. My first tip is grace. Both dad and mom need to allow for so much grace in the first weeks home. Mom, you're probably going to feel overwhelmed and lost on your emotional roller coaster....grace yourself with accepting that crazy is okay! You don't have to understand it [if you do, please e-mail me!] but you have to allow yourself to feel how you feel. Dad, check in on mom. She might snap at you unfairly or disappear for chunks of time when she's home with you. Just keep tabs; does she need a quiet space to ugly cry? Does she need you to hand her tissues and hugs and let her ramble about all the nonsense that's happening in her body? Maybe taking turns on night time feeds works for you, or maybe both of you being together for the feedings is helpful. Just find out what she really needs, she may not even know, but listening to her uncertainty is just as helpful. Mom, check in on dad as well, he doesn't get leave from work like we do, to focus on just learning how to be a parent, and he's taking care of his job, his baby and us- he's allowed to get overwhelmed, too.
Get babysitters. Have you heard the saying, "absence makes the heart grow fonder"? Well, that's true in parenting, too. There's no shame in sending the kids to grandma's for the night, or asking your friend's little sister to come sit at home with your kids so that you can have a night, or day, out...no matter how young your babies are.
Say no. If someone is caring for your children, it's okay to make sure they are doing the things that are important to you. Whether it's no fast food, bedtime by 7 or the kids never sleep away from home. Stand up for yourself and your way of parenting, because you know best. Saying no also means, saying no things that are out of your comfort zone. You haven't seen your best friend in 9 weeks and she wants to hang out. You are not obligated to do anything that doesn't fit into your life today. When your partner expresses passion towards others about these things, back them up wholeheartedly. Showing that you're a united front in your actions, without question, to one another is such a huge compliment in this phase of your marriage.
Self care. Work out, get your nails done, get hair cuts regularly, call your friend and chat for an hour, go to lunch with your grandma, read, do yoga, journal. Dad- work out, invite your buddies over, my husband hunts- do your guy thing. Hold onto your hobbies. They may look different than they did before, but that's alright as long as they simply exist in your new lives. When you feel good about yourself, you can feel good for each other.
Be agreeable in your marriage and be a team. My husband and I created a safe zone. We are allowed to say whatever it is we need from the other person and they can't argue or be angry. This could be that I think he's not helping enough with household chores, or that he doesn't ask me on dates or compliment me as often as I'd like. He may feel that I'm ignoring him after his work day, or that I turn down sex too often or that I'm too busy when we could otherwise be together. During these conversations we listen to what the other needs, discuss actions to make changes and high five on taking steps in the right direction.
We are trying to understand each others triggers, get back to loving each other with the right love language and have meaningful connections. Right now we have to schedule time for intimacy, take one another on dates, intentionally talk about things other than kids and make sure we are both fully present in all of our conversations. Someday our efforts will have to be less, but it's work we are willing to put in to be able to better enjoy our children small, without worry over the fate of our marriage once they are grown.