A week before my wife gave birth, my friend Sam pulled me aside and gave me “the talk.” Since then I have shared his “pre-birth shmooze” with at least a dozen men, who have all later returned, bowing in thanks.
Listen up. These principles can easily make-or-break the next few years of your married life. So here we go:
A new couple builds up trust between one another slowly. Despite all your kind gestures as a husband, you need to know that your wife is anticipating the “big test”: Will you be there for her when she gives birth, or will she end up taking care of herself, the new baby and you, too?
If you choose to remain unaware of what your wife is going through, it can send your relationship spiraling toward resentment and distrust. However, if you step up and carry her through this time of transition and challenge, then your ability to bond will reach new plateaus of caring, love and warmth.
In short, your choice of behavior over the next few months will set the course for the next few years of marriage. With the right attitude, you can save thousands of dollars in marriage counseling.
Your Wife is a Hero
Here are the key things you need to be aware of:
1) Your wife is about to undergo a painful, potentially risky endeavor. It is said that God didn’t make men into women because they wouldn’t be able to bear the pain. Women compare childbirth to... well, let’s spare the gory details. And the recovery can be pretty severe as well – there are after-contractions, maybe stitches, and – if the birth was caesarian – loss of muscle tension, etc. So she deserves tons of appreciation.
2) When a man becomes a new father, life doesn’t necessarily change all that much. He sleeps a bit less for a few weeks and runs a few more errands, but he still feels his independence via work, sports and other activities. A woman, on the other hand, loses the majority of her freedom. She is acutely aware that a living human being is totally dependant on her. If she breastfeeds, she is literally the source of whether this baby lives or dies. Her “having a life” always comes at the risk of the baby “having a life.”
Imagine someone walks into your office, drags you out and tells you that from now on you have to spend every waking hour focusing all your attention on somebody who screams and cries and is unable to communicate with you. Your wife is tabling all her previous ambitions and freedoms, and she is a hero for being able to do this. But it is a heavy burden to carry alone.
3) Many women are frightened about whether they’ll be a good mommy. If her parents were even slightly dysfunctional, then she’s carrying emotional baggage and extra fears that she’ll fail as a mother.
4) There is the phenomenon of postpartum depression, where a woman’s hormones go haywire. This can range from mild to severe. But it is a biological fact and don’t try to wish it away. Patience and in many cases intervention are required.
All this is going on in your wife’s head and after reading this you can’t claim to be clueless. The appropriate question now to ask is: Is there anything I can do for my wife, considering everything she is about to do for me?
Fortunately there is a lot a new husband can do. Here are six basic suggestions:
1. Both before, during and after the birth, be aware of what your wife is going through and try to relate to her situation. Ask questions (“what are doing, how are you feeling, what are you thinking”) and listen for the emotional cues – is she tired, frustrated, feeling tied down?
2. Once her water breaks or she goes into painful contractions, do not be insulted by anything she says. Even if she screams at you: “I hate you! Why did I marry you?” she doesn’t really mean it. Just brush it off and say: “I am right here for you. You’re doing great.”
3. On day three after the birth, a woman’s hormones change as the milk comes in. This can be a time of peak depression. Be ready with a very meaningful and beautiful gift that she will treasure for life, and a card telling her that you know what a fantastic mommy she’s going to be. Don’t stint. Let the gift be a heartfelt expression of what she is doing for your family, even if you are low on cash.
4. When she comes home from the hospital, have everything ready – baby crib set up, stroller ready, diapers bought, flowers on the table, and a nice card on her nightstand.
5. Your wife may try to play superwoman. She naturally wants to do everything for you that she was doing previously. You must not let her. Giving birth is like going ten rounds with Rocky Balboa and then running a triathlon when you are out of shape. However well-recovered your wife may look, chances are that physically she is an exhausted wreck.
The challenge is twofold. First she wants to do everything. Secondly, many a lazy man is very happy to let her.
It is unhealthy for her to exert herself. She needs the time and space to regain her strength.
Rise to the challenge and be there for her – not only emotionally but physically as well. Bring her tea. Clean up. Take laundry to the cleaners Hire help for a month – a cleaner and a nanny. Ask her friends and relatives to take shifts helping (without first asking your wife, because she’ll refuse). Figure out some way to get everything taken care of as if she is not there. Order in Chinese. Change the baby’s diaper. Figure out what to do without asking her. And don’t worry if she yells at you for messing up. Deep down, she appreciates what you are doing, and feels you are carrying her like a princess into the threshold of mommydom. Hang in there. Eventually, life will return to normal.
6. Every day, make sure to tell her what a great job she is doing and what a fantastic mommy she is. Don’t criticize here, even if she is making some mistakes. If it's a serious issue, mention it to her mother or the nanny, and let them handle it.
God willing, after a month or so, life will begin to normalize and your warm little home will be even warmer. May it be a safe and healthy birth!