It doesn't matter how many times people tell you that your life will totally change after having kids. It doesn't matter if you have seen your friends or relatives doing it. Most people think: 'It will be different for me!'. And... surprise... Having children totally changes your life. Fact. And the changes happen in the most unpredictable and unexpecting ways. You will not know how it will affect you, as an individual, and affect your relationship, as a couple, until you experience it for yourself.
Of course, becoming a parent will impact each person in different ways and intensity. But, in general, these are the most common and immediate changes:
- Exhaustion. This might be one the biggest changes of all, which affects everything else. Unless you have full-time support at home (nanny, family, housekeeper etc), you will be experiencing lack of sleep and rest deprivation. There is now that little person, who needs you day and night, and who cries and call your attention for very real reasons. They cry for hunger, discomfort, pain, full nappy, the list goes on, and they truly need you. Naturally - and instinctively - you get up and attend to their needs, day and night. Either if you have a full-time job, work from home or if you are off work (maternity/paternity leave) the physical, emotional and mental consequences are intense and really need to be acknowledged and dealt with.
- Overwhelming responsibility. For some people, this is the moment they truly turn into 'adults'. Suddenly, there is - literally - another life depending on you. The dependency is financial, physical, emotional and social. It affects all aspects of life. Instantly you lose the 'carefree approach' and need to stand taller for any issues that can potentially rise.
- Loss of sense of individuality. Even if you have been part of a couple for a long time, nothing takes you away from your sense of self as having a child. It's a feeling that you are no longer 'alone' in this world, and part of you has extended and is linked to you forever, whatever happens. Naturally, and hopefully, your sense of individuality will return with time, as your child grows and develops their own independency.
- Frustration, resentment and anxiety. As a result of losing your individuality and the increase of responsibility, some people might resent all the sudden changes. And it can be confusing: part of you feels ecstatic with joy, but other part can't quite understand and make sense of what's going on. Sometimes you might feel 'you lost yourself', and that your own life can only have meaning because of someone else's existence. You might feel confused, lonely and anxious. Sometimes it can feel overwhelming, and very different to how you had imagined. In those moments, it's very important to take a pause and reach out for help. Talk to your partner or to someone you trust, talk to people who have been through this. Step back and trust that this is a temporary situation, try to look at the bigger picture.
- Fear of financial changes. Before having a child, you might have faced any financial insecurities with a brave attitude, fearless, 'the world was yours'. But afterwards, it all feels much more serious. You have a family to feed. Regardless of having two incomes or not, or how big your salary is. Unless you are super wealthy, there's little or no real job stability these days. Things can quickly change. And even if things are stable, this can now become a constant thought on the back of your mind.
- Affect on the couple's relationship. The couple's relationship will never be the same again. Fact. And I'm not saying 'better or worse', but certainly 'different'. Of course, now there are three of you, and the dynamic and interaction will shift. Some couples might increase and deepen their bond, some others become more distant and dismissive of each other's needs. The changes can be temporary or last many years. How people are aware of the issues and willing to face them, in an honest and human way, will be decisive on the outcome and long-term consequences for the family.
- Physical changes and loss of intimacy. It might be a temporary issue, or last a long time. But many couples can lose libido and sexual interest. And it is a natural response. You both feel exhausted - physically and emotionally - and even the thought of sexual intimacy becomes an issue. Many women are still trying to rediscover their bodies after the birth. They might not feel confident, attractive or 'in a mood for it'. Not only that, but the focus and attention has shifted from the couple (to each other) to the new baby, who now depends solely on his/her carers.
- Postnatal depression. It can start soon after birth, or several months afterwards. The symptoms are severe, last longer than two weeks, and are similar to depression: deep sadness, low mood, irritability, anxiety and loss of interest for life. Psychological support might prevent some of the symptoms and the treatment might include counselling and, in some cases, medication. It’s important that post-natal depression is not ignored or dismissed. It is a very real and physical mood disorder, and the sooner it is looked at, the better.
It is very important to acknowledge and accept that life has changed and everything feels different. However, none of these changes take away the joy, happiness and excitement of having a baby. It’s life changing and life fulfilling at the same time. By reflecting on the reality and practicality of the situation, hopefully you won’t feel so alone in this and will try to reach out for help.
If you are a new parent, accept any help that is offered to you, look for support, talk to loved ones or people who have experienced all this before. Don’t go through difficulties on your own. Grab every opportunity to rest, sleep, eat well, talk to your partner and support each other. And, most importantly, enjoy this new journey in your life, this new life and family. It will all be worth it.