There is a subversive message for couples that are having a baby. This message makes it sound like women must feel amazingly awesome all the time during pregnancy. Men must be so filled with excitement about the new baby that they won’t even think about what they need anymore.
The Expectation for Pregnant Parents is Unfair
In reading the latest news about couples and pregnancy leading up to writing this article, there is something massively important that is missing from all of the information I found.
I did a survey of men and women who have been through pregnancy. The results of this survey were surprising and go against the conventional wisdom. They are incredibly helpful for expecting parents and their relationships.
There is an unfair and unrealistic expectation for parents who are expecting a baby. Part of this expectation is that they will be swept up in a wave of positivity and excitement about having a child. If they have any feelings of anxiety, doubt or depression there must be something wrong with them. There is something sentimental about our society that likes to hold onto this myth that the physical discomfort of pregnancy will be outweighed by the thrill of nurturing a new life within your own body.
Everyone’s Experience is Very Different
One important finding is that each individual person has a drastically different experience of their time being pregnant. Some women really do feel great and even seem like they are “glowing” as people like to say. Other women feel worse than they ever have before. Some women are depressed during their first pregnancy, but not with their second child. The most important take away from this is the realization that whatever your experience, it’s ok! There is nothing wrong with you.
The following are a few varying answers to the question:
What would you want someone who was about to become pregnant to know?
- It’s hard
- It’s fun
- It’s not as fun as I thought
- Try to enjoy it/don’t stress
- It’s the best and toughest work of your life
- It totally changes a couple’s relationship
And these pieces of advice:
- Get lot’s of sleep
- Get in shape
- Find a support network of other pregnant or trying moms
- If something doesn’t feel right, go get it checked out
- Take care of yourself
- Read and study as much as you can
It is striking how different people report their experiences being. There is no right or wrong way to be pregnant or to feel about being pregnant. Of course you can make an effort to make things as positive as possible, but the reality is that you have very little control about how you will feel during pregnancy.
Pregnancy is Often Much Harder Than People Expect
More than 50% of the couples that answered the survey questions reported that pregnancy was a lot harder than they had anticipated. This fact has a significant impact on couple relationships as well. It is very important to have open and honest communication with your partner. Opening up the idea that it’s ok that everything is not perfect allows couples to talk more openly about whatever issues they are struggling with.
A few people on the survey report having the amazing, stress free, blissful pregnancy experience and I think that is fantastic. I am so happy to hear they had that experience, but I think as a society we could do a better job of opening up the conversation to those who don’t have the greatest experiences and make it ok to talk about those challenges without their being feelings of shame or judgment attached to it.
It is reassuring to hear that others have gone through similar struggles and come out the other side.
The following are some of the biggest challenges people reported facing during pregnancy.
- Money/Boss not being understanding
- Where we lived
- Struggles of working while pregnant/Figuring out when to stop working
- Communicating with partner/Spouse not understanding
- All of the preparation
- Losing touch with friends/Not being able to socialize as much
- Worry about baby not being healthy
- Losing the baby
- Baby being accepted by half siblings
That list doesn’t even include the physical things people reported such as:
- Morning sickness/Nausea
- Feeling extremely ill and not being able to function normally
- Aches and pains/A lot of discomfort
- Weight gain
- Being tired all the time
- Loss of sex drive/My spouse still wanted to be intimate, but I lost some of that desire
Now, the purpose of this article is not to scare you away from wanting to have a child. There is a lot to be excited about when you are pregnant, planning for the next phase of life, and adding a new member to your family. The purpose of this article is to try to take the pressure off of new parents. The best thing you can do is be accepting of whatever your experience is. Many people getting ready to have a baby do not feel like they can open up and connect with others about their true experience of getting ready to have a baby.
There is Hope!
Having a baby is an opportunity for a lot of new beginnings. New relationships are built, new goals are set, and new dreams are created. During the pregnancy it is important for couples to open up with other couples going through the same thing. It is very helpful to have a support system of other people who understand what you are going through. Most importantly couples must be open with each other. The Gottman Institute has found that the couple’s emotional connection is the real foundation for a baby’s development.
The question for many couples having children is, “How can we maintain the quality of our relationship and also build a strong and healthy family?” To answer this question Gottman and his team have identified two things for couples to accomplish. I’ve added a third thing that I believe is important as well.
1. Strengthen and maintain your friendship
Strengthening your friendship means recognizing and remembering the reasons you wanted to be together. It means getting back in touch with each other and honoring the history that you have created in making a life together. It means knowing one another, having mutual respect for one another, sharing affection, and expressing empathy. It means creating a positive perspective in your family.
2. Develop effective ways to handle conflict in your relationship
During the transition to parenthood, you can expect that there will be major changes in your self-concept and in your relationship. For most couples, this causes challenges and can make conflict increase. Some of the most important things about being able to handle conflict is to be able to be understanding of each other and then to be able to repair quickly after conflicts happen. Creating small and gentle changes over time can make a big difference.
3. Be accepting of however you and your partner feel during pregnancy.
It’s likely it won’t be all butterflies and rainbows the whole time. It is ok to allow yourself to feel sad, angry and that bringing a new baby into the family is a loss of the life you had before.
Just like anything else, in order to have a good relationship while pregnant, you have to make an effort towards learning skills that will enable you to grow. It is necessary to explore your relationship with your partner in ways that will increase your relationship satisfaction and improve your parenting.
Don’t be too worried if your pregnancy didn’t or isn’t going as wonderfully as you’d expected. Everyone’s experience is different and it’s often much harder than people expect. This can take a toll on a couple’s relationship during this time. It is important to have open communication, be accepting of how you feel, strengthen your friendship with each other, and develop effective ways to handle conflict in your relationship.
In addition to being through two of his wife’s pregnancies Shane Birkel is a couples therapist in private practice with offices in Dover and Portsmouth New Hampshire. He works with couples and individuals with relationship issues. For more information check him out at shanebirkel.com.