Read an Excerpt
Preparing Together for the Journey of Parenthood
By Suzanne Hadley Gosselin, Brandy Bruce
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. Copyright © 2014 Focus on the Family
All rights reserved.
When Two Become Three
"Everything's going to change."
People seemed delighted to tell us this when they found out we were expecting for the first time. To my husband, Kevin, and me, these words seemed more like an ominous warning than the wondrous prediction I'm sure they were intended to be. The very idea of such a life-altering change stirred up resistance in my spirit. I knew things would change a little, of course, but certainly everything wouldn't change.
One thing I was confident would not change was my relationship with Kevin. He and I met in a fairy-tale fashion one Sunday evening (as he made my latte at Starbucks), and our courtship and marriage swiftly followed suit.
We both love children and were hoping to have a family, so six months into marriage, when we learned a baby would be joining us, we were overjoyed. We were also still solidly in the honeymoon phase. Though we had heard stories about how a baby changes things, I stubbornly refused to believe that pregnancy and the birth of a child would disturb our "perfect" marriage.
While not every couple starts a family as soon after marriage as we did, every couple will face their own relational adjustments as they negotiate the season of pregnancy and the one following the baby's arrival. Although God's plan for each couple and family is different, my belief that absolutely nothing would change in our marriage was ... well, mistaken.
Not only were others intent on telling us that everything would change, but they were also fond of telling us their parental "horror stories." For example, they would recount the chilling tale of their thirty-eight-hour labor experience or Junior's epic blowout on the airplane.
Sleep in, they would tell us. Go to the late movie. Look deeply into one another's eyes, because those days are coming to an end ... forever (or at least the next eighteen years). Soon the most interesting thing in your life is going to be the bodily fluids emerging from a being the size of a burrito. And before you know it, your greatest desire won't be for a tropical vacation or a new car but for an hour of uninterrupted sleep ... or a shower.
Mercifully, those days will pass, the naysayers would continue, only to be replaced by years on end when you'll completely lose your own identity (particularly in the eyes of the child's grandparents, formerly known as your parents), your days will revolve around naptime (Baby's, not yours, unfortunately), and all your worldly goods will be systematically destroyed by your little "blessings" and/or permeated by Cheerios, raisins, or unidentifiable crumbs.
It's enough to panic any expectant couple. Like us, you may begin to wonder if all your former happiness as a couple is about to slip away.
What those well-meaning naysayers neglect to tell you is that it's worth it.
Let that sink in for a minute. It's worth it.
And as you follow the development of your little one inside the womb and plan for the joys of welcoming him or her, you are likely more in tune with the miraculous nature of parenthood than those in the throes of child rearing.
The truth is, the thrill you are experiencing as expectant parents is more in line with reality. And whether you feel it right now or not, you will be better off for having a child. Ask any parent you know: There are certain inalienable rights and joys that come along with being a mom or a dad.
Ashley, a mother of two, says, "There is absolutely no way—zero—that you can understand how much you will love your child until you have a child. It's the last great, unopened chamber of your heart that doesn't unlock until you have a baby. People can (and love to) tell you how hard it is to care for kids. They don't tell you enough about that secret, unopened chamber. They should."
So while things are going to change (and we're going to look at that in depth and offer tips on how to navigate the journey), let me assure you that entering into the adventure of parenthood is not the end; it's only the beginning. And it is so worth it.
WHEN BABY MAKES THREE
I went into pregnancy naïve about how the addition of a baby might affect Kevin's and my relationship. There was no way for me (or him) to anticipate how hormones, sleep deprivation, the stress of caring for an infant, and just adjusting to a huge life change in general would test our marital bliss. I'm thankful that we concentrated on good communication during pregnancy, which allowed us to anticipate, and prepare for, some of the challenges ahead.
When Dr. Greg and Erin Smalley learned they were pregnant with their first child, they weren't expecting to start a family for another five years. Though the birth of their daughter radically changed the couple's immediate plans for the future, "This pregnancy was not unknown to God," Erin says. "Our daughter was such an incredible blessing."
In addition to having to change their immediate plans—which included calling off a study-abroad opportunity in England—the couple says they also experienced a shift in their relationship. Dr. Smalley, author and vice president of Family Ministries at Focus on the Family, and his wife, Erin, a counselor and former labor and delivery nurse, identify three areas where expectant couples may experience changes in their relationship:
1. Communication. When a baby is on the way, a couple's conversation can become all about the baby. "You're preparing your home and relationship for this baby to join your family," Erin says. "Of course you're going to talk about it!"
This kind of conversation is healthy and natural, but couples should also be sensitive to what their partner needs.
"There's something magical and amazing about dreaming about parenthood together and deciding on names and thinking about who this child will be," Greg says. "But your spouse may also want to talk about other interests."
"You need to see yourself as a couple, not just a couple of parents," Erin adds. "That's something you'll need to do over the rest of your parenting years."
While it's important to remain sensitive to the needs of your spouse, there's no need to eliminate conversation about the baby altogether. Some of my best memories from my first pregnancy involve talking about the baby with Kevin, as well as special outings we took to the baby store and staying up until all hours of the night scouring baby-name websites.
As your topics of conversation expand to stroller brands and cloth or disposable, just make sure you're engaging your spouse in conversation that makes him or her feel loved and valued.
Greg says listening—especially on the part of the guy—is key to good communication during pregnancy. "Men like to communicate when there's a problem to solve," he says. "When hormones are raging and it's hard to know if her feelings are rational, the worst thing I can do is debate whether her feeling is right or wrong. I'm going to be a listener."
2. Care. Pregnancy is a season where tenderness between partners can expand exponentially.
Not long ago, I was at the gym working out on an elliptical machine. A few minutes into my workout, a woman stepped onto the machine next to me, and not long after that, her husband came and stood next to her. He lingered there for the remaining twenty minutes of her workout, which I found a little strange.
Only after she finished did I notice the telling "bump" protruding from her middle and the signature pregnancy swagger as her husband accompanied her—his hand on the small of her back—to the watercooler. I smiled, remembering how attentive and protective my husband was during my pregnancies.
"Our perspective of each other changed," Greg says, recalling Erin's first pregnancy. "You find a new variation of your love for each other. I remember looking at Erin and watching her belly grow and thinking, She's carrying my child. Wow. I gained a whole new level of appreciation for who she was. There's an amazing beauty to your wife when she's pregnant with your child.
"And for a woman, having her husband take care of her and do chores that maybe he hasn't done before or work extra shifts to prepare for the expenses—all of that really adds to a deepening love for each other."
3. Conflict. It would be great if every relational change during the journey of pregnancy was a positive one, but with big changes ahead, new relationship difficulties can surface.
"Whether this baby will bring spouses closer together or drive them apart has everything to do with the pre-baby relationship," Greg says. "Having a child is going to intensify everything in the relationship. The good will be even better, but the bad will be magnified by 1,000 percent. When you factor in sleep deprivation, the hormones, the exhaustion, even tiny things spark. What may have been a small disagreement before can turn into a major issue."
Erin adds, "The couple may be dealing with some new frustrations with each other. There are a lot of women who assume that their spouse should know about and be meeting these new needs she has. Sometimes even the intense mood swings—the highs and lows of pregnancy—can lead to conflicts and disappointments that are new for a couple."
The Smalleys suggest that couples seek counseling for any significant issues that arise. "Shore up your relationship before the baby comes," Greg says. "How are you handling stress? How are you dealing with conflict? If there are any past issues you haven't dealt with, deal with them now."
In addition, he advises, "Keep short accounts. When conflict happens, give each other space, the benefit of the doubt, and grace. Be quick to offer forgiveness."
STAYING CONNECTED DURING PREGNANCY
While many couples will experience a deepening of their relationship through their shared anticipation of Baby-on-the-Way, pregnancy can also be a time when a couple drifts apart slightly. In the past, it's been "just the two of us." Now the wife's mind may be focused on the baby growing inside her and how her life is about to change, while the husband's daily routine continues on much the same. (Except maybe for those late-night grocery runs to satisfy pregnancy cravings.)
There are many things couples can do to foster togetherness during this season. Think about the things you would like to do, "just the two of you," and do them—kind of a pre-baby bucket list.
My first pregnancy was very romantic; Kevin and I traveled, attended childbirth classes together, and went on some special dates (one of them to celebrate our first anniversary!). We tried to be intentional about celebrating the closing of the chapter of "just us."
Another way to minimize conflict, Greg says, is to avoid making other major life decisions during pregnancy. "Try not to change jobs, make a major move, or even buy a home," he says. "There's such an enormous amount of stress as you're preparing for the baby. Be cautious about adding more."
MAKING YOUR MARRIAGE A PRIORITY
With parenthood just around the corner, now is a good time to decide together how you will make your relationship a priority. While your true goal will be to have a Christ-centered home, the marriage itself is a foundational, God-ordained block for the family.
Studies abound on the benefits for children of having parents engaged in a strong, loving marriage. In his article for Scientific American Mind in 2010, psychologist Dr. Robert Epstein revealed the results of a study he conducted with Shannon Fox. The study compared ten effective parenting practices and ranked them. The top result (the most effective parenting practice) was giving the child love and affection. However, the next two surprised Epstein: managing stress in the parent's own life and having a good relationship with his or her spouse.
"In other words, your children benefit not just from how you treat them but also from how you treat your partner and yourself," Dr. Epstein concludes. "Children benefit when their parents share a loving, affectionate relationship marked by forgiveness and respect."
Joshua Rogers, writer and blogger at JoshuaRogers.com, makes another important point on the impact of the husband-wife relationship in a blog post he wrote upon the birth of his second daughter:
As I ponder the life ahead for my two-day-old daughter, it hits me all over again: If I'm going to be a good dad, I've got to be a good husband first. Because whether I like it or not, my daughters will look at the way I love their mother, and it will teach them what kind of man they deserve.
Think of it—I'm going to be the first man my daughters love, and I will set the precedent as to how a man should treat a woman. If I am respectfully direct when I communicate with their mom, they will probably avoid a passive-aggressive man who gives them the cold shoulder. If I criticize and pick at their mom, they will tolerate a man who puts them down. But if I strive to love, serve, honor, and cherish their mom, they will look for the qualities of Christ in a man.
Keeping your marriage strong in the midst of the chaos of caring for a baby may seem like a daunting, or even impossible, task. Don't worry. Throughout this book, we're going to consider practical ways to help your marriage thrive not only during pregnancy but also in the seasons to follow. This foundational element of your family is so important, and with God's help you can do this! The first step, however, is deciding together that you're going to make your marriage a priority.
It's no secret that a thriving sexual relationship is a key component to a strong marriage. Some couples may experience great sex during pregnancy, while others may discover that pregnancy symptoms put a damper on bedroom activities. Similarly, for some couples, resuming intimacy after the baby arrives comes easily and naturally, while others may face some obstacles. Either way, psychologist and author Dr. Juli Slattery says couples need to be proactive about sex, both during pregnancy and following the baby's birth.
As co-founder and president of Authentic Intimacy, a Christian organization that ministers to women on topics related to intimacy in marriage, Dr. Slattery has spoken to many couples about making time for intimacy even during this time of transition.
"There's a balance between saying, 'This is a tiring stage of life, and we can't put as much energy into sex as we did before the baby'—that's just a reality—and putting it on the back burner, saying, 'We'll get to it someday.' You have to make sex a priority."
While the following suggestions relate to bringing back intimacy following your baby's birth, they are helpful to keep in mind during pregnancy as well.
Pay attention to one another's physical needs. The man will likely be ready for sex before the woman is. I heard of one husband who circled the six-week date on the calendar (and I'm sure many husbands are well aware of that magical day). While the man may be raring to go, the woman may feel the opposite. Combine what she's been through physically with post-pregnancy hormones, and she may be finding it difficult to "get in the mood."
"The mother is full of oxytocin, which creates a strong infatuation with her baby," Gary Thomas says. "She's bonding with her child, which is healthy, but she may be neglecting to do that with her husband. Some husbands can feel like their wives are having an 'affair' with the baby."
A woman can be sensitive to her husband by seeking to meet his sexual needs (once she is physically and emotionally able). And a man can be sensitive to his wife by waiting patiently until she is ready for sex while helping provide for some of her greatest needs, such as sleep, food, and relief from full-time care of their infant.
Sandra and Jake had been married for just a little over a year when their baby arrived. "I wanted to be sure we kept the newlywed flame alive," Sandra says. "Before the six weeks were up, we took showers together and tried other ways of being intimate. Not only did I feel like I was encouraging my husband, who was going through a big transition himself in becoming a dad, but it actually made me more excited for when we could start having sex again."
Make privacy a priority. While couples may choose to implement different practices for where the baby sleeps, protecting intimacy by creating a secluded area for Mom and Dad to be together is crucial. "We chose not to have our babies share our room or our bed with us," says Mary. "So we didn't struggle with privacy." Parents who choose to keep the baby in their room may consider placing the baby's bassinet in an area away from the bed. One couple moved the bassinet into their walk-in closet for small periods of time to create a feeling of privacy. Couples can also indulge in baby-free snuggle time, while the baby is sleeping or in the swing.
Excerpted from Expectant Parents by Suzanne Hadley Gosselin, Brandy Bruce. Copyright © 2014 Focus on the Family. Excerpted by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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