You've gone through the intense process of bringing your sweet little miracle into the world! But...now what?! "You mean, we have to take our baby home now? By ourselves... Without a call button and Labor and Delivery nurses to help us and answer our questions? What are we supposed to do now? How are we supposed to know what our baby needs? What's the difference between a hungry cry, a hurt cry, and a tired cry? I don't know if we can do this..."
For a lot of couples, there's a small panic moment when leaving the hospital and striking out on their own in the realm of parenting for the first time. If this happens to you, don't feel bad! You are embarking on a huge new adventure that doesn't come with a road map or an instruction manual. For the first time, you are in charge of a tiny, helpless little being that is completely dependent on you for all of its needs and wants. That can be an overwhelming prospect, to say the least. Add that to recovering and healing from birth and shifting hormones for mommy, it can seem downright impossible! But remember, the best thing you can do is to take things a little at a time. Don't let yourself start worrying about baby's first day of kindergarten; instead, just focus on meeting one need at a time, one hour at a time, one day at a time.
Baby's Basic Needs
For the most part, your hospital staff will do the best they can to prepare you to go home and tend to the basic needs of your baby. They will probably teach you the best way to give baths, how often you need to give baths, how to change diapers, how to properly care for the umbilical cord until it falls off, how to care for your son's penis if you choose to circumsize, tips on breastfeeding and bottle-feeding, how to swaddle and hold baby, and lots of other stuff. My suggestion is to write down questions that you have about newborn care throughout your pregnancy and then bring that list with you to the hospital. When baby comes, you'll probably have lots more questions to add to the list. Don't be afraid to ask anything and everything; there is no such thing as a dumb question. If you don't know the answer, ask! Also, you are likely to get overwhelmed by the amount of information that you are given, so write it down or have your partner write it down as you go along. You definitely won't be able to remember everything, so don't stress yourself trying to memorize the long list of things they tell you to do and not to do.
When you bring baby home, some women find it comforting and incredibly helpful to have a female relative or close friend come stay with them for a few days or weeks while they adjust to parenting. A loving, experienced "been there, done that" mom friend or family member can be a great comfort and wonderful source of information. Even if you don't have someone who can come stay with you or you prefer to try things on your own, feel free to call your mom, your sister, your neighbor, your Relief Society President, your best friend, or any other mom you trust for advice! Additionally, make sure you choose a pediatrician for your baby so you have someone to call if you have any questions about your baby's health. Again, it is completely normal to feel overwhelmed and to have a lot of questions as you learn how to read your baby's signals and develop a routine that works for your new little family.
The Transition to Parenthood
The early stage of adjusting to parenthood is often the most difficult. This stages usually last around 4 months or more and is characterized by feelings of losing control, anxiety, uncertainty, feeling overwhelmed, and feeling physically and mentally exhausted. The next stage of parenthood has you focusing on rebuilding your day-to-day routine and your personal and familial identity. You begin to make more conscious decisions instead of "just trying to survive" and feeling a greater sense of control. This stage can last a couple of weeks to a few months. The final stage of adjusting to parenthood is when you begin to feel adjusted to the change. You will feel like you are back to normal and feel like yourself again. You have fully integrated the new roles and responsibilities that come with having a baby into your daily life.
Another huge transition when you become a parent is the cognitive transition, which includes learning to conceptualize yourself as a parent. I find myself constantly thinking, "I'm going to be a mommy..." and that thought blows my mind. I don't think it will actually sink in until I have that little infant in my arms. Seeing yourself as a parent means learning to constantly sacrifice your wants and needs to meet the needs of your child. You can't just spontaneously run to the grocery store while your husband is at work without taking the time to get baby ready, work around naps and feedings, etc. What would have been a 10-15 minute errand before you were a parent is now a 30-45 minute (or more!) errand. You must learn to sacrifice a certain amount of your independence in order to be a good parent. Both you and your spouse will go through the process of seeing yourselves, and each other, in a very different light.
If you want more information about the transition to parenthood, I found this amazing website by Dr. Stephanie, who has a Ph.D. in Sociology and emphasizes in studying parenthood and motherhood. Check out her website HERE.
The Marital Relationship
When it's just you and your husband, there is only one other person in the equation that is the focus of your attention; they get 100% of your attention at home. When baby #1 enters the picture, that goes from 100% down to 50%, at the least, so your spouse is losing a huge chunk of your time and attention for the first time. With each additional child, the attention gets split more ways, but never as drastically percentage-wise as with that first child. Going from a 2-person family to a 3-person family is going to require quite a shift in your marriage. Both Mom and Dad may find that they feel like they are being ignored by their spouse; for example, Dad comes home from an 8 hour shift and Mom is excited to see Dad, but Dad heads straight for baby. Moments like these can leave each spouse feeling a little sensitive and hurt.
The key to surviving this transition in your marriage is the same key to any successful marriage: positive communication! If you haven't already been practicing how to communicate in healthy, effective ways, start now. It will serve you so well after you become parents. Some basic tips on positive communication are as follows:
- For the Speaker
- Use "I" Statements: This means saying something like, "I feel [emotion] when you do [action]," instead of, "You make me so [emotion]." This way, you are taking ownership of your own emotional experience rather than trying to blame it on your partner. Blame language will almost always create defensiveness in the Listener, which sets a conversation up for failure.
- Avoid name-calling: There's nothing that sabotages a conversation quite like belittling your partner by calling them a name. If you feel the urge to say, "You're such a jerk! Why would you say something like that to me?!," try to express what you are feeling in a different way. How about, "It really hurt my feelings when you said that to me. I feel pretty angry that you would make that comment."
- The Soft Approach: If you want to talk about a topic that you know is sensitive, use what we call the "soft approach." Approach your partner kindly and lovingly, use "I" statements, and willingly take responsibility for your part in the issue. This will help your partner remain non-defensive and listen to what you have to say. The alternative to this is running into a conversation already riled up and leaving your partner feeling like they've just been hit by a freight train. A soft start-up is like the old saying, "You catch more flies with honey than vinegar." Remember, you love this person, so approach them with respect and care.
- Avoid "Always" and "Never": Let's get this straight--no one "always's" or "never's." It's tempting to say things like, "You always do [this]," or "You never do [that]." The truth is usually somewhere in the middle; they may do something more or less than you like, but they don't "always" or "never" do it. Using these little words has the same effect as name-calling and blaming, it creates defensiveness in the Listener and makes it more difficult for them to listen to and validate your experience and/or concern.
- For the Listener
- Give the Speaker your full attention: Nothing is more frustrating than trying to talk to your partner when they are glued to their cell phone, watching TV, or playing on the computer. If your partner approaches you and wants to have a serious conversation, put everything else aside that you can or suggest a time that would work better to talk if you can't give them your full attention in that moment. Remember though, your relationship with your spouse is the most important thing in your life, so if you can set what you are doing aside for a moment, do it. It's especially hurtful if they approach you and are brushed aside because you want to finish this one TV show or this part of your game. Unless you have a pressing reason to continue doing what you are doing (a due date for work or school, or a fussy baby to attend to), give them your attention.
- Really listen, don't half-listen while you think up your own argument: This is super common in all relationships. The next time you are in a conversation with one of more other people, pay close attention to how long of a gap there is between one person finishing a thought and the next person starting up on their own thought. Most often, the next person begins to speak before the first person's last sentence is finished. We are so eager to share our own thoughts, feelings, and experiences that we often spend more time thinking up what we are going to say back and we miss a lot of what they other person is saying to us. When I begin teaching couples how to communicate, we take turns being the Speaker and the Listener. The Listener doesn't get to argue their side at all; their only job is to LISTEN. Successful communication hinges on each person's ability to be an attentive, responsive listener.
- Ask questions to clarify meaning: One of the biggest reasons that people struggle with communication is they misunderstand what the other person is trying to say or they make assumptions about what they are really trying to communicate. If you find yourself thinking the Speaker is trying to communicate one thing, ask, "So, what you're saying is _______?" and give them a chance to clarify if that is or isn't what they mean.
- Validation, Validation, Validation!!!: As a marriage therapist, the biggest complaint I get when teaching couples how to communicate effectively is, "My partner just doesn't understand/care what I say." There is only one way to avoid this very common pitfall: VALIDATION. If your partner says, "I feel sad when you snap at me," instead of getting defensive or explaining why you snapped, simply say, "I can see how that would make you upset. I would feel that way too if you snapped at me." The BIG key here is to validate your partner's feelings and experience even if you don't agree with it or understand it. Validation=/=Agreeing! Even if you don't feel like you snapped at him/her, they feel like you did. You can say, "It wasn't my intention to come across like I snapped at you. I can see how that would be hurtful and I'm sorry that your feelings are hurt." I can't emphasize the importance of this skill enough: VALIDATE, VALIDATE, VALIDATE!!!
Finally, it is important to really make an effort to stay connected to and close to your partner. Spend some uninterrupted time together each day to talk or just be with each other. When baby goes to bed, it's a great time for Mom and Dad to talk, cuddle, kiss, engage in a shared activity that you both enjoy, do the dishes together, whatever. Make each other a priority! If you can, continue to go on dates (even if the date is a picnic in the middle of your living room floor). Communicate with each other using the tips listed above. Reach out to each other for help and support, especially to get your emotional needs met. Remember, you are still a husband/wife, not just a Mommy/Daddy, even if it feels like your new parenting role takes up your whole life!
Disclaimer: The "Pregnancy, Babies, and Birth" blog series is meant as a source of general information only. It's intended use is to encourage women to further consider and discuss reproductive and birthing decisions themselves, with their partners, and with their medical care providers. Information included in this series is not intended to be professional medical advice or a substitution for a relationship with a licensed physician or practitioner. Any serious questions or concerns about reproductive, prenatal, and/or perinatal health should be directed to your primary care physician or other licensed specialist. Women's Services and Resources does not promote any particular brand, medical provider, birthing location, or any other specific birthing decisions. We strongly encourage women to become as educated about their choices as possible so they are empowered to make educated decisions for themselves and their babies.