Fast-forward 9 months, give or take, and maybe those first moments are filled with all the sunshine and butterflies you imagined. But, suddenly, it seems out of nowhere everything changes. You may start to wonder, “Why are we so snappy and argumentative since the baby was born?”
You can’t count how many times you rolled your eyes at your partner. Or how many times you muttered under your breath or grit your teeth to avoid saying something unforgivable. What happened? How did you get here?
For one, you’ve gone through one of the biggest changes humans experience- Becoming parents, with all its joys and all its stressors. Life doesn’t have the same spontaneity that it used to, but boy does it have a lot more obligations and frustrations…
You used to be able to book last minute tickets to that band you like that decided to come visit your city. Now, it’s not so simple. You have to figure out how to get a babysitter and whether it’s worth the extra cash… and also if it’s worth the late night when you already have a hard time keeping your eyes open most days.
What’s going on- a physiological perspective
If you took a Psychology class in high school or college, then you probably heard about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It looks something like an old-school food pyramid (before they instituted MyPlate), but instead of food groups it’s about all of the things we need as humans. The bottom starts with our basic needs for survival, and the top is where we are living our best life, fully fulfilling our potential, AKA self-actualization.
You know what’s at the bottom? Things like food, sleep, and water. You know what most new parents are not getting much of? Sleep. And also probably non-optimal nutrition and hydration. Our time and resources are consumed with getting used to and taking care of this little human, so we often neglect our own basic needs.
I remember the early days when I had my first daughter (before resuming work). I would wake up around 6 am for the first feeding of the day and a diaper change, before I put her down for her first nap and went back to sleep myself. (And this was after a broken up night of sleep, waking up for a couple of feedings and diaper changes. Most times she would fall right back asleep after this process, but sometimes I wasn’t as lucky- and I know that’s the norm for many babies that take a while to get back to sleep after these night time wake ups.)
Some time between 9 and 10 am my daughter would wake up for the next feeding. I would nurse, burp, and change her before putting her in the Rock ‘n Play (before they were discontinued- boy, were they convenient!) in the bathroom while I took a shower. By the time all that was done and I finished getting dressed, etc. and went to the kitchen, it was usually close to 1 in the afternoon.
The first time I ate all day was past the time that I used to already have breakfast, snack, and lunch. And from the many moms I have spoken to personally and professionally, I’m not alone.
Once we make it to the kitchen, there’s the question of what we can eat. Depending on our support system, we may have a fully stocked fridge, with delicious and nutritious foods, or we might be eating some stale cereal with milk that’s on its way out. Note to the non-birthing partners and support people: pick up essential groceries without being asked, or make sure there’s a Shipt or Instacart order on the way.
If you’re nursing, in addition to not taking in enough resources, you’re also giving away a lot of yours- I’ve heard plenty of nursing moms share that they chug from gallon size water bottles during nursing sessions! And you may be limited in what you can eat, depending on how your baby’s digestive system is affected by the foods you consume.
Now, aside from not having basic survival needs met (which sets us up at a disadvantage), there are also a lot more frustrations and obligations in our lives that did not exist before.
The not so magical parts of having a baby
Babies are adorable and delicious with their small bodies, big eyes, chubby cheeks, soft skin and yummy smell (ask any new mom how addictive it can be smelling their baby- when they don’t have a dirty diaper of course! 😉). Studies have shown that there is a very important reason for babies’ cuteness- survival. Our baby’s cuteness is a powerful force in making us want to take care of them and meet their needs. Because it’s not all fun and games.
I mean, who really wants to wake up to nurse, pump, or warm up a bottle at 1 am, when they have finally drifted off into a deep sleep? Or clean up a diaper blowout when you are rushing out the door and already late to wherever it is you need to go? No one wants to do it for action itself- we do it because we love this little bundle and want to make sure that s/he is safe and content.
And those exact kinds of things can contribute to our frustration with our partner. There’s no denying that being woken up to take care of the baby, having to clean blowouts, rearranging your schedule, etc. to meet the baby’s needs is frustrating. And when we are frustrated we like to direct our frustration at someone.
Are we going to get upset at our adorable, little baby? Of course not! We get annoyed with the closest adult, AKA our partner. Especially if we feel like we are doing way more of the baby caring tasks than they are.
You know the first time I gave my husband a look that could kill? We were living in our first New York apartment in a pre-war building. It was spacious, with good bones, but it could use a gut job. Before we moved in, the landlord gutted the kitchen and bathroom, but the rest of the apartment just got a paint job. And boy did those old wood floors creak. Especially if you stepped on just the right spot.
Our daughter was several months old, and I had just gotten her to sleep in her crib in our room. My husband walked in, not realizing that she just fell asleep, and he stepped on the exact spot that made the loudest creak. If you have ever put your baby to sleep and then had someone wake them up, you can imagine the look of death I gave him.
I can laugh about it now, and I know that it wasn’t done intentionally or the end of the world. But when you’re sleep deprived and craving quiet, peace, and rest, it might as well feel like it.
How to ease the frustrations and have less conflict
Here are some ideas to help with the frustrations and ease the bickering (and you’ll be able to read up on each of them in more detail in future blog posts):
- Make sure you are meeting your basic needs in the best way that you can.
- Lean into your support system, accept help when it’s offered, and don’t be afraid to ask for help when you really need it.
- Divide and delegate tasks in a way that makes the most sense for your family, and reassess often to see what's working and what needs to be tweaked.
- Be aware if maternal gatekeeping is playing a role, and work on it if it is.
- Use respectful and loving communication when addressing frustrations to help ensure better outcomes.
- Make sure to have fun and special moments with your partner, so you’re not just associating the frustrations with them but also have positives going on.
It’s very common and normal for couples to have more conflict in their relationships after having a baby.
There are more responsibilities and frustrating moments, less time and opportunities to enjoy each other as a couple, and basic needs are often not being met. And one person might feel like they are doing a lot more than the other.
You can make things better with healthy communication, cooperation, and connection. It takes time and effort, but you can get to the other side and have a happy and loving home environment.