My wife and I recently had a baby. If you have children or are currently expecting, you’ll know what I mean when I say a barrage of (often unintentional) negativity gets thrown your way. Your life will never be the same. Say goodbye to sleep. From now on, everything is about the baby. For someone living without this kind of responsibility, the anticipation of delivery can become all the more stressful if you’ve been conditioned to say goodbye to life as you knew it pre-baby.
When my wife delivered our son, Jackson, I thought I had accepted this inevitability. Once he was in our arms, I realized that what was actually inevitable was my wife’s and my life changing, not into something negative that didn’t resemble what we had prior but instead into a complex string of choices.
The first: to be happy living our old life with our new son.
Someone once said, “Hardship is inevitable, but misery is optional.” It can be a miserable feeling saying goodbye to what’s comfortable. In my case, that meant staying up late, sleeping in, playing video games and going out when I wanted to. When it came time to say goodbye to my favorite pastimes…I didn’t. My wife likes to blog, walk and bake. When our son came, she didn’t stop doing those things either. One common misconception that people have is that children run their parents’ lives. Granted, I haven’t experienced a child past baby stage, but thus far I’ve found that those who believe this simply are not taking the time to integrate their children into their lives. Instead, they let their life be completely overtaken by the newborn, which can lead to stress, regret, unhappiness and ultimately a disconnect between the parents. Such drastic change can greatly affect a couple’s outlook on life and each other–if they let it.
The first couple of nights were stressful. We were getting used to our baby, his needs and more importantly his sounds. At this stage of life, a baby obviously can’t communicate very efficiently, but the way they can get their point across is to cry. The differences in a baby’s cry are actually pretty interesting: whimpers to screams means Jackson needs a new diaper; light crying equals hunger; and full blown wailing means he’s overtired. But, the key to integration is understanding these cries, particularly at night when he’s sleeping, and doing so can make a world of difference. My wife and I first used a standard baby monitor. Each whimper would have us stopping what we were doing to run in and check on him, and nearly every time we would find him sleeping soundly. (Note: The other sound people forget to mention is mere dreaming or shifting in the night.) Jackson will make little noises when he’s asleep that don’t indicate any of his other needs. For these, it’s important to invest in a video monitor. They’re all going to be more expensive than sound-only monitors (over $100 compared to under $50 for sound only), but being able to see your baby can prevent getting worn out from running to the nursery every five minutes.
The second choice: to keep my wife close and support her as much as possible.
Staying connected to your partner, particularly in the first few months of your child’s life, is detrimental to the happiness of your relationship and your newborn. As were the first couple weeks with my child, life can become stressful quickly from constantly tending to the baby, learning how to take care of it and what its needs are, and finding the time for activities outside of caring for a newborn. I’ve found that being open about feelings and this new experience is what’s kept my wife and I sane through the ordeal. Understanding each other’s emotions and breaking points with the baby gives the other cue on when to help out, step in or just give the other a break. At night, my wife and I take turns tending to the baby to accommodate each other’s needs for the next day. For example, my wife is on maternity leave so she is at home by herself while I work during the day. Apart from me being a night owl by nature, I care for the baby from about 9:30 pm to 1:00 am, while my wife sleeps, and she takes over from 1:00 am to about 7:30 am when I get up for work and the baby is about to get up for the day. This schedule has been easy for us because our son only gets up about twice each night to eat–everyone is then rested by morning. But every baby is different, so finding a schedule that works for you and your partner is essential. If one parent gets burnt out, things can go south in a hurry.
Another great tool to stay connected, and help promote talking between parents, is to exercise together. Walking is easy on both parents, especially mothers who are typically restricted to light exercise for the first six weeks, and just a half hour a day can really encourage positive moods and bonding as a family. For this reason, I also recommend not scrimping on a stroller. I’ve seen parents buy strollers because they look cool or they’re brand name or they’re super cheap. The important things to look for, however, are carrying capacity and what terrains are accessible with the stroller. My wife and I purchased a BOB Revolution SE stroller. It’s a jogger, meaning it has three big rubber tires (instead of the plastic wheels that most four-wheeled strollers have) that allow off road access as well as a smoother ride on concrete and asphalt. You can also jog with the stroller, which isn’t recommended with most non-jogger-style strollers. More importantly, the carrying capacity is 70 lbs, so Jackson could potentially ride in it for five years or more (e.g., my nephew is four and he’s under 50 lbs). When you’re shelling out money for the bigger baby items it’s important to get your money’s worth. Our BOB stroller retails for over $400, but we bought it in the fall before the new model came out so we snagged a sale for $350. It’s a lot of money, but it will pay for itself in years of usage. On top of that, it allows my wife and I to get out of the house, get some exercise together and stay connected through conversation.
The third choice: to let others care for our son from the get-go.
Having a new baby creates a change in you. It’s kind of indescribably except to say you’ve never felt a stronger sense of protection or connection to something in your life. For this reason, many parents, especially new moms, can be reluctant to let others care for their child. This can be a mistake. If you don’t test the waters early, it can be more difficult to trust baby’s care to someone else later on. My wife and I have relied heavily on family. This is important because relatives can get time to connect with their new family member too, while mom and dad get some alone time. Alone time is important. Have dates; go to dinner and a movie. Like I said earlier, getting wrapped up in your newborn and not integrating them into your life will turn other areas of your relationship sour. If you went out on the town before baby, don’t lose that spark. Furthermore, remember that even though babies are expensive, setting aside time and money to spend on yourselves is important too. If you were a gamer like me, buy yourself a video game every once in a while. If you liked to get pedicures or watch a Bluray on the weekend, then budget funds to continue doing so. Allotting money to spend on just you and your partner will keep both your heads in the game when things get tough.
The more you keep life as it was, the easier your transition into parenthood will be. Things are going to change rapidly, but if you focus, make a plan of action with your partner and tackle stress with proper exercise, eating and personal time, it’s possible to ease into having a new baby at your own pace. You simply have to be proactive in your choices and understand that having a baby isn’t the end the world–it’s just a new path to traverse through it.