My first Valentine’s Day as a new mom wasn’t exactly romantic—and not through lack of trying. We made reservations at a chic little bistro that wasn’t kid-friendly, I squeezed my postpartum self into something slinky that (gasp!) didn’t have an elastic waistband, and my husband even wore some cologne, which he hadn’t used since the days when we both began smelling like spit up and baby powder.
So, I was absolutely heartbroken when our babysitter called us halfway through our candlelit dinner to inform us that in the scant 40 minutes since we’d nervously sneaked out of the house, our son had vomited twice.
Even though that night was a bust, eventually, we did figure out how to rekindle the old flame—hence babies #2 & #3 (and because of them, many, many more dinners interrupted by phone calls from babysitters!).
Here are my been-there, done-that tips for making sure your romance survives, no matter how many wild curveballs parenting throws your way.
You’d be fooling yourself to not expect absolute chaos and humbling insanity for a while. I don’t care what you and your significant other went through before you became parents—mean mother-in-laws, tragedy, infertility, long-distance love…Nothing prepares you for the stress that a newborn baby will bring to your life. Adjusting to the crying, the sleeplessness, the lack of control you now have over just about every aspect of your existence equates to a dramatic life change, and one that literally comes your way overnight. There’s not much you can do about this storm except to ride it out—but you’ll come out ahead in the end if you remain patient and understanding through the worst of it.
2. Go out of your way to be nice
Before you have kids, doing something sweet for the man you love probably comes naturally—whether that’s baking him his favorite cookies or it’s forwarding him an article you thought he’d get a kick out of. When you have a baby—especially a newborn—the lack of sleep and state of mommy-shock can stick you into survival mode. If you’re not taking care of your baby, you’re sleeping, showering or just staring into space with a dazed look in your eyes.
Fight this urge to zone out and keep on being a sweetie. Buy the cookies rather than baking them—honestly, Pamela’s a better cook than I am (and she does it gluten-free style, too). Or just text him a quick “I love you” while you’re on nighttime feeding #3. When the dust is settled and you guys have time and energy to devote to each other again, these little gestures will go a long way.
3. Battle the body image blues
I haven’t met a woman who feels happy—let alone sexy—with an extra 10-20 pounds of baby weight left to lose. And some women (yours truly, for one) just can’t channel their “inner bombshell” when they feel like their new-mama shape has made them less than attractive. You can try to “forgive yourself” for the weight gain; you can try to focus on the miracle your body is, to have created this amazingly perfect baby; you can try to see yourself through your man’s eyes.
But ultimately, you might not enjoy those romantic moments all that much until you take some action to rid yourself of the postpartum pounds. So start walking briskly with the stroller or begin a safe weight loss plan—just make sure you take the proper precaution not to under-eat if you’re breastfeeding.
4. Find a babysitter
You might want to spend every waking second with your adorable baby—or maybe you’re itching to go out and the proud new daddy wants to stay home and gaze at the chip off the old block. Whatever the case, make a point to steal away for an evening at least once a month. Maybe your mom can watch the baby? If not, get some recommendations for a mature sitter who has experience with babies. I know this is tough advice to follow—with our first child, we didn’t hire a babysitter until our son was almost a year old, but by the time third came around, we went out to dinner alone a few days after I got back from the hospital (with a manual breast pump stuffed in my purse!).
You’ll probably spend all night talking about the baby. It might feel strained or awkward at first. But if no one calls you to tell you to hurry home because of unexpected sickness, consider your first adventures out alone to be more successful than ours were!
Jorie Mark is the Creative Director of Vitacost.com and mother to three children, ages 2 to 9.