Recently, while traveling, I had the joy of visiting a fully pregnant relative. She was so close to delivery, I wondered if I might be called on to assist in an emergency home birth. “Come on now,” you might ask, “What do you mean, fully pregnant? Pregnant is pregnant.” Yes, you’re technically right, but have you seen a woman about to deliver up close and personal recently? There needs to be some adjective to describe that stage of pregnancy!
I happen to think pregnancy is an amazing and beautiful time for a woman, and, hopefully, for a couple. When else is growing larger filled with such joy and anticipation? The changes in one’s body as a child grow inside border on miraculous.
It’s not only a huge change for the body; it’s a also huge change for relationships. And it comes at a time when hormones are flitting all over the place, adding what seems some days to be lighter fluid to the mix. The unexpected ups and downs with twists can be like the Soaring Eagle roller coaster at Coney Island, only they last longer than 48 seconds. Try 40 weeks!
And then, it’s over. You are no longer pregnant. Instead, you are a parent. For the rest of your life. The changes you’ll face go on and on, and on and on.
A couple often gets a lot of help during late pregnany, and soon after, the baby is born. There are baby showers, baby books and offers of food. That’s all good. The amount of stuff needed for a baby these days far outweighs the little one’s birth weight!
But what about the help needed for the other stuff? The emotional and relationship stuff we don’t talk about as much? There are challenges for the Mom-to-be, and for the Dad-to-be. Single parents have additional emotional challenges. And let’s not forget the changes and challenges for any siblings, too. There are many questions and concerns that can arise. For example:
· I’m really excited we’re having a baby…Too bad my partner isn’t.
· I wonder how my husband can still be attracted to me as I get so big…Is he looking elsewhere?
· What if something terrible happens during the birth? What if I don’t like being a parent? What if I'm not a good parent?
· How will we manage to have our special couple relationship when there are three of us?
· Sleepless nights are driving me insane. Really, I wonder if I’m losing it.
· This baby is darling, but I’m feeling resentful to have so much extra work and responsibility.
· My in-laws have a different sense of how to parent; I don’t know how to deal with them.
· We love the baby, but big sister seems to be having some troubles. What should we do?
· Now I know the “Baby Blues” are for real. This is serious. And my partner doesn’t get it.
These type of concerns and difficulties are common. Thinking about them is one thing. Talking about them is another. It can be pretty uncomfortable. Uncomfortable enough many avoid it. Sometimes, new parents don’t feel like they should be asking questions that indicate anything less than total excitement over the impending birth or newborn child. They can be concerned that bringing something up and talking about it honestly might result in the very thing they fear coming true or getting worse.
I’m always glad when couples raise these types of questions with me in counseling. You see, the truth is, talking about something honestly in a committed relationship is usually a good idea.
Talking about things that worry us can lower our fears. Talking about concerns can help us navigate the twists and turns ahead. Talking about things can free us from stress that eats away at our insides. Talking about things can help us come up with good ideas to problem solve. Talking about things with a loved one can deepen the relationship.
Positive support and good communication are vital components for a healthy pregnancy and successful adjustment to living with a newborn. Many expectant parents today are not living near close relatives who could offer support. Many new moms and dads have no experience caring for an infant. Many dads wonder about how to be supportive enough to their partner. Many feel isolated and unprepared to meet the challenges ahead. Many could benefit from extra support and a safe place to talk about concerns.
Midwives, doctors and nurses are all good people to raise emotional type questions with. But there's another category of helpers that can provide focused help on just such issues — counselors. Family/couple counselors are uniquely poised to help expectant couples prepare themselves for the big relationship changes going on and the ones that lie ahead.
Counseling isn’t just for when you are facing severe problems. It can also be appropriate for when you are facing one of life’s transitions, like the birth of a child. I’m glad our region has many capable counselors, because almost every expectant couple could benefit from a few sessions geared around how best to keep a healthy family during the changes pregnancy and birth bring.
Sometimes, in addition to normal changes, there are larger concerns, like depression or high anxiety. We know these can impact not only the health of the mom, but the well-being of the baby as well. It’s especially important to seek help if there are larger concerns.
So, here’s a creative idea for a baby gift for a couple you admire. Why not give them a gift certificate for a few sessions of counseling? Expectant parents could give this to each other as well. It might end up being the longest lasting gift received.
Oh, in case you are wondering, I’m a proud Auntie to a darling new nephew born two days after my visit! I can’t wait to go back and meet him.