By Tan Yi Lin
Is your marriage feeling a little squeezed now that a baby is on the way? Do conversations between you and your spouse seem to revolve only around pregnancy symptoms and baby matters? Whatever happened to romantic date nights? Is action between the sheets limited to just restless tossing and turning and exhausted snoring these days?
“Pregnancy is supposed to be a beautiful time for a couple, but it can also put a lot of strain on a relationship. Research has shown that relationship satisfaction can decrease up to 67 percent for new parents. It is therefore important that the couple has a strong relationship with each other and learn to baby-proof their marriage. In other words, learn how to become a parent without giving up on being a spouse. Both roles are important, and remember that one of the best gifts you can give to your child is a strong and healthy marriage,” says Arthur Ling, from Touch Family Services.
While pregnancy and impending parenthood are life-changing events, couple life as you knew it doesn’t have to disappear from the marriage altogether. Here are some ideas on how to keep the fun and romance alive during pregnancy – and not everything has to do with the baby:
The first 12 weeks of pregnancy can be a tiring time for many women as overwhelming fatigue and morning sickness set in. Take things easy with relaxing and sedentary activities that aren’t too physically taxing. Try ideas that are not only fun to do, but can also help alleviate or distract from physical discomfort caused by pregnancy.
• Read up on what to expect during the journey to parenthood. Make a trip to your favourite bookstore or library for some leisurely browsing, or snuggle up at home or at a cosy café with a tasty drink and surf the Web for information.
• Talk to each other about how both of you would like to raise your child. “Ask each other questions like ‘What will I want my child to remember about me as a parent?’, ‘What will we want to see our child become in 20 years’ time?’” says Arthur’s wife, Chang Chee Siah who is a counsellor and trainer. “Discuss child care arrangements early, preferably in the first trimester, rather than trying to rush through the decision during the last stage of pregnancy. Make an informed decision by talking to other couples whom both of you respect and who have gone through the journey before you. Read up on various caregiving options including infant care centres, domestic help, help from relatives/grandparents/nannies or becoming a stay-at-home parent. Also do some financial calculations for the different child care arrangements available,” say Arthur and Chee Siah.
• Rent DVDs of movies that you have always wanted to watch. This is a great time to sit back, put your feet up and catch up on the backlog of movies. Don’t forget the popcorn!
• If both of you are gamers, zap some excitement and adrenalin back into your marriage with some couple gaming on the Xbox, PS3 or Wii. Team up or compete with each other. If you’re not into computer games but your spouse is, well, now is the time to take the effort to find out what’s keeping him or her hooked to the screen. Who knows – you might just rediscover the child in you with an ‘old school’ game like PacMan, Super Mario or Tetris.
• Find that inner writer in you and start a couple blog to record memories of your pregnancy journey. If one of you is more enthusiastic about writing than the other, consider assigning photography and photo-editing duties to the other person.
• Feeling jaded? Pamper yourselves with beauty treatments (yes, even the men!) like a couple pedicure or facial, or keep things refreshing with an adventurous new haircut!
• Never underestimate the power of touch. Husbands, take the initiative to show that you care by offering your wife (don’t make her ask!) an occasional massage on the feet, legs, back, shoulders, and neck. You don’t have to be a mind-reader to know that massage will help soothe her physical discomfort and alleviate fatigue. Give her a tummy rub with anti-stretch mark oil or lotion. She will be very appreciative and in a good mood after that (or she may be lulled to sleep!).
• Take a walk around the neighbourhood or venture further from home. Singapore has many nice walking trails and park connectors, be it in the city centre along the historic Singapore River and around Marina Bay, or outside of town such as the Southern Ridges or the new boardwalks at Harbourfront, Woodlands and Punggol.
• Who says you can’t take a vacation during the first trimester? Check into a local hotel for a romantic staycation or head across the water to Bintan for some sun, sand and sea.
Energy levels lift after the 12th week and many pregnant women find themselves bouncing back from the throes of morning sickness with a renewed zest for life. Now is the time to reintroduce some action into the relationship!
• Exhausted the movie selection at the neighbourhood DVD store? Head out to the cinema to catch the latest releases on big screen!
• Start shopping! Don’t leave shopping for the baby till the last minute even though your estimated due date is still months away. Take advantage of your relatively energetic and mobile state to suss out deals at baby fairs and departmental stores. Shopping doesn’t have to be limited to baby gear. Check out maternity stores for pretty and comfortable clothes to fit your new curves, pick out new gadgets for him or find something nice for the home.
• Do some housekeeping. While it may not be the most fun thing to do, it’s necessary to clear out unwanted items to make room for your new family member – and all the belongings that come with your little one. Make it less of a chore by doing it together. Toss a coin to decide whether it should be his comics and toys or your shoe collection that deserves to be evicted from the room to free up space.
• Sign up for antenatal classes at the hospital. Bond over exercises like Kegels and pelvic tilts, huffing and puffing in faux labour and wide-eyed gawking at birth videos.
• If fatigue and pregnancy discomfort during the first trimester have been making you an anti-social grump, now is the time to catch up with your friends. It’s important to keep friendships going, especially if your friends aren’t expectant parents just yet, so that no one feels alienated by your pregnancy. Group couple-dating could be the next fun thing to do!
• Get intimate! Many men find their wife’s new pregnant figure irresistibly sexy and she may just accede to the idea of some couple time in bed now that she’s not feeling tired and nauseous all the time. Make the most of it before she gets too large for comfort during the third trimester.
• Go for your ‘babymoon’, also known as a second honeymoon before the baby arrives. The second trimester is the best and safest time to travel, so pack that luggage and board a flight to that lovely destination you’ve been dreaming off since you got pregnant. Don’t be ambitious and try to pack too many activities into the itinerary though. Keep it free and easy for maximum flexibility should the z-monster make a sudden comeback while you’re on holiday.
Reduced mobility and the return of fatigue due to sleepless nights can make a pregnant woman less enthusiastic about packing too many activities into the social calendar. Take it as a sign to slow down and let the body prepare for the delivery of the baby – a physically, emotionally and psychologically demanding task.
• Get down to preparing the necessary paperwork that’s due upon the baby’s arrival. Find out what forms need to be completed and submitted with regard to using your Medisave, obtaining your Baby Bonus, setting up a Child Development Account (CDA) or banking your child’s cord blood. Read up on and compare the various insurance and savings plans available so that you know which one to register for once the baby comes along.
• Reward each other – her for coping so well with the pregnancy thus far and him for being the designated driver, porter, chef, butler and masseuse for the past six months. Rewards need not be expensive. Even a short and sweet compliment or encouraging note over SMS can be the nicest thing for the other person to receive during a long day at work.
• Record memories of the pregnancy with bump shots – photographs of her pregnant figure. Most couples choose to have professional studio photos taken during the third trimester when the pregnancy is in full bloom. Get creative and find fun in dressing up The Bump or take some sexy shots in the buff!
• Not sure what to do with the bump photos? Upload them to your blog (if you’ve started one) or immortalise her pregnant state in a scrapbook or printed photo book.
• Tired? Rediscover the joy of doing nothing or switch off that snooze button and sleep the weekend away. Long stretches of uninterrupted sleep will soon become a rarity in a matter of weeks.
• Don’t forget to keep in touch with friends even if you have to put long lunches and late nights on the back burner once again. Being pregnant isn’t an excuse to disappear from outings or dates altogether. Keeping friendships going will make it easier to reintegrate yourselves into the social scene once you’ve settled into parenthood.
• Get down to selecting that perfect name for your baby unless you’re planning to just call him or her Baby when he/she comes along!
See, there are plenty of things you can do as a couple even in the throes of pregnancy. Now get out there and create your own couple time!
Mr Arthur Ling is the Director of Family Services at Touch Community Services
He is actively involved in counseling, facilitating parenting groups and conducting marital programmes.
Mrs Ling-Chang Chee Siah is a counsellor and trainer
She is actively involved in conducting parenting talks and training in corporations in the areas of communication and interpersonal relationship.
Mr & Mrs Arthur Ling are married with three children aged 7, 6 and 2.
(*) Readers should seek professional advice if they are unsure whether the activities are suitable for them.