Three's a crowd: how a baby changes a relationship

Essential Baby blogger Amity Dry
Essential Baby blogger Amity Dry 

When I was pregnant with my first child I was blissfully unaware of how much his arrival was going to affect the relationship I had with my husband. Of course I knew we would be busier, that we would have to schedule our time together more and that my focus would shift from him to the baby for a while. But I could not have predicted just how much that tiny baby would test our rock solid partnership. What is it they say, three’s a crowd?

If there is anyone out there who has achieved the feat of an unchanged relationship after the arrival of a baby I’ve yet to meet them. In my experience it certainly wasn’t like the movie version of new parenthood, where you bond together in your blissfully happy state of co-parenting, full of love and contentment with your baby and each other. Sure, there were moments of that. But there were also moments that had us wondering if we would ever be the same again, ever even like each other again.

For what I didn’t realise is that the first time you hold that precious new baby in your arms it is the beginning of a love affair more ferocious and intense than I could have ever imagined. Nobody told me that as a new mother you don't just love your baby, you actually fall in love with them, with all the intoxicating thrill of a teenage love affair.

You stare lovingly into their eyes. You stroke their face tenderly, marvelling at their beauty. You fall asleep with them in your arms and you dream about them while you sleep. When you're away from them you count down the minutes til you see them again and when you're reunited your face lights up as theirs does. Your world is suddenly a bubble filled with the two of you, to the exclusion of all else.

It’s little wonder that Dads can feel left out. Suddenly they’re on the outside of that little bubble, looking in.

And I was different. With my baby I was patient, loving, affectionate and gentle. When he cried out for me throughout the night I rushed to his side, strong and resilient because he needed me. But that patience, that loving affection, was reserved solely for him. He got the best of me and soaked it up til there was nothing left.

There was certainly no patience and loving affection for Daddy, who was a vent for the frustration and bone sapping exhaustion that sleep deprivation and constant giving creates.

All those promised dates we planned to have with just the two of us, what a joke! There was no way I was leaving my baby to go on a date. Which would have involved getting dressed and feeling like a normal person. As though my life hadn’t changed, when in fact everything had.

All those dinner discussions where we used to talk about our day, discuss work projects and act as a sounding board for each other? Gone. Even if there was a moment of quiet, where I wasn’t feeding, settling, soothing, giving, I didn’t have the energy to be a sounding board for his issues. I was empty.

And he missed me. He missed us. He missed being important in my life because for a while it felt to him like he wasn’t. He felt useless when our child wanted only me and he felt excluded by the bond that we shared.

I wonder if this experience is less pronounced for mothers who aren’t breastfeeding, for at least the fathers can help with feeds and bond with their babies that way. For me, the fact that our son could be soothed within seconds with a breastfeed meant it was easier to give him back to me when he cried than for my husband to try and settle him. Well, at least that was his way of thinking. A convenient excuse or a simple fact, probably a bit of both, but it meant he was always on the outer of this new little team.

Sure, in an ideal world he would have taken it in his stride and been there as a rock of support for me. He would have felt no jealousy towards the baby that had essentially stolen his loving wife. He would have accepted that this is the change that comes with parenthood and loved his child enough not to mind.

Well maybe it works like that in those movies, but not in too many marriages I know.

I also wonder how much difference it has made that we are having babies later in our lives and relationships, instead of as newlyweds? Phil and I had been together for 9 years when we had Jamison, well established in our groove as a couple, so the change was more pronounced. In stark contrast, my parents had me a year after they were married. They didn’t notice the lack of alone time because they knew no different. There were no dinner dates to miss, no romantic holidays to mourn. And they established their relationship as part of a family, rather than as a couple.

However, as tough as it was at the time, I’m happy to report the arrival of our second child has been a much smoother transition. The fact that we are now used to never having any time together has probably contributed to this! But we also both understand that the full on first year is over in the blink of an eye and there will be time for us again, on the other side of it.

My husband has learnt that sleep deprivation does eventually end and that it won’t kill him. He understands that if he gives me some help when I need it I will have more energy to give to him at the end of the day. And I know that sometimes I need to let him do things his way instead of jumping in and taking over (I admit, this one is still a work in progress ?)

Becoming parents and going from a couple to a family is an amazing, life changing experience. But it can also be tough going, as you negotiate your new life together. Just don’t expect it to be like the movies. Although if it was, Brad Pitt could play my husband and, of course, I’d play myself. I’m just saying.

How did having a baby affect your relationship? Did you go through some tough times and how did you come out of it?

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It’s little wonder that Dads can feel left out. Suddenly they’re on the outside of that little bubble, looking in.