Hey New Dad! Congratulations! I see you and your beaming smile, surveying your new family with all the pride of a loving husband and proud father. Life is so fresh, and exciting and new, and so are you, really. So is your wife. See, today your baby was born. Which means a father was born (you), and a mother was born (your wife). Big stuff. Exciting and beautiful and exhilarating stuff.
Can I talk to you frankly for a minute, New Dad? There are some things people don't really like to talk about when you're getting ready to have a new baby. People think it may scare you, or take away from your excitement and joy. But I'd bet most of those people haven't been left while their babies were still babies because their husbands couldn't deal with the changes that a new baby brings. I'm sure you are nothing like the kind of man that would consider cheating on his wife while their baby was not yet six months old. And I'm sure you're not the kind of man that would leave your wife when your baby was not yet nine months old and file for divorce out of nowhere.
But my husband wasn't that man either. We were both unprepared for what parenthood would do to our marriage, but I'd say that perhaps my ex was very unprepared. So please, indulge me for a few minutes while I tell you a little bit about what a new baby brings.
I'm sure you're totally excited right now, New Dad, and happy to sacrifice your time, your personal space, your sleep, and the un-divided attention of your wife as you both figure out this whole parenthood thing. I'd like to encourage you. I'd like to help you be aware. To keep your eyes open as the newness and the euphoria begins to wane.
Everyone talks about making sure their husband comes first no matter what once they have kids. Yes. Totally. Your marriage is so so so important, New Dad. Here's the thing, though. It's going to be very very difficult for your wife, who probably totally agrees with the sentiment that you should come first in theory, to actually put anyone before your baby for a few years. You see, the minute your baby was born, your wife's brain chemistry changed dramatically. She is now hard-wired to respond to everything that your helpless little human does. She's designed that way. She'll get up to nurse your baby every two hours no matter how completely exhausted she is because she's feeling the biological imperative to care for your child. She'll get up and walk away from you mid-sentance to get the baby out of his or her crib the minute it starts crying because she will have a physical reaction to the sound of her baby. This is stuff you just can't really understand until you've experienced it. Because it's so powerful. It's so consuming. Your wife will probably forget to eat half of the time because her need to take care of your baby is so strong.
She's not trying to neglect you. She's not trying to neglect herself. She's doing what she was designed and biologically programmed to do. The thing is, our society has changed pretty dramatically in the last century. A hundred years or so ago your wife would probably have had the daily help of her mom, her grandma, her sisters, some other female in her family. She wouldn't have been expected to do everything on her own within weeks of giving birth. She wouldn't have been cooking every meal, driving people around, cleaning the house, and getting up all night long without help. But today, she is. Your wife is trying to navigate a hostile cultural environment with very little help. She will feel like she has to do it all, but she can't. And she shouldn't.
You may have a hard time with all of this, New Dad. You may start to miss the one on one time and attention that you used to get daily from your wife. You may begin to resent the amount of love she shows your child while simultaneously repelling your physical advances at the end of the day. You may even find yourself questioning if she still loves you because she's just not doing the things she used to do, or noticing the things about you she used to notice.
I'm begging you, New Dad, give your wife so much grace right now. Every single aspect of her life has completely and utterly changed, and it is overwhelming. She has no bodily autonomy. No time for a relaxing shower. No sleep. If she seems distant or uninterested, offer to hang out with the baby so she can take a three hour nap. Or a three hour shower. Something that will help her feel like a human being again. Put her first, like she's putting your child first. Like she's probably put you first many times. A New Mom needs her husband to be a lot more than she's ever needed before. More of a support. More of a helper around the house. More of a quiet sounding board and listener on those rough and confusing days. She needs strength and stability and undying empathy.
And can we talk about postpartum depression, New Dad? Because it's a real monster. And your wife probably won't recognize what it is for a long time. Most doctors don't really screen for it. Most New Moms don't really recognize it because it can manifest itself in lots of ways that may not remotely seem like "traditional depression." but will still knock her off her feet and flat on her face.
Post partum depression affects a lot of New Moms. A lot. Probably way more than we realize because so many go undiagnosed. The really crappy and hard part about postpartum depression is that it can feel shameful (even though it's not!) because here is New Mom with her New Baby, and everyone is telling her that this should be the best and most beautiful time of her life, and when she doesn't feel that… well, she's probably going to think to that something must be wrong with her. Her personality may change. The hormonal garbage going on inside of your wife is nuts. It's like a hydrogen bomb of hormones blasting everything in it's path and leaving destruction in it's wake.
Your wife may not seem interested in you. Or life. Or anything. She may cry all of the time. She may get angry about pretty much everything and nothing. She may deal with crippling anxiety. She may seem like she's a completely different person. Every case is different. Sometimes it's a bunch of crappy things all at once. New Mom is probably going to complain to you. She's probably going to talk to you about feeling overwhelmed. Maybe unhappy. Maybe super stressed.
Please don't tell New Mom things that are designed to hurt. Phrases like "this is what you wanted. If you can't handle it, maybe we shouldn't have more kids." are not helpful. I repeat. They are NOT helpful. Please don't shame New Mom for struggling. If she needs help, offer to make an appointment for her and go with her. Take her to lunch before hand and tell her how you are there for her and always will be. Tell her what a fantastic mom she is. She probably doesn't feel like it, but she needs to hear it. Over and over and over. Please don't tell New Mom struggling with postpartum depression that she "Needs to see a counselor!!!" or that she "Needs Meds!!!!" New Mom needs kindness and gentleness and understanding and love. Not shame. Not guilt trips. Not anger from New Dad because she is struggling and he doesn't know what to do or how to fix it. Or worse, anger because she's just not living up to his expectations.
Please, New Dad, please remember that you and your wife are in such a difficult time. No sleep, tons of new responsibility, maybe not enough support… it's trying for everyone. Maybe you feel unhappy. Maybe you wish your life could go back to what it was. Maybe you are starting to think that none of this was what you signed up for.
But you did. Maybe no one warned you that it was going to be this hard. Maybe they did, and you didn't believe them. Either way, New Dad, your family depends on you now. Your wife depends on you now, more than she ever has before. Even if she doesn't say it. Even if she seems like she couldn't care less about spending time with you through that fog of postpartum depression and sleep deprivation. Your family needs you, New Dad.
If you feel tempted to walk away, please go see a counselor. Right away. Please don't entertain selfish thoughts, New Dad. The days are going to feel so long right now, but this really is a short time in your family's life. And remember, your wife is a New Mom. She's learning and changing and figuring things out along the way just like you. Neither of you will be perfect. That's ok. As long as you fight for love, even when it's hard. As long as you act out of compassion. As long as you realize that someday soon New Mom will be able to put you first again. But for now, maybe it's her turn to be put first. And just maybe, New Dad, by putting her first you will find new depth that you didn't know you had. New strength and integrity and love that you didn't realize you possessed.
I'm writing this to you, New Dad, as a New Mom who's husband didn't really do these things. As a mom who now does all of the sleepless nights alone. As a mom who just really desperately needed to be loved through all of the newness and hardships and postpartum garbage. As a mom who wasn't.
New Mom may not tell you every day that she appreciates all that you do for her and your new baby. Not today, anyway. But one day your baby is going to have slept through the night for a week straight and your wife will finally feel rested enough to form a coherent statement of thankfulness. Because she sees what you do for her and your little family. Even if she is too deep in the throws of exhaustion and depression to put it into words.
This will be a really fantastically beautiful time, New Dad. And it will also be really fantastically hard. But keep going. The love New Mom will show you when she feels like a human being again will have been worth it. It would have been for my ex. But no one was there to tell him in the very beginning that this is what it would be like. So I'll tell you.
Congratulations, New Dad. You're going to be stretched in ways you never dreamed. And if you can persevere and push through all of the crap, you're going to be such an amazing Dad and Husband. A New Dad was born today. And a with him, the possibility of a New Man as well.
Don't waste this opportunity. It's worth it all.
A New Mom Who's Husband Left in the Thick of It