I Just Had Your Freakin' Baby and Here are 5 Things You Need to Know
[Editor’s note: We recognize and celebrate the fact that all gestational parents are not mothers or women. Mother, she and her have been occasionally retained as-written in this piece in acknowledgement of the gendered nature of the postpartum experience.]
1. Your partner probably doesn’t feel human.
Their entire body just went through this unusual process and popped out a person. No matter how that person came out, your partner is living in a body that homed someone else, grew to accommodate that person, and now they’re left to figure out the aftermath on their own. Their stomach has moved, their breasts are twice the size they usually are and leaking everywhere (whether they chose to breastfeed or not), they probably have stretch marks and extra weight in places they never expected, they want to eat everything because their body wants to make food, and they have hot flashes. So, so many hot flashes. If they had a vaginal birth, then their crotch is bruised, torn, and angry at them. If they had a cesarean, they have a bitter incision that is simultaneously trying to heal and infect itself, is itchy, tight, and uncomfortable, and makes the thought of sneezing or puking terrifying. Either way, pooping is the worst possible thing they can imagine. It’s a complete departure from their body before the baby and on some level, even if this wasn’t their first child, they thought they would get themselves back after giving birth. But their physical differences aren’t the only thing that make them feel like an alien, because...
2. She’s having an identity crisis.
Whether this baby was planned or not, something changes when you become a parent. The new title is likely weighing heavily on her. Thanks in no small part to our heavy culture of mom shaming, taking it on becomes an emotional burden that overwhelms her sense of self. Is she allowed to still have fun? Can she enjoy things besides her baby? Will she ever have time for those things again? As her world revolves around her new baby, so does her sense of identity.
She is likely simultaneously striving to be more than “just a mom” AND a perfect mom, and trying to combine those two often leads to feelings of constant failure (something I lovingly refer to as “mom guilt”). The emotional toll of this is huge and can lead to all kinds of issues, especially in your relationship.
She needs support. Anything critical you have to say only validates how she’s already feeling. Telling her that you thought she’d be “back to normal” by now isn’t helpful. Complaining that she never cooks/cleans/wants to have sex anymore is dangerous. Comparing her to your mother is a good reason to spend a month on the couch. Pick your words to be helpful rather than upsetting. What you’ll find is that this usually means is that...
3. You need to step up.
After fighting that urge to complain about the laundry, you should discover that you’re totally capable of doing it yourself. You should also discover that you can cook dinner, calm the baby, feed the dogs, take out the trash, and all of the other things that your first instinct is to complain about. Your partner is struggling, no matter how hard they’re trying to hold it together. They need a break. They need a shower, and a hot meal that they don’t have to cook themself or clean up after, and a night with friends or even just a night to sleep without worrying. They needs time to self care, however they need it. You can give them this. Even if they protest and insist they can handle everything, carry on.
Tell them that you know they can handle it all, but they don’t have to. These are the magical words that can relieve a lot of tension that’s been building up. Some of you are thinking: I already do this and they’re still upset with me. What’s the deal? That’s because...
4. You can’t possibly contribute enough.
No matter what you do, you will have a few fights those first few months. Remember #1 and #2? You are not dealing with these things. Your partner will likely resent that on some level, and it’s what makes #3 so important. It’s much harder to struggle alone. Until you can equally share the hormonal/physical burden of birthing that baby, you can’t fully share the load. But you can try. You’ll never be the perfect postpartum partner (in fact, your partner probably doesn’t even have a clue of what that would look like, and if they did, it would likely change daily), but you can do your very best to take as much pressure off as possible and learn to recognize when they’re struggling- even when they won’t admit it.
5. Babies are designed to tear you apart emotionally, physically, financially, and romantically.
It’s your job to keep them from doing that. The big thing no one tells you when that second line shows up is that your baby is out to get you. All new parents suspect it, but I’m telling you that it’s true. Your baby is a black hole of neediness, diapers, and spit up. You’re basically sacrificing everything to this tiny overlord. Your relationship is on this list. It is easy for an exhausted, alien-bodied, hormone-dumping new mother to get angry and say things she doesn’t mean. She’ll pick fights that she knows are stupid. She’ll be upset with you for simply existing, seemingly unimpeded by this baby demon that wants everything she has and more. And while she may be wrong in thinking that you aren’t affected by this new addition, you still aren’t contending with the same hormonal and physical changes that she is. To counter this, you have to be the calm and stable one, even when you’re probably also exhausted and emotional. Is that fair? No, but to make it through these first few months, it’s imperative. She’s healing. Things are harder than they’ve ever been. She needs to be able to lean on you in the scariest way that she’s ever needed anyone. She needs you to be her anchor, and that means weathering the storm together.