Those first three months after you've brought home your newborn bundle of screaming, pooping joy is not a time usually synonymous with romance. The early days of parenthood are some of the most challenging, and some couples nearly come undone from the experience. And while romance isn't exactly on the table, connection with your partner is. In fact, there are plenty of things every couple should do in the first three months of their baby's life to stay engaged with one another, to feel bonded, to support one another, and, frankly, to help each other not fall apart.
When my partner and I were first-time parents, we didn't do such a great job of staying connected. First of all, we were completely overwhelmed and shocked by everything parenting a colicky newborn entailed. Having only visited two friends with babies, and whose babies had been complete angels at the time of our visits, we had been sold the fantasy version of what having an infant was like. We were expecting the hushed household, the sound of a sleepy lamb machine in the background, and long naps with a baby on our shoulder. You know, that kind of thing.
The screaming-heathen-type-baby we came home with was a real shock to the system, and put a real strain on our individual sanities and our relationship. Nothing about the experience felt "blissful" and we had a hard time feeling "blessed." Both of us were utterly exhausted from sleeping a total of one cumulative hour a night, or so it seemed. We had so little left to give, and whatever was leftover we did not want to give to the other person. It was just not good.
So when we were preparing to welcome our second baby to the family, we expected the worst. Again. And while we had a pretty easy baby the second time around, we also had certain things in place (babysitter, night nurse to help me with my C-section post-op care of the baby, more involved family) that made the entire experience significantly easier. We also made a very, very, conscious effort to recognize each other through the fourth trimester fog. Here are some of the things that worked really well for us in those first few months, that are pretty low-effort to do but result in feelings of connection with one's partner:
Take The Baby Out To A Meal
It's not "ideal" and it isn't technically a "date" or whatever, but leaving the house is super duper important after you've have a baby. You guys. Breathing the stale air in your apartment for weeks on end as you wait for your newborn to wake up or fall asleep is B-O-R-I-N-G. And after a while, all those pre-made meals you prepared ahead of time get old.
Shake things up by packing up every possible thing you might need should the baby express a moment's discontent while you're in public (I kid, you don't really need that much but you're new parents so you think you do) and go out.
Start Watching A Brainless TV Series Together
Accept the fact that you're running on empty right now. You're practically brain dead from basically not sleeping for weeks, but you still want to feel like you're connecting with your partner. At the very least, you can have a standing date to sit next to each other on a couch and laugh at a dumb show while holding hands. Maybe you'll even create some inside jokes.
My partner and I started watching Homeland when we had our first son. Definitely not a "brainless" show, which is why I had no idea what was going on in the more complicated sup plot areas. At the time, the most complicated thing I could put together was a peanut butter Ritz cracker and Nutella (great combo, I assure you).
Go On A Day Date Without The Baby
This one requires a lot of extra help from an outside source (i.e. a friend, a babysitter you trust, a mother-in-law you don't despise). A date with your partner in the light of day is a real revelation when so many of your interactions as of late take place in what seems like a universe in which there is no real sense of time and space, all thanks to your newborn's sleep schedule.
Look At Each Other
When I had my first son, I got so overwhelmed by all the tasks at hand (washing poop-covered onesies, retrieving fresh burp cloths, all those freaking thank you cards, keeping track of the sleep and feeding schedule) that I only looked at my partner as someone who could be of service to me. I rarely looked him in the eye, I merely ordered him around.
I wish I had been able to see beyond the fog of All The Things To Do and embrace the messy, difficult, but beautiful time of having a newborn as something we were experiencing together. And yes, he could have done more to engage me on an emotional level, too. One easy way to have done this would simply have been to look into each others eyes when we spoke to each other during the day. We did a lot of taking one another for granted, which I regret.
Take Baths Together
There is nothing more lovely and healing for a new mother than a hot bath at the end of the day. And yes, you probably won't be luxuriating in suds for very long (it's a proven fact that the moment you are really relaxed is when your newborn will wake up and require only you and accept no other substitute), but some bath is better than no bath. A bath with your partner, however brief, feels a little like a sexy date. I'm not going to say this is, like, the two of you in a romantic hotel with roses kind of date, but it is sweet and intimate.
Plus, it beats staring at your phones while sitting on the couch.
Rely On Each Other For Support
As a new mom, my best friend was Google. My partner? Who needed him? Had he ever had a baby before? Yeah, exactly. So whenever I was struggling with something, instead of sharing my problem with him or seeing what he thought about a situation involving his very own offspring, I let mom strangers on the internet tell me what to do. Like a perfectly sane person.
Try to involve your partners first in any challenges you're facing with your babies. Don't rely on Google and it's many would-be experts and doctors. You and your partner are probably very well equipped to figure things out on your own like all the many, many parents who came before you and raised children before the internet became a phenomenon. And if you have a real medical question, always consult a real doctor.
Keep It Light
Recently, I visited a dear friend who had just had a newborn and noticed that her apartment was pitch black in the middle of a beautiful day. "Do you always keep things like this?" I asked. "Oh, yeah, of course," she answered. "We never know when the baby is going to sleep, so we just keep the shades down 24/7." Talk about a pathway to depression (for the adults, not the baby). I encouraged the new parents to lift up the shades right then and there, and instantly, everyone's mood lifted.
There! I fixed it! Just kidding, their struggle was still very real, but sunlight is an undeniable instant mood lifter. If you and your partner are coexisting in the harrowing fourth trimester months in a pitch-black darkness, that's got to cast an unhealthy pallor to both your skin and your moods. Let the sunshine in! At least some of the time. Newborns aren't supposed to sleep the entire day, you know.
Watch Romper's new video series, Romper's Doula Diaries:
Check out the entire Romper's Doula Diaries series and other videos on Facebook and the Bustle app across Apple TV, Roku, and Amazon Fire TV.