When parents think of the first days of their children’s lives, some describe them as “magical” “joy filled” and “euphoric.” But my baby arrived five days early and my feelings were a lot closer to “exhausted” and “shellshocked” then unbelievable joy. The hardest part was that, despite my husband’s best efforts, I often felt like I was the only one who got this whole child rearing thing. But it turns out I was wrong.
A newborn is so fragile, and so new to the world and completely unequipped to handle it. The parents’ task to make the child feel secure in his new environment can be overwhelming. I thought to myself many times during my son’s first weeks, “This was a bad idea. I’m not cut out for this. This poor child would be so much better off with another mom. A good mom.” Part of this was postpartum hormones, of course, but the self doubt of a new parent is very real and can be crippling.
My husband, Matt, was also knocked on his feet. But, where I had the advantage of physical cues to let me know our baby might arrive earlier than planned, Matt didn’t seem to realize the baby was coming until I was admitted to the hospital in quite a late stage of labor. After our son was born—and I was settled into my postpartum recovery room after 26 hours of no sleep—Matt said “Wow, I’m tired”, curled up on the sofa and promptly fell asleep. I can laugh about that moment now, but needless to say, he didn’t get it at first.
But Matt caught on fast. When our son developed jaundice in the hospital—having to spend most of his second day of life under bright lights, alone and scared—Matt pitched in and soothed the baby to sleep while I finally slept. That moment, he says, is when he “finally became a father.”
And that moment was just the beginning. When the strain of overnight feedings pushed me to the brink of insanity, Matt stepped in and offered to pitch in with a bottle. When I wanted to quit breastfeeding, Matt became a better breastfeeding coach than any certified lactation consultant could be—working with me to get the nursing pillow at just the right angle, bringing me water and food, and reassuring me every step of the way that the baby was learning and we were doing great. He came home at 4:30 three days a week all this past summer to watch our son and put him to bed, so I could go to night school.
But it wasn’t until our son, Donovan, was approaching his first Birthday that I discovered Matt knew a parenting trick that I didn’t know.
Matt was, and is, still a top of the line, very engaged father. But, the parenting challenges we were now facing had dramatically changed and with those changes came new frustrations. One day I was lamenting the fact that Matt will sometimes put on the TV when he is watching the baby, and told him that I didn’t believe he took the responsibility of raising our child as seriously as I did. I felt as if the burden of our son’s rearing was all on me. Surprised at my lack of understanding, Matt explained, “I wouldn’t spend nearly as much time with Donovan as I do if not for the fact that I am trying to lessen your load. I am trying to give you a break. I am trying to support you. I love Donovan very much, but I love you more.” Matt’s response was a parenting revelation for me.
This conversation with my husband was a real teaching moment for me and I believe it’s something for all fathers to keep in mind. Parenting responsibilities are of course geared towards the child’s well being, but they are also ultimately a reflection of the love that parents have for each other. A father or mother who is feeling resentful about having to pick up the bedtime routine, or the preschool drop off might feel differently if they view these tasks as much as an act of love for their spouse as it is an act of love for their child. I guess my husband did get it afterall.