EXPECTING A BABY?
Things your dad NEVER told you about becoming
a new father
BY SHARI SCHREIBER, M.A.
As you and your spouse eagerly anticipate your first baby's arrival and think how wonderful it'll be when the two of you finally expand to three, there are some things you should know, when heading into this joyous occasion. Most of the information you may have already been exposed to on this topic, deals with adjustments concerning interrupted sleep schedules, finding yourself homebound because of the baby, having to refocus your entire existence around this completely dependent little being, and generally, feeling like your life is no longer your own. Think you're prepared? Hang on--there's more.
While childbirth and the early stages of mothering are very difficult and challenging for women, they're especially trying for men in significantly different ways. For the first time in your marital relationship, your 'husband needs' are usurped by the baby's needs, which are far more critical and immediate. After all, as an adult, you can fend for yourself--but your baby will be relatively helpless for the first few years of his or her life. Because of this, not only will you and your wife find yourselves back-burnering your personal desires and needs, certain fundamentals you've probably come to count on in your relationship (like SEX) may not be available to you for quite awhile.
An emotionally healthy woman's natural mothering instincts come into play when she's given birth, and this is always supported by significant changes in hormone balance. Her very first, and most primal impulse is to insure the survival and well-being of her newborn, and everything else is secondary to this aim. Throughout this period, a new father usually finds himself at odds or loose ends, as he begins to notice a decline in the loving attention he's come to anticipate within his marriage. Often, his needs for physical and emotional connection are not being responded to--and in their absence, frustration, depression and resentment can start to build. In short, he has the sense of having lost his lover.
A man who encounters a loss of romantic connection within his marriage can experience varying degrees of anxiety, dread and grief that make him feel trapped in an emotional quandary. If his personal integrity has him reluctant to consider, much less attempt to get these basic needs met elsewhere, his conflict can feel monumental. This lack of having his desirability mirrored, along with the inability to enjoy a warm, satisfying sensual/sexual outlet, can leave a new father feeling a deep sense of disengagement and sadness. When this kind of inner turmoil is triggered, it invites conflict in an already highly stressed environment that's characterized by other adjustments.
ON BEING A NEW DAD--IT'S NOT WHAT YOU THOUGHT.
A new father might feel pressured to bond with the new baby, and his wife could exacerbate this issue, by wondering how in the world he can resist having the same feelings of attachment as she does! Nobody else will ever tell you this--but it isn't natural for men to feel the same way as women do, about their newborn.
Every baby begins an intimate bonding experience in-utero, with its mother. As a fetus develops, he hears his mother's voice, learns her language style, shares her heartbeat, and co-experiences her emotions. In short, an intrinsic and powerful connection is formed during the gestation period (roughly, nine months) that a man cannot possibly compete with, after the birth. Sorry, but that's just the way it is.
An infant might not forge a solid bond with his father for the first year of its life, and this isn't unusual--so don't freak-out if/when you're feeling left out in the cold, with your nose pressed against the glass. This is not to say that you won't bond with this baby--but the first year of life is actually about the symbiotic connection between your child and his/her mother. Give it a bit of time--your turn is coming.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT YOUR SEX LIFE:
In most instances, your wife is not withholding sex, because she wants to. She's (temporarily) feeling a complete absence of erotic desire, over which she has no control. This is due to dramatically altered hormone levels, and her body's need to physically heal and adjust, after giving birth to this kid. The unfortunate truth is, she's incapable of responding to your flirtations, your efforts to seduce her--or even, your pleadings and tantrums. Her lack of sexual interest can have her feeling like she's living inside somebody else's body, which undoubtedly seems foreign and uncomfortable for you both! It may take up to a year or more before the woman you fell in love with can fully return, and want to resume the sensual and erotic play you've mutually enjoyed before the baby arrived. You're allowed to have feelings about this, but a little information can help the two of you keep it together.
Your wife is trying to adapt to the considerable demands of her new role as a mother, as well as constant exhaustion and accompanying concerns she might have, about not desiring sexual contact. It isn't unnatural for her to experience a nagging awareness that she's not taking "good enough" care of you. This issue is magnified, when you exert pressure of any kind on her to respond to your needs for physical and/or emotional closeness. She's already feeling overwhelmed because of psychological and emotional shifts due to hormonal influences, and is doing her best to accommodate these changes. Your needs (which you're fully entitled to, incidentally) lie beyond what she's equipped to handle at this point in time. Given that she's grappling with her own needs, the baby's requirements and any external pressure from you (no matter how subtle) she could feel resentment--and a need to withdraw or retreat, just to cope. This can easily leave you feeling neglected, angry and jealous of your new baby--even when you believe it's "wrong" to have these emotions and reactions!
CHALLENGING TIMES CALL FOR SOLID PROBLEM SOLVING.
Do your best to talk with each other as sensitively and openly as possible about your feelings/thoughts during this time of adjustment. As an option to enhancing this process, you might engage the services of a counselor or therapist who's capable of helping you learn new communication skills and interim physical techniques that can ease the tensions in your relationship. This should increase opportunities for the two of you to reconnect in ways that feel loving, nourishing and satisfying for you both. The object here, is to move toward a win/win situation, and restore intimacy/closeness during this challenging time. What you must remember, is that neither of you is wrong.When you begin to discover more about each other's feelings and perspectives through enhanced communication, you can each start to access more empathy toward your partner's predicament. Each of you has special needs at this time--you're just needing a new roadmap, for meeting them! This is a pretty common struggle for first time parents, but far less difficult with a little help.
SOME VERY IMPORTANT INSIGHTS
Under these circumstances, loss of connection within an intimate partnership can feel especially difficult for men, because it can reactivate issues they might carry from infancy and boyhood. Along with this, harsh self-judgment about "negative" feelings toward the baby, can prompt a need to repress these emotions (which gives them even more power). It's unfortunate, that this current experience can trigger unresolved abandonment wounds that have previously lain dormant, but may (now) amplify reactivity to whatever frustrations already exist. Men may adopt coping strategies, like working longer hours, overeating, having affairs, abusing alcohol or drugs, etc., to lessen their impulses to react aggressively to these new conditions. Childhood wounds have subtly influenced every decision we've made during the course of our lives (including mate selection), and they can make it harder to manage this life transition. A bit of sensitive guidance and support can make an enormous difference, as to how well you navigate this period.
Ideally, this baby will bring opportunities for deeper insight and expansion within yourselves, and your bond as a couple. A little exploration can lead to important growth, healing and enhancement to your capabilities as parents and committed lovers. Best of luck, and congratulations!
[It's crucial to note (particularly in light of recent media events) that Post-partum Depression is a serious clinical issue, and should be responded to as such! Changes in hormone levels impact brain chemicals that determine mood--and this must be addressed and treated medically. If there's been a persistent lack of loving contact in your marriage before or after the baby arrives, or your relationship has felt mostly unstable/volatile, it's extremely important that you read this article!]
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