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    Are You Ready for Pregnancy

    Prenatal experts offer advice to parents-to-be on emotionally preparing for a baby.

    Not as Easy as It Looks

    The transition to parenthood will be tough, so whatever you can work out ahead of time could be one fewer thing to resolve amid the relentless demands of a newborn.

    "The realities of being responsible for another human being 24 hours a day are something that most people have not experienced before, so they're in a very challenged place emotionally and physically, and that doesn't make for good decision-making," says Barbara Schofield, a childbirth educator and education coordinator of the Elizabeth Seton Childbearing Center in New York City.

    New parents struggle with huge financial, emotional, physical and sexual strains, but those with more realistic expectations at the outset will endure the transition better, says Jay Belsky, author of "The Transition to Parenthood: How a First Child Changes a Marriage." In a study of 250 couples from their last trimester to their baby's third year, Belsky found that half the couples grew further apart -- 12% to 13% were so divided by differences that they started losing faith in each other and their marriages. Thirty percent kept their relationships at about the same levels, and only 19% grew closer together.

    "There's this perception that a baby brings a couple closer together, and that's rarely the case," says Belsky, distinguished professor of human development at Penn State University. "It's more likely to amplify differences than to create common ground. It's like having new dance steps and the music's speeded up."

    So often, unless couples consciously examine their motivations for becoming parents, their own differences and how gender and society affect the way they respond, there's more room for misunderstanding and stress.

    "No matter how much progress we've made, we still grow up with the message that the only legitimate lifestyle is to grow up, get married and have children. As long as there's that message, we don't actually stop and think about whether that's the way we want to live our lives or not," says Randi Wolfe, assistant professor in early childhood education at Northern Illinois University in Dekalb, who holds parenting workshops and has created a parent support and education program called "Listening to Children."

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