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.

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?

bed bedroom blanket clean
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.

5 Stages of Mom Stress – And How to Cope

Awhile back I did a collaboration with the wonderful San Diego Moms Blog about how to handle various stages of stress in motherhood. Just as relevant now, as it was back then.

If you are interested in discovering what some of my favorite San Diego businesses are and how I use them to handle the stress of having a toddler running around click here!

And to find out more about the San Diego Moms Blog and some of their great events to build your mom village check out their events!

woman carrying baby beside the seashore
Photo by Oleksandr Pidvalnyi

 

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Teenagers: 7 Things You Do and Don’t Remember about This Tumultuous Time of Life

Oh, the glorious teenage years. Seven years of raging hormones, testing boundaries, discovering who you are, and deciding who you don’t want to be. Working with teenagers has reminded me about all the ups and downs that the average teen goes through, and also reminded me that being an adult with coping skills and real life experience is something I shouldn’t take for granted. Parents of today’s teenage generation should be applauded, but they should also be reminded that the average high school graduate this year was born in 2000…just think about that. They were practically born with a smartphone in their hand.

I not only applaud the parents, but I applaud the teens that make it through this time with limited drama. Being a teenager is hard. Living with a teenager is even harder. That’s why I want to discuss the 7 things you do and don’t remember about being an adolescent.

parent and tween

Hormones

This is a lot of parents’ first excuse for any bad behavior portrayed by their teenage child. This is one thing that a lot of us do actually remember. Being horny, irritated, angsty, defiant, hormonal teenagers. It is true. Teens are going through arguably the most hormonal-ly, disfunctional time in their adult lives. This isn’t necessarily a good excuse to let them slide on any and everything however. This is a good time however to talk with your teen about managing their emotions and developing useful coping skills for when they are feeling anxious, depressed, or just annoyed. Good coping skills can look like practicing “self care” with your teen. Go get your nails done together (mom or dad), share a journal and write about the highs and lows of your week, or just try teaching a healthy way to give space and check in when appropriate. Helping your teen gain these skills now will save them a lot of money from not having to go to therapy later in life.

Autonomy

Figuring out how to be an independent person and thinker is something a lot of us adults don’t remember. We’ve been thinking for ourselves for so long, we can’t even imagine what it’s like to not have your own individual thought process. Adolescents are just developing this however. Adolescents spend a large portion of those 7 years figuring out how to form their own opinion and how to view themselves as a unique individual instead of a small portion of a family unit. That’s why your teen never wants to do anything with you, because being seen with you makes them your child instead of solo, independent, autonomous, whomever. That is why giving your teenager space at this age and room to make decisions on their own is so important.

One of my favorite quotes from my anti-helicopter parent father is, “I give you enough rope to hang yourself.” This sounds dark and twisted, but really all he is trying to say is, “I’m giving you enough space to make your own decisions, whether those are good or bad decisions is up to you.” As a teen I totally didn’t get this, but looking back it worked like a charm. I had plenty of opportunities to get into a whole lot of trouble (and there were definitely times I did make poor choices), but I rarely went to “the end of my rope”. I was one of those teens with no curfew and no real clear restrictions on what I could and couldn’t do. My parents always reasoned with me though, so I knew that coming home by midnight on a Saturday may fly, but anything past 9:30pm during the week was pushing it. Instill good boundaries, but let them roam.

Bullying/Peer Pressure

Bullying and peer pressure is something that we all remember either participating in or being drug into. Unfortunately, although we may remember what this looked like for us in high school, bullying and peer pressure look very different for our teens now. What use to stop at the end of the school day, now continues 24/7 online. And what use to be pressures to drink or smoke cigarettes, now looks like pressures to vape, eat edibles, and all sorts of other stuff that I don’t want to scare you with listing. Talking to your kids on a regular basis not only allows you to know what’s going on, but it gives you a baseline for determining when something is a little off with them. Being able to pick up on those cues (such as shorter responses, more time in their room, less time hanging out with friends, amongst various other things) can help you know when you need to intervene or start asking the harder questions. Provide your support and be involved. They may resist at first, but they will eventually share if you are consistently providing the opportunity for them too.

Self-Esteem, or Lack There of

Teens are so consumed with themselves it seems crazy. Selfies, updating bios, obsessing over outfits and makeup and hair cuts, oh my! This self-obsession ties into that autonomy I spoke about earlier. Adolescents truly believe that everyone is paying attention to everything they do, when really they are all to obsessed with themselves to notice anyone else. This time of experimenting with their identity is so important to building their self-esteem. Make sure you are supporting their identity (whether good or bad) and practicing self love yourself as a good example.

I will never forget the day my mother called by best friend fat. 🤦🏾‍♀️ Okay, she didn’t actually say that, what she did do was comment on the fact that she wasn’t looking super tiny anymore after coming back from summer vacation. My mom thought it was a good thing that she gained a couple pounds…my friend on the other hand spent the next week obsessing over the fact that she “looked fat” because that is how she interpreted the comment. What started off as a harmless comment, turned into a teen’s obsession with her weight and a dig at her self-esteem. So be mindful about how you speak to your adolescent (and their friends), and reinforce the fact that every teen has their unique, positive qualities.

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Your First [Fill in the Blank]

Something we all may remember is the “firsts” we experienced as teenagers. Our first kiss, our first dance, our first date, our first…whatever. It’s probably been awhile since the last time we had a “first” of anything, but it is something that teens are dealing with pretty regularly at this age. Everything is new, and though we may want to talk about our experiences and convince them that hearing a story from 20+ years ago is a suitable replacement for them actually experiencing it themselves, that is not how teens usually “learn their lesson”. Now I am not saying to hold back any advice you wish someone had given you in your younger years, but I am saying that you have to expect teens to fail and make mistakes for themselves still. Some advice will stick and some won’t.

One way to make giving advice a little easier is to ask your teen what questions they have about certain topics before just dishing out whatever it is you know. Validate any concerns they may have and normalize their experiences…okay these are my therapy words. By “validate” and “normalize” I mean use phrases like, “That does sound really tough to deal with.” or “It may feel like you’re the only one experiencing that, but a lot of your peers probably are too.” or “I went through that when I was your age.” or “Your older sibling asked me the same thing.” or any variation of these phrases. The important part of this whole thing is making your teen feel heard and understood, and creating a safe place for them to ask about these “firsts”.

Social Media

Let’s be honest. If you have a teenager right now, you did not have social media growing up. For parents today, social media is something that is new and maybe a little scary. Your child probably has at least 4 or 5 different profiles on different platforms, and maybe 1 or 2 on platforms you didn’t even know existed. This is one area that the old, “I remember being a teenager.” line does not apply to. Although you may not have a social media account or know how to use one that doesn’t mean you can’t support your teen in making good decisions while on these platforms. Some things you can do is encourage them to set their accounts to “Private” so they aren’t easily accessible to “strangers”, and educating them about scams, predators, laws, and the permanency of online content.

Things NOT to do when it comes to your teen’s Social Media Usage:

  • Make a fake profile to stalk them. No. Don’t do it.
  • Ignore the fact that they have been locked in their room for 5+ hours online
  • Encourage them to be “InstaFamous”
  • Hover over their shoulder asking for passwords
  • Give them a phone, tablet, laptop, etc. with no rules or regulations attached. Examples of Good Boundary Setting Rules: Electronics off by bed time, No phones at the dinner table, Bad grades = electronics taken away, One household member must be following you on all platforms (an older sibling may be a good choice for this one)

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Not Quite Being an Adult

Being a teenager is one extra long, awkward dance between being a kid and being an adult. Bringing together the hormones, autonomy, peer pressures, self-esteem, “firsts”, and social media is a wicked concoction. This is a gray area where certain things are okay and certain others are (for lack of better terms) illegal. It is important to have these conversations with your teens and also expose them to what being an adult is really like. Teaching them useful skills that aren’t taught in school anymore like how bills work, how to cook, how to do their laundry, how to budget, and other tasks that you may remember thinking, “How the heck does this work?” when you were their age. This is the perfect time for them to start practicing how to be an adult. With your assistance, dedication, and openness this can be a really fruitful time of growth. As much as this is a time of finding balance for your teens, it is also a time of finding balance as a parent. And when all else fails…go to therapy. 😉

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