You know how, even though you were only there for about four years, high school feels like it took up a huge amount of your life? There's a lot going on during those years, and everything that happened then looms large in your memory. The first six months of your child's life is like that, too. So much is happening so fast. You learn so much in that time, including your baby's personality, how to feed them, how to juggle your schedule, and how to heal. The first six months of motherhood teaches you about your relationship as well. Because parenting will bring things to the forefront that were never an issue before, and put untold amounts of pressure on everything that was an issue.
Parenting with a partner basically requires Olympic-level relationship skills. Everything that makes you a successful, happy couple is going to work towards making you successful, happy parents. Of course some babies are more challenging than others, and all babies, even under the best of circumstances, are tough as hell. But, like any skill, your parenting talents can be practiced, honed, and improved! You will be tested, but you will, thank goodness, learn along the way.
It's easy to assume you know everything there is to know about your person prior to the arrival of your baby. After all, pregnancy tests your relationship, too. But the first six months of parent life will test you and your partner in ways you can't imagine, and you're bound to learn a few things along the way. Things like, for example, the following:
How Much Sleep You Collectively Need
Unless you both have centuries of good karma building up and accruing interest out there in the Universe, you aren't both getting a solid night's sleep. It's just not meant to be. To everything there is a season, and you're not sleeping for several seasons, my friends.
If you do this right, you will fall into some sort of agreement or routine that will bring you to a collective bare minimum. Maybe that means taking turns. Maybe that means switching off wake-up duty every other night. Perhaps one of you requires more sleep than the other (my husband needs way more shut-eye than I do, for example) so the heartier of the two of you does most of the wake-ups, but has free reign to tag out whenever they need. There's no one way to do it, but if both of you aren't at least slightly put out then one of you is downright miserable.
How Well You Cooperate
You wouldn't think one seven pound child would be a two person job, but it really is... and that's a minimum, especially if this is your first child and you have to learn literally everything more or less from scratch. Even if you thought you understood your teamwork skills before you had a child, couples trivia night has nothing on an infant. How you handle this incredible task will truly show you how well you can work together (and how much you need to work on to make things flow smoothly).
Each Of Your Specialties
Both of you will start out clueless but, over time, each of you will develop all the necessary parental skills. You will almost certainly find that your strengths develop differently. This is good! Maybe one of you can change a diaper one-handed with your eyes closed and the other can get the baby to sleep in about two minutes. I mean, certainly both of you will have to find a level of proficiency, but it's OK to complement one another and play to your strengths.
How Well You Communicate
This will become clear very quickly, when you are still figuring out routines and writing everything down and discover that your partner tried to feed your baby after you just fed them because they didn't ask you or look in the journal.
There's a ton to coordinate when it comes to newborns. If you don't talk your way through it somehow you are doomed.
How To Handle Postpartum Sex
Chances are, if you are parenting a newborn, said newborn was just painfully expelled from your body in one way or another. However it happened, this makes sex after the fact "interesting" for the next few months. And by "interesting" I mean "frustrating, awkward, and potentially very painful." Scarring, tearing, and just a general shifting of your pelvic region means that some of your favorite positions (or activities) are off the table for the foreseeable future. You are your partner will have to basically re-learn how to hump. It can be trying, but with concerted effort and great care, you can get back into the swing of things (or find a new groove) within the first six months (give or take).
Let me explain what I mean by this, because it can take on one of two meanings:
The first is that you're both basically mindless, groaning zombies. Your bodies feel (and faces look) pretty dead, and yet, somehow, you are propelled to life by some deep and mysterious biological urge. So... zombie sex.
The second is a little more nuanced. You know how, in zombie movies or The Walking Dead, the characters can never really let their guard down and relax because, at any moment, a zombie could pop out and attack? Sex with a newborn in the house is a lot like that. You can't quite get into what you're doing because you know, at some point, you're going to be interrupted by an unwelcome presence... if you're breastfeeding mom, it, like a zombie, wants to eat you (in a manner of speaking).
How To Handle Unsatisfied Sex Sessions
I heartily recommend not being delicate about it and just finishing on your own when you get a chance. Invest in a good vibrator, ladies.
New & Exciting Touchy Subjects
What with the lack of sleep, lack of sex, lack of knowing what you're doing, there is going to be no lack of emotions in the first six months. You and your partner are going to find new things that set you off. Maybe you're very sensitive about how difficult breastfeeding is and it won't take much to get you upset about it. Maybe your partner is having a hard time handling the fact that they can't seem to ever get your baby to stop crying.
Be kind to one another. These next few months are rough on your egos.
The Fact That Any Unaddressed Or Ongoing Issues Don't Go Away Because You Had A Baby
Look, all couples have issues of varying disruption that can affect their relationship. I'm not saying you have to be 100 percent baggage-free if you want to have a baby (spoilers: I'm pretty sure that's impossible). But if there are some major problems that you keep brushing to the side, you might want to at least begin to chip away at them before you bring a kid into the mix.
The Fact That Any Unaddressed Or Ongoing Issues Are *Harder* To Deal With Because You Had A Baby
Look, the new baby is a full-time job in and of themselves. And one or both of you likely also has a full-time job you're required to toil away at for dozens of hours a week. That leaves precious little time to work through your problems, which you will learn, particularly if you have some unaddressed major issues. Oh, and did I mention that you're also sleep deprived and stressed and probably not at your most reasonable or coherent?
Some people, consciously and unconsciously, believe that having a baby will automatically strengthen the bond they have with their partner. That's not entirely misplaced, because your relationship can become stronger once you become parents together. And when that happens it's wonderful. But this is hardly a foregone conclusion and usually only works if you're pretty rock solid to begin with. Moreover, even a strong relationship can be tried by the stress and challenge of raising a little one.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.