First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in the baby carriage. But what comes next? Likely, one of the hardest years of your marriage.
There’s no reason to sugar coat it. The best way to address it is by facing it head-on.
People say “having a baby changes everything.” When I was pregnant, I found this saying both vague and overwhelming. Everything?!? How is that possible? I pushed for details. I wanted the particulars of what would change and how it would change. When I pressed people for more information and the response was always “you’ll have to live it to understand.”
For what it’s worth, it’s 100% true. There’s no way to accurately capture the seismic shift that happens after you become a parent. It’s an experience that needs to be lived to understand. The good, the bad, and the beauty of it all.
That said, I’m going to share what happens to a marriage when you’re living with a newborn. The research comes from a party of one, but maybe it helps paint a picture of what to expect from someone who’s on the other side of that lived experience. So here it goes.
First, let’s set this up as a metaphor. And not to be overly tragic but let’s go with the 1997 blockbuster film Titanic.
Imagine your marriage is like the ship. It’s beautifully crafted. It’s the envy of the seas. People are clamoring to be near it.
Your love is like a young Jack and Rose. You run where you like, when you like, and only think about what the two of you can do together.
The newborn is…you guessed it…the iceberg.
When your marriage slams into it and your love is scrambling just to survive. One of you is chained to a pipe while water rapidly rises while the other is frantically running around trying to find a way to help but getting lost in their own rising tides.
The iceberg throws everything off course and you have to do A LOT of improvising. And it can feel like you are operating in two different worlds. To make matters worse, you don’t really get a minute to rest, so you aren’t making decisions with a calm head.
At some point, in the first few months of postpartum, it will feel like your love is only hanging on to a battered piece of wood in the middle of the freezing ocean.
Now, I’m not saying this to terrify you. I wish someone had been this frank with me, so I could have been better prepared instead of flying by the seat of my pants.
The fact of the matter is, even the most fortified marriage in the world is going to have trouble bouncing back from life with a newborn. It’s emotional, overwhelming, isolating, and exhausting. I’m thankful that my love was able to hold on to that floating piece of wood until it could find land and build an even better ship that was equipped to handle icebergs and all their changes. But it took work.
Looking back, here are the things that helped us navigate through our marriage after having a baby:
Be Kind to Each Other
The change is massive for both parents. Make an effort to be kind—more than normal. You won’t always be able to do this (sleep deprivation does not bring out the best in people) but make a commitment to try to be slow to anger.
Don’t Keep Score
Surviving the newborn stage is 100% a team effort. And nothing breaks a team bond like bickering over who scored for the most “points.” Especially when said points are earned via late-night feedings and diaper changes.
Check-In Every Day
Ask how your teammate is doing every day. Some days one person will be able to take on more. Some days you’ll both be underwater and need to lean on each other to make it through. But you’ll only know how the other is feeling if you check-in, every day.
This one mainly goes for the person who did not carry/deliver the child. The hormonal rush of postpartum, especially if breastfeeding is involved, is, for lack of a better term, insane. To stay somewhat sane, you need to talk a lot and you need someone who you trust to listen. Just listen.
Take a Break
In those early days, it feels hard to pull yourself away, but do it. Your baby will be ok. Invest in the time to make sure you and your partner are on the same page, away from the grind of raising a newborn. You can outsource that work for a few hours. That time will be crucial to making sure Jack and Rose both make it to shore.
Marriage with a newborn is hard. But it’s also beautiful. Once you navigate the troubled waters, it takes a new shape. You discover new seas and new ways to love each other. It’s different but it’s better.
Bon Voyage and don’t forget to use your lifelines!