Postpartum is hard, especially those first three months.
Trust me, as a mom of three, it’s always hard, no matter how seasoned a parent you are, no matter how prepared you are.
For moms it means new transitions, new schedules…being up all night, bags under the eyes, saggy belly, rock hard boobs. You don’t sleep, you barely eat, you fondly remember showers. Postpartum is hard.
For dads, it is equally as hard, and equally as different.
Moms spend nine months with the very real knowledge that everything is changing. First, they are sick. They look fine, but they feel terrible. They can’t eat, smells are overwhelming, and they are moody. Like, unpredictable rage and sorrow and love and hate in the span of five minutes moody.
Then, they get fat. Or that’s what they feel. Like a secret, they just get a little thicker, but not quite pregnant looking, but begging for that pregnant look because then they won’t just look fat. And lo’ and behold at around four or five months, they stop being sick and actually look pregnant. Ye Gods! Finally!
Except the mood changes don’t stop. And that pregnant belly becomes painful. The skin is stretched. The belly is heavy. The back hurts. And the middle of the night leg cramps! May you never experience those, dear reader.
The pregnant woman may feel extremely sexual (all that extra circulation! Holy vagina!). Or she may not. It’s a crap shoot. But I tell you in all honesty that in my second pregnancy, I despised my husband and he despised me. I was moody and miserable. I was working full time and so was he, and we had a toddler. I was resentful because my husband didn’t get me, he wanted sex and I wanted nurturing.
My husband was resentful because he needed nurturing, and sex. It was a bad time. We barely spoke, let alone…well…you know.
Pregnancy is hard for men. They don’t embody it like women. I kid you not, after the birth of our third son, my husband said, “Holy shit! There was a baby in there!” Partly it was meant to be funny, and partly it was true to his experience.
They watch us get big, they get it intellectually, but they don’t live it and breathe it and plan for it like women do. Some men are different, but in my experience as a birth educator, this is the average male response. And it is valid and understandable.
Pregnancy, for women, is a time of physical and emotional and personal change. Sometimes it is tumultuous. Our bodies, roles and sense of self change. It can be hard on our partners because they don’t tend to experience these emotions until after the baby is born, long after mom has come to terms with a few of these ideas.
Then, throw in a crazy night schedule, angry baby, confusing and painful boobs, and it’s all-out chaos. Postpartum was never easy for me, not for baby number one, not for baby number three.
At six weeks, moms are given this kind of nonchalant go-ahead for sex, and Dad is all for it. Why shouldn’t he be? Except no one is telling dad that mom is tired, that her parts aren’t working properly right now (her body, after all, is telling her it’s not time to make another baby) the fact that she just doesn’t want anyone to touch her anymore. She just spent 16 hours holding and nursing a baby so please don’t ask to touch my gloriously huge lactating breasts right now, thank you very much. She may not know how to deal with this aspect of relationship with her husband right now.
This isn’t true for all women, but it is true for most.
And in the midst of prenatal classes and postpartum support groups, and stroller strides and mommy and me classes, dad gets left behind.
There are very few dad-oriented groups out there, for a time that is just as confusing, and hard, and maddening for them as it is for any mom.
What I tell my students is this: “You had nine months to grow a baby. Give dad his nine months to get to know that baby.” I think it is invaluable to give men the space to become the parents they are meant to be. It will not take the same shape as mom. He will not be able to breastfeed, he will not rock them the same way. But he has a glorious touch all his own, and a soothing deep voice that baby recognizes from in utero, and a lovely chest that baby will sleep nicely on.
Let’s make space for dad, in the postpartum and make real room for lifetime bonding for mom, dad and baby alike.
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Editor: Lynn Hasselberger
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