“All happiness, or unhappiness solely depends upon the quality of the object to which we are attached by love” (Baruch Spinoza)
I’m going to be honest. I adore my husband, however, we’ve had 4 babies and there have been many times when we have said “That’s enough!”, “I can’t do this anymore!”, “Who are you?” “I’m leaving!” And all for good reason. Having a baby tests even the strongest of relationships. So it’s good to do some preparation before a baby enters your life for good. First baby, or 5th, each one brings about new challenges for you and it’s worth doing a “Spring Clean” in your relationships before you give birth to help build your ‘relational resilience’ and support each other when the going gets tough (and it will and it does).
This includes your relationship with your partner, naturally (If you have one), but also your relationship with yourself, your family, close friends, work colleagues and potential new friends (there are bound to be some new Parent Pals along the way), and of course, your relationship with your home/environment where you nest and retreat (your safe place).
Why is it important?
Babies are hard work. Lovely, of course, but they disrupt in every way. Sleep, Social life and Stuff! No sleep is going to test you to the limits (it’s torturous at times and brings out the Beast in you). However, a big plus point is you will appreciate sleep so much more once you have a baby; bed-sheets and a darkened, quiet room never felt so good. Social life? Think “out with the old, in with the new”. Those raves will be rare! You will be up all night though, (that’s a fact) and you will find a new way to socialise that may not have appealed to you before; baby groups and coffee mornings will become a life-line! Let’s not forget ‘The Stuff’; babies apparently need stuff (they actually don’t need anything apart from warmth, food and love, but the Retail World says they do, so we buy it), and it fills our otherwise adult environment and takes over our designer bedroom faster than the bloke from ‘BBC Changing Rooms’ can shout “NOOOOOO”!
What can be done?
Actually, a lot. Starting with honesty and reflection. With yourself, with each other and with your family. What are the good bits? What are the bad? How do the people closest to you make you feel about yourself? Can you afford to make changes, have some distance for a while or even move on? If someone or something isn’t serving you well anymore, then perhaps it’s time to accept this and walk away for a while. It doesn’t need to be permanent, however, a new baby will take up space in your life and your heart and you will need support from people that understand and empathise with this; including you. Accepting that your transition into parenting will mean that you will be moving into a new, changed chapter in your life, is the first step.
Where can you start?
Looking within, what’s your relationship with yourself? Do you like yourself? If not, why not? What is your inner critic consistently saying and why? Is this serving you well? Will it make you feel good about yourself when you are a parent? What are your strengths and weaknesses and how can you address this. Finding your strengths, your good-points and the little things that you love about yourself will help. Reaffirming that to yourself when you are at your most tired, can keep you afloat and bring you up to where you need to be on a moment by moment basis.
Understanding what attachment style you are in a relationship is a real head-start. The book, “Attached”, (Amir Levine, M.D., and Rachel S.F. Heller, M.A), has some valuable tools to help you discover what it is you really want and how you behave in relationships. Knowing this will help as you Love-in-life: with yourself, your partner and your baby. What a gift you’ll give to your little one as you set them up with a secure attachment style in the process; grasping the importance of attachment from day one of their lives.
Be realistic and honest
Ask yourself what qualities you already have and will you need more of to be at your most resilient and what do you need from your partner and close family and friends? Beginning the ‘honesty’ conversation with those closest to you can be a great way to open up and express how you feel. Be gentle and kind, avoiding confrontation, and ask them to be honest in return. If you can lay your cards on the table now, you will be less likely to feel disappointed or resentful if and when they let you down or don’t match up to your expectations. In fact, being honest now, will go a long way in preventing unrealistic expectations that can set you up for a fall. What you expect from them may not be what you need, so addressing the realities from the fantasy will help to find a balance and address your expectations to avoid disappointment and resentment.
Being clear about how you are when you are tired, what you need to hear and what you don’t. Giving people a heads up about your postnatal plan and ensuring you stick to it. What’s the best way for you to do this? Comparing notes and ideas with your partner can help to ensure you’re both on the same page or at least see where your ideas are different. Being different is not a bad thing and Compromise is Key! It can give more clarity in aspects of your personality that may need some attention.
Being more intuitive can ensure you are honest with those around you but also yourself. Be realistic about how you’re truly feeling – being in tune with that inner cheerleader and inner critic will help you know when things are not balanced. Knowing when that inner critic is butting in that bit too much and using techniques like “thought noting” and “mindfulness” can help you to recognise these disruptive thought patterns. Once recognised, they often become less of an issue and easier to move on from.
Write down your core beliefs around relationships and how you feel your relations could change. Be upfront with each other about putting the past behind you, with anything that you know you need to leave behind. If necessary, have a consultation with a Relate or Relationship Counsellor to help you both get some balance and perspective on things.
Write down what you love about yourself, your partner and your family and close friends. Why is that? Is there a running theme or similar values? Good. Stick to those and celebrate them.
Write down what you don’t like. Be realistic. Can anything be done? If you feel you can, raise any issues in pregnancy. Think how you would feel if this was you and what would you tell a friend in the same situation.
Have a Postnatal Plan
Baby preparation all too often looks like this: Birth education (sometimes), buying baby stuff, decorating the nursery, getting a new car/house and arranging for Maternity/Paternity Leave. However, although this is usually the reality of the amount of work/planning done when preparing for a baby, it’s really not enough. What about the rest? The 4th Trimester or “Matrescence” period is going to be a tough one without a plan and an understanding of what’s coming. Too often, people wish they’d “done more” in pregnancy to help them build resilience to cope with the changes a baby makes in their lives.
Having support is one thing, but learning to support each other and yourself by preparing in pregnancy will help you not only connect with yourself, each other and those around you who can support you, but also, to disconnect where you need to as-well. It will help you have the confidence to ask for help when you need it the most and be assertive about your true abilities and desires. It helps as you establish new connections along the way; ensuring you befriend the people that will serve you well and not those that make you feel bad about yourself – keeping that comparison monkey at bay!
Using techniques such as Mindfulness, Relaxation, Yoga, Pilates and Self Hypnosis, can help enormously with your Self Care and General Wellbeing during this transformative and often turbulent time. Bringing all of this into life as parents will give a more positive, balanced perspective in every area of life, improving self compassion and the ability to communicate honestly and from the heart. Increasing the ability to forgive and bring gratitude into daily life too.
My drug of choice: Oxytocin
The glue in relationships is the hormone Oxytocin. Humans can’t survive without it. It works on a physical level and make us feel fond of someone and even very loved-up. From skin to skin to a smile, eye contact to simply thinking of someone, we can trigger this incredible hormone and fast become addicted to it. It makes us feel sublime and naturally, we desire more.
So think about ways you can use this to your advantage. For yourself, your baby, your partner and everyone else! Perhaps it’s a bath together, or a day just staying in bed with some massage thrown in for good measure. Perhaps it’s a lingering hug after a tough day, or a hand held with intent. There are so many ways we can increase our levels of this miraculous natural love-drug and it will help keep you and your loved-ones together successfully for many years.
Here’s a little something to help you with every relationship you ever have as you use it in your language and actions:
T is it TRUE,
H is it HELPFUL,
I is it INSPIRING,
N is it NECESSARY,
K is it KIND
Here’s an exercise you can do. You only need your words and your imagination:
5 Things… Go! Exercise
Come up with a theme for each time you practice this exercise – something like “what I’m grateful for”, “what I appreciate in you”, or “what I’d like to do with you this month” – and list five things each within this theme.
Ask your partner to go first and list all five things, or you and your partner could alternate saying one of your five things at a time. Be creative and get silly if you want or need to. For example: “What are five things you love that I have done for you lately?” Once they finish, you should come up with your own answer to the question and then swop.
When finished, talk about it all, being grateful and asking additional questions if necessary. Enjoy!
Sophie Burch is The Mamma Coach, on a mission to help pregnant couples and new parents to have their best experiences no matter what, why, where or how. As well as teaching Hypnobirthing Weekend Retreats by the sea, she has a new online birth and baby preparation programme that integrates Relationship Coaching with Hypnobirthing, Mindful Birthing, Wellbeing, Lifestyle and Self Care Coaching; a completely fresh approach to Preparing for Birth and Baby.
She’s qualified in Cognitive Behavioural Hypnotherapy, Hypnobirthing, Mindful Hypnobirthing, Baby Massage, Aromatherapy, Pregnancy and Holistic Massage, Reiki and Anatomy & Physiology and lives on the Kent Coast with her Husband, 4 Boys (including Twins), their Cocker Spaniel, Hamster and 2 fish! She loves nature, beach walks, music and laughter.