Dearest Partner and Co-Parent to be,
Firstly, I love you and I am beyond excited to make this journey into parenthood with you. I'm also a little nervous, but before we embark on the uncertainty, exhilaration and exhaustion of labor, delivery and postpartum life with a newborn, I wanted you to know a few things. Some of these things I don't even know yet, but it'd be good for us to starting talking about them.
Postpartum is hard.
While we might end up with a magical baby where postpartum feels like kittens and rainbows as we stare with adoring eyes at our newborn, we might be like the 99.9% of everyone who is deeply challenged by the sleepless, painful, and emotionally trying time that is new parenthood. We are going to be very tired. I will be in pain and may have injuries I'm recovering from (surgical or otherwise). I will be on an emotional roller coaster as my body shifts from pregnant mode to not-prengant-but-now-milk-making mode. Things will feel frayed. And we will have to make a ton of micro decisions at 2AM and 3AM and well, all the AM's (Should we feed again? Do you think he needs a burp? Is she too cold or maybe she's too hot?). This is going to mean a lot of communication between us. As long as we keep talking, we'll be ok! And when it feels the most overwhelming, a sense of humor goes a long way. After all, it's a lot funnier to think about the hospital's return policy than to wallow in the depths of the 3 minutes of sleep we've had all week. So let's try to have a laugh every once in a while, let the little things go (let even some of the big things go), give each other space and empathy, and keep talking. We will get through this - together.
I really don't care what we eat for dinner.
Postpartum is a great time to get things done. And I don't mean that house project you've been planning for a while - this isn't going to be a "staycation". I mean regular household tasks like dishes, bills, laundry, meals, etc. But what's actually more supportive than doing any one of these (and don't get me wrong, those are very supportive!)... it's just knowing (or noticing) that they need to get done and then doing them. There's a lot going on right now and to be able to take a back seat from project management for a while means I can focus on recovering or being with the baby. You see, the baby is in this completely different world than the one she lived in. She can't survive on her own and she is wondering at a very basic level if the people around her are going to be able to meet her needs. She needs touch and responsiveness and if we can support each other in protecting either, our baby will thrive.
I need a break.
Even if I don't ask for one. Especially if I say I don't need one. I do need a break. But don't be fooled if I hesitate when you offer. It's really not you (you are an amazing parent!), but I just have a biological need to be with or near that baby. The baby and I were once a single unit, a whole, and now it feels like we are two halves trying to get back together again and breaks feel very contrary to that intuition... Or I don't feel that way at all and I feel really guilty for not feeling that deep connection and the idea of taking a break feels like I'm (yet again) failing to bond, falling to connect, or failing to try hard enough (even though I'm using every ounce of energy I have left to find that spark). So either way, if I'm not taking a break, it might just be because it feels like I'm abandoning my post. But I still should. It makes me feel human again. It gives me some privacy back at a time when very little is private. I feel like myself again. And when I come back from a little time to myself, I feel rejuvenated and excited to reconnect with you and the baby. Here are some supportive ideas for helping me take breaks:
Make me a break (instead of offering me one). Breaks are most restful when the logistics of the break have already been planned for and are in the works (the project management piece!). One of the essential logistical parts of a break is in the timing. Because if I'm the sole provider of food for the baby, it's difficult to mentally take a break if I'm worried that the baby will be hungry in my absence. But if after he eats, you burp him, change his diaper, get him ready for a walk, and say, "Why don't you lay down or take a shower?" - who can argue with that?
Invite me on YOUR break: Postpartum can often feel lonely for me...even when there are people around. But a break doesn't have to be by myself. The glorious part of break-taking is breaking up the monotony of eat, sleep, poop, why are you crying? repeat that goes on 24 hours a day. When you get baby fully ready for a walk, see if I want to come with. Just being outside, doing something different, doing something together as a family, will go a long way in feeling like I've come up for air.
And lastly, you fit.
This baby - our baby - has been with me for 9 full months of her tiny 9 month life. She recognizes my heartbeat, my voice, my smell. I'm also the one person she went on this intense physical journey of birth with and while you were cheering us on brilliantly, I get why she might sometimes prefer me right now. I can also only imagine how hard it must be to see someone you care about in pain and while you want to take that pain away, you just...can't.
I know it might feel like you are the odd one out sometimes, but you are far from it. WE are partners. WE make this family. WE are the two halves that make the whole. And while I can offer a healthy dose of familiarity and reassurance for our baby as she adjusts to this new and different world, you offer a template for what it's like to build a relationship with someone else. You offer her a template of community. So as she develops this deep and important trust in the world, she will know that she is always home with either one of us, that she is cared for deeply and cared about immensely.
To the best and worst of us, to our growing beautiful family, and to the welcoming of a new child into the world - this is quite the journey we are about to embark on!
I'll see you on the other side...
Your Pregnant Wife