When expectant women talk of not letting a baby change their lives, they often mean that precisely: after a short recovery period they imagine going right back to the life they know, just with a baby in tow. When this proves laughingly unrealistic—adjusting can take weeks to months, depending on the personalities of the mother and the baby— a woman either runs from or resents motherhood or submerges herself in the endeavor only to belatedly realize a year or so later that she does little else.
Either option breeds resentment, the indiscriminate destroyer of relationships. As the child’s demands escalate, mom might resent the baby for sapping all her time. Dad might resent the baby for taking over his wife. Wife might resent husband for not helping more. Husband might resent wife for treating him like another child or a mere sperm donor. (And that’s just the parents.) All of this can quickly spiral out of control.
The more one knows about the changes that come with parenthood, the more one can plan and avoid this resentment spiral while keeping the marriage and one’s self intact. In the spirit of expectation management, I offer a marital relationship timeline by a wife and for wives of a baby’s first six months. Get the hang of this, and the rest won’t be as difficult as the warring mommy blogs show.
The First Six Weeks After Baby Is Born
The first six weeks are very baby-centered. This is simply the way of things. It only becomes a problem if this baby centeredness holds, which happens almost naturally if you aren’t actively thinking of this stage as temporary.
Many think scheduling will nip baby-centered-household creep in the bud. You might have decided that you weren’t going to let the baby run you, so you will lay down the law early. You will get back to your life, and you will keep your marriage in focus. This is the gist of books like “Babywise.” When all but a few babies prove resistant to early scheduling, a new mom often thinks scheduling was the problem and drops the idea. Scheduling attempt or no, it is easy to get swept up in bonds and joys of motherhood and not see the need for limits on the baby’s demands until much later, when it is much harder to break habits, mom’s and the baby’s.
Perhaps counter-intuitively, I suggest rolling with the first few weeks. As long as you and your husband (and older children) know that this baby-centered stage is short, then everyone can relax. You can cuddle the baby and throw yourself into motherhood without worrying that you are neglecting the rest of your life. Your husband will not worry that you are gone from him forever. The new squiggly peanut just needs a lot more maternal attention early on. As experienced moms will tell you, this stage only feels long while you are in it. Blink, and it is gone.
These weeks are all about sleeping and eating, and you and the baby are still basically one unit if nursing. Without realistic planning, your husband might feel left out and detached. In the spirit of partnership, the popular advice suggests a night feed from Daddy. The night bottle thing is good partnership intentions tuned booby (heh) trap for feeding and sleep deprivation, as it really means no one ends up sleeping. Marriage is a partnership, but partnerships don’t require split-the-baby chore division for the sake of keeping up 50/50 appearances. He can do diplomacy, life administration, and mother care.
Decide before the baby comes how much social contact you want, visits from friends and the like. He controls all of this. This is more complicated than it sounds. You might think you want everyone around, only to change your mind by day five. It is his job to gauge your mood and adjust all of that accordingly. When his sister and your mom get into a little snit about the diaper cream you use, he runs defense. It isn’t an enviable job.
Then, of course, there are the grocery trips, bills, dog walks, calling the plumber, and replacing toilet paper rolls. These days each marriage negotiates its own division of domestic labor, but regardless of the breakdown, a husband can take over most of the life admin chores of a sleep-deprived postpartum and often-lactating woman.
Again, marriage is a partnership. Do not fall into the modern trap of thinking that childbirth means you must—or can—go full domestic as soon as you get home from the hospital. True, housewifery isn’t rocket science, as the Second Wave feminists liked to berate us, but it is a practical skill…which takes practice. Nor is maternity leave a time to prove your Enjoli woman abilities.
This way lies tears, exhaustion, and husbands who do not help because they think they are not allowed. It is one of modern women’s many ironies that as our mothers told us domestic chores were unintelligent drudgery we then assumed that they’d be easy to execute cold to prove our feminine powers. That we attempted this gambit while changing the preferred childrearing term from “mothering” to “parenting” is a little proof that there must be an intelligent controlling force in the universe who has a dry sense of humor.
Six Weeks to Four Months After Baby’s Birth
No one decides at the beginning of parenthood to let the child run everyone else’s life. It just seems to happen—and this is where it starts.
As mentioned above, scheduling rarely works, and is not advisable health-wise, for a two-week-old, but times change in motherhood. (In fact, change is the only thing that stays constant in motherhood.) But scheduling can begin to work for an eight-week-old. The reverse is true of things like Attachment Parenting. While letting a four-week-old sleep in your arms isn’t a problem, if Peanut is still napping in your arms at five months, then you will find little room in your life for anything but Peanut.
Eventually, through no fault of his own, the child could find himself resented by mom, dad, or siblings. No good will come of such resentment. Therefore, over the next few months, you should work towards a good family schedule and a baby who sleeps through the night in his own bed. This doesn’t happen overnight, and the progression is often of the three steps forward, one step back pattern, but the progression should be your goal.
This is also the time to start having Peanut spend time with family or a babysitter. If you allow others to be involved with Peanut, then Peanut won’t have much issue with it. Excepting a few “not the momma” (or occasionally, daddy) phases, known babysitters like grandparents are readily accepted if you start early.
Using babysitters is often more about training mom. For the attached moms, the first time just leave for an hour. Work up your tolerance so you are able to go out for a proper dinner without hyperventilating in a few months’ time. For those moms who are willing to leave your kid with almost anyone who offers, try to use the same few people. Change sitters too often, and Peanut might be just as clingy at nine months as the babe with the mom who has never let him out of her sight. This won’t seem like a big deal at three months when Peanut will go to anybody, but Peanut is paying attention. By five months or so, she will know her people. If momma is the only people she knows, then it’s momma or meltdown. Whether you choose to appease or try to cut the cord, it isn’t fun or easy.
After-Baby Sex Advice
Around six weeks, your doctor will likely clear you for “ruffling the feathers,” as my OB called it. I’ve found that this is a stage fraught with marriage peril. Husbands are often… more eager at this stage. Knowingly or not, he will use this transition to judge how much you have changed, wife- and mother-wise. Reluctance or complaint at this stage will worry him. For him, it has been a long time. With all the changes your body has gone through, you’ve likely not even noticed. The baby’s demands are probably starting to get to even the most devoted of mothers. You might resent his eagerness; you might resent it even more to cover for your concern over your own lack of interest. That is normal, but don’t let it control you.
This is more difficult than it sounds. Modern women are trained to shun the wifely duty. If they are in the mood for sex, no problem. Maintenance sex, however, is akin to selling out. It shouldn’t be. There is nothing wrong with sex just for the sake of pleasing your husband, just as there is nothing wrong with romantic gestures just for the sake of husbands pleasing their wives. Marriage is a partnership. Sometimes we do something for our partner just because they are our partner and that would make them happy. Sex is only one of those things.
Furthermore, sex for married people is also a way to simply reconnect. With all of the stresses of early parenthood, from baby concerns to family tensions, sex doesn’t have to be the ripped clothes thrown into the corner variety to be a good thing. Sorry for going sappy, but sometimes it is just about physical intimacy.
My advice is a bit of “act as if you have faith and it will be given unto you.” If you are willing to engage in a little maintenance sex, then when your drive kicks back into gear a few months later (all women are different, of course, but around six months is pretty common), you might find that you are driving a turbo-charged sports car. If, however, you spend those months complaining about your demanding husband and letting resentment fester, then you might find that you have a rusty El Camino with water in the gas tank. Husbands should take note, too, that the early stages are likely to be maintenance sex. He shouldn’t worry, shouldn’t read anything into, if you just aren’t that into it at first. Just do it.
Complicating matters, sex is often shockingly uncomfortable at first. I am thankful for my wonderful doctor, who told me the following: if you are nursing, then you are likely to be very dry. I forget which hormone he said is responsible. You don’t need a little bit of KY, you need a lot. (Husbands, note: this is a time when quick finishes are most welcome.) This is the piece of mother knowledge that I have had to share the most often. For couples who never needed help before, or for women who assume that a little dab will do ya, they think they have an actual problem, be it physical or emotional. This phantom problem causes far too much worry for something with a simple explanation that can be solved by a trip to Target. The issue will continue until you stop nursing, though it will lessen as you wean.
Four to Six Months After Baby Arrives
Around four to five months, you should see the light at the end of the tunnel. You should be getting more sleep. (Note, I did not write “a lot of sleep” or “enough sleep”—just “more” sleep.) Your relationship with your husband, in and out of the bedroom, should be coming back to center. You should be able to socialize a bit.
Around six months, you should enter the family normal. What do I mean by that? Well, your marriage can still be front and center, you can still have friends, you can still have work, but all of the practical bits will have changed. For instance, if you enjoyed socializing with friends on Saturday evening, now you can’t do it at 7 p.m. You can do something earlier, five-ish, or you can go out, or have friends over for cocktails after Peanut is in bed, say eight-ish, but it will be years before 7 p.m. is a preferred social hour. You probably won’t stay out until 1 a.m., either. In fact, you may turn into a pumpkin by 10 p.m.
If you and your husband were the spontaneous type, now you might have to schedule the spontaneity. Eleven years into motherhood myself, I only vaguely recall deciding to go to, say, a movie, and just grabbing my purse and heading out.
For work, church, and charity you will find that flexibility and random spurts of activity are more possible than a rigid schedule or long-term commitments. Mentally, you should have some more intellectual energy for reading or whatever you fancy, but that also comes in fits and spurts. Don’t worry much unless you find that you aren’t able to discuss anything but children. You will discuss children more. You will be delighted to surprised that you like discussing children as much as you do. But you should be willing and able to discuss other things as well.
You can modify this schedule for non-traditional baby arrivals like adoptions. Although the children might be older, they will still need lots of attention in the beginning to bond with parents and get into the family routine. Just sit down with your husband and discuss the possible transitions. Additional children also change the pattern a little. The overall idea, however, is the same.
Manage your time as a parent to avoid your and your husband’s resentment. The whens and hows of your previous life have to change, but the whats don’t.