Dear Brand New Father,
I remember the day my husband and I brought our first little girl home from the hospital. We walked up the broken concrete steps to our 700-square-foot, one-bedroom shack, gingerly pulled her from her car seat as though her tiny body might crumble in our very hands, and just held her. For the next year. Which might explain why she didn’t walk until she was sixteen months old.
Since she’d been in the NICU the first three weeks of her life, we thought we were prepared for the whole parenting gig. We’d watched others take care of her for 21 whole days before they handed her over, and it didn’t really seem too complicated. We’d often walk in to find her lying quietly in the incubator, usually sleeping, occasionally looking around the room, eyes wide. She never really cried.
So we were shocked that very first night in our home when she cried for two straight hours.
And then, when I was sure she’d never quit, she spit up EVERYWHERE. All over me. All over her. All over our bed. And that’s when I knew it. She was dying. There was no other explanation. I’d never seen such a tiny living thing produce such a large amount of fluid. What have we done to her?
Turns out, she didn’t die. Also turns out, she’d put on one heck of a show for all those NICU nurses.
The next several months was more of the same. She cried. I cried. She spat up. We stunk. It didn’t take me long to realize I wasn’t the mom I thought I’d be and my husband wasn’t the dad I thought he’d be. And when I wasn’t mad at myself for sucking, or mad at the baby for crying, I was mad at him… for everything in between.
We hadn’t found our balance. We didn’t know our roles. There was no ying and very little yang.
Dad, I don’t know if you feel lost navigating this new role of yours, but if you do, or if your wife tagged you in this because unbeknownst to you, you do, here are a few tips on how to love your wife well after she’s had a baby (even when she’s acting crazy):
1.Let Her Sleep – Her hormones are doing a number on her right now, so that might partly explain why she’s constantly looking at you like you just ate the last donut. But besides that, she really, really needs sleep. Tell her to go take a nap. Tell her you’ll take a night shift or two. If she’s nursing and doesn’t want to miss a feeding, tell her to bring you the baby after she’s done and you’ll get him back to sleep. Tell her to just go lie down for a few minutes because YOU GOT THIS. (And you do. You’re the dad, and you’re awesome at being the dad.)
2.Make Her Leave the House – She’ll probably come back. When that baby arrives and needs her mom every 2-3 hours just to survive, your formerly young-wild-and-free wife might have a “what the …” moment. Like, this is my life, forever forever ever, attached to this little person, all. the. time. Then, when she watches you leave the house while she sits in her nursing chair (again), she might cry (again). She LOVES that chair, and she LOVES that baby. But she also craves just one hour to herself. Give her that.
3.Compliment Her – Her hair probably looks like she soaked it all night in olive oil, the kitchen floor is definitely a little sticky, pump parts are piled high in a bubbly bowl by the sink, and you don’t have any clean underwear. BUT. She kept the baby alive another day. This is fantastic news. Tell her how awesome she is. She might not have the juggling act down that she will in a few months, but when we moms start out, NONE of us do. The goal is merely this: survive. And she did. Give her a freaking award, or at the very least a “You’re doing an amazing job.”
4.Clean the House or Hire Someone Else to Do it – Just because the house is always a mess, doesn’t mean she likes the house always being a mess. However, tread carefully here. There’s a fine line between, “Oh, I could kiss you right now,” and, “Um. Excuse me? You don’t think I’m perfectly capable of cleaning my own house?” The key is in the presentation. This is all about lightening her load, not about having a clean house for you to come home to.
5.Don’t Get Easily Offended – The woman you knew a few weeks ago, she’ll be back. She’ll even be an improved Mom.0 version. But until then, don’t take offense to the shade she throws at 3 am or the PG-13 names you heard her call you over the monitor. Ear-muff the baby, take a deep breath, swallow what pride you have left, and ask her how you can help. She just wants to know she’s not doing this alone.
You’ve got this dad. And rest assured, it will get easier. The two of you will be old pros in just a few months. Just in time to have another.