Relationship Changes as New Parents

Many couples feel a loss of connection once baby arrives, often taking them by surprise. Research has consistently shown that relationship satisfaction decreases after the birth of a child, and may continue to dip for a few months or even a few years. There are many contributing factors, especially for couples who have been together longer and are used to their dynamic being a certain way. 

Things to look out for:

  • Extreme focus on the child-mother dynamic / excluding partners.

  • Getting caught up in that ‘you don’t know what it’s like for me all day’ cycle of disconnection. 

  • The working partner staying late at work to actively avoid the at-home partner.

  • Either partner being rigid / critical / overly controlling. 

  • Not allowing the working partner to build confidence in infant caretaking. 

  • Seeing everything as a competition and keeping score. 

Things to consider:

  • Impact of sleep deprivation on both partners. 

  • The all day away from home / missing the baby developmental experience versus being home all day with baby. 

  • Identify shifts for the stay at home partner versus the partner at work. 

  • The partner at home may have a higher level of worry for the baby versus the partner at work. 

  • Putting the relationship with your partner on hold for longer than the first few months.

How to reconnect:

  • Accept this shift in the relationship as temporary. 

  • Use direct communication to ask for what you need.

  • Discuss how to negotiate this relationship change in a positive way, ideally before the baby arrives. 

  • Discuss role changes and be flexible with household responsibilities shifts. 

  • Consciously try to imagine what it’s like for the other person all day.

  • Take time to understand differences in parenting styles.

  • Spend time together connecting as a couple every day, even if brief.

  • Find ways to maintain intimacy.

Change is inevitable when you have a new baby. Above everything, remember you have the same shared goal: to be parents together and have this little family. 

Impact of Infertility on Couples

One in eight couples experience difficulties trying to conceive. Infertility is a major life stressor and treatment cycles can be intensely stressful on partner relationships. Many couples feel like their lives are on hold and struggle with communication challenges and relationship dissatisfaction during fertility challenges. Additionally, one member (or both) may experience anxiety or depression. Other influences on relationship strength include:

  • Impact of unsuccessful cycles and the passage of time

  • Feeling left behind or not fitting in with peer group

  • Financial stressors of fertility treatment

  • Different coping styles for handling stress (emotional release vs problem solver)

  • Reduced intimacy and emotional connection

  • Secrecy - not sharing struggles openly with family or friends

  • Intrusive questions by friends and family (and society in general).

How to approach the stress of infertility as a team?

  • Remember you have the same shared goal: to become parents together

  • Be open with one another and express vulnerable feelings

  • Ask directly for what you need from your partner

  • Discuss treatment options, including your physical and financial limits around trying

  • Understand the impact of infertility on intimacy

  • Continue to live your lives - find ways to connect and enjoy one another.

If conflict has increased to a high level, it can be helpful to meet with a therapist for communication help and overall relationship support during the added stressor of infertility treatment cycles.

The Challenges of Donor Anonymity

Our modern world makes it inevitable that donor anonymity is simply not possible. More donor-conceived children (and sometimes their parents) are turning toward direct to consumer genetic DNA testing to find a possible genetic link to 1) the donor, or 2) a family member of the donor, or 3) a full or half bio-sibling. This can create confusing boundaries and ethical considerations on potential contact and what to do with this information. The ability to quickly find donors on Facebook using donor agency profile information adds to this modern reality. Egg and sperm donation is a mostly unregulated industry. These unique ways of making genetic connections and the lack of true anonymity will ultimately change that.

Have you ever had to keep a secret? Or made a decision in young adulthood that with time and reflection, was understood differently? It’s helpful to consider that privacy expectations of intended parents or donors may change over time. When that happens, it can be challenging to look for ways to reach out and promote connection or rescind contact. This is where direct to consumer genetic testing has stepped in for better or worse — to fill this void.

For donor conceived children, finding genetic connection can be an important part of becoming secure in one’s identity. For donors, it can be an important part of making sense of a younger decision to become a donor and help build families. Let’s start reframing this path to parenthood as a family story with connectors from the onset. Note the difference in hearing ‘this is how we had help in becoming our family and there are others who were also helped’ versus one day being sat down and told about donor origins and bio siblings with no context and no additional information. Time will stand still at that moment. A family story with openness to conversations over a lifetime, figuring things out together, and sharing information offers fluidity, closeness and integration over time.

Decision-Making for Third-Party Family Building

There are many things to consider before moving forward with third-party assisted conception. One of the most essential tasks is understanding that having a child with donor assistance is more than just a solution to infertility. It’s considering the future child’s experience and needs,  as well as your own. Here are some questions to start exploring this path:

  • What are your assumptions about alternative family building? 
  • How would you or your partner feel about the absence of a direct biological link to your child? 
  • Have you processed feelings of grief around this genetic loss?
  • Would both you and your partner feel comfortable having a third-party involved in your family story? 
  • What is important to you in choosing an egg or sperm or embryo donor?
  • With genetic/ancestry testing and social media, do you believe anonymous donation truly exists?
  • How will you talk about your family story and share your child’s origins with your child? 
  • How do you feel about the possibility of bio siblings?
  • What will you share with friends or family about your child’s conception?
  • How will you respond to your child’s direct questions about the donor’s background or wanting to meet the donor or bio siblings? 

There are many ways to become a parent, and there is much to consider before choosing this path to parenthood. It can be helpful to meet with a mental health professional to explore these and other considerations. Find someone with whom you feel comfortable exploring thoughts and feelings around this decision.


Where Did I Come From?

At some point every child will ask a parent the big question, ‘Where did I come from?’ This standard inquiry becomes more complex when the child asking was conceived through third-party reproduction. Many parents experience anticipatory anxiety over these conversations; however, it is natural for donor conceived kids (like all kids) to be curious about their origins.

Research has shown that disclosure strengthens the parent-child bond, and how and when you tell your child has great impact on their identity development. It is essential to be open with your child, explore feelings and support their search for answers. Sharing from an early age allows children to progressively learn more about their family story, become comfortable with their origins, and develop a strong identity.

How can you prepare?
Begin thinking about how your family came to be during pregnancy. Consider what connected you to the particular donor(s) to help build your family. Your gratitude for their help. How you felt when you found out you were pregnant. How you felt seeing your child at birth. What it means to be a family. Start talking to your child during infancy so that when your child is old enough to understand basic concepts a bit more, you will feel more confident in sharing your family story. The more comfortable you are with talking about your family story, the more comfortable your child will feel too.