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. 

The New Sibling Adjustment

Here are some ideas to help with the second child / big brother or big sister transition.

When you share the baby news with your current child during pregnancy, it can be helpful to frame it as adding to your family. Let your child know how much you and your partner wanted a family, and you were so happy to have him or her. Now you and your partner are excited again to add to your family. Express some of the complex feelings s/he may be experiencing: I imagine you may feel happy, sad, excited, angry, etc. Name whatever emotions s/he seem to be sharing.

  • Talk with your child about the logistics of what will happen when you are in the hospital: who s/he will stay with; when s/he will come visit you and meet the new baby, etc.

  • Make sure to have some solo time with your older child in the hospital when the baby is in someone else’s arms or sleeping in the newborn crib. Have him or her sit or lie with you and check in together.

  • When you get home, you won’t be able to do everything s/he wants you to do during your birth recovery, but you can do slow paced things each day with your older child like reading books or cuddling.

  • Once you are more mobile, have special outings with just your older child. When you are out remind them that only s/he can eat pizza or go on the big slide, etc., not the baby.

  • Tell him how much you love him or her and how grateful you are that s/he will always be your first baby, and how special it is that now s/he is a big sister or brother.

  • Use positive reinforcement for each time s/he does something helpful and kind with the new baby.

  • Expect some regression or acting behaviors. It's natural and this behavior is a young child's way of processing such a big family transition.

Books for kids:

Daniel Tiger: The Baby is Here
by Angela C. Santomero and Jason Fruchter

I am a Big Sister or I am a Big Brother
by Caroline Jayne Church

Books for parents:

Siblings without Rivalry
by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish

Lonesome Motherhood

How do you find your mom tribe?

The loneliness of parenting an infant takes many new moms by surprise. You may wonder where you fit in now - your main group of friends may have older children, or be childless. It can be hard to connect and feel you are contributing socially with these friends  – you may worry you don’t have much to say since you don’t do much on maternity leave outside of caretaking an infant. There will be days when you don’t talk to any adults all day. This is where many women really feel like they lost their previous identity – the isolation and reduction in social interaction can really impact mood.

Parenting a newborn can feel isolating. As soon as your partner leaves for work, you’re looking at a full day with a blank slate with a baby. Then comes the complex anxiety feelings around staying in or attempting to go out. The challenges of getting out of the house with a baby plus all the baby gear seem insurmountable, so of course, staying home seems most appealing.

It’s essential that new moms find the strength within oneself to do the opposite action and find some source of connection. Joining mommy and me or breastfeeding support groups can help reduce isolation. It’s ok to be late to these meetings. It’s ok to be a mess. It’s ok to cry there. It’s also ok if you don’t particularly like or connect with any of the moms; the social exposure for you and your baby is key. Some moms find wonderful support online through mothers’ groups and parenthood apps. This is a great way to feel understood by others, ask questions, and, most of all, laugh from reading and posting funny things about a mother’s day that others totally get.

Choose whatever path feels right to help you connect to others going through motherhood at your child’s stage. It can be so rewarding. I still remember the anxiety I felt going to the first mommy and me group. I teared up, and almost went home. Then I looked at my baby and thought, we got this. Some of those women still support me today, two years into motherhood. Find your tribe.  

Here are a couple of related articles:

The Loneliness of Motherhood

The Facebook Moms

Coming into Motherhood after Infertility

How to let go of one's infertility identity? 

Many women report not knowing how to accept a pregnancy, or to transition from years of living in the uncertainty of infertility and longing for a child, to becoming a mom. During pregnancy, there are often two paths:  feeling ambivalent or detached from the pregnancy, or feeling overwhelmed by anxiety of something going wrong.

Post-birth, many women are thrilled to become a mom, but complex feelings may arise. How wonderful to finally be part of the motherhood club, yet familiarity with the previous infertility identity and associated thoughts, feelings and behaviors makes it difficult to leave that way of being behind. Some experience loss of support from moving onto a different path from friends whom they bonded with during infertility treatment. Others may have a difficult postpartum experience, which can heighten feelings of guilt and maternal ambivalence.

It can be challenging when partners and family quickly accept this identity change, and forget about the complex emotions of the previous fertility journey. Yet, for someone who has gone through this journey, infertility may always be a part of them. It’s hard let go of something painful that has defined you for so long. Thoughts of the long TTC journey may resurface during the first few years of parenting. That's part of the healing. It is only with time that you can integrate the previous parts of your identity into new ways of being, and become more confident in the new mother role. 

Resolve has some great resources to help with this transition.

https://resolve.org/support/pregnancy-after-infertility/
 

Postpartum Wellness

Let’s focus on maternal mental health. There is much post-birth emphasis on newborn health, but a new mom’s own health is also a priority. Postpartum mood changes affect both biological and adoptive moms. You have to be able to take care of yourself in order to take care of a newborn.

It can be helpful to talk about what you are experiencing as a new mom.

How are you feeling emotionally? Physically?
Is your body healing from the birth?
Are you sleeping? How is your appetite? Are you getting outside?
Who helps at night when the baby wakes?
Are you having any breastfeeding, supply or latch difficulties?
How is your mood? Are you sad or tearful? Are you irritable or angry? Detached and numb?
Are you anxious? What are your worries? Are any of your thoughts scaring you?
How do you feel about your connection to your baby?
Your connection to your partner?
What worries you the most about the way you feel? Does your partner know how you’re feeling? Is there anything you’re holding back from telling others?
How are you taking care of yourself?
Who can you turn to for support?

Many women experience difficulties adjusting to new motherhood. It makes sense; you've never been a new mom caring for a newborn or infant before. New motherhood is filled with transitions, some expected, but also many, many surprises. And cumulative sleep deprivation can wreck havoc. Often moms report that something feels off, but they may not know how to express what they are feeling or worry they may be judged so stay silent.

How can you take care of yourself? Learn about postpartum mood changes and check in with yourself. Ideally during postpartum and pediatric checkups, you will spend some time focusing on your health as a new mom. If not, find friends, family members or a mental health professional who will check in with you. If you’re not feeling like yourself, tell someone. Remember, it’s essential to put on your own oxygen mask first. 

Becoming a Mother

What kind of mother will you be? Becoming a mother is an ongoing process. Each stage of  pregnancy and parenting provides an opportunity to examine your life, your childhood, your relationships, and your hopes or fears around this major life transition.

Maternal identity is fluid and evolves over time. Many moms note that their new identity becomes more grounded as they feel more secure as a mother caring for a baby or young toddler. Here are some questions to consider on your journey to motherhood:

  • Who will my baby be?
  • What are my fantasies or fears around the imagined baby?
  • How will I change as I become a mother?
  • What are my hopes around becoming a mother?  
  • How will my day to day life change as I become a mother?
  • What scares me about becoming a mother?
  • How will my relationship with my partner change?
  • What parts of my own mothering do I appreciate from my childhood?
  • What do I want to leave behind from the way I was parented?
  • How will my identity shift as I move from a daughter role to being a mother myself?
  • How will I reconcile my career identity changes?
  • How do I feel about the physical changes to my body?
  • Who can I turn to for support through all of these changes?

It can be helpful to explore your thoughts and feelings around pregnancy, postpartum and becoming a mother. Make space to consider these changes through journaling, talking it out with your partner or a friend, or meeting with a mental health professional who specializes in perinatal and postpartum health.