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In the After Glow of Birthing Circles
By Dr. Robert G. Rodriguez

Ask two hundred expectant couples, "what will your life be like during the days and weeks following the birth of your child?" and you're likely to hear some fantastic tales. Jules Verne couldn't have written a better fictional script than some of these soon-to-be parents. One expectant mom said, "it will be a perfect time to start my freelance writing career. My baby will sleep blissfully for hour in a cradle beside my desk while I tirelessly head for my Pulitzer." Another said, my husband and I will calmly watch full-length movies on the VCR, the baby serenely lying across my lap. Time will tick away like a well-wound clock so that my main challenge will be getting bored once in a while."

O.K., you can stop laughing now. After all, some of you may have had a glimmer of these fantasies while pregnant. However, as you've learned or will soon learn, nothing goes like clockwork after you've had a baby. Nights and days turn upside down. You'll discover which TV shows air at 2 a.m. Your laundry pile skyrockets with onesies and baby undershirts. You'll wonder if the couch was actually designed for two adults since your husband and you will rarely share it at the same time.

While some your expectations have changed from when you were pregnant, you will make some insightful discoveries during your postpartum days. You'll experience the solid, warm peace of holding your baby against your shoulder, the indescribable joy of her first smile, the sweet, clean smell of Johnson baby products and the comforting woolly softness of receiving blankets.

Having a baby tops the chart as a long-anticipated milestone, and although your life will never be the same, it's possible to combine elements of your new and old life to hang onto the best of both worlds. The following suggestions are offered for keeping your marriage, and your life, alive through the postpartum passage.

To help avoid postpartum exhaustion, disappointment and alienation from your spouse, develop a postpartum plan. Consider the usual responsibilities of a couple and a family, and then decide who is going to carry out those tasks following the birth. The immediate family, extended family, neighbors and possibly hired household help could be included in the plan. When designing this plan, decide what tasks you can prioritize and cut out, and what must be absolutely kept.

To relieve stress, schedule at least one nurturing activity per day for the new mom, along with lost of rest. Make a commitment to include stress-relievers such as a massage, reading a book, or soaking in the tub on a daily basis. The new dad also needs relaxation. If he's worked all week, come home and helped with housework and baby care, he deserves a break as well. Allow him to plan a couple of hours for himself on the weekend. This could be watching a sports event at a buddy's house, spending some practice time at the driving range, or simply running the usual errands but at a bit slower pace.

Couples should also continue a weekly date as husband and wife. In the beginning, this could be simply a walk around the block or a quick drive to get a soda. But couples need to look for opportunities to still be husband and wife and purposely set aside time for their personal relationship. Possibly Grandma or Grandpa can watch the baby while the new parents have a weekly movie night. A "couple's night" is one of the most important ingredient to a lasting marriage.

Bringing a new baby into the family doesn't just add a person, but also contributes additional lines of communication. There is not only communication between Mom and Dad, but between Dad and Baby and Mom and Baby, along with the interaction of that communication between all of the people involved in the family.

Men typically maintain their relationships by service to others and who serves them, and women maintain most of their friendships by who they talk to and how long. This may be interpreted by Mom that if her spouse "isn't talking to her, he's not her friend." So new parents need to focus on talking about what is positive in their relationship and in their family or what they are teaching their child and how it is working. The most important thing is, keep talking to one another.

A husband may feel pushed aside as the wife tends to the needs of the baby. Mothers should be patient with their husbands and actively recruit them to be involved in their children's lives. Before the baby is born, the expectant couple should discuss their expectations and how they view their parental and personal roles as Mom and Dad. Then, when the child is born and the father is attempting nurturing behavior the wife should find ways to compliment his efforts. Complimenting a man's efforts at baby care is in contrast to over analyzing what he is doing.

A mom who has taken care of a baby night and day may feel "touched out" - or saturated with touch. The father may get the message that she is not interested in physical affection, when what she is feeling is quite normal. The mom is really saying, "I don't want touch - I need someone to nurture me." Using a lot of foreplay and nurturing touch can ease back the intimacy following a birth. For men, giving your spouse more nurturing than usual will help a mom avoid feeling that her husband is saying, in effect, "here I am - take care of my needs."

Understanding a mom's physiological experience can also help smooth relations. A new mom may get only two or three hours of sleep every night. Many new moms experience the symptoms of postpartum depression: fatigue, anxiety, appetite and sleep disturbances, lack of interest in the baby, and lack of interest in intimacy. A new mom has elevated hormones. Her moods are real erratic, which could be taken personally. It helps for the husband to understand that such reactions are physiological and often accentuate emotions that will calm after the symptoms subside.

For information about relationships, marriage, family life and parenting, parents are encouraged to contact some of the excellent internet sites, many of which are listed at www.DrDad.info. You'll find on-line magazines, useful resources for expectant and new parents, and links to some of the better health information sites.

New moms can also consider seeking or starting a support group to share ideas for parenting and being a good marriage partner. Three such groups are Mothers At Home, F.E.M.A.L.E. - which stands for Formerly Employed Mothers At The Leading Edge, and the Birthing Circle of which there are local chapters. Of course, as mentioned the internet abounds with support group for mothers, fathers, and couples who want to be both good parents and good partners. Visit www.BabiesToday.com to join a virtual community of new parents.

Support groups like the Birthing Circle deal in doulas - a Greek word meaning "women serving women." Although both parents and their babies are encouraged to attend, women take a central role in the discussions. These groups do what generations before have done; namely, they share advice, information, stories, cures, expectations, and support with one another. It is too easy for new parents to isolate themselves from the healthy benefits of empathy. New parents may be surrounded with friends, relatives, and neighbors trying to give advice and well intentioned counsel, but being with a group of similar new parents provides reassurance, confidence in parenting skills, and uncompromised advice.

In both new parenthood and marriage, stress often rises from unmet expectations or from feelings of not meeting goals, or milestones. New parenthood isn't a time to stretch to complete the most tasks possible or prove that you can do everything you're always done. Enjoy the luxury of kicking back a little, of remembering the days of your won childhood, when the time from morning to afternoon to evening seemed long, relaxing, and full of unanticipated, surprising possibilities. Remember if you do one thing you have to, and one thing you want to, it's been a great day!

Robert Rodriquez, Ph.D., M.P.H., is a psychologist and research expert with over 30 years experience working with expectant couples. Dr. Rodriguez is available for conference speaking engagements, seminar presentations, and training sessions, including Continuing Educations Unit programs. For more information, visit: www.DrDad.info

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