The journey begins! Having a baby is a rite of passage. You and your partner are creating the next generation in your families and thus entered a new stage of your life and your relationship together. How you adjust to your new roles and each other will partly be influenced by the expectations you have of birth, of your partner and of yourself as a parent...
Make sure you both do an ante-natal class that will educate you not just about the process of birth and the birth choices available, but also prepare you to think about life with a newborn (and I don't just mean how to change nappies!). Many couples find the most challenging aspects of new parenthood are the situations, issues and decisions they weren't prepared for. Now is the time to plan how much time you can take off work, gather together a support network to help out with cooking and housework, have some honest conversations with friends who have babies and read up on bonding...for the first few months at least you will be too tired and too busy getting to know your new little person to do it all then.
Whilst most births go according to plan, it's wise to expect the unexpected. The more prepared you are, the more confident and relaxed you will feel and this helps the birth process. Be prepared that there might be a point where things get beyond your control and you just have to go with what's best for both you and the baby.
If you have already had your baby, and the birth didn't go according to plan, it might take longer than you expected to recover, both physically and emotionally. Even a 'normal' birth experience can be overwhelming for both mum and dad, and in some cases even traumatic. If this is the case for you see Birth Trauma in Extra Support.
In this early stage you are all adjusting to a new life and each day is different, so any planning will go out the window! Don't be too concerned about getting the baby into a routine yet, that will come, now it's about making the transition from inside mum to the outside world as smooth as possible. Labour and delivery can be exhausting for all, so the first few weeks are best spent resting and nesting and getting to know each other. Everything else can wait.
Most new parents underestimate the amount of time and energy it takes to look after a newborn. Feelings of being overwhelmed, frustrated and exhausted are as common as all the joy and wonder of it all. Try to have a good support system in place as soon as possible - cook and freeze meals when you have the time and energy so they are ready when you don't, put your favourite take-away menus somewhere handy, ask friends and/or family to give you a hand with the housework or run errands so you can concentrate on your priorities - each other.
New fathers often have an image of returning home from a stressful workday to the warm cocoon of home and family, where they can relax and recuperate. The reality is that they are met at the door by a frantic and/or exhausted mother desperate for some adult conversation and/or some loving arms in which to deposit the baby so she can have a much-needed break. Be aware that this can turn into a competition of who does more or who needs more time off.
The reality is that you BOTH need "down time" to relax or exercise and switch off from your responsibilities from work or home. Mutually discuss ways this can happen. Perhaps dad can stop on the way home for a quick break so he is ready to take over when he gets in the door or the two of you can take your baby for a walk together, or take turns. It's important that you find ways to relieve stress that work for both of you. See Stress Management for more.
Becoming a mother can mean different things to different people. It can be exciting, anxiety provoking and exhausting at different times and sometimes all at once! While the media portrays pregnant mums as glowing creatures confidently preparing dust-free nurseries chock-full of brand new goodies, the reality is that it is not unusual for newborn mums to feel some concern about how having a baby is going to affect their lives, and whether they have what it takes to care for a baby.
Motherhood for some comes naturally, but for most of us it means learning new skills and finding new qualities inside ourselves that we may not have known existed. Learning means making mistakes and then doing things differently. In the early days this can feel like being disorganised or out of control, but these feelings are perfectly natural and things will get better, the more you get the hang of it. Be gentle on yourself, you are doing your best and in time and with practice you will do better. Don't worry too much - there is nobody in the world who loves your baby more than you do - therefore there is nobody in the world who is better qualified to look after them. You can learn all you need to know and more in terms of mothercraft skills. Just give yourself some time - take a deep breath - and RELAX!
Don't fall into the trap of showing everybody that you are coping really well by trying to do everything yourself, especially if it leaves dad out. Fathers need to spend time caring for babies too - this is the beginning of their new relationship. Don't be too hard on your man if he starts working harder, dads usually want to step up and be the best provider they can be for their new families. Let him know that you appreciate his contribution, but that you need him involved too. Talk together about how you can take the financial pressures off. Accept all offers of outside help and put some out there so you can spend valuable time and energy adjusting to your new life as a family.
It is not unusual to find after you have a baby that your circle of friends can change. When you have young children it's just easier to maintain friendships with other people who have young children - you know their houses are child-friendly, they have the same activities and visit the same places. If you don't have friends in your area, now is a good time to join a group, social, exercise or other, and foster some new friendships with parents for both you and bub. This is also the perfect time to re-establish friendships with people you lost contact with because THEY had babies. A network of close girlfriends who are at the same life stage can be like a lifeline in times of need.
During pregnancy its a good idea to check in with yourself how you feel about becoming a dad. What are your hopes for your family? What were your own experiences growing up? The answers to these questions will affect how you experience this transition. Think also about how stable your relationship with your partner, how ready you are for parenthood and if there is any work to be done to shore up the foundations of your partnership - as this is the base for your new family.
In the first few months, especially if your partner is breastfeeding, it can feel like, apart from changing nappies and holding the baby, you are not able to do much. It's common for new fathers to feel a little left out. Although it might seem that you are not doing much, nothing is further from the truth, just spending time with your newborn is bonding them to you, they are becoming familiar your voice, touch and smell and this helps them to feel safe and secure in the world.
Your partner may be a bit anxious about her responsibilities especially in the first few months, but sometimes can be afraid to admit it, so it's important that you are aware of this and support her efforts in parenting. This helps to develop her confidence and feel good about being a mother. Take some time to discuss with your partner how you can support her. This will be different for different women. Some feel supported by being appreciated with words, some by having a cup of tea made for them.
One of the hardest things for a new father is witnessing his partner's roller-coaster of emotions and not knowing what to do about them. Put aside your problem-solving skills for this one. For her, it isn't so much a problem to be solved, but something she just needs to work through. Let her talk and she will come to understand herself. Show her you care and are there for her. Sometimes a hug or a bigger shoulder to cry on is enough. Share your own struggles. Sharing our struggles with a partner binds us together and this is better than struggling against each other.
When we have a baby the dynamics, the underlying structure of a relationship can change. Previously it was about balancing the needs of two equal partners. Afterwards it can become two unequal partners and one dependant baby. Before, our partner's needs were as important (or sometimes more important) than our own. When baby arrives for some couples, all of a sudden, baby is No.1 and Dad is 'helping' Mum to look after baby. This sudden shift in the pecking order can take some adjustment on both sides.
It's vital that we stay bonded as a couple as we're both bonding with our new baby. Dealing with hormones gone haywire, body changes, less opportunity to spend time together and for uninterrupted conversation and shifting roles can introduce friction and distance between us. Make it a priority to check in with each other regularly and let your partner know you haven't lost sight of them.