People say the first year of marriage is the hardest. I think the first year a child arrives is the hardest! Marriage was pretty simple when we were both working, got a reasonable amount of sleep each night, and weren’t captive to the feeding schedule of a tiny human. Our little girl is the light of our lives, totally worth those first six weeks (the primary period of “what-on-earth-is-happening”), but her arrival required some major adjustments to our relationship. Our marriage changed when Adeline was born; it changed in five distinct ways.
Intentionality is no longer optional.
Josh and I have always been planners, but when Adeline arrived, we quickly realized structure was necessary to survival. Josh started his new job – the one we’d moved to Pennsylvania for only five days before our baby’s birth at home – one week after Adeline was born, and while my mom and the wonderful ladies from our church set me up with meals for a month, I was on my own as far as home management goes. I was also covered head to toe in a post-partum rash and on a two-hour feeding schedule with my tiny baby. To get anything done beyond nursing and scrubbing myself with anti-itch cream, I had to start scheduling my days.
At first we spent many hours ogling our adorable addition – to the point we pretty much ignored one another. About six weeks in we pulled ourselves together, divided the labor of the house and helped each other where we could – I get the groceries, plan the meals, do laundry, and clean the house. Josh deals with the cars, trash, utilities, and budget. We schedule these things throughout the week for maximum free time in evenings and on weekends.
But we had to be intentional about more than just household chores.
Romance doesn’t happen by accident.
During postpartum, the hormone prolactin helps women produce milk for her growing baby. That same hormone can depress a wife’s sex drive. Of course if you’ve delivered a baby only six to eight weeks prior, you’re likely not thrilled with the thought of reliving your honeymoon. But the intimacy of sex doesn’t begin in the bedroom, and in order to renew our love life post partum, Josh and I had to start renewing romance everywhere else.
Ready for another hormone factoid? While breastfeeding and/or cuddling their baby, many mamas release the hormone oxytocin. This is the same bonding hormone experienced during sexual intimacy. Essentially, mama is getting her love tank filled up by her newborn and doesn’t feel as strong a desire to get it filled anywhere else. I experienced this firsthand when, for the first time ever, I had no interest in cuddling anyone except my chubby-cheeked baby. For several weeks Josh and I lived like roommates until we incorporated intentionality into our romantic relationship once again.
Since we both get up early, but never together, we decided to go to bed together every night. We started praying together in bed and reading a short devotional (the whole thing no more than 10 minutes). He brought me flowers. I try not to use up my kisses on Adeline. And, as TMI as it is to say this, we started scheduling sex for two days of each week. If we happen to have time for more than that – hooray! Regardless, at least two days are set aside, and the days are flexible based on our schedules. Our intentionality keeps us fulfilled in every regard – not just sexually.
We have to tune in.
In the beginning, all we wanted to do at the end of the day was crash on the couch and watch Netflix. After a few weeks of this motivated lifestyle, we felt disconnected and sluggish. We were living together but were checked out of each other’s lives. After remedying our time management (point #1) we began meeting together on a regular basis to “check in”, because our natural inclination was to “check out” – Josh to a computer or TV, and me to my phone or the baby. We use the following structure to stay in tune to one another’s lives:
Monthly Planning Sessions
At the beginning of each month we sit down and go over our PowerSheets (goal setting workbook designed by Lara Casey). These sheets outline our goals for the next six months, broken down to actionable steps for the each month, week, and day. We address what worked in the last month, what didn’t work, and what we can change or adjust for the next four weeks. We advise each other on achieving our goals and troubleshoot the problem areas. Then we post our “Tending Sheet” on the fridge and track our progress. Posting it in view of one another keeps us accountable.
Sunday Night Summaries
Each Sunday night I plan for the week ahead. In my planner, I write down:
- My workout for each day
- Meals for the week
- Cleaning and laundry schedule, assigned to each day
- Writing deadlines and topics
- Social engagements
- Extra duties such as our Finnish lessons (we’re taking a course in Finnish together) and time consuming/once per month tasks
Once I have the weekly plan, I tune Josh into our schedule for the week. I try to write it down where we can both see it, but he doesn’t look at it anyway 😉 I do this more for me than for him, but it helps to at least make an effort to stay on the same page.
As mentioned in the previous point, we try to go to bed at the same time. If I’m recording a podcast or working on a deadline, it doesn’t happen; but our rule of thumb is to go to bed together between 8:30 and 9 PM to read, talk, and pray together before going to sleep. We don’t keep a TV in our bedroom for this reason. This is a great time to connect and be quiet without the distractions of media and… well, the baby.
We’re more creative than ever before.
Parenthood has made us experts at making things happen. I can bake muffins one-handed. I can also get in a full 30-minute workout with a baby. Josh pays bills, runs errands, and answers emails while wearing Adeline – yes, my husband babywears (I tell him he looks cute in the Moby wrap)! We have become more creative and efficient than ever before thanks to our new addition!
Before baby we didn’t have to work so hard to get stuff done. We didn’t have to be so intentional to have free time. Now we do, and it’s helped us eliminate the things that didn’t really matter to achieve a life of meaning and value.
We still enjoy going on dates, even with the baby in tow. Adeline’s first outing was at six days old – appropriately, we went to Starbucks. Taking her everywhere with us requires creativity and effort, but this “socialization” has made her easier to bring with us and keeps us from feeling cooped up in the house.
Our marriage is more meaningful than it’s ever been.
There is a level of fear when you’re newly married and looking forward to the day kiddos arrive. Our culture makes it seem as if life falls to shambles during the transition to parenthood. Yes, it’s difficult at times, and the challenges increase as children grow and more are added to the nest. But each challenge provides an opportunity to grow in intimacy and interdependence.
Having a baby made our marriage more meaningful than it’s ever been. Parenthood has stretched us to the breaking point in only five months, but what was broken needed to break in order for growth to occur. The pride, selfishness, and laziness swept under the rug in our more independent days was brought to the surface at many a 4 AM morning. We are forced to be brutally honest, ridiculously patient, and selfless like never before.
Yet there is something about the hard things that makes life so full. Things we took for granted mean much more to us now. We can’t afford to be unintentional; we can’t afford to drift apart. For the sake of Adeline and for ourselves we have to make an effort to stay unified. But it’s that effort that makes this season so fulfilling.
Having a baby changed our marriage. It changed us. It changed how we see our days: not as our own, but as part of a bigger picture. Yes, having a baby takes away some independence. But you know what? “Independence” and “freedom” are just cultural monikers for a life we’re told is the end-all. What we’ve found is much more abundant. The life poured out, the life of intention, the life “limited” by love – it’s harder. But it means more.
So don’t be afraid the change babies bring. It’s a change for the better.