Ways to keep being the rock for my family?
August 25, 2007 6:58 PM   Subscribe

I just had a baby, and I'm looking for ways to keep being the "strong one."

My wife and I just had a baby a few weeks ago, and things with the baby are going swimmingly. She's well behaved, mom gets paid maternity leave, and I'm even getting paid paternity leave, so I've been around to tag-team with her 24/7.

However, she's getting past dealing with the hormones and baby blues, but has gone on a drug to help boost her breastmilk production that we were warned may bring them back temporarily. 95% of the time she's okay, has a ball playing with the baby and feeding her and so forth, but periodically she has big weeping sessions and I'm of course the one to talk her down.

Most of these moments don't have any basis other than just random tears, but sometimes the exhaustion and pumping and feeding get to her. She worries that she's not going to be a good mother sometimes, she feels guilty because she mourns losing the life we had together before our baby, which is of course now gone forever.

I don't personally believe that she's in postpartum depression , though of course IANAD, but as I said, nearly all of the time she's happy and loves spending time with him. These bouts of sadness and worry are short-lived and getting rarer.

Even so, they're sort of taking their toll on me. I feel like I'm the only one who doesn't have the luxury of falling apart, the only one who needs to be strong and together, the one who is expected to deal with all the crying from both mother and daughter. This is difficult on top of the exhaustion. I need a pressure release valve, so I guess I'm asking for ways to vent this so I can keep filling that role without burning out. Ideas?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (22 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Is there anyone else who's close (literally and/or figuratively) who can spell you for an afternoon? Even one afternoon a week where you can sleep/read/go for a run, and know there's someone to back you up, would help immensely. Nowadays there are so many dads who are hands-on enough to understand your situation and who you could vent to. Any friends who are dads?

When I had a newborn I posted like mad to online mom's groups, like urbanbaby.com, or LaLecheLeague. There were often men there, too, though not always overtly posting as men/dads. These groups have the benefit of being anonymous, with someone always willing to 'talk' and very distracting because not all the talk's about babies. I wonder if there are any for dads?

I guess one last thing to add is that you could try letting yourself fall apart a few times (um, ideally when your wife is in a good space). It may help all of you to know that she can handle it.
posted by cocoagirl at 7:26 PM on August 25, 2007

See if you can fall apart when your wife is feeling strong. Or, if you really think that would be too hard on her, try calling your dad, if you're close to him, or a good friend. It's good to be able to share some of the crazies around. I know I spent some time crying on my husband, my mom, and my best friend. A baby is a really huge change and is really exhausting, and in a few months that will no longer be such a reason to cry, if still very tiring.
posted by Margalo Epps at 8:16 PM on August 25, 2007

I know it's trite saying that 'this too will pass', but it will. It is possible that the drug for increased milk production could be contributing to your wife's moodiness (I know you're asking for you, but helping her will also help you). One natural herb that will increase milk production is fenugreek. It comes in capsules and you can probably get it from a health food store. Occaisionally the smell of the herb will come out in your body perspiration, but it is the herb that is used to flavour artificial maple syrup, so it's reasonably pleasant (just so you're not surprised).

You might find a way to trade turns for exercising. You spell her off while she goes for a walk (or to the gym or whatever), and you find a time to exercise yourself. Do this every day as a priority. It will help her balance her hormones, keep her head together, and get her body back, and it will help you too.

When I had no family to help on a day to day basis with infant twins and a toddler, my mom called up all the local churches to see if people would volunteer to help me around the house. I was totally mortified, but appreciated it nonetheless. I'm not totally recommending this strategy, but again, could someone help?

Once a week order your favourite take out meal and after baby goes to bed, eat it together by candlelight? It's not 'the same', but maybe it would help.

Can you afford to have someone come in and clean your house/apartment, even once for a deep clean?

Have a 'fill the freezer' party. Invite all your friends and family to come for a party. Be explicit and campy about the fact that everyone has to come and bring and do everything. Required entry is a casserole for the freezer.

Call her friends to organize a come over for tea, and bring the cookies. Or to rotate through coming over 1 evening a week, so that once a week she has a social evening, and you go out for the evening.

Make sure each of you has a few hours of uninterrupted sleep every night. Trade each other out to do this.

Taking charge of a few of these may lessen the burden, even though they too take some effort. If nothing else, they may bring some comic relief, some change of pace, and show your wife that you're still in there.

Hang in. You can do it.
posted by kch at 8:17 PM on August 25, 2007

The hardest, hardest parts of being a new mom are a) the hormones and b) the lack of sleep. The sleep thing is a total killer and it gets worse and worse as time goes on and the elation wears off and your sleep debt gets deeper and deeper.

During the crying fits, trust me that what she wants to hear over and over is that you love her, she's a good mommy, that you love her, that she's beautiful, that she's a good mommy, and you love her. Also, pumping breast milk is one of the most soul-crushing things ever.

Do what you can to make sure that she gets enough sleep - or just make it easy for her to go back to sleep when baby is hungry and wakes her. One of the best things my husband did for me was to get up, change diapers in the night, then bring the baby to me to feed while I was still in bed. You'd be shocked what a difference it makes simply to not have to muster the energy to get up.

Also, explore co-sleeping. After a while, if she can learn to nurse with her and the baby lying down, it helps with the whole sleep deprivation thing.

Finally, this is all NORMAL. Don't worry. Just love each other, and do everything you can to take small everyday stresses out of her life.
posted by anastasiav at 8:33 PM on August 25, 2007 [2 favorites]

The fact that you are looking for a way to deal with this new and temporary (more on this later) role of 'the strong one' and not a way out of this role prompted me to respond.

I had a baby 4 1/2 months ago with paid leave, with an enlightened and available partner, and with the serious weepies the aforementioned 5% of the time. My husband would go to the store and find me when he got back sitting on the couch, nursing our son and salting him with tears that I could not even remotely explain--not exactly a Mary Cassatt painting. He's read your question and confirmed that he has absolutely been where you're at.

First, this is temporary. The way it is, right now, during yet another crazy and disorienting night is NOT the way it will always be. She will feel that these deep moments of grief will never pass, and yet they will, and with that passing will come the small moments, closer and closer together, that she lets you in as an equal partner again, and while it will always be hard, it will start to be something more like fun. The weeks will start to rush by and all three of you will emerge together as this family; a family that will be able to claim some new aspect of confidence each of those weeks. So what can you do, now? Find a way to make this fact a mantra. Meditate on, write about, believe in, pray about "this, too, shall pass."

Second, spend time, alone, with your new daughter. This is not you giving your wife a break (though it will help her rest), and this is not you 'stepping in' yet again. This is you getting the chance to have YOUR feelings alievated and uplifted and balmed by the flush of new love. Baby care is hard, knuckles-raw work and time spent with your sweet baby when she is fed and clean and 'quietly alert' will be the drug you need to keep being strong. Additionally, when you create an extra-maternal bond with your baby, you'll develop new and unique strategies from your wife to deal with your baby's more difficult moments. Don't underestimate such superpowers' ability to make you feel, well, super--and strong, and like you can deal with all of this. I, for example, think it's SO RAD that my husband can get our baby to do things in particular situations that I just never could do, and I adore him for it, which strengthens our bond and makes everything else better. And he can do this because he whisked that baby away, just for himself, just for his own fun, in those early weeks.

Finally, who else in your life do you love/respect who's a dad? Talk to them--suddenly, even if they never have before, they will tell you all the stories and they will sound just like your own and this faternity will help. Those stories and talks will be rich with suggestions and support, and will remind you of my first point: this too shall pass.

Your life of love and equity with your wife will still be there at the other end of this. It is an unbalanced time, but it's just a bit of time. Someday soon you'll suddenly realize that in a wierd way you sort of miss these crazy witching hours when your baby's so new and you got to be the hero.

You sound like a lovely guy. All congratualtions.
posted by rumposinc at 8:37 PM on August 25, 2007 [15 favorites]

My wife counsels nursing moms, and she sez:

1. Your wife needs someone else she can turn to for support other than you. You may be the most important/immediate person for her, but you can't be the only person for her. She should consider joining a mom's club and/or find a nursing mom's support group.

2. Your wife really needs to make sure she gets out and about with the baby. Going to kid's programs at the local library, even just going for walk with the stroller can lead to interactions that will reassure that she's still a normal human being.

3. You and your wife both need time to yourselves, separately and which each other. Don't hesitate to take advantage of any resource (i.e. any other person you trust with the baby) that can give you a bit of time for yourselves. This includes making sure you still have time alone with each other to do the things that got you into this predicament in the first place.

The guilt and regret are perfectly normal. Everyone has them, but nobody mentions them. At my nadir, I wanted to destroy the entire neighborhood, preferably using an incendiary newborn. My wife wanted to just slip out the door and disappear. All of this is normal. All of this will pass. Nobody tells you how hard it is.

If she has any breastfeeding specific questions, encourage her to look at familybreastfeeding.org, my wife's volunteer group. Feel free to contact me directly if you want to (email in profile).

Finally, don't worry, we're pulling for you, we're all in this together.
posted by mollweide at 8:46 PM on August 25, 2007

Take as much care as you can to do things that help keep you well (eat well, exercise, drink plenty of water). Vent to someone you can confide in. Catch extra sleep any time you can. Arrange for a break - have a mother, sister, girlfriend (your wife's, not yours dummy) spend a day with your wife while you get out and do something you love - golf, fish, movie crawl, whatever.

It really is normal. The initial months are pretty universally a sleep-deprivation fueled stress monster that becomes a surreal blur in retrospect. You'll get through it. Hang in there.
posted by nanojath at 8:58 PM on August 25, 2007

Bless you two! My baby is ten years old now, but those weepy, sleep-deprived days are still fresh in my memory. My son was a premie and I, too, had to pump and do all sorts of undignified things. The baby was a poor little sick cranky thing who cried a lot and slept very little. Therefore, I cried a lot and slept very little. I don't know how baby-daddy survived, and I'm not even sure how I did. However:

1. I need to echo those above who recommend that you talk to other fathers. New fathers, old fathers, whatever! My kid's dad is, these days, a great sounding board for the new fathers at work. Someday, you can be, too. For now, let them comfort you and commisserate with you. It's lovely for them to be able to go back to a much purer time.

2. Having a baby is truly a test of physical endurance. As your daughter gets older, it will turn slowly more into a psychological puzzle. I don't know about you, but I find it easier to get thru things when I know they will end. You WILL sleep again, your wife WILL stop crying, the baby WILL allow you more chunks of time to spend caring for yourself.

3. I was (well, still am) the mother in the scenario, but I distinctly remember how something like grocery shopping came to feel like my WILD NITE OUT. Once the baby could go a couple of hours without possibly needing to nurse, it felt like freedom alive to get in the car -- all by myself! -- and head to a place where no one knew me. Sometimes, I'd drive over by the water and just sit there and ponder it for a little bit. A very little bit. See, tiny things suddenly mean a lot more now.

You're doing the right thing by reaching out. Keep doing that and keep savoring your daughter's baby days.
posted by houseofdanie at 9:47 PM on August 25, 2007

Is the drug to increase milk production really necessary? In addition to fenugreek, oatmeal also works to increase milk production (bonus: no maple syrup smell). Also, Breast is Best and all that, but supplementing with formula is not the end of the world.

When I was home with my then-newborn, I went for at least one walk a day. Fresh air & sunshine, even if I didn't necessarily interact with anyone, went a long way towards keeping me sane.

Good luck to you & your family.
posted by mogget at 10:39 PM on August 25, 2007

From a daddy of a 10-day-old boy, thank you to all for the above.
posted by dmt at 3:58 AM on August 26, 2007

I noticed that you slipped and wrote "she's happy and loves spending time with him." If you feel some resentment and jealousy toward the new baby, understand that that's a natural reaction for a new dad and a temporary one. All three of you are going through an incredibley stressful time; you can do your best, but remember you're allowed to express yourself, too. I'm sure my husband had a few meltdowns during the early months after my son was born, but I was so preoccupied by my own meltdowns I don't remember them. You'll be fine. Don't expext to be perfect (whatever that means- and that goes for your wife, too.) It might help you to find a group of other fathers to talk to, just as it will most likely help your wife to find other moms. It makes a huge difference to know you're not going through parenthood in a vacuum.
posted by maryh at 4:10 AM on August 26, 2007

Guess I shoulda previewed-- What rumposinc said!

(and make time regularly for your wife to take a shower/bath- she'll really appreciate it, and you'll get to spend some dad time with your lil' sprite.)
posted by maryh at 4:47 AM on August 26, 2007

There's a part of me that wanted to grab you by the collar and say, look here mister, you don't have the luxury to to break down, not any more. Now suck it up and get in there and take care of everything. At least that was my first impulse, until I read the advice of others. They offer much better advice.

Father of two girls, 2 and 3, but I remember not so long ago dealing with much of what you're describing. I think reaching out to your networks is great advice. That's what we're here for. Friends, sibs, father also great resources.

Don't worry though. It gets better. And you'll sleep again, soon.

When my second daughter was born, I too took some time to help the wife, but to release some stress, I refinished a vanity that belonged to my wife, her mom before her, and her grandmother before that. Stripped it down to the original wood. I know taking on a huge project may sound counterintuitive but it helped. When I was doing that, I wasn't obsessing over the new changes and challenges.

Refinish some furniture probably wasn't the advice you're looking for, but it really did help me. Maybe a distraction is what I'm suggestion. Even though I was doing it for that whole long line of matriarchs, it was my project and it helped me escape. If that makes any sense.
posted by Toekneesan at 5:36 AM on August 26, 2007

Oh how I remember those days. I thought of a lot of things to tell you, but most of them were covered already by all the others. What wasn't covered:

1. It helped me a lot to stop looking at the long-term. When my first-born was just a few days old, I started breaking down my days by blocks of hours, and then when things were really bad, by hours. I wouldn't think of the whole day stretched out in front of me, just little blocks of manageable time. Eventually, as the baby gets older, routines get established, you all start sleeping more, and life gets good. Especially when they smile for the first time. That's amazing.

2. My husband tried to hold it all together and be the strong one, but one night early on he lost it. He didn't get mad or burst out crying but he looked at me exasperatedly and said, "This is so much harder than I thought it would be," which led to an amazing discussion of our expectations of parenthood and of each other. The thing to remember in that situation is that neither one of us got defensive.

Other things that were already said but that bear repeating: this too shall pass, make sure you both still do stuff other than baby care, get a support system in place if you don't already have one (there are playgroups and nursing mother groups and all kinds of things out there to make you/her feel less alone in all this), and keep the lines of communication open.

Good luck, hang in there; you're in for the most perplexing and joyous ride of your life.
posted by cooker girl at 6:47 AM on August 26, 2007


I had a baby 3 months ago & I can tell you that things are much better now than they were at 3 or 6 weeks.

We've found it very helpful to allow each other the freedom of saying "I have to leave for a while". Just getting on my own for an hour while I ran to the library or grocery store was really helpful when I was feeling overwhelmed or frustrated. I hadn't realized how little attention I was paying to my own needs (such as the need to have 15 minutes without someone gnawing on my breasts). My husband does this, too. He'll go to the coffee shop & read a paper or wander through the hardware store. And I encourage him when he wants to get some friends and go sailing because I know he needs a break, too. Is there anything like that which helps you relax? Doing something non-baby-related every day is really good for our sanity.

We've found I'm less exhausted & weepy if, after our morning nusing session, I go back to sleep for an hour or two while my huband & the baby hang out together. If I'm not tired, I'll lie in bed & read. And he enjoys their daddy-daughter time.

The worrying about not being a good mother is perfectly normal. I do it a lot. One thing that was helpful was being told that the fact that I was worrying about it showed how good a mom I was (because a bad mom wouldn't even care.) And, while I have some regrets about the things we didn't do before she arrived, I would never trade those missed ski trips & vacations for our daughter. Regrets about lost lifestyle etc. are also normal & don't make either of you bad parents.
posted by belladonna at 7:01 AM on August 26, 2007

When I'm weepy and worried and insecure about something I'm doing with other people, it's often more helpful for me to hear "I feel overwhelmed too" from my partner rather than "Everything's going to be all right."

Or, what cookiegirl said:

My husband tried to hold it all together and be the strong one, but one night early on he lost it. He didn't get mad or burst out crying but he looked at me exasperatedly and said, "This is so much harder than I thought it would be," which led to an amazing discussion of our expectations of parenthood and of each other. The thing to remember in that situation is that neither one of us got defensive.

There's a cultural expectation that men, and dads in particular, are supposed to suck it up and be the strong one and wall off their emotions so that they don't burden anyone with them. My dad is like that, and while it certainly has its advantages, it also has huge disadvantages -- mainly that I don't feel like I know him very well, because he's walled off his emotions so effectively that I have no real way in.

Don't try to hide what you're feeling. Talk to your wife -- she may be feeling more insecure right now because it looks like you're handling everything so well and she's not.
posted by occhiblu at 8:38 AM on August 26, 2007

Have you thought about a doula?

I know several frazzled sets of parents that have benefited not just from their service in taking care of the baby occasionally, but also from their expert advice. It's really hard in the modern age to have a first baby, I think, because in past times motherhood had more of a community to share knowledge and deal with the pains of the new baby. Anthropologists think elder women who would have been like doulas or simply grandparents may have played a part in every new baby's life.
posted by melissam at 10:27 AM on August 26, 2007

From the original poster:
Thanks for all the good advice, everyone, and to be honest, I'm shocked at just how much the encouragement from all of you has helped me. I'm smacking myself in the head for not thinking of going to another father-friend of mine to discuss this. It's such an obvious solution that I can only guess that sleep deprivation has turned my brain to pudding.

I like the idea of online support forums, and wanted to follow up for any recommendations for good support forums for new dads (and moms too -- I'd love to pass that kind of thing on to my wife). You can post them here, or to a gmail account I've set up, babybluesbegone AT gmail(up yours, spambots) dot com.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who wanted to be anonymous on this question, so I thought I'd set up the e-mail in case any of you other dads wanted to talk privately as well.

Thanks, everyone, my shoulders have dropped about a foot just from seeing such encouraging and heartfelt responses. You rule.
posted by mathowie at 1:42 PM on August 26, 2007

Both of you need to join a parents-and-babies group, both in the same one or totally separate doesn't matter. You can find them through Craigs List, or by going to the park or by taking a Baby-and-Me class and just getting everyone's phone number. The baby group absolutely saved my life and probably my husband's too, not to mention that poor baby with the stressed parents.

From your original post: " she mourns losing the life we had together before our baby, which is of course now gone forever" I was amazed to discover, when my youngest left at the beginning of the summer, that this was not true. My husband and I picked right up where we left off 18 years ago. Only now we have money. Wow.
posted by nax at 1:59 PM on August 26, 2007

Hiya, mother of a 13 month old. IMHO, you are both suffering from cabin fever and need some human contact besides each other and the baby.

Here's my advice. Call up a some kind, understanding friends, the kind that don't give a crap that your house is a little messy and that you haven't changed your clothes in a few days. Ask them to come over for a late afternoon, early evening hang out. Order some takeout. While your friends are there, you go out to get videos and beverages. Do this at least once a week.

And, as other people have said, it does get better. Right now, the baby is still in the blob phase and it doesn't feel like there's whole lot of reciprocity in your relationship with her. That changes sooner than you think.
posted by echolalia67 at 6:56 PM on August 26, 2007

Look, sometimes women just sob uncontrollably, this does not necessarily mean there is anything you can or should do about it. Expressing emotion is a natural human thing do do and does not always need to be "fixed". Talk to your wife sometime when she is in a good mood and see what she would like you to do in these situations. Maybe she would be fine with you giving her a hug or some time alone. Talk to her.
posted by yohko at 11:42 AM on August 27, 2007

mothering.com has really good forums, if she leans toward the natural living, attachment-parenting side of the fence.

altdotlife is also great, but less militant. (And not limited to just parenting, though that section is pretty extensive.) They have a men's forum that I'm pretty sure has new dads participating.
posted by belladonna at 4:07 PM on August 27, 2007

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