Having children will change all of your relationships. Arlene Harris finds out how to strengthen your ties with the key people in your life before and after baby arrives.
Keeping relationships strong after children
There is little more exciting than the discovery of a much-wanted conception. That moment when a couple realises their family is about to expand is truly magical. Likewise, passing on the happy news to family and friends always makes for a joyous occasion. But while for the most part, joy trumps every other emotion, being pregnant can be exhausting and coupled with nausea, sleep issues and anxiety, many women can feel vulnerable and may appear to be irritated with their partner or those around them. So while pregnancy obviously brings couples together, it can also cause some tension and relationship expert, Joanna Fortune of the Solamh Clinic says emotional turmoil is all part and parcel of the experience and couples should not worry if they aren’t feeling rosy all of the time.
“Pregnancy will, at times, bring you even closer together but at other times will leave you both thinking that the other person is on another planet entirely and both feelings are very normal,” she assures. “Creating a life together is a magical and awefilled experience but then, because of body changes beyond your control, you can be prone to things like burping or breaking wind, so I would encourage couples to develop a sense of humour about these things and embrace this newfound level of intimacy about all things body related.
“Sexual drive may increase or dramatically decrease as hormones take over and as it’s important to invest in a variety of ways to keep intimacy alive in your relationship so that you can stay connected. This could be romantic meals, a massage, cuddling up on the sofa to watch a movie together or holding hands on a walk. Keep talking about what is happening during your pregnancy, it helps your partner understand it from your perspective and also keeps them involved as they may feel left out of it at this stage. Remember you are still a couple as well as a parents-to-be, but your family is expanding and it will no longer just be the two of you.”
Support is important
Bernadette Ryan, counsellor with Relationships Ireland agrees and says while every pregnancy is different, most couples will benefit from being in tune with each other. “Some women sail through the physical aspects of pregnancy and some are not so fortunate,” she says. “Initial morning sickness can cause havoc in the life of the pregnant woman, disrupting her work routine, eating, socialising or even the ability to get out of the bed.”
“Would-be mothers have to make many adjustments to their lives so a loving supportive partner is essential throughout all stages of pregnancy. Some women may be apprehensive and fearful about the birth or the health of the baby, so it is important for her partner to listen and, while not exacerbating her concerns, not to fob her off either.”
“It can be most helpful if the partner gets proactive with small caring gestures without having to be asked – such as a cup of tea or a back or foot-rub. Some couples’ sex lives can be disrupted with perhaps one or the other apprehensive about the possible effects on the baby so patience may be required here. Yes, by all means talk about what is going on for each person. It is a good time to slow things down and tune into each other. Share dreams about the future and remember it is ‘we’ who are pregnant, not ‘you’.”
Fortune agrees and says it is important to look after each other as much as possible during this time: “Try to keep some of the pregnancy business mixed in with pleasure stuff, which allows you to focus on the new arrival while investing in each other and your relationship – so go for the ultrasound but then arrange lunch in your favourite restaurant,” she advises. “Find five minutes each day to say “how are you doing?” This baby is joining your family and making your family circle bigger, but remember the two of you are already a family and you need each other now more than ever.”
Psychologist, David Carey also believes talking is crucial for keeping relationships on an even keel during pregnancy. “Once a child is conceived everything in the parental relationship changes forever and communication is critically important,” he says. “Expectant parents need to talk about how they feel; their hopes and wishes and yes, some of their worries and fears. As long as communication remains open the love will continue and, most importantly, be transmitted to the as yet unborn child.”
Ryan says pregnancy news can also have an impact on other relationships, so it is important to be aware of friends’ feelings. “Happily, most friends and family are delighted with the couple’s news and do what they can to support them,” she says. “But while it is natural to want to share all the milestones of the pregnancy, not everyone will be as enthusiastic and overawed as the excited couple.
Sometimes, others can be a little taken aback at this turn of interest in their friends and may even be fearful of how the friendship is changing. “Really that is their problem, but perhaps a little self-awareness of over-sharing all the intimate details is needed. Particularly in this day and age of social media there can be a tendency to over-share around life events that are very important to the individuals concerned but not to the world at large.”
She also says it is important to be mindful of others who perhaps can’t have children themselves. “There may be cases where others can’t or choose not to have children,” she says. “So when people are happy they usually want to celebrate the news – but for others the choice may have been taken from them or they may be desperately trying to get pregnant, so some sensitivity may be required. That said, we all have to take responsibility for our own feelings and I’m sure those friends, even though it may be painful for them, wish the couple well.”
And baby makes three
Once the baby has been born, everyone will naturally be overjoyed with the new arrival. But sleepless nights, the ‘baby blues’ and even a barrage of unwanted advice can cause new mothers to feel fractious with those around her. Dr Carey says as long as everyone is patient and looks after each other, everything will be fine.
“Mums, you need to look after yourselves and dads, you need to look after your partner,” he advises. “Both of you need regular and reasonable exercise and to eat properly. When a new mum’s energy is low, they should let partners know and ask for some help. And on that note, dads, be aware that your partner has gone through a lot physically and emotionally. Be sure to be there for her, help around the house and help with the newborn. A good dad always looks after his partner as much as he does himself.”
Friends and advice
The psychologist also says friendships may suffer due to lack of time, but in this instance, technology can take some of the pressure off and he says if advice is not appreciated, it’s sometimes best to grin and bear it. “Necessity (spending time with the baby) may mean you lose some contact with friends and family but remember, social media is a big help for keeping in touch,” he says. “But be sure you have some time for real-life face-to-face, as nothing is a substitute for a real chat among family and friends.”
“And on that note, when good advice is given freely it needs to be accepted,” he says. “If bad or unwanted advice is given the best thing to say is, “You’ve given me a lot to think about. Thanks.” and then walk away and don’t look back.”
While social media can be a helpful means of keeping in touch, Joanna Fortune says it can also put pressure on new parents. “First and foremost, new parents should be kind to themselves and each other and not expect too much,” she advises. “I think the social media bombardment of celebrity parents back on the red carpet or in their skinny jeans within three weeks of giving birth can create an unrealistic ideal for people. This is a new experience and you will be overwhelmed and exhausted, which is entirely normal.”
“If people offer you help, say yes and be specific. I suggest when a kind family member or friend asks, “Is there anything I can do to help?” you say ‘Yes, it would be great if you could put a load of laundry on for me or empty the dishwasher or wipe down my kitchen counters’. You are not a superhero and you cannot do this alone so take help that is offered. ”
“I would also suggest that the partner who did not give birth show compassion and understanding for what is going on for the other partner – which may involve smiling and biting their tongue, it may involve providing meals and cups of tea as well as plenty of hugs and gentle touches to soothe them. The role of the other parent is very important because the mother needs to be supported so she can be as available to the baby as much as possible in these early months. It is also important that parents can talk to each other about issues other than the baby and try to maintain something of their life and passions before baby arrived.”
Maintaining your other relationships
Counsellor Bernadette Ryan agrees and says while the early weeks need to be all about the nurturing and bonding between mother and baby, there are ways in which other relationships can be maintained:
- The more the other parent can support mother and baby the better the outcome for both, as bonding develops through feeding and holding and this needs time and space.
- New parents need to slow things down if they can and enjoy time with their new baby and with each other. Don’t be in too much of a rush to ‘get back to normal’.
- When children come along, the relationship can take a back seat for a bit while mother and baby are bonding, but if the partner has a supportive role in this early phase, this can help.
- Take offers of support from family and friends. Let them come in and tidy up or cook meals if they offer.
- Over enthusiastic grandparents may be another matter. Just try to bear in mind that the baby is entitled to her/his grandparents and will thrive under their loving gaze.
- There will be lots of offers of help and advice, some helpful some not, above all trust your instinct. Nature has a way of taking care of things and all first time mums and dads are on a learning curve. Enjoy the journey.
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