My first year as a mother was the most miserable year of my life. I felt scared, lonely and sad. I also felt incredibly ripped off. I’d watched all the movies. I knew that while I would probably be tired and unsure of what I was doing, it would be in a funny, head-slapping kinda way.
Lies. All lies.
Now there’s a new study that has suggested the first year after the birth of the first child is the unhappiest time in new parent’s lives. It’s a bit of a downer, and for those who are pregnant with their first, I want to take the time to assure you that this isn’t the case for all couples.
Just lots and lots of couples.
For every couple who thinks it’s going to be easy, you have to watch this. Post continues after the video.
Researchers Rachel Margolis and Mikko Myrskylä looked into the experience of becoming a parent and wrote the depressing report which was published in Demography. They found that 73% of those surveyed reported a dip in happiness during that first year. 27% of new parents reported no dip in happiness.
To all expectant parents, I’m sure you’ll be in that 27%. Fingers crossed, hey?
My husband and I firmly fall into the 73% of parents who definitely felt less happy after becoming parents together. Looking back it’s hard to understand how it happened. At the time though, it was pretty serious.
We were pretty disconnected as a couple when we had our first child together. He already had two kids and thought he knew everything. I knew nothing so believed everything he said, much of which was very, very wrong. He told me our baby would be able to hold it’s own bottle at three weeks, so I let go, and it hit him in the face.
We fought over everything. I was tired and hormonal. He struggled to accept that life as he knew it had to change. I needed the volume of the TV turned down while the baby slept. I needed him to pick up dinner. I needed unconditional support and less suggestions of things I should be doing.
The final straw was a fight over our dogs, two big rottweilers thatI loved, but was no longer comfortable having sleep in our bed. The cot was next to our bed and every time the baby stirred or cried they’d both stand up and peer into it. So I kicked them out. My husband lost it and said that if they couldn’t sleep in our bedroom, he wouldn’t either. So he and the dogs slept in the lounge room.
For a year.
Yes, we’d clearly both lost our minds. We were just so shocked by the impact of becoming parents. We hadn’t spent any time discussing the possible challenges and effects of becoming parents. I thought it would all just magically sort itself out, and he thought it would to.
It gradually got better as our baby started sleeping and my hormones stopped messing with me but it was a hard hard road. However we learned all the lessons and by the time we had our second and our third, we knew exactly what to do. My husband would move out of the main bedroom while I established breastfeeding and snatched as much sleep as possible and he'd pick up more of the housework and look out for my text messages asking for water, tea, breast pads and help with our baby.
If I was to give expectant parents any advice I'd say that as you both daydream about how much joy your baby will bring you and picture yourselves spending a long time gazing lovingly into a cot and a sleeping baby, all three of you bathed in sunlight, you check of some of the following items:
Who will be the primary carer?
Where is he nearest chemist open late at night for emergency shopping?
What sort of help can you organise now to help you in those first few weeks and months?
What are some of the expectations you have that may not be all that accurate?
How will you problem solve, while tired, hormonal and just a little freaking shocked at the experience of being a parent?
Even if it is a bit hard and you do feel a bit sad and disconnected from your partner, just give yourselves time to adjust. The feelings you have after you bring your beautiful baby home and try and figure it all out are temporary. They won't last. You'll reconnect with your partner. There will be times when you'll both hug and stare at your peacefully sleeping child.
The mistake I made in my first year with my first born? Having expectations. Don't have any. Just don't. Just let it all unfold. You'll be fine. Eventually.
There will also be hard times. I suggest lots of hugging and hand holding, even when you don't feel like it. Stock up on tea bags. Be ready to be generous with each other and supportive.
My husband and I are now the happiest of parents. We have three beautiful children. Our time in the 73% was blessedly temporary and we wouldn't change a thing about how we coped that first year, because we learned so so much about how we function as parents.
How was your relationship effected by the birth of your first child?