As a pregnant couple, you're on a roller coaster like no other. But what you may not realize is that even as you near the end of your last trimester, you're still merely chugging your way up to the peak. The heart-pounding free fall, the thrilling twists and turns and the exhilarating corkscrews are still ahead. Prepare to be forever transformed as you plummet your way into the adventure of parenthood.
Alisa Ikeda

Bliss in babyland The new-parent stupor
No matter how much reading you've done or how well documented your birth plan, it's nearly impossible to fully prepare for the intensity of labor and delivery, and for finally holding that long-awaited new baby in your arms. New moms feel wondrously mighty, and new dads bubble over with tears of joy. "There's nothing more empowering than giving birth to a baby," says Beth Riordan of Chicago, Illinois. "It's so amazing. Your body knows just what to do. Part of me felt like a spectator of this beautiful event."

Just when you're so physically and emotionally spent you can't see straight, you're utterly invigorated by your baby's first gurgled cry. You find yourselves laughing and sobbing at once as you gaze upon this babe fresh from heaven. You are bowled over by your little one's petal-soft perfection and out-of-this-world beauty. Never have you been so naturally loopy. Dog-tired, you can't sleep a wink.

The long ride home
Soon after the birth of your child, you will experience the thrilling but nerve-wracking departure from the safety of the hospital or birthing center. Leigh Ann Powell of Jacksonville, Florida, echoes the sentiments of many fledgling parents: "I could not believe those smart people at that hospital would let these two idiots leave with a baby!"

Suddenly the bright, beautiful day is fraught with never-before-noticed dangers. The sun blazes down on your newborn's tender skin. A gentle breeze cuts through layers of new baby blankets. The car seat becomes infinitely more complicated than it was in trial runs. Every other car on the road is a menace.

Thankfully, that groggy fog that envelops you keeps you sane and gets you through the rigorous on-the-job training you face as a new parent. Part dream-state, part adrenaline, part rapture and part pride, that stupor will see you through the inevitable shell shock, countless crying jags (your baby's and yours), and days on end without a shower or a square meal.

Baby makes three
As two become three, the dynamics of your relationship change immensely. There are the not-so-welcome dirty diaper negotiations and the tedious arguments over whose turn it is to do the dishes or how best to soothe a crying baby. But there's also the intoxicating revelation that together you made a full-fledged human -- the very embodiment of your love. It's no wonder you can both marvel at your creation for endless hours of delight.

"There were many times that we would just stand over her bassinette and say to each other, 'How did we do this? She is so beautiful!'" recalls Kim Maslaniak of San Francisco, California. "We were in awe of her."

"We are not able to be as impulsive as we once were," admits Chuck Belk of Davis, California. "We live our lives on baby time right now." Indeed, zany spontaneity is effectively gone now that you have a darling little dependent. But be honest with yourselves -- was it ever really there, or was it just the option for spontaneity that felt so indulgent? Think about it. How often did you actually take off for a Hawaiian vacation on a whim? Well, now you can't. You can, however, enjoy pizza and a beer (or root beer!) on a hammock in the backyard or Chinese takeout by candlelight in the nursery. Think of it as romance redefined.

What really matters
A new baby also gives you an instant dose of perspective. Small things become sublime pleasures to new parents. The peachy soft head of your newborn. The sweet-smelling warmth of her. The way his little hand clutches your finger. Tiny yawns and sleepy baby smiles. (Gas, they say? Oh, please.) Stolen moments in the softly lit wee hours of the morning when you and your baby are the only ones stirring.

The pride that overcomes you when someone comments on the beauty of your child. The way romantic songs on the radio so eloquently capture your newest love affair. Snuggling as a threesome in bed on a Sunday morning. These are the things that bring you simple, pure, boundless happiness.

By the same token, big things become much less significant. Old stresses relax, persistent worries quiet and challenges become surmountable. Somehow, eight-pound bundles inspire daring career and lifestyle changes and dramatically altered goals as their parents come to understand with immense clarity the words of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis: "If you bungle raising your children, I don't think whatever else you do well matters very much."

Nothing flies faster than babyhood. Savor every delirious


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