People often say ‘Nothing can prepare you for having a baby.’ Since having a baby – two now – I have to disagree! I learned a lot from the experience of my first, and it really affected how I did things the second time around. Below is a pretty solid checklist of the things I wished someone had told me.
1.Be as logistically prepared as possible.
The less you have to think about post birth the better.
2.Prepare for potentially crazy family dynamics.
Even if your family or in-laws seem quite sane before you have a baby, they may become a little crazy afterwards. Babies and weddings tend to do this to people. Prepare for this possibility.
Also recognise that you might want visitors and you might not. Sending out a group text, or having that conversation with family before you give birth is important. Something along the lines of;
‘Hey, our intention is to have all of you meet the little one after I’ve given birth. But as we don’t know what to expect, there may be every chance we need to lie low and lock in as a family in those early weeks. Please don’t be offended if we don’t want to receive visitors. We want to be prepared for every potential scenario. We really appreciate your support and understanding on this. With love.’
3. Have an honest conversation with your partner about the realities of how things may change in your relationship dynamic.
Talk about your fears, concerns, the pressure cooker you’re likely to enter into, and the likely shift in your sex life. Talk about potential extended family dynamics and come up with a game plan or an agreement. Prepare yourselves as best as you can emotionally and as a team.
4.Surrender to the phase.
In those early days, simply having time to have a shower could be your win for the day. Survival becomes the goal. Forget any idea of what normal looks like. Some people desperately try to keep hold of their old lives, trying to have their babies fit into their schedule. Surrender to the fact that life is now different. Let go of clinging, let go of your old sane organised routine self. Try to find humour in the insanity of how much your life has changed, and trust that you will, in time, regain yourself.
5.Find snippets of time and affection with your partner.
If you’ve had that preparation conversation, you’ll already have identified that proper solid amounts of time together in those early days is unrealistic. But catch moments when you can. A cup of tea, a chat whilst breastfeeding, some loving touch here and there, a spontaneous kiss on the lips in the kitchen. You may honestly not feel inclined to do these things naturally. When you’re in survival mode, you’re not really thinking about romance and intimacy. But if you can see these tiny lifelines of love as a type of survival – the survival of your relationship, then you’ll make time for them. As your newborn becomes older, carve out time together to get things back on track and reconnect. Book a babysitter, make a sex date, take time for some romance, prioritise each other.
6.One of the greatest gifts you can give your baby is to have them see you loving each other.
Parents are a child’s stable place. It’s more important than a clean onesie or a playdate. Often the temptation is to pour everything you have into your new baby, and most relationships get pushed to the bottom of the priority list. Your baby will feel most grounded, stable and safe when she/he feels that all is well with the two most important people in his/her life.
7.Show gratitude and appreciation for each other.
Tell your partner they’re doing a great job wherever and whenever they’re doing it. Even if you are feeling disappointed in aspects of the relationship, or if you have been living in a state of tension. What you pay attention to will amplify. People naturally respond to being appreciated, and it creates an impetus to do more of what it takes to receive more affirmation. Focus on seeing the best in them, and give ample acknowledgment when you do.
Realise that becoming a parent is a major life initiation, and like many initiations, It doesn’t always look pretty. One of you may not bond with the baby. One of you may have postnatal depression. You may fight and trigger each other. Housework may not be done to the standard you hoped. Sex might be off the cards. Having idealistic expectations of how the other should behave is dangerous territory. Understand that you just won’t know what’s going to happen until it happens.
9.Pre and post baby therapy.
About a week before I was due to have my first baby I had a sudden realisation that I’d changed my mind about becoming a parent. I totally freaked out as I sensed the impending major life overhaul I was about to go through. I found a therapist to talk through what I was facing, and it gave me a lot of reassurance and acceptance. I know the idea of getting yourself to a therapist after you’ve had a baby can feel quite daunting or logistically tricky, but it may just save you a lot of emotional energy expended on trying to navigate the challenges on your own.
10.Prioritise Self Care and support each other to have solo time.
I can’t stress this enough. In the beginning, the self care goals might be small – a ten minute walk around the block or a few yoga stretches on a mat in another room. Make it a priority to increase your self care periods as your baby becomes a little older. Send your partner off to do something for them, whenever you can. Team up where you can. When one of you has breastfed, have the other do the burping to give each other small breaks. Happy parent vibes will be felt by your baby. Babies know when their parents are stressed. So in taking care of yourself, you’re taking care of them too.
11.Let go of perfection.
Let go of dishes and housework and getting back to emails. Let visitors make their own cups of tea, and even better, send them in the direction of the pile of dishes in the sink. Don’t sacrifice time with your baby and create stress for yourself by trying to get to the bottom of a pile of laundry that needs to be folded.
12.Get clear on finances pre-baby.
Create a crystal clear game plan. How long will one of you take off work? If this is all mapped and identified before the baby, it can save arguments about money down the track. I’d personally suggest over-estimating the time you need to take off from work to allow you to prepare for all possibilities. I wish I’d doubled what I thought I needed before returning to work the first time around.
12.New fathers/non primary caregiving partners can sometimes feel left out and isolated.
Some will see the new baby as a sort of competition for your attention. Again, whenever you can, offer your partner love touches, affirmation, acknowledgement. Let them know that even though you are tied up and super focused on the baby, you still see them too. Include them in the care of the little one, so they don’t feel like their only role is to do housework. Offer them one-on-one time with the baby, even if they don’t do things ‘your’ way.
13. Get educated.
Often a power struggle or fights will be over varying techniques and routines for raising this little human. Try to identify before you have your baby the different types of parenting styles and options there are, and get clear around the methods that resonate with you as a couple. Are you going for the attachment method or a set routine? Are you co-sleeping or will the baby be in a bassinet? Do everything you can to minimise potential blow ups over differing opinions before you are in the pressure cooker and sleep deprived.
14. Get your relationship into a solid place.
Just like you prepare logistically for a baby, prepare your relationship for this time as well. Having an honest look at what you may have been sweeping under the carpet and addressing the areas you need to work on. I highly recommend a couples therapy session to assist this process. There’s a misconception that having a baby will bond a couple. The more common experience is that it challenges a relationship. So if you do experience relationship shake-up, it’s best to get the foundations in a nice strong place to handle that.
15. Hope for the best but prepare for the worst.
I don’t want to be all doomsday on you. There are certainly parents out there who experience parenthood as a breeze. Their relationships seem to bypass the challenges of this new phase and they seem quite unaffected by the shift in gears. From what I’ve seen, this is the minority. When you look at the factors involved – sleepless nights, a rollercoaster of hormones, a complete shift in identity and barely any time for sex and intimacy, there’s no wonder that the potential is there to create distance and tension. Preparing for all the possibilities allows you to minimise the impact. And offers more space to enjoy the magic of this beautiful new little person.
I hope this helps!
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