by Monica Ginsburg
Photo: Josh Hawkins
Eugene and Tonisha Muhammad of Chicago cuddle with their 7-week-old baby.
A new baby changes your sleep schedule, your financial situation and your relationship with your partner. Navigating this new terrain can be as messy as a poopy diaper. Between feedings, crying and sleepless nights, it's often a challenge to stay connected. But you don't have to let the sizzle fizzle once baby makes three (or even four or five).
"It's important to replenish the relationship after you have a baby, and do the fun things you used to do as a couple, to be a couple," says Michael Athens, a child psychologist and family therapist in Park Ridge. "You have to make time to be together, to support each other and come together as a team."
And if sex has gone the way of your waistline, don't despair. "When you're really tired, not much sounds appealing but sleep," says new mom Lori Silver of Northbrook. "But, like everything else, romance comes back too."
Here are some practical tips for making it work:
• Leave the diaper bag at home. Chicago parents Jill and Mark Kolker have maintained their Saturday night "date nights" even after their second child, Brooke, was born four months ago. The Kolkers also plan date nights during the week at home by having a later dinner together after their kids have gone to sleep.
"We've found we have to make time to go out alone or even have some time together at home to catch up on the day or the week," says Jill. "Our Saturday nights out are a good way for us to reconnect and to take some time away from the kids."
• Don't try to be supermom. Hire a babysitter for a few hours during the day or evening or tap relatives to babysit. Hire cleaning help if you can. Raising children can be 24 hour-a-day job. If you try to handle everything yourself, you might be too exhausted to do anything else.
"Be conscious of the fact that you have to shape your new life in ways that are healthy for you, your partner and your family," says Nina Barrett, Chicago author of "I Wish Someone Had Told Me: A Realistic Guide to Early Motherhood" (Academy Chicago Publishers, 1997). "It's like a dance between two people and you have to figure out the steps together."
• Redefine responsibilities. With a never-ending cycle of new responsibilities, it's important to delegate tasks in a way that feels good to both of you. "When you're figuring out how to get everything done, it's more important to agree on how things should be arranged, rather than the actual arrangement," says Judith Newman, a Chicago-based couples therapist and psychoanalyst.
• Don't complain if it's not perfect. Jody Morady of Skokie was used to taking charge of much of the child-related responsibilities. But when her third child, Ethan, was born four months ago, she asked her husband to get the older kids dressed in the morning while she takes care of the baby. "I leave out the clothes I want them to wear, and if it's not perfect when they come downstairs in the morning, I let it go," she says.
• Take some time off. Let your partner know if you need some time off, perhaps a Saturday morning to go to the gym, get a haircut or merely have a peaceful cup of coffee. "Men often feel left out and women often feel super-involved with the baby, especially if it's the first," says Jan Nussbaum, a clinical psychologist specializing in couples and family therapy in Chicago. "If you can share experiences together, or give your partner opportunities to get more involved, it can be less divisive and more joining."
• Communicate with each other. When you're with your partner, it's tempting to talk only about the baby. Try to redirect the conversation to focus on each other. "Remind each other that you're in this together. Talk about ways you can support each other, act as a team and take care of each other," Athens says. "A baby brings great joy but it also creates a level of anxiety and tension. You might assume your partner understands what you're feeling, but your assumptions can be off," he says.
• Things will get easier. In most transitions, the initial period of change is typically the most stressful. Things get easier as you become more confident in your capabilities and your ability to make the right choices.
"After Daniel was born, he was fussy and needed to be held all the time," says Lori Silver. "I thought I'd never eat a meal with two hands again. But that passed and it really did get easier once he started sleeping more. Your baby stays very little for a very short period, and it's hard to imagine it at the time, but it does get better."Monica Ginsburg is a freelance writer based in Chicago.