Depending on how the pregnancy came about, preparing for your first baby can be a very romantic time. If the baby is wanted, if the couple feel very ready to become parents and stable in terms of housing and income and there is an extended network of friends and family to help, then the circumstances can seem set as almost perfect.
Of course some have a more challenging start. Perhaps the baby was a surprise and has come along before the couple believes they are ready. It may be that there are fears about congenital abnormalities or a history of miscarriage, which means that the first half of the pregnancy is riddled with anxiety. Perhaps there is 9 months of morning sickness, or external events during the pregnancy, such as an unexpected death, affair, eviction or loss of employment that feels like it has “ruined” what should have otherwise been positive time together. All of these things will impact on a sense of couple connection, and the beginnings of the connection with the baby.
Preparation for the great unknown
The great thing about pregnancy, is that you have 9 months to prepare for the arrival. “Preparation” means many things. Couples can enjoy discussions about names, parenting approaches, schooling, religion and extended family contact…and each of these topics can also raise new and unexpected or unresolved issues that are worth spending some time sorting out. Often couples realise these topics will be tricky, but put off really dealing with them, as without a baby in the mix it all seems like a hypothetical discussion that can wait till another time. The time is NOW!
Once a pregnancy is announced, friends and family also seem to intrude more. After a commitment such as marriage, people sometimes give you space to forge your relationship. There is a different boundary around a couple, as they have become a separate unit within the bigger family system. It can be the opposite during pregnancy, and even more so after birth. Friends and family can suddenly seem to be a lot more entitled to comment, question and give opinions, even make demands, as they are wanting a relationship with the baby. This too brings up issues for the couple, as each might feel the need to defend their parents behaviour – “Mum is just trying to help” or “My mum should be the primary babysitter”. Each person might feel they owe their parents involvement, or might want to make sure they are more hands off! The issue here is how the couple understands, talks about and comes to peace with their united decisions, or whether they are the beginning of some new and unexpected wedges between you.
It can be a lot of fun, and again a source of romance and intimacy, to put the room together and buy the layette. Using the time to get ready on a practical level also gives you something to do to make the pregnancy feel more real. Even with a changing body, at this time both of you can only imagine what it will be like to have a baby in the house. Creating a space can literally cement the spot the baby will take up in your lives and in your home. While doing this, your imaginations will also assist you to picture the kind of scenarios you will face, and speculate about problem solving before the issues are actually present. “What if we need more help than we realise?” “what if we don’t know what to do?” “what if I can’t breast feed?”
Advice and Opinions – Wanted and Unwanted.
During the pregnancy it will perhaps be a source of amazement how many people will provide advice, even acquaintances or strangers in shops! Often this advice can seem very negative, like “get sleep now as you’ll never sleep again!” or “hope you can cope with no social life!” It can also seem like others want you to make up for their perceived mistakes: “enjoy the baby as much as you can, they grow up so fast!”, “stay home as long as you can” or “breast feed as long as possible”. Some women start to talk about their war stories of birth, or tell you that you should do it a certain way, such as underwater, at home, with music etc. Sometimes these conversations can feel anxiety producing. It is hard to stand firm when you are first time parents. Others with kids can say “you’ll learn!” as if your view is naïve rather than based on sound decisions.
Build Your Support Network
The worry about whether your approach to parenting will be good enough or get it “right” can start early. So pregnancy is a time to think and talk quietly together, and work hard to build a common vision. Standing united is the best way to strengthen your resolve and to counter any challenges coming in from the outside. Start to think about the resources you might need outside the family system that can be in your corner. Is it time to change your GP? Go and meet the baby health centre staff and see if they are people you can talk to and trust. Look up some parenting support phone numbers and read widely. Choose some resources that will support your intended philosophy of parenting – and be prepared to change your mind once you have some experience under your belt! Have a look at Facebook groups you can join and local community activities for families. There are resources for first time dads too. You will see that there is a smorgasbord of opinions and many people thinking they know the right path. Birthing and parenting is surprisingly political! While there are some tried and true things that broadly help, much of your approach will depend on what the two of you can do together with the resources at hand, what your baby is like and how you all get on together.
The Arrival – At Last!
Remember it’s not all about you; your baby will arrive with a personality and temperament and you will all be getting to know each other. You can do your part to ready yourselves, but without knowing the third participant in the relationship yet you can only speculate, and then give yourselves plenty of time to get to know him/her, and be ready to adapt accordingly.
The birth itself can raise issues. It might have gone much more easily than you thought and you are home in 24 hours (if not a home birth) as can be encouraged. However this is not a badge of honor. For first time parents it can be worth taking a few days to establish a bit of a routine, and recover a bit first. It is a major physical event, even if commonplace. Physical issues might remain for a while, and you need to take care of yourself so that you can be well enough to manage once you take up the reigns of parenting. The hormones alone can be very challenging. First time dads or co-parents also have a major adjustment. Take your time and don’t expect it to be all romantic, cosy and seamless. There will definitely be some highs, but it’s normal to have some lows too.
If you find it hard to work through some of the issues and plan together well, or the external factors are crowding in on you, then talking to specialists in relationships and families can be helpful. You can contact Relationships Australia NSW for assistance 1300 364277.