A baby can turn your world upside down. Here's how to enjoy your new perspective.
When Angela Dunkle, a Los Angeles art director, had to first drop off 8-week-old son, Jack, at day care, she was a self-described basket case. “I told myself that what I was experiencing was just hormonal, but it was really hard, and I still bawl my eyes out when I leave him.” If your company doesn’t offer on-site day care, ask about flextime working schedules. Also, take it from those who have been there: Extend your leave for as long as possible.
The birth of your child will also bring you, at some point, to the realization that solitude is now catch as catch can. “Once I was in the supermarket without the baby and I thought, ‘I can decide, all by myself, which apples I want,’” says Schwartz. “I relish those little moments to myself. I find them if I can take a bath at night. Work becomes personal time, as does going to the gym.”
Relationships with friends will be affected, too. Socializing with childless friends might give way to time spent with friends who have kids. Your childless comrades might decamp on their own, flummoxed by your passage to the baby netherworld. The answer may be to keep in touch with childless friends on the days—or nights—you can get a baby-sitter.
And Baby Makes Three
As Nora Ephron astutely observed in her novel Heartburn, having a baby is like tossing a hand grenade into a marriage. “Parents should disabuse themselves of the idea that Baby will bring them closer,” says Jay Belsky, Ph.D., a Pennsylvania State University professor of human development and author of The Transition to Parenthood (Delacorte, 1995). “In fact,” he adds, “it could do the opposite.” In a study he conducted of 250 couples, half reported a decline in marital satisfaction during the first 18 months postpartum. (While 35 percent noticed no change, only 15 percent said marital quality improved after Baby.)
One of the largest sources of conflict can be the domestic division of labor. Typically, according to Belsky, a mother’s workload jumps 250 percent after a baby’s birth, compared to a 25 percent decrease in the father’s. Among most couples, the baby-related work is still categorized as woman’s work, and because mothers are usually the ones to stay at home, the majority of domestic work, including the husband’s contributions prior to Baby, tend to wind up in her domain. The trick is to start the discussion with your spouse before Baby arrives to ward off conflicts later.
My husband and I fell into the, ahem, “decline” category. Snappy, hostile communication was the order of the day as we fairly buckled under the stresses of unrelenting baby needs, overwhelming work schedules and the zombielike symptoms of sleep deprivation. At times we treated each other as adversaries, each vying for the prized position of most long suffering and hardest working. (“What do you mean, you don’t want to hold the baby? I’ve had four hours of sleep, no shower for three days, and I made the coffee this morning!”) This landed us at opposite ends of a therapist’s couch for a brief time, relearning the rudimentary laws of courtesy. (The intervention worked.) “
Most couples are not prepared for the strain of creating more egalitarian relationships at home, and it is that strain which seems to lead men and women to feeling more negative about their partners,” writes Carolyn Pape Cowan, Ph.D., a research psychologist at University of California, Berkeley and co-author with her husband, Philip Cowan, Ph.D., of When Partners Become Parents: The Big Life Change for Couples (Basic Books, 1993). This palpable tension, combined with sleep deprivation, usually spills over into the realm of intimacy.