Steph Douglas on relationships after babies

We love how honestly Steph Douglas, founder of Don’t Buy Her Flowers, talks about the ways her relationship with her husband changed after kids came along. Here, we delve a bit deeper…

Steph founded the hugely successful Don’t Buy Her Flowers – thoughtful gift packages for lots of occasions, from new mums to get well, birthday and bereavement – after the birth of her first child. She now has three kids…

How old were you when you got together with Doug, and how did you meet?

I was 25, and on a girls’ holiday in Newquay. He was on a stag do. We met in Central bar and I was on water as I was too drunk and had peaked early.

At what stage did you start discussing having children?

Our first months were pretty whirlwind as Doug moved to Italy to play rugby professionally a few weeks after we met. I went to visit him after we’d spent hours on the phone and he booked me flights to visit. We’d had three dates so only spent a few hours physically in each other’s company and there I was in Italy staying with him. We knew it was a bit nuts but he said something like ‘what if you’re the one I’m meant to marry?’. So we talked about kids on that visit. We were hook, line and sinker. He proposed nine months later after asking my dad’s permission via telegram. Yep I didn’t know they still did those either.

And how long had you been together when you had your first, Buster?

Four years, two years after we got married. 

What impact did first-time parenthood have on your relationship?

Oh god. Actually, with our first we were somewhat distracted as when I was pregnant with Buster (our first) Doug was diagnosed with a rare thyroid cancer. He had surgery and then six weeks of radiotherapy, which finished the day before I went in to labour four weeks early. So when Buster was born I was in shock and he was feeling absolutely terrible as radiotherapy is cumulative and by that point he could barely eat or speak.

We found out that in a crisis we were brilliant – we pulled together and the first weeks were pretty good. When I had my second it was a different story. I felt immense rage. I think in hindsight there was all sorts going on because I must’ve felt I’d had to cope with a lot on my own the first time around and so this time it had to be easier – my expectations on him were huge.

Simultaneously, I think he freaked out a bit about having two kids and felt a huge pressure as provider. We didn’t know how to communicate and rowed a lot, both feeling resentful. I was definitely hormonal and sleep deprived and irrational.

I accepted third time around that is part and parcel of having babies. Not to excuse it, but it takes the edge off it if you know there will be days like that and you’re going to have to ride them out. You can pretend you don’t feel it, but it has to come out eventually. 

How did you deal with the inevitable pressure babies can put on a marriage?

I’m not sure we did. It was all brand new and we were among the first of our friends to have babies so no one was talking about the challenges of having kids and what that can do to your relationship. It came as a total shock – especially as I’d met this guy and fallen madly in love and he was the first man that really bowled me over. He was smart and kind and ambitious and handsome AND liked musicals – everything I’d ever wanted!

And then after a kid I just thought he was a fucking moron. WHY didn’t he understand the timings and what the baby needed and what I needed? HOW could he sleep through while I lay awake at every squeak. Oh man, the resentment as he swanned off to work while I felt trapped and lost and lonely; and he was thinking ‘what have I done wrong?’ when he came home to this raging beast.

Actually, the best thing a man can do at this stage, I think, is show kindness. It’s not easy if someone is being an utter bitch, but if they’re horrible back you spiral into this very grim place. It takes one of you to break the cycle and I think a new mum feels such enormous pressure that finding the energy to be kind on top of all that just isn’t likely. If he can show kindness regardless of the hissing and wild hormones, we’ll remember it later. We’ll lift them up as heroes when we come out of the fog.

I don’t think it’s too much to ask when you think of what a woman puts her mind and body through in having a baby.

Were you concerned about adding to the existing stress by having another baby, or did you feel you were already in it and it wouldn’t make much difference?

I think second time we underestimated what another child would mean. Third time we were ready for the worst, expectations were low and we looked after ourselves better so despite there being a whole other child in the mix, it has generally been smoother. Slightly less rage. I would say I almost embraced the rage and the down days – I accepted them as part of those early months and as I wasn’t using energy fighting those feelings, they tended to pass quicker. We had more occasions when we were able to laugh at some hideous thing I’d said or ridiculous row we’d had quite soon after having it. 

You waited a bit longer before having your third baby, Frank. This time, you had relationship counselling in preparation. Whose idea was this?

I think we both came to it – we knew we had to do something different because after Mabel was born we argued a lot and just felt so disconnected. That disconnection is horrible. I think it’s scary as it can leave you thinking that your relationship is flawed or even doomed when maybe a big part of it is exhaustion and trying to work out new roles for yourselves when suddenly one of you is home a lot and not able to maintain the life she had previously while it can feel like he carries on as normal. I know that’s not completely accurate but I’m pretty sure that’s how I felt when I was feeling that resentment. 

How did those sessions help to prepare you for Frank’s arrival?

The biggest thing was about communication. Stopping to see it from the other person’s perspective before we were in the thick of it. It’s very hard to do that in the moment so getting some practice in before you’re in it is a good thing! And actually, a huge part of it for us was having a regular babysitter booked in advance, and we’d go to counselling on a Tuesday evening and then head to the pub for a drink and chat and just having that regular time together for us was really good. It’s so easy to let weeks and months slip by and you’ve not spent any time together except negotiating logistics of kids and work and the household, or sitting in silence on the sofa completely knackered. And also, when you’re in the middle of it sometimes the last thing you want is to spend time together so there’s not a massive incentive to sort babysitters and plans to get out! But it always helps, or at least we’ve found it does.

Do you have any advice for couples who are struggling to reestablish their relationship after having a baby? 

I think counselling can only be a good idea. Time together – even if you book a babysitter or get a friend over and go for a walk. Trying to talk when you’re not mid-row helps. And kindness – trying to find that kindness that was so fundamental to your relationship when you first got together. And know that hormones and sleep deprivation have a lot to answer for, and they do pass.

I also think something I did not understand about relationships until really recently is that they’re cyclical. When I got married I thought it would be an upward curve of happiness leading to more happiness and actually, no relationship is going to meet that expectation. Sometimes it’s brilliant and you’re connected and other times you’re distracted or sad. And all of that is ok. Life’s rich tapestry and all that.

Any other comments?

Just know that you’re not on your own if your relationship is struggling. Some people talk about it and lots of people don’t – I don’t completely understand why but all I know is that it helps me to sit with friends and have a good moan and laugh about some of the crackers things we’ve done mid-row. Whether they’ve talked about it or I’ve just observed it, I genuinely don’t know one couple – not ONE – who haven’t found the transition of becoming parents a strain on their relationship. 

Follow Steph on Instagram: @steph_dontbuyherflowers and get gift boxes for all your family and friends from Don’t Buy Her Flowers.

How are you finding your relationship since having a baby? If you’re struggling, we can help. Download the Clementine App for free and try one of the De-stress hypnotherapy sessions like: ‘Tough day at home’ or ‘You can’t change others’. Sit back, listen and let our hypnotherapists talk you to a calmer, more centred place.

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