Your partner goes off for a run while you’re nursing the baby. He comes back- you’re nursing the baby. Your partner goes out for lunch with a friend while you’re nursing the baby. He comes home- you’re nursing the baby. You fume. Sound familiar?
A mama recently shared her frustration with me: “My partner has no strings attached and I’m attached to a newborn!”
Yes, it’s true. Even though she knows that it will pass and it’s short lived- this loss of freedom is really hard to take. And it’s super hard not to resent your partner. (We tend to hear a lot about how having a baby brings you and your partner closer together- but how come no one really talks about how hard having children is on your relationship? And it is VERY hard on your relationship.)
I was 30 when I had my first baby. It was a shock- especially after a decade of doing whatever-I-wanted-to-whenever-I-wanted-to. I was absolutely in love with my son and ecstatic to be a mother. But I seriously mourned my loss of freedom and independence. I missed my life before my baby was born.
Even outside of the hours spent breastfeeding, it seemed my baby needed me all the time. He was not the type of baby who would lay peacefully in his cradle gazing at a mobil. He was a carry-me-hold-me-nurse-me sort of guy. I could no longer go to the bathroom or take a shower whenever I wanted to. If I wanted to get my haircut, I had to get someone to watch the baby. I couldn’t even make a sandwich when I was hungry.
Before I had a baby- I prided myself on being extraordinarily capable. I was the one who did things for people not the other way around. There were moments of despair. It was so hard for me to be helpless. My new life was unrecognizable compared to my old.
As I mourned my loss of freedom, I looked at my partner la-la-la-ing all over the place. (Okay he wasn’t but that’s what it felt like.) I was so resentful of him and felt like he just didn’t get it at all. From my perspective, my life had changed so much and his hardly at all.
One day at postnatal yoga my teacher asked me “How Are You?” in that real way some people have. I burst into tears, telling her how I was exhausted and my independence was gone and my marriage was surely in trouble!
My yoga teacher laughed and said “When my first born was a baby I woke up one day and thought- ‘How did this happen? I married an @%$!’ ” She was still happily married (as am I) but she knew how hard having a baby can be on a relationship. Just hearing that made me feel so much better. We weren’t headed for inevitable divorce- having babies and little children can be very hard on your marriage.
So what can you do?
- Understand that it’s normal for your relationship to change. And that can mean that things might feel pretty rocky for a while as you find your new rhythm. Talk about it. Try to focus on the things you like about your partner. if you find yourself noticing the negative things, try to consciously look for the positive. Remember why you are together in the first place.
- Recognize that the lack of S-E-X right now can be hard on your relationship. I have often heard that men feel close to their partners when they are having sex, and women have sex when they are feeling close. This can create a real cycle of disconnection. Connecting physically- even non-sexually- is really hard when you are feeling all touched out. Acknowledge it and know that this is temporary. (Check out a great podcast on this topic- “The Longest Shortest Time: The Parents’ Guide To Doing It.”)
- Recognize that this can be a hard time for your partner as well. Yes he or she still has freedom, but has lost a lot of access to YOU. And a partner who wants to be involved but baby only wants mama can feel really left out.
- Ask for help. Ask for help from your partner. (Yes I know you shouldn’t have to ask for help. Just do it.) Say what you need. Accept the help that has probably been offered to you already by friends and family. Let your friend do the dishes so you don’t have to while the baby is asleep.
- Let things slide. If you don’t have much support (or even if you do)- cut out everything that’s not absolutely necessary. Who cares if your bathroom is dirty or if you are eating mostly cereal? Now is not the time for high standards.
- Know that it gets easier. WAY easier. The physical demands of early motherhood are rough. As your children get older, there are new and different challenges. But you regain your freedom and personal space slowly until one day you realize you miss those days when you and your small children were an island unto yourselves.
- Be kind to yourself. Try to give yourself some extra self-care. I know it’s hard. Try to get outside every day. Try to go to bed early to take advantage of what’s often the longest baby sleep cycle. Recognize that you are doing the best you can! If you’re not taking care of yourself, you can’t take care of your baby.
- Don’t sleep when the baby sleeps. A common piece of advice for new moms is: “Sleep when your baby sleeps.” Yes as new moms we are often exhausted. But use that precious nap time to do something for yourself. Do you draw? Love to write? Get stretchy with yoga? What do you do that’s just for you? It is so easy to lose yourself in the demands of new motherhood. When the baby is sleeping– and the house is quiet and you are alone– do something that reminds you of who you are.
- Give yourself an attitude adjustment. Recognizing that you have choices is empowering. You are there for your baby because you WANT to be there. This might be the most important suggestion I can give you. (The mama who wrote to me practices Attachment Parenting. Her challenge is one that many mamas share but in my experience it can be particularly acute for AP mamas.) If you are AP, you are parenting in a deliberate way that can make the first few months or years more intensive. If you are breastfeeding on demand, your lack of freedom can be the trade off. Babies who co-sleep often wake to nurse more frequently. Wearing and holding your baby a lot can make you feel seriously touched out. (To be clear- I am not advocating that AP= martyrdom. AP is about being a responsive and intuitive parent, not a self-sacrificing one. We have to always put on our own oxygen masks first.) Own your choices and remember why you made them. You will feel almost instantly better.
Having a new baby can be one of the most joyful times in our lives. But it can also be frustrating, exhausting, and isolating. Know you are not alone in this. Almost all couples experience a strain on their relationships as they adjust to the changes in their lives. Almost all mamas mourn the loss of their pre-baby lives. Recognize these challenges, do what you can to mitigate them, and know that this too shall pass.
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