Know someone with a baby on the way?
An interview with Suzanne Hadley Gosselin,
Author of Expectant Parents
It’s said that when a couple welcomes a new baby, everything changes; but is that a wondrous prediction or an ominous warning? In her new book, Expectant Parents: Preparing Together for the Journey of Parenthood (Focus on the Family/October 1, 2014/ ISBN: 978-1589977945/$14.99), Suzanne Hadley Gosselin examines that question from the perspective of a young mother who has given birth to three babies in fewer than five years.
While many books for new parents focus on prenatal development and the health of a mom-to-be, Expectant Parents’ core purpose is to help new parents understand key issues related to the arrival of a new child in the home, offering practical assistance as they prepare themselves for long-term family success. This includes strengthening their own marriage relationship, setting plans and expectations for parenthood, increasing communication and preparing for the new stage of their family life that is just ahead.
Q: New moms are inundated with so much information about pregnancy and childbirth. What makes Expectant Parents stand out from other resources for soon-to-be parents?
Many pregnancy resources give soon-to-be parents health information and practical advice on newborn topics, such as diapering, sleep schedules and doctors’ visits. Expectant Parents focuses on what you can do during this unique season to prepare emotionally, socially and spiritually for being parents. It’s also a marriage book, in that it offers a lot advice from experts about strengthening your relationship with your spouse in preparation for the adjustment of adding an infant to the family.
Q: What were some of the experiences you had as a new parent that you felt unprepared for and wanted share with new parents in Expectant Parents?
My biggest adjustment was the life-change whiplash that came along with leaving my full-time job as an editor to stay home and care for my son. Even though being a stay-at-home mom had been my dream, I didn’t realize ahead of time the social interactions that would be lost and how lonely and isolated I would feel in my new role.
Also, I didn’t fully realize how having a baby would shift the dynamic between my husband, Kevin, and me. Our son was born several months after we celebrated our one-year anniversary, so we were still very much newlyweds. While our shared joy in having a baby was a really special bonding experience for us, the stress of sleepless nights, newborn care, postpartum hormones and life changes increased our need for communication and empathy. We couldn’t focus on each other the way we had pre-baby and had to learn to be intentional about date nights and conversations that strengthened us as a couple.
Q: People always say, “Once baby comes, everything is going to change.” Explain why this is both an “ominous warning and a wondrous prediction.”
I think many Christian couples feel fairly satisfied with their lives and marriages when they decide to have a baby. So hearing “everything is going to change” can sound like a threat, but it is true that having a child may be one of the biggest life changes a couple will face. While people are good at describing the unpleasant effects of pregnancy or telling their harrowing tales of sleep deprivation and even rebellious teenagers, it’s harder to describe the way a child enhances your quality of life in terms of meaning, fulfillment and joy.
So the wondrous prediction part is: Yes, a baby will change everything, but you will never want to go back because of how wonderful that change is. Of course, the toddler years may test that sentiment, but even then there’s nothing like realizing how desperately you love one another. In my book, one mom describes this as the “last unopened chamber of your heart” you only experience once you have a child.
Q: Some parents don’t think their relationship with their spouse will change after baby arrives. In what ways is it sure to change?
I think the biggest change is bringing another person into your relationship. The two of you are no longer relating only to one another, you are also each relating to the baby. A lot of the dads I talked to identified “sharing their wife with the baby” as the biggest change they experienced. Moms tend to adapt naturally to nurturing the baby, so a mom can easily start making everything about the baby and ignoring her husband’s needs.
In the book, I talk about how couples need to be extra-intentional during this season to connect with one another emotionally, keep intimacy alive and communicate their expectations and needs. We refer to a “marriage-centered home,” which is a home where the couple looks to Christ and makes their marriage a priority. This type of home holds deep and lasting benefits for children as they observe their parents modeling a healthy marriage.
Q: What are some ways couples can and should connect during pregnancy?
Knowing they’ll have less quality one-on-one time once the baby arrives, I encourage parents to embrace the season of pregnancy as a time to really enjoy each other. That might mean taking a special trip, planning a few more date nights or just making time for intentional conversations. Pregnancy can be a very romantic time for couples, so they should take advantage of that and work on building solid communication skills and unity that will serve them well as they tackle parenthood together.
Q: Like many women, you were single for many years and had begun to wonder if having a family was going to be a possibility. Tell us about that moment you found out you were going to become a mother.
It’s funny because often TV and movies portray a woman finding out she’s pregnant and planning some elaborate way to tell Dad. It wasn’t like that at all for Kevin and me. We initially thought we might wait until our one-year anniversary to start “trying.” However, we both love children and knew we wanted to have a family, so around five months in, we began talking about getting started sooner.
When we thought I might be pregnant, we went to the store together and bought a pregnancy test. I took the test at home with Kevin in the next room, and we watched the plus sign appear together. I think we were in shock at first — that it had happened so quickly — but super excited. We went out for a burger and fries to celebrate and talk about how our lives were going to change! We’ve done the same thing with our other two pregnancies.
Q: You say in Expectant Parents that when you and your husband walked into Prepared Childbirth Class for the first time, you thought, “What have we gotten ourselves into?” Why did you feel that way, and how do you think other new parents can identify with that feeling?
Hearing someone talk about every aspect of the childbirth process and the tasks of caring for an infant can feel really overwhelming. There’s definitely a sense of “there’s no going back” that hits. There’s also a sense of deep responsibility — I think both moms and dads feel in different ways — as you realize another human being is going to be totally dependent on you for everything. You suddenly realize all the things you could do wrong and wonder if you’re up to the task.
Q: What is a “babymoon,” and what did you experience during that time?
In the book, I use “babymoon” to reference a special vacation a couple takes together to rest, relax and enjoy some romance before the baby arrives. Kevin and I spent several nights at a bed-and-breakfast in a beautiful mountain town in Colorado. Like our honeymoon, this getaway provided a time for us to share some romantic moments together, dreaming about our next adventure as a couple.
Q: What guidance would you offer to dads for helping their wives deal with the physical changes they’re experiencing during pregnancy?
Some women embrace the physical changes more than others, but all women appreciate feeling like their husbands find them attractive during pregnancy, no matter how much weight they’ve gained or how many stretch marks they’ve added. Compliments go a long way. A positive word from her husband about her beauty can erase a day’s worth of defeating thoughts a woman may have been feeling about her changing body.
Practically, a husband can also arrange for his wife to get a haircut or go on a maternity clothes shopping spree — anything that makes her feel lovely. During my last two pregnancies (which went through the summer) my husband budgeted for me to have a pedicure each month so I could feel pampered and wear cute sandals when I didn’t feel as confident in my clothes.
Q: Dads often don’t feel quite as comfortable as moms with newborns. How can new moms make their husbands feel important, competent and comfortable with a baby?
One really easy thing moms can do is accept the help their husbands offer. Usually a dad will want to do something, whether it is change diapers, bathe the baby or drive Mom and Baby to his first doctor’s appointment. Wives can encourage their husbands to be involved by allowing them to take charge in areas where they feel comfortable. Also, incorporating special “dad traditions” can help men bond with their newborns. Kevin used to lay Josiah on his chest for a little daddy-son snooze each afternoon when he returned home from work.
Q: What are some fears new dads struggle with? What help and advice does Expectant Parents offer them?
Many dads worry about finances and how they will provide for a child. They may also worry about leading their family spiritually, especially if they didn’t have the best model growing up. Expectant Parents reassures men they are not alone in their fears and that God has equipped them not only to do the job but to be a powerful force within their new family.
Q: How can parents help make the grandparents feel involved with the pregnancy and birth? What recommendations do you have for drawing necessary boundaries?
Family dynamics can definitely intensify when a couple is expecting a child. I talk about how grandparents can be a wonderful resource and support system. In some cases, boundaries may be necessary — for example, if the grandparents are trying to take charge — but for the most part, this season is a great opportunity to show grace and welcome grandparents into the joy of the baby’s arrival.
Q: Many women in this generation are successful professionals, and they might have trouble finding their place in what you call “mommy culture.” What do you recommend moms do to connect with other mothers with whom they can identify?
One of the moms in the book talked about how she anticipated her social life would be changing dramatically when she quit her job to stay home with her first child. She and her husband prayed that God would provide her with new friends who could encourage her and sustain her during the next season of life. She even began cultivating some of those relationships before her baby was born! I wish I would have done that!
I was not proactive about securing an after-baby social life. As a result I felt isolated and became unreasonably dependent (emotionally) on my husband. Eventually, I realized getting out and getting a cup of coffee with a girlfriend — especially another mom — was sometimes more crucial than keeping my baby on schedule or cleaning the house.
Q: How have you leaned on the Lord during the ups and downs of becoming a new parent?
I’ve had to seek His strength and help in a new way since becoming a mom. I realize I’m not always “up to the task” and need to call on Him daily for the grace I need to be a loving wife and mother. I’ve also had to go to the Lord to find my identity in the midst of so many changes.
Q: How does becoming a parent change your relationship with God?
I think your relationship with Him changes because you suddenly have to trust Him with this other person you love so desperately. Our son had a healthy, normal delivery but developed seizures six months later. Kevin and I had to lay down our own hopes for Josiah and choose to believe that God loved him more than we did and had a plan for our son’s life. You want to make everything perfect for your baby, but ultimately God is the One in control. Trusting Him with your child starts when you first find out you’re pregnant and continues for the rest of your life.
Q: What is the number-one piece of advice from Expectant Parents you would share with parents for preparing for delivery day?
Be flexible with your expectations! You may be planning on natural childbirth but end up needing a C-section. The most important thing is a healthy mom and a healthy baby. So go in prepared, but be ready to let go of your idea of an ideal birth experience if you need to. Also, invite God to be part of the experience. Pray during labor. Listen to worship music. Have someone write memory verses on your white board. Do whatever it takes to remind yourself that God is with you and a huge part of this amazing miracle.
For more information about Suzanne Hadley Gosselin or Expectant Parents visit her online home www.suzannegosselin.com.