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Pregnancy

Emotions and relationships in early parenthood

Becoming a parent can be a deeply emotional change, and many people felt quite overwhelmed by how much they loved the baby and how parenthood enriched their lives. One mother whose baby was conceived by donor insemination had feared this might affect their feelings for the baby, but her worries quickly disappeared. She was conscious of being over-protective sometimes. A few parents said it took them a while to feel a bond with the baby, especially if the baby was in special care (see 'Looking back - preterm birth and special care').

 

She was unprepared for the strength of her love for the baby. Parenthood has enriched their lives.

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She was unprepared for the strength of her love for the baby. Parenthood has enriched their lives.

Age at interview: 31
Sex: Female
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What, what kind of impact has having a baby had on your lifestyle?

It's quite funny actually, because one of my friends asked me the same question, which was what, in slightly different words, was what kind of impact had having a baby had on my relationship? So my husband and I were discussing this last week. It's hard to explain the impact a baby has on your life. I think what I wasn't prepared for was the emotional impact a baby has, because the sheer kind of, I felt overwhelmed emotionally the first couple of weeks. It's a huge sense of responsibility. I wasn't prepared for the strength of the love that you feel for the baby. 

I think the practical side of things, I think we were both quite prepared for having a baby, we both wanted a baby so it hasn't been as bad as I had expected. We do different things, I mean whereas before we would have gone out for a drink or gone out to the cinema or gone out for a meal quite spontaneously, now we tend to do things where we can take our daughter with us. I work full time so I'm quite keen that we spend as much time apart from that with, with her and do things which include her. I, no, so I don't think it's made a huge impact, although it has made a huge impact on our lives, but in a very positive way.

Has it changed your relationship to your husband?

That's a question I was trying to say to my friend. I think it's probably enriched both of our lives. I don't, I don't think it's changed our relationship in, there's still the same affection, there's still the same love. I think it's probably, my husband has to do more around the house [laugh]. I think he's kind of had to help out more in a way that he probably didn't before. But I think we've been able to talk about things, we've been able to laugh about things. I probably have had to do quite a bit of nagging but he's the kind of person who'll just accept that and then be able to talk about it. And I just have to laugh at myself sometimes as well. So you just have to keep a sense of humour [laugh].
 
 

Being parents has made them stronger as a couple. Now they know what they had been missing. (Read...

Being parents has made them stronger as a couple. Now they know what they had been missing. (Read...

Age at interview: 37
Sex: Female
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And in terms of your relationship together, how has both pregnancy and then being a parent affected your relationship together?

Well, I mean, I think we're stronger, we're definitely stronger. And both of us just look at her and just think “I can't believe she's here, she's ours.” He's just over the moon I think. My husband said that he'd like to give up work and look after her and I'd go to work full time.

In terms of kind of just having a baby, how has it made you feel about life?

Now I know what I was missing out on, because I'm thinking, “What did I used to do with my time?” And it was just work. Work, work, work, and that's it. But we know now what we were missing out on, you know, we've got the little angel. 

 

She and her husband love being parents and would like another baby. She wants family life to be...

She and her husband love being parents and would like another baby. She wants family life to be...

Age at interview: 39
Sex: Female
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Well, two years down the line we just absolutely love it and he's a constant source of joy and exasperation and, you know, just fantastic. But I, I don't want him to be sort of a trophy child as in, 'Oh you're in a wheelchair, oh isn't it nice you've got a baby?' 'No, I've got a family, actually.' That's what I want, a family. And because we have a lot of different people coming into the house, then I think it will be really nice for him to have a sibling, because the people will be coming into the house not specifically for him but to help me, or to help with the children, or to help with the cooking, and I want it to be a bit more normal.

 

She was worried how they would feel about the baby after birth but they both adored her straight...

She was worried how they would feel about the baby after birth but they both adored her straight...

Age at interview: 35
Sex: Female
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I was a bit worried about other people saying, “She doesn't look at all like her dad” which is happening sometimes, now that she's born, but well, we just cope with it. My husband usually says, “Oh well, she just looks a lot like her mum” and that's it. But I was worried about all the little things, you know. 

Once she was there, though, everything just disappeared, all my worries, you know, I just loved her straight away from the first instant, and my husband actually fell in love with her from the first instant as well, and he said to me, “Oh she's beautiful.” And when a couple of hours after she was born I said to him, “Did you, when you, when she was born, did you have the impression that, you know, how did you feel? That you just, 'Oh she's not mine' or something?” He said, “I forgot completely about it. She's mine and that was it.” So, you know, I was very happy at the time because I realised that, you know, we'd made the right decision. 

We've still got a long way to go, you know, and I hope that we'll be able to communicate with her, and tell her that's what happened and things like that. That we'll be open about it, because I don't want it to be a taboo, but I know sometime it's difficult for men, I think more than for women...

But when she was born it was just like I couldn't take my eyes off her. I mean, the first night in hospital I just didn't sleep, I just looked at her the whole time, you know. And even, I really even got told off by the midwife for just, you know, “Just leave her alone, you know.” I was like stroking her all the time, but I think I've been very over-protective of her in a way. And maybe some people are saying that's a little bit, you know, I should relax a bit more, but I just can't take my eyes off her and I just want to be with her all the time. 

But, you know, I've waited five years for her to come and she's very, very precious for us, so I think I deserve to be with her and to spend time and all these things, because that's what, my dream has finally come true.

Some people found being a parent made them more emotional generally, and many said their priorities had changed, including the mother of a baby born with Down's syndrome.

 

Parenthood has made her more emotional generally, and she can hardly bear news reports about...

Parenthood has made her more emotional generally, and she can hardly bear news reports about...

Age at interview: 40
Sex: Female
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Hmm. How do you think - I mean, kind of linked to that - being a parent has made you feel differently about life in general?

Oh, I'm, I'm much more emotional about everything. You know, I can't bear to watch programmes on the telly about, you know, children who are in poverty or distressed, you know. I find it really, really difficult. I mean, I could have watched it before and thought how horrible it was, but I'd have been quite detached from it. I just can't detach myself from it now. It's, anything, any inhumane act I just find incomprehensible. And I, it's just really homed that in, really, that it's, you know - and then there were, I, I got to such a state at one point I just couldn't believe the world we were living in and how people treated each other and, you know, it got quite, quite bad - not quite as bad now, thank goodness.

Yeah, do you think, does it make you kind of think about other mothers around the world, or - ?

Yeah, and I mean we watched Sport Relief which was on not long ago, and there were like these poor little children, you know. They're just, you know, they're still in nappies really, or they should be in nappies but they can't afford a nappy, and they're like working. They're on like scrap heaps picking out bits of rubbish to survive, you know. And you think it shouldn't be happen, that shouldn't be happening, you know.

 

Having a baby with Down's syndrome has made her value people more, regardless of their status or...

Having a baby with Down's syndrome has made her value people more, regardless of their status or...

Age at interview: 35
Sex: Female
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Well, I think, well, first of all, they're a human being, just the same as, you know, any, anybody else, who'll have a full life span and be able to participate fully in society - well, you know, to their ability. So they're great, you know, they're great, the kids are great fun, they're sociable and lively, and usually quite contented. [pause] I mean, I think as well, it makes you value people more, regardless of their, you know, status or wealth or achievements, because, you know, everybody has the same, has the same basic rights, and the fact of having ability that's maybe a bit less than you'd expect, doesn't mean that their life isn't worth anything.

Emotions can be very different at different stages of parenthood. In the early weeks tiredness and sleep deprivation can make people feel quite low. Some people were surprised how easy it was to give up a busy social life, but many women recommended setting aside some time in the evenings to spend with their partner.

 

She found it easier than expected to adapt to being a parent and changing her lifestyle. (Read by...

She found it easier than expected to adapt to being a parent and changing her lifestyle. (Read by...

Age at interview: 24
Sex: Female
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There haven't, being a parent hasn't been as difficult, so far, as I anticipated. Having a baby hasn't been as difficult as I anticipated, and I know that my partner feels the same way, but I know it's just the beginning [laughs] so I'm not sure how it's going to change. But I am expecting for it to be very difficult at times. I feel that we've settled into it quite quickly and got used to the lifestyle change. And I was really someone that went out all the time, and now I can't ever go out [laughs] but I don't mind. And it seems to be all worthwhile and it's just, it's funny because I saw people before I had the baby that would say, “Oh, but you know, it's all worth it.” And, and I thought, "Oh God, I'm not going to be like that at all." But I feel really funny, but I do, that it, it is worth while and that I just felt that I, it hasn't been too challenging so far, it's just come to me, that I want to look after him, or that I'm enjoying the change in my life.

 

Nothing had prepared her for how much parenthood would change her life, but she and her partner...

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Nothing had prepared her for how much parenthood would change her life, but she and her partner...

Age at interview: 29
Sex: Female
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I don't think anything can really prepare you for how much your life gets turned upside down after you have a baby, and it's phenomenal the changes that take place, sort of both emotionally and physically. You know, suddenly all your energy is channelled into this small child, where your energy may have been channelled into a job or, you know, fitness or something like that, your energy is suddenly sort of channelled into this small child. And it's, I mean it's fabulous, don't get me wrong, but it's very overwhelming to begin with. In the culture of the baby time-warp, time just seems to disappear [laughing]. It doesn't, I don't think it has changed my relationships with other people so much.

Yeah, certainly the relationship with my husband's very important and we make time in the evenings for that. What we do is certainly, we put the baby down pretty early in the evenings, about half past 7 every night, which means that we have time for ourselves to sit down and have our meal and chat as adults without a baby sort of sitting beside you, kind of thing. And it, it seems to have worked. I don't think it's had much of an impact on our relationship, sort of emotionally or physically, you know, outside the fact that you've obviously got another, another human being to look after. And I mean, we still do things that we enjoyed doing before our baby was born. You know, we've, we take her swimming with us, we go out walking, my husband plays cricket and, you know, she comes along and watches the cricket with him. So yeah, I don't, I don't really think that, it's not the end of your life [laughing]. It's sort of the beginning of a new life. Yeah, we've just kind of fitted her into our lives and, you know, we do things specifically for her as well. And we spend a lot of time playing with her and we go to Mum, well I go to Mums and Toddlers with her as well, once a week and she, I think she gets a lot out of that, you know. She certainly smiles a lot and chuckles, so yeah, she must enjoy it [laughing].
 

Women often felt sharing parenthood brought them closer to their partner, but tiredness and the presence of another person in the relationship could sometimes be a strain.

 

The demands of caring for a small baby make them really tired, but they try to find time to go...

The demands of caring for a small baby make them really tired, but they try to find time to go...

Age at interview: 37
Sex: Female
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Some women say that their relationship with their husband sort of emotionally and physically changes after they've had a baby. Would you say that was true?

It is true. I think you just get, you're just too tired, you know. Sometimes you just get too tired, especially if she's not sleeping through the night. And she's going through this funny stage at the moment where she's just waking up, sleeping, waking up and won't sleep unless she sleeps in our bed, and then, you know, you have to take her out and put her back in her own bed, and then she wakes, wakes up again, so she's going through a really funny stage at the moment. So it is just - and then with the fasting during Ramadan as well now, so we're both, we're just tired. And it's just, “Yeah, okay, what do you want to eat?” “Okay that's fine.” Deh-deh-deh. And it's just like that. It's quite worrying [laughs]. But we do like, on a Sunday he doesn't work, and so we do try and make an effort on a Sunday to go out to together and we take the baby with us. Okay, to take her, take her with us, or we might just go to town or just go somewhere and go for a coffee, so we tend to make an effort of doing that on a Sunday.

Some relationships broke up because the prospect of new responsibilities and changes in lifestyle was too much (see 'Relationships and sex during pregnancy').

Some women also wanted some time for themselves and this could be particularly important for single parents. Coming home from hospital and realising they were on their own now could be quite stressful. Sometimes family members or the baby's father provided care so the mother could have a break, although some said they then missed the baby.

 

Coming home from hospital and realising she was on her own now was quite stressful. (Read by an...

Coming home from hospital and realising she was on her own now was quite stressful. (Read by an...

Age at interview: 30
Sex: Female
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And what was it like coming home with him?

Well, I hadn't, I was one of those people that was not, I mean, I'm a last, last minute person, so I hadn't got my steriliser out of the box and things like that. And I needed to use my steriliser when I got back because I was sort of half - I was breastfeeding, but obviously because it wasn't working out, it was quite useful to have a bottle available just in case, just to sort of take the edge off the hunger and stuff like that.

So I wasn't completely prepared when I got back, and obviously because I'm living on my own by the time I was having the baby, so, you know, unless you've got somebody who's actually going to come round and make sure that everything is put away - once you've left in a hurry to the hospital, if you come back and certain things aren't done, it's still not done when you get back. And if you're on your own you haven't got, you haven't got everything done for you, you know what I mean? So that was the only thing, I think, you know, coming back, it was a bit of a nightmare because he woke up, as soon as the front door slammed, and I was thinking, “I've got to get some bottles sterilised and I've got to get some breast milk pumped.” And so like he woke up and went, “Waah”, 

So I had twenty, him going for twenty minutes going “Waah” while I was breast-pumping and I was crying and stuff [laughs]. And it was generally quite a stressful thing coming home, but.

 

Her family and the baby's father sometimes look after the baby to give her a break, but she...

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Her family and the baby's father sometimes look after the baby to give her a break, but she...

Age at interview: 16
Sex: Female
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So in terms of your social life, all your mates are doing whatever they do, you know, people your same age. Presumably your life's a little bit different, you can't just go out whenever you want and do whatever you want, can you?

Not during the week, but on a weekend, when he goes to his dad's or goes to my mum's, I always get to go out and meet friends down town. And like go out with my cousins that live down the road, I go out with them as well. So I do get to go out on a weekend, but in the week I don't, I just sit in the house. Or I'll go into town and take him for a walk and things, buy him loads of things.

Do you mind that you haven't got the kind of freedom that other 16-year-olds have?

Sometimes I do. Sometimes I wish that I could just go out for a walk on my own for half an hour, or like for an hour or things. But then, if I ask my stepmum to look after him while I go out, as soon as I walk out the door I don't want to go out, I want to come back in. It's weird. Because you can't wait for him to go away for the weekend, but then as soon as he's gone you can't wait for him to come back, because you miss him straight away. It's awful.

One single mother enjoyed being back at work part-time because it got her out of the house and talking to other adults. Several mothers went back to work because they liked the company and enjoyed their job.

 

She enjoys being back at work part-time because it gets her out of the house and talking to other...

She enjoys being back at work part-time because it gets her out of the house and talking to other...

Age at interview: 20
Sex: Female
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So when you move into your own place and you have her on your own, what, who will look after her when you go to work?

My mum. My mum and my sister, they will. Those two said they'll come round and they'll, they'll get her or they'll mind her in the house or they'll ask me to walk up with her, and they'll mind her and things like that. Or the baby's dad. He'll come, he'll gladly come and take her off for me. He always does. If I ever, if I need anything I just phone him and he'll go, 'Oh, I'll be up in a minute and I'll get her' and things like that. Or if my mum and that can't do it because they're in work, and he's not, so I phone him and say to him, 'Can you have the baby?' and things like this, do you know what I mean? And he goes, 'Yeah.' Comes up to get her and he takes her for a while. So she gets, I have got like a good supporting family. Because if it wasn't for them I wouldn't be back at work, because it was actually my mum and my stepdad that noticed the advert, the job, and they put my name forward and I got the job, do you know what I mean? And they said, 'Although it's only part time work it's something. It's something for you to have that few hours break and something for you to communicate with other people instead of sitting in the house all day with the baby, to have a conversation with other adults and get friendly and things like that.' Because I used to just sit here and talk to our baby or watch the telly with her. When she was newborn all she done was sleep, so I used to just watch the telly. But it's, it's brilliant going back to work, I love it. She was only two months when I went back to work, two or three months, two and a half months I think she was. And it was lovely, the best thing I've ever done.

Did you feel that you really missed adult conversation?

I did and I didn't. It's different when it's your family, isn't it, because you can't talk, really talk to your friends and things like that. So that I had adult conversation with my mum and that. But when my mates come round, they come round and have a little cuddle of the baby and have like a little gab, 'How you getting on?' and things like this. And then it would be, 'Oh, listen, I'm going to have to go, I've go to be somewhere' do you know what I mean? So to me really they weren't even coming round to see me. They were coming round to see the baby and to have a little cuddle. And then all of a sudden that stopped, so I don't have the conversation with my mates no more. So I really only had the conversation with my family until I got back into work and then I just went, like I got back into work, I work with five other people and them five, they're lovely, they are. They're brilliant people to get on with, they are lovely people. But I'm made up that I got the job because it give me something to do.

 

She was not sure at first if she'd want to return to work, but she loves her job and decided to...

She was not sure at first if she'd want to return to work, but she loves her job and decided to...

Age at interview: 40
Sex: Female
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And had you always thought you'd go back to work?

I didn't make a decision on it, because I'd no idea what effect the baby would have on me, and I'd heard some mothers say that they really needed to get back to work and other mothers just wanted to be with the baby, so I didn't know how I'd feel, so I kept an open mind..

And what made you decide in the end that you wanted to go back?

Well, I love my job, and I'd had several jobs before that which weren't ideal, so I didn't want to let go of that job unless I had to, really, because, you know, they don't always come along that easily. And it's a nice place where I work. 

Other people wanted to stay at home and spend as much time as possible with the baby. One mother advised women to make the most of the time they had with their children while they were small, even if it meant having less money, and to be confident they could be a good parent.

 

She wanted to spend as much time as possible with her baby and decided not to go back to work. ...

She wanted to spend as much time as possible with her baby and decided not to go back to work. ...

Age at interview: 31
Sex: Female
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Being a parent has enlightened our lives and our families', and we've been very lucky with a very happy, contented child. We've had no problems, she sleeps, she eats, she talks and we're loving it. The choice of going back to work for me wasn't a difficult choice. I wanted to be around and to be a mother to our baby, certainly for the first couple of years, and having done just over a year, I'm delighted that I made that choice, very happy.

Do you think you will go back to work at some point?

I will go back to work at some point, not to my initial job, because obviously I've had to hand my notice in, that's the end of that. But I would like to work again in the future, yes, very much so.

 

Her advice to other young, single mothers is to make the most of their time with their children...

Her advice to other young, single mothers is to make the most of their time with their children...

Age at interview: 23
Sex: Female
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Is there any advice that you would offer other young single women who are pregnant and who may be in the same position to the one that you were in?

Okay. If I could give advice to other people that were young and pregnant like I was, I would say, enjoy it, forget what everybody else says, you've got to enjoy your kids. You're never going to have that time again and you don't want to miss out on the time, but you can offer them everything. You know, I've got 2 very happy, healthy children, you know, although I'm single, I don't have a job and I'm young, but you'll, you'll always have a roof and you'll always have money and the main thing is to enjoy them, make the most of them and not worry about what you can't give them; think about what you can give them.

Like I say, mine are, they're lovely kids and everyone would say that. And just don't worry about what people think. I've given up worrying about what people think, because I've got to know so many people through toddler groups, and the toddler group I go to is mostly older, older, professional mums and I've gone in there very confident, whereas a lot of them are really not confident. And I've found that some of them are now my best friends and they'll come to me for advice, and being a mum, I don't think it's got anything to do with your age or your situation, because it's completely alien. It's not something that you can learn at college or you can learn over the years; you're a mum when you're a mum, and I don't think it makes, actually, much odds. You've just got to have the confidence to believe in yourself and what you're doing.

Many people feel a little down or tearful in the few days after the birth (often known as 'baby blues'), but a few people will develop persistent postnatal depression. This happened to one mother some months after the birth of her son, who had a heart defect and needed surgery. As well as the months of anxiety about her son's health, she felt going back to work too early contributed to her depression. (See also 'When something is wrong with the baby').

 

She went back to work after her son's health improved, but became depressed. Counselling helped...

She went back to work after her son's health improved, but became depressed. Counselling helped...

Age at interview: 34
Sex: Female
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When my son, my first son, my first baby was one I got very depressed. I'd been back to work for two months and I'd acknowledged in my mind that he was now out of the big woods that we'd been in. He, his heart was looking good and his health was improved. So we'd got effectively the all clear in January, I'd gone back to work probably a week after I'd got the all clear. So I hadn't had very much time for myself to recover my strength physically or emotionally, but I'd already been off work for ten months and for someone like me, who's used to having a full-time income, I was already going to a part-time income, I'd already been on unpaid leave and a bit of compassionate leave, but the money was really running out. And so I just sort of got brave and went back to work and just went with it, and actually two months in I crashed and burnt. He was one. And I, I wasn't really willing to give it the label depression, but now in hindsight I probably would say I was depressed. 

Physically I was exhausted, I didn't feel like I wanted to get out of bed in the mornings, despite the fact I had a one-year-old to care for. So I sought help from my doctor and I did actually get a counsellor through that episode of depression. So actually ever since I've been seeing the same counsellor, and so I did have a sort of basis of support in the sense that I was talking to her about what I'd been working through, what happened with my son being so ill, working through some of the emotional stuff that I hadn't been able to process at the time because everything was so full on. There was stuff that I just had to work through after, after the event. And so my counsellor was actually quite helpful when I got pregnant again talking about how it might bring back some of the emotions that I'd felt around having [baby], having my son. So yeah my, my counsellor helped me think about how being pregnant again may have, be impacted upon by having had such an ill son, my first baby. But that was something I went out and sought for myself really, I got and, and, you know, a telephone number from my GP, but, I didn't, you know, that counselling was something that I was paying for and was working with on my own.

Does it help?

It did help. I think, it's definitely helped me sort out how I feel about having had a son with a heart defect and how I feel about being a mother. Because I sort of had a baptism of fire into being a mother, you know. It wasn't, I don't think it's easy for anyone to become a mother especially - I don't know, in our society we're quite busy professional workers, and having had a career and then becoming a mother, also having a career that's sort of taking a back-burner, you're making compromises of your own life about, you have much less freedom to do what you like, so I, like everyone, I had to sort focus on what that felt like. 

Last reviewed May 2017.
Last updated August 2012. 

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