Prenatal Couples Therapy: Learning to Communicate with a Baby on the Way

I am a big believer in preventative measures when it comes to your physical and mental health. Many women plan and prep their bodies for a potential pregnancy through exercise, healthy eating, Ob/Gyn appointments, and taking prenatal vitamins… but how many prepare their minds and relationship for the transition into parenthood?

Prenatal therapy is a term I came up with to describe the importance of establishing healthy communication and mental health prior to a pregnancy or birth. Lots of focus is put on the mother during a pregnancy, but we often forget that although things are changing for mom-to-be they are also changing for the relationship.

Bringing a baby into the world means bringing another person into your family dynamic. For many relationships there is a drastic shift (whether it is baby number one or two or three) in the relationship as attention is split between more people. Partners have all sorts of feelings as well, when it comes to a pregnancy, and many times we forget that they are going through changes too.

One of the things I remember most about my own pregnancy with my first born, was how my husband voiced that he felt left out of so many things. While he was at work, I was at home putting a nursery together and going to doctor’s appointments, but it never crossed my mind that he wanted to participate in these things. We had a thorough & productive conversation (we’re both therapists so this isn’t uncommon for us) that led to a whole afternoon together building a crib and celebrating the new baby, and he began attending every doctor’s appointment (even though the doctor’s were surprised to see him…every time).

This is just an example of how communication is so important around this life transition. Once baby is here it is harder to find quiet time to have in-depth conversations, and communication often takes a turn for the worst. Attending prenatal couples therapy allows time to think about this shift as a team and discuss some major ideas that may not have been relevant up until this point.

Some of the topics often looked over prior to having a bun in the oven:

  • Will household duties be distributed differently (especially during postpartum recovery)? What will it look like once maternity/paternity leave is over?
  • Are visits with family welcome? Who is high on the “frequent flyer” list (grandparents, uncles/aunts/cousins, friends, etc.)?
  • What family/cultural traditions will be practiced? How about holidays/birthdays/vacations?
  • What parenting/discipline style do you expect to use? What was your experience like with your own parents?
  • How will you communicate your unique needs? Will you need “me time”?
  • What will “couple time” look like? Date nights? Childcare?
  • What are expectations around physical and emotional intimacy (especially during postpartum)?

This is just the tip of the iceberg. So many decisions will be first time decisions, and first time discussions. Thinking about these things in a space that provides extra tools and insight to communicate effectively can be a lifelong gift to your relationship. Consider adding prenatal couples counseling to your “get done before the due date” to do list. It may be the key to a smooth transition from two to three.

6 Easy Ways to Cope with Holiday Stress

The holidays are suppose to be a time filled with joy, love, and cheer! Unfortunately that is not always the case. The holiday season (arguably the day after Halloween to the day after New Year’s) has become one of the most stressful times of year for individuals, couples, and families alike. That’s why it is so important to identify your coping skills (and exit strategies) before participating in all the holiday “cheer”.

holiday stress

Take a Deep Breath

Before you walk into those bustling malls, step into the front door of those relatives hosting dinner, or before any moment of stress…take a deep breath. Slowly breathe in through your nose for 5 seconds, then release slowly through your mouth for 5 seconds. This slows down your heart rate and allows you to step into these spaces feeling calm and prepared for the moment.

Go for a Pre- or Post-Meal Walk

Those big meals can be delicious, but between the extravagant preparation, heated discussions at the table, and the amount of carbs consumed… a walk can be a good way to de-stress. Find your favorite relative and convince them to take a stroll. It’s a great way to quietly catch up with your family and take a break from the kitchen chaos.

Sit at the Kids Table

This may be more stressful for parents, but if your the fun aunt or uncle (or slightly older cousin) it can be a great way to avoid all the “so when are you going to [fill in the blank]?” questions from the adults. When you are anticipating painful conversations, why not save yourself the stress and catch up with the little ones, and learn about the new dances sweeping the nation.

Have Your Comeback Ready

You know all your family’s buttons. You know who is likely to ask those annoying questions or make those slick comments. Do your homework ahead of time and make mental note of all the reasons they shouldn’t be talking. If you aren’t one for comebacks, try some “I statements” at the table. For example: I feel [frustrated, attacked, annoyed, etc.] when I’m asked about [my love life, school, work, etc.] because [it is a private matter, I don’t want to discuss stressful topics, I want to enjoy my dinner, etc.], so please refrain from prying anymore.

Choose to Not Participate

Just because you are invited to events does not mean you have to attend every one. Between festive outings, holiday parties, and family dinners, the holidays can be overwhelming. Choose to attend the events where you will feel most at home, whether that is a friends-giving or a crazy sweater party with your favorite cousins. Choosing to travel on your own or stay close to home are all options that can help replenish your soul for the new year. Figure out what works for you!

Start Your Own Traditions

Last, but not least…create new traditions that are aligned with your own personal values and beliefs. The holidays are about resetting and realigning with those things that drive you everyday. Take some time out for yourself to identify your values and what new traditions you would like to establish to put those on display.

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All this to say, I hope your holiday season is one filled with peace, love, and happiness in whatever form that finds you. May you find support from those around you and calm in your moments alone. If you are in crisis please reach out to the Access & Crisis Line at 1-888-724-7240 or text “HOME” to 741741.

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“Out of Office”: Why Vacations are Important for Your Mental Health

Summer isn’t quite over yet, thankfully. But have you taken your vacation yet? As a kid many of us experienced yearly 1-3 month vacations from school, stress, and generally any responsibilities. Then we became adults and all those glorious breaks disappeared. Tragic.

Have you ever wished you took better advantage of those breaks? And if you had those breaks now, what would you do with them??

If you can think of even one thing to answer that question with, you probably could use a vacation. Vacations are a luxury, yes. But vacations can also be a necessity. A break used intentionally can make all the difference in your ability to work and interact with others.

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Why take a vacation and what are you suppose to spend your time doing? The short answers, 1. Self care and 2. What you want to do, not need to do. Taking a break is all about taking a step back from all the duties and to do lists and really giving yourself some intentional lovin’. Vacations allow for intentional self care. The busy work weeks often leave minimal time to check in with yourself and how your mind and body are feeling. Vacation is free time to really dive deep into this self care and make yourself feel good again. Doing what you want with no time constraints or restrictions makes whatever it is you are doing more enjoyable. Cherish this time.

Giving your mind and body a break from the daily hustle allows you time to reflect on your goals, your values, and your desires. These vacations can be mini or extravagant. Whether you take a day off just to sleep in and head to the beach, or take 2 weeks off for massages and world travel. This time is about fulfilling those aspects of life that get put on the back burner throughout the rest of the year. You should feel refreshed, relaxed, and energized after a break.

You may be asking yourself, “How can I even afford to take a vacation?” Here is the key. Vacation is not about stunting on the “gram” or out doing your coworkers. Vacation is about you and how you feel during and after that time off. If you spend all your time focused on taking the perfect picture you are going to come back feeling just as stressed and depleted as when you left. If you really want to be intentional and relaxed plan ahead, and live within your means. Maybe you can’t afford a week off, but maybe you can afford a day or two tacked onto an upcoming holiday weekend. Put in that request now, and not only will you have something to look forward to over the next few weeks, but you will have all your coworkers jealous when you come back to work the day after them.

 

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Do you need to be a world traveler or can you just be a local tourist? My husband and I love using our vacation time to pretend to be tourists in our own city. We try out restaurants during the day that we don’t usually have time in the evening to go to, or we take off time mid-week when normal attractions are empty to feel like we have the whole place to ourselves. We use our time to connect with each other and have those in depth conversations that we don’t always get to have because the little one is needing attention. Parent hack: if you have a little one in daycare or school…leave them their! Take those 8 undisturbed hours to enjoy your partner! It’s cheaper, easier, and trust me they won’t even know you were having fun all day when you go to pick them up from school. 😉

Make vacation your own! Use the time to connect with yourself and your loved ones. Do the things that make your body and mind feel good. Get that dopamine flowing, and have some fun!

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Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby!: Intimacy During Pregnancy & Postpartum

Remember when you were having fun trying to get pregnant? I’m feeling sexy, let’s have sex!  I’m ovulating, let’s have sex! I’m bored, let’s have sex! Any reason was a good reason to do the deed. Then you actually got pregnant, and let’s just say you weren’t as eager any more. Then! You had the baby and thought you’d be eager to get back to having some fun, but that didn’t happen right away. Well that’s because pregnancies and children change your romantic relationship. The question is do you let it change for the better or for the worst?

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Photo by Burst on Pexels.com

One of the most common statements in couples therapy is, “We never have sex.” Surprising? Maybe not, because of course lack of sex is often a result of lack of intimacy, respect, understanding, and many other things already missing from a relationship. These same things can get lost in the changes that occur during and after a pregnancy. Let’s talk about some of the ways sex changes when a baby is on the way.

1st Trimester

You may still look like yourself for the most part, but you probably don’t feel like yourself. Between morning sickness, severe fatigue, and just the stress of understanding that you are actually growing a human inside of you…sex is probably the last thing on your mind (I mean that’s what got you in this situation in the first place! #TurnOff). Your partner may still be very much into you though…no pun intended.

As you go through these unrecognizable changes your partner may still be ready to jump in the hay and may not understand why someone who was all about the sexy time a month or two ago is suddenly completely over the idea. This is the best time to talk to your partner about what’s going on for you and try to get them on the same page. As things start growing and feeling more and more uncomfortable, it will get harder to have a rational conversation about your partner’s needs as well as what you need.

Try practicing other forms of intimacy. Whether that be cuddling, kissing, hugging, eye contact or (let’s stay scientifically correct) fellatio or cunnilingus. If you don’t know what those last two are, Google it…actually on second thought. Don’t Google it. I’m talking about a good old fashioned BJ and well in the words of Cardi B let him “swim with his face”. Anyway…moving on.

2nd Trimester

The first 3 months can be rough, but with the 2nd trimester some changes may occur. The path of pregnancy is a continuously evolving one and you may notice changes in mood, changes in your body, and changes in your sex drive. Some women even experience an increase in their libido during this time! The tricky part about the 2nd trimester is getting back into the swing of things. If you got your partner on the same page during the 1st trimester it is easier to divulge to them that your desire is back and your ready to see what that body pillow was really meant to do.

Now, with a growing bump your partner may have some fears about what is and isn’t okay when it comes to sex at this stage. Always check in with your doctor to make sure they don’t have any concerns about you doing the deed (and trust that asking about sex is definitely not going to make your doctor uncomfortable…they stare at lady parts all day, they don’t have an uncomfortable bone in their bodies). Take the time to educate yourselves on what sex could look like at this stage, and possibly take a birthing class to help build trust and intimacy in this time of delicate emotions. Going to therapy during this time (individual or couples) can also be beneficial for exploring how you are really feeling about this pending new life.

pregnant woman in white dress shirt
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

3rd Trimester

Things are getting a little lot more crowded and uncomfortable. You may have to get creative with your positioning in this stage, but the deed can be done (again, double check with your physician). Use this as an excuse to practice your listening skills and communicate what works and what doesn’t work for either of you. This is technically the last time you will be able to get it done for a few months.

Also, carve out time in your schedule to discuss how you are both feeling about this new life growing and how things might change after their arrival. Set expectations for how you would like to stay connected once sex is something that inevitably becomes less frequent (at least in the short term).

Postpartum

The baby is out! Woohoo! Time for sex, right? Wrong. You have another 2 months (at least) before any doctor will give you the okay for sex. Let’s be honest those first 2 months you’re probably not going to have the time or energy for sex anyway (a newborn can really suck the life out of you). Use these two months to practice less physical intimacy (refer to 1st Trimester) and start discussing your birth control options with your ob/gyn as these will need to be started ASAP if you don’t want to be doing this all over again in 9 months. Note: you CAN get pregnant while breastfeeding, so do not use that as a form of birth control.

This is a time of transition for any couple, so recognizing that things will not be exactly the same, and putting in place some ways to create small, intimate moments that now work with your new life will be critical. If you are struggling in this time to communicate with one another your needs, utilize your village and have someone babysit for an hour or two (take up friends/family on their offers for help). You both deserve a break. Take some time to go on a date or go to therapy together. Giving yourself some grace allows you to be a better partner and parent.