If you are trying to conceive, seeing that pink line will make your heart burst with cotton candy love and joy. You and your partner will dance in the kitchen with soft looks in your eyes. Relationship problems? No way! You've never been more in love.
A few months later, in the quiet of the night, as your belly grows, you will lay on clean, moonlit sheets smiling like a chump while you and Daddy talk about baby names, nursery colours and their likely personality based on baby movements. Each conversation will end, dripping with syrupy reassurance "you will be such a good Mom" or "oh hunny, our kids will be lucky to have you as their Dad."
Then the baby comes.
People don't talk about what really happens in the marriage once baby comes. Even you and your spouse won't talk about it. Some things don't need to be said, and some things are just so overwhelming and confusing you can't put them into words.
Your whole relationship up until baby is built on free schedules, honed roles and responsibilities, double incomes and the only sleepless nights you have are by choice, and usually for fun reasons. No relationship, no matter how fortified, will go untouched.
So. Here is an honest-to-goodness list of what to really expect. Brace yourselves.
1. Roles and responsibilities are out the window
You probably had a notion of a "system" -- I cook, you do dishes, I do laundry, you do garbage. Now one parent is probably home full time, but even more likely, they are held hostage by a fussy four-month-old on a napping strike.
People will tell you to let the housework slide and eat frozen pizza. They are correct, but you will get anxious over all the little things you can't get done during the day. Your husband will gradually (reluctantly) learn to let his expectations slide on what he comes home to. You will have the reality of what you are capable of accomplishing and it no longer involves matching socks.
2. Your breasts are now a soother
There is freedom in extra hands, someone to take the baby and let you have some independence. Your body is free for a little while and, more importantly, you can put your boobs back in your shirt. Your baby is also learning to be comforted and soothed by others and not solely from mom's milk and cuddles. However, when other people (dads included) can't console your baby they will always assume you should just "feed them."
They won't understand your need for a break, and you can't explain it over an increasing shrill of an upset infant. All they see is the majestic glow of a therapeutic bosom that only you possess. That or the milk stains all over your shirt.
3. Night-waking debate
Sleep is scarce and when you are in a deficit your actions are based on desperation for more of it. You will think you have a system you are both happy with on who gets up with the baby, but the truth is you both think the other one should be doing it more. You will expect dad to get up and give you some rest -- the baby can have a bottle or be rocked by someone other than you. Dad thinks it's just easiest and fastest if you feed the baby and put him or her back to bed.
4. Homecomings are, well, awful
Dads happen to come home from work at the witching hour. They are met at the door with a fussy baby placed in to their arms so moms can finally finish dinner and chores.
Dad is wishing he could just have 10 minutes alone to wind down after a full days work. Mom is just happy to be frying onions and washing dishes. After all, dishes never cry, or poop, or pee on your friend's floor, or bite every carrot in the produce section.
Eventually, dads are greeted by a squealing toddler and these days are long forgotten.
5. One is selfish, one is a martyr
Just like sleep, the demand for free time exceeds the supply. You will both feel a little lost, as your involvement in your favourite hobbies can't be as consistent -- or at all. One will become a martyr and never ask directly for a break or free time, cue some passive aggressive comments on the Facebook wall. One of you will say "baby comes into OUR lives and I won't lose myself." This is the one who will find time slots free and ask for it. The martyr will say yes and instantly deem the other one selfish but secretly hope they will get the subtle hint that the martyr is in need of a baby-free day (didn't they see that groupon I emailed them?!). Either way, free time will come back eventually and you will find new ways to enjoy your hobbies that can involve your kids.
6. Mom coddles, dad is neglectful
Moms worry something could be wrong with the baby from time to time (or all the time) and dad will nod along in support all the while thinking it is in mom's head. When a mom hears her baby cry her whole body chemistry changes in reaction to it, she has an instinctual need to respond. Dad can turn this switch off and is more likely to let them cry it out. No matter how it pans out you have dad thinking mom overreacts and mom thinking dad is heartless. As your child grows you will see the beauty of having each other, and balancing each other out.
7. Default to the Baby Blues
You have found a new ability to turn every laugh into a cry, aka cry-laughing. Everything will make you tear up: soup commercials, folding laundry, a sleeping baby after an hour of rocking. Your only explanation when he comes into a room to find you sobbing into your unwashed sheets will be a string of high-pitched tones that sounds a little like "So tired... love you so much... so wonderful... no time for laundry... just buy new sheets!" He has an instinct to diagnose and resolve. So his default will be the Baby Blues. This will not go over well.
8. The waiting game
You have heard that sex goes by the wayside after baby. It might not always mean a dry spell but getting back in the sack will be tricky. No matter what type of birth, you are looking at a minimum of six-weeks on standby. Second you will be scared to have sex, and scared not to. Your husband will give you his best empathy each night with secret hopes that his kind side will butter you up. All empathy tapers off eventually, hopefully around the same time Date Night is reinstated.
9. Help me, but do it how I want!
Every mom likes to brag about how helpful the dad is (or likes to make side comments about how helpful he is NOT). You will want dad's help with all the tasks filling your day, but you will only want his help in your way. Soon you might hear you own voice correcting how he holds the baby, giving him orders on proper consoling technique or commenting about how nice it would have been if he took out the garbage after doing the dishes. He is simultaneously plotting ways to regain some foothold on his manhood in the house and doubting his ability to care for his own child.
10. Your nightly scoreboard
The truth is, you will secretly keep score -- of everything. From who got up last night to who changed the last diaper to who did the dishes. You might not talk about it but each day you will mentally sum up the tally. Some couples will make special chore charts. In our house a game of Rock Paper Scissors is all we need to dole out the undesirable chores. After all, all is fair in Rock Paper Scissors.
11. Oh, the doubt
There will be days of doubt. Can I do this? Will it always be like this? Can our marriage handle it? The laundry list of flaws you have learned about each other is growing. Those sweet naive moments of wanting to have kids together will be nauseating to think about. These are some tough years and adjustment into roles as new parents is about as pretty as wearing postpartum spanks and a medical-grade nursing bra. And if you find yourself needing some expert help, don't think you are the first new parents to land an appointment with the marriage counselor.
12. The glue
That little cooing drool monster is just another baby to anyone else. But to the parents, he or she is the most expressive, adorable, interactive, advanced being they have ever been in contact with. You will point out the characteristics your baby has inherited from each other and find yourself sharing that same chump smile. Your eyes will soften and put the week-old laundry out of focus as you recount the adorable way your little one rolled over or said banana. You will move a little closer and stare into your baby's clueless eyes. Then you will share those sweet reassurances that you are good parents. Maybe a silent acknowledgement that you indeed have the world's most awesome baby and that you should probably win some kind of award (but of course you will decline it), you want your kid to grow up out of the spotlight of his or her imminent fame.
When they say you give up lots to have kids, sometimes it is all about the day-to-day stuff. Amazing changes do happen to parents, but it doesn't come without the aches and pains of being changed.
So if you feel like you are doing something wrong, you aren't. We have all been there in different degrees we just don't talk about it. Having kids is a wonderful time. The real fact is that your highs will be higher and your lows will be lower. You choose which end of the scale you like to hang out on.