I was at a Mom Group last week and the topic being presented to us for discussion by the public health nurse was “Sex After Birth”. It’s a great topic as it generates A LOT of discussion, venting of frustrations, and dispels myths. But what became most evident to me was that I’d heard most of it before, and what is really missing from these talks are the partners. I know how difficult it is to wrap your head around being intimate after pushing a baby out of your vagina. Sorry to be graphic, but that’s the reality for a birth mother. And it’s no less difficult if you’ve had your baby via major abdominal surgery (C-section). I find mothers, for obvious reasons, are always being instructed about every aspect of their experience with a new child while their partners are being left out of this discussion.
So this is for all you partners out there. Here is how you can be good to the woman who has just given birth to your child.
Firstly, let me make clear just how much this event has affected her life. You just became a parent and that is huge and life changing. She, on the other hand has spent 9 months growing this being inside her, giving up most of her nutrient stores to it, and generally having her body completely reorganized to make room for this giant parasite. She has given up her body entirely – it will never be the same again and that is extremely difficult to wrap your head around. ‎
Post birth you now have a woman whose hormones are shifting, whose nutrients stores are ravaged, who is sleep deprived, who is overwhelmed by the stress of caring for a new life: how can you support her?
Firstly – feed her, give her water (a constant parade of snacks and water are the greatest gift to a new mother), let her sleep when she is able, do the chores so she can focus on being a caregiver, and YES do take the baby away sometimes.
The baby definitely needs her and it is important that they have lots of bonding time, but she doesn’t need a baby on her 24 hours a day. So take the baby away. My suggestion is to take the child for a walk in a carrier or stroller. This gives you time with your child with nobody hovering over your every move (yes, new mum’s are often guilty of being overly critical of other people’s methods of taking care of their child!). It also means that if they are crying mum won’t hear and get stressed and feel the need to intervene.
A new mother often expresses that she is hungry, thirsty, tired, or stressed. DO NOT under any circumstances say you are too. Again get her food, water, sleep, a break from the child. Be proactive and sympathetic. If she doesn’t realize how amazingly wonderful you are for doing all this, she will eventually talk to other moms and understand that you are the single greatest partner in the world. ‎Act as the gatekeeper for visitors. Some visitors are helpful and bring a calm to the room (they show up with food, offer to do chores, hold the baby as long as the parents feel comfortable). Then there are others who seem to just create chaos (these are the ones that come in questioning and doubting your parenting choices, commandeer the baby, and assume that everyone will then wait on them). All visitors need to understand that visits should be short unless the parents request that person stay longer. Now is the birth partner’s chance to step up and be firm about expectations from guests- when do you want your first visit? It doesn’t have to be immediately. You’re allowed to have time with your child alone to bond. How long is too long? I suggest a half hour limit. How many people can come at once? Families often like to come en mass which also leads to very long visits because everyone wants a turn with baby. This can even cause baby to be over stimulated and cranky for many hours after. Don’t let anyone dictate to you their expectations. You as new parents are the bosses.
Next role is that of being the voice of reason. I hate when people assume that pregnant and post partum women are crazy and so every decision they try and make is “just hormones”. You are her partner and in her current raw emotional and physical state she may make choices that seem out of character. Be that voice of reason and discuss what has led her to that choice. Evaluate if she is making an unsound or out of character decision and if necessary be insistent about changing her mind, in particular if it’s something that she will regret later. Overall respect her views and make choices together.
To be a great partner is to take care of a new mother’s mental, physical, and emotional health. Each time you feel drained in one of these areas remind yourself that she is just as threadbare plus she has been through pregnancy and birth. Enjoy each moment as new parents, as a team. ‎