What About Me?
Not so long ago it was just you and me, me and you. We knew that your growing belly held our precious baby; the baby we had longed for and hoped for…. or who just came as a surprise. Our focus has been on us. We had long conversations, went hiking together and laid for hours in bed talking until we drifted off to sleep. You had time for me, and I had time for you.
Where we were once King and Queen of our castle, rulers of our universe, the keepers of our realm, we’ve been invaded by this omnipresent little being: our baby.
Now that our baby has been born, what about me? Where do I fit in this equation?
You are needed all day and all night by our baby. They are always attached to your arm, hip, breast and mind. Do you have room for me? What about me?
In my role of postpartum doula, these are conversations I have frequently with the non-birthing parent. They feel left out, even disoriented by the new flow of the household. They struggle with knowing how to fit in to this new normal and how to accept the changing dynamic. Where do they fit in and how do they fit in? Why is nobody asking how THEY are doing? When there has been a huge shift in life at home and in your relationship due to the birth of a baby, it’s hard to know what your new role looks like.
In a 2016 article from Psychology Today, 5 Relationship Tips for New Parents, the extent of the toll a new baby can take on a relationship is summarized:
“But results from studies of couples who were followed from before they had children until years after their first child was born (often comparing them to couples who did not have children) consistently show that for most couples, having a child is hard on their relationship.”
As a culture we talk a lot about the birthing person’s needs after a baby is born but forget to include the needs of the partner. The partner has just been thrust into a new “normal” that doesn’t feel so normal. How can we better support the other half of the new parent duo?
Validate their feelings of “what about me” and remind them that even the birthing person may be feeling the same way. Notice most of the focus of friends and family has been on your baby, not the two of you. Talk to your partner about their feelings, you might be surprised.
Remind them to share the sleep(lessness). Suggest offering to take care of the middle of the night duties of diapering, swaddling and returning baby back to sleep, especially if mom is exclusively breastfeeding or pumping (<- these are JOBS!). Think about all the other new “jobs” as well: baby laundry, bottle parts, pump parts, meals with a baby in your arms, etc.
Talk about the new baby’s needs, this tiny, demanding human’s every need, and how they come first and need to be cared for by one of the two of you. Share this load. What does that look like? Did they talk about this long before the baby was born or arrived home.
Have them step back. Take a breath. Really look at the big picture. Perhaps just take in the image sitting across the room on your faded couch, the one of your partner, curled up in a robe, holding your baby. Their hair may be tousled, and the couch strewn with the new baby gear, but take in the beauty of it all.
Share information about support. Whether it’s recommending a postpartum doula, new parent support group, or just talking to some buddies over coffee or a beer, most partners benefit from a listening ear as much as the birthing person does.
As a postpartum doula who focuses on the needs of the whole family, having these conversations with the partner and offering them the support they need, eases them into their new role, helps them understand their partner’s new role after childbirth and guides them on their path in their new role as parent AND partner. We work at creating a team approach where everyone works together to care for a new baby. Often by facing this transition head on, after having the opportunity to speak with an unbiased, non-judgmental doula or counselor, the “what about me” frame of mind is often reframed to “we’re in this together”.
By showing your partner that you are a participating member of Team Baby, you might notice a decrease in your feelings of “what about me” and an increase in your partner’s feelings of “wow, thanks babe!” And that’s a good thing…. for both of you.
Sheryl Cooksley is the owner of Family Tree Doula Services serving Portland, Oregon and the surrounding area. She is the leader of a team of postpartum doulas who value encompassing the whole family as they transition into life with a new baby. She is a Certified Postpartum Doula and is trained as an Infant Care and Feeding Specialist.