Here's your chance to be a fly on the wall as three couples and a family therapist explore some of the common fears and issues expectant parents deal with. Plus a quiz to find out if your relationship is baby-ready.
A while back, we invited a group of pregnant women to our offices to tell us what they liked about our magazine and what they wished they'd find more of in its pages. Give it to us straight, they told us. Give us the nitty-gritty, a real-world look at what being pregnant, giving birth and having a new baby in the house are really like. What they wanted more than anything was honest information about the emotional aspects of pregnancy and new parenthood, including the lowdown on the impact on a couple's relationship.
So early this year we asked three expectant Los Angeles-area couples to take part in a roundtable discussion with Fit Pregnancy Advisory Board member Gayle Peterson, M.S.S.W., Ph.D., a family therapist who specializes in pregnancy and parenting. The result was a no-holds-barred airing of some of the fears and issues prospective parents face today.
All the participants were nervous and excited about having a baby but also optimistic they would be good, loving parents. Given their sincerity and thoughtfulness, we're confident they will be. As for you, we hope what they learned will help you in your own journey toward becoming a parent.
THE COUPLES: Josh and Marina Myler, both 32, met 14 years ago and have been married for 2 1/2 years. Their first child, a boy, is due Feb. 19. Josh is a real estate agent; Marina an actress and writer.
Christopher Miglino, 38, and Mariam "Chandanni" Parris Miglino, 33, have been married for almost four years and are expecting their second child on April 3. They run a multimedia company devoted to yoga, holistic living and spirituality. Mariam lives with their daughter, Shanti, 2, and her parents during the week while Chris travels on business. The couple spend weekends together.
Anthony Jones, 29, and Michelle Alfonzo, 26, have been together for approximately two years and welcomed their first child, Jalen Emilio, on Jan. 20. Anthony runs an entertainment company and works as a DJ on weekends. Michelle is an audit clerk for a medical staffing firm.
OUR MODERATOR: Gayle Peterson, M.S.S.W., Ph.D., is a family therapist and the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and Making Healthy Families (Shadow and Light Publications). A mother of two and grandmother of three, she has offices in Oakland and Grass Valley, Calif.
He's Concerned There Won't Be A Balance Between Being Parents And Being A Couple.
Josh: I'm afraid of not having any time for romance after the baby is born, worried we won't set aside time to go out alone together and keep things interesting. I've talked to couples who swore never to have help because they don't want to miss a single wonderful moment of their baby's life, but I think there has to be a balance.
Dr. Peterson: You're correct--the couple's relationship is the garden in which children grow. That relationship is like a plant: If you don't water it regularly, it dies. This is why it's so important to carve out time to be alone together and to be romantic. Even if you're breastfeeding, you can go out for 2 to 2 1/2 hours if you have someone you can trust to care for the baby.
When you have children, three things can happen: You can not have room for them in your relationship; you can have room for children and your relationship; or you can have room for children only and not your relationship. Guess which one is balanced?
Marina: I worry about neglecting intimacy too. The longer you go without it, the harder it is to get it back.
Dr. Peterson: That's really true for physical intimacy as well. Besides being tired, new mothers can get "touched out" taking care of a baby, especially if they're breastfeeding. So it's natural for a couple's sex life to decrease in frequency after they have a baby, but it's important to keep it alive. You just have to plan for it because there's so little time for spontaneity anymore. It doesn't sound very romantic, but that's the way it is.
Pregnancy Sometimes Makes Her Feel Trapped And Resentful.
Michelle: Recently, Anthony wanted to go out to a club that I love. He didn't want me to go with him because it would be full of cigarette smoke. Of course, I knew I shouldn't go, but I felt like I was trapped because I was pregnant. I realized I was being jealous; still, we had a fight about it and he left the house.
Anthony: I got upset and angry with Michelle. But then I decided that instead of expressing anger toward her, which tends to make her withdraw, I would try to understand where she was coming from. When I tried putting myself in her shoes, I ended up not going to the club. I came home without her knowing it and slept on the couch.
Dr. Peterson: This is the kind of restriction that comes up a lot after a child is born, and it's important to learn what gets you through it. The "attack-withdrawal" syndrome you described won't get anyone anywhere. When discussing things, you need a "soft startup" instead of a harsh one--this means that even though you both might have strong feelings, you need to start dealing with an issue by attacking less and connecting more. In this case, what worked was Anthony putting himself in Michelle's shoes. You both had to give something up, but the way it turned out helped to bond you as a family.
She Worries That Having A Second Child Will Cause Them To Lead Separate Lives.
Mariam: My husband's business is his passion, his life, and it's all mixed together. I've had to join his life, or I'd never see him. I don't want separate lives; I want us to be a team. I'm afraid he's so obsessed about making positive change in the world and creating a beautiful life for us that he won't put our family first, moment to moment, day to day.
Dr. Peterson: It sounds like you feel things are unbalanced.
Mariam: I do, and I don't want to just accept it, because I'm afraid we'll drift apart. I'm also afraid that if I don't address it, it will become a big issue in our relationship.
Chris: I don't see it that way; I don't feel I'm going to be uninvolved in our family's life. When we made a decision to have a baby, I accepted the responsibility that comes along with that--it's just as important for me as anything else.
Dr. Peterson: You work together, but you also need "couples time" so that you're not just together for the children and the work. Chris and Mariam, your homework is to find some regular activities to do together, even if it's just once a month. It's the regularity that counts. Spontaneity is for when you don't have kids; plans are for when you do.
He Wants To Watch The Birth; She Doesn't Want Him To.
Marina: I've heard stories about men who watched their wives give birth and then had a very different relationship with her body. They didn't see it quite the same. That's why I want Josh to stay up by my face when I'm having the baby.
Josh: I understand Marina's concern, but I feel that giving birth and having sex are two mutually exclusive things. I really want to watch the birth and don't see myself being negatively affected. I think it will be the most beautiful and amazing thing in the world.
Dr. Peterson: Marina, hopefully that will assure you. You're going to see and have much more to deal with than childbirth as you go through the life cycle together. And it's important for people to see normal births. The negative fantasies happen when birth occurs behind closed doors. It's also important to know that for a woman, sexuality deepens after giving birth--not immediately, but over time. The ability to be sensual increases because more blood goes to the pelvic area.
She "Wants It All"; He Thinks That's Impossible.
Chris: During Mariam's first pregnancy, everything was cool--we did yoga all the time, traveled, even went to India. Then the baby was born, and we couldn't keep living like that, even though we thought we'd be able to. Mariam found it hard; she felt trapped in hotels with the baby, breastfeeding. So that has become an issue with us; she wants to be involved in everything that is going on. But when you have a child, there's a trade-off--you can't have it all or do it all.
Mariam: It's true, I want to work and travel, but I also know my young children need me. Yet I'm afraid of being stuck in the house alone while Chris is out having an exciting life.
Dr. Peterson: Chris, because you're gone a lot, it's especially important that there are times when you have primary, hands-on caretaking responsibility for the children. That way, Mariam will feel you understand her and what she deals with. If Chris finds a way to help Mariam do the things she wants to do, she feels he's supporting her. That really strengthens your bond. It's important for the children too--it makes them feel secure with both parents.
As you're all learning, the birth of a baby represents the birth of a family. Every stage--such as going from a couple to having one child, then a second --requires negotiation and adjustment. Your challenge as a couple is learning how to stay connected through time and conflict. Family research shows that's what makes all the difference.
Take the Relationship Baby-Ready Quiz