Fatigue, feeding and full nappies – new parenthood is enough to rattle even the strongest relationship. But when the relationship is on shaky ground to start with, can it survive the baby test?
When Harrie Blundell discovered she was pregnant with baby Katie, she was on the brink of never seeing partner Marti Cooper again. Their rocky relationship had all but ended, with Marti about to move from Sydney to Canberra for work.
The couple had fallen in love while working at a Sydney bar a couple of years earlier. “We had actually talked about having a baby the year before (we separated),” Harrie, 28, says. “But then everything fell apart. We broke up two weeks before I found out I was pregnant. We were just operating on the assumption I was going to be a single parent and he was going to be an occasional father.”
Marti, 40, says as the pregnancy progressed and prenatal classes started, he returned to Sydney more frequently. “The more time we started spending together, the more we started realising there was still something there,” he says. “Around the new year we spent an entire two weeks together. I thought, ‘I don’t want to be an absentee father’, and Harrie and I were still very good friends and there was a spark. After new year’s, I went back to work and resigned, and moved back to Sydney.”
Harrie says the pair formed an “uneasy truce”. “We knew we only had a certain amount of time before we were parents and needed to find a way to make it work,” she says.
Amid all this, the camera was about to start rolling at their home for a new documentary series, Crash Test Mummies and Daddies, starting on ABC2 this week. The six-part show follows five sets of first-time parents from various backgrounds over their babies’ first three months. It’s an honest, and funny, look at how lives change so drastically in those first few months.
Harrie says she signed up for the show because “at that stage Marti and I hadn’t even spoken to each other in a few weeks. I was on my own and looking for something positive to do for the pregnancy”.
In front of the camera, the couple faced significant feeding troubles and learned that Katie suffered a potentially serious health problem. Katie, born on January 21 this year, is now seven months old and a “little zen baby – very happy and calm”, says her dad. She has also brought her parents well and truly back together.
“Our relationship is better than it ever has been,” says Harrie. “Because of everything, we have learned to talk to each other and fixed a lot of problems that were issues in the past. Now we just have normal things to fight over, like who does the dishes and why he works so much.”
Marti adds: “Having her around is helping, but the relationship isn’t based on the baby. More than anything it’s the fact she ‘s shown us we’re a good team and we work well together. She’s helped us see how good we are together, but we’re not together because of her – we’re together because of us.”
Harrie says getting the relationship back on track has been a slow process. “Even after the cameras stopped rolling, we had a lot of work to do. When she turned five months we were in a really good place. It’s taken us a long time to remember why we became friends and how important the other person is,” she says.
“Marti and I have always had a tempestuous relationship, we’ve always been passionate about everything. We are fierce in our love for each other but quite quick to turn on the other person as well. By the time Katie had come along we had done every mean thing it is possible to do to someone – there was no place to go other than up.”
Marti says: “Yes it’s tempestuous, it’s not the most stable of relationships at times, but it’s grounded in a very close friendship and deep respect for each other. We’re a good team and we really like each other.”
Crash Test Mummies and Daddies starts on Wednesday, September 10, at 9.30pm on ABC2.