When our first child was born, I wanted to be as involved as possible. I contributed as much as I could. During breastfeeding, for instance, my wife would feed the baby and then hand her off to me. I’d then burp her. I was part of the process and it was really lovely, as it helped me bond more with my child. We shared responsibilities for nearly everything that we could: changing, nap time — you name it. Now we’re on baby number two, something’s changed. Even though I’m on paternity leave, I’m not as involved with any of the processes. Breastfeeding has become only wife’s territory and she doesn’t want me in the room anymore. When I brought up the fact, my wife explained, tearily, that she felt I was infringing on her territory. She eventually told me she was jealous of my relationship with our first daughter (We are very close and she definitely has a different — not better — bond with me). Should I just ignore this, swallow my urge to bond with my infant, and let my wife have what she wants? Or do you think she’s being unreasonable and overly jealous? Any help would be appreciated. — Tim, via email
Do I think your wife is being unreasonable and overly possessive of her bonding time with her child? Yes. Do I think you should just give in and stay out of the room when your wife is nursing, per her request? Also yes. Let me explain.
Since I started doing this column, probably my biggest takeaway is that most of you guys want to be there for your partners after they give birth, and have some understanding of the accompanying postpartum struggles, but don’t quite know the best way to go about it. That’s totally understandable and normal.
But I also cannot stress enough just how much of a mindfuck the postpartum period is, and how vulnerable your wife is probably feeling right now. Best case scenario, her body has metamorphosed beyond recognition, she’s averaging two or three hours of sleep per night, and she’s constantly gotta wear panty liners on the off-chance that she may sneeze in public. Worst case scenario, she’s dealing with all that plus she feels totally disconnected from any semblance of her former self and is struggling with some form of postpartum mood disorder.
At the risk of verging on offering an armchair diagnosis, I’d venture to guess that judging by the intensity of her emotions when she told you why she didn’t want you around while she was nursing, your wife is struggling with some form of the latter (which is extremely common, by the way: nearly 85 percent of new mothers deal with the baby blues post-delivery). You don’t mention whether these disproportionate responses are frequent or not, but if they are I don’t think it does a service to either of you to push her on this issue; let her have the bonding time she wants, and you’ll get yours later. I’d also strongly urge you guys to have a sit-down discussion about how she’s feeling, what you can do to be of service to her, and whether she might benefit from some form of professional help.
Even if your wife isn’t prone to bouts of sadness or mood swings, and this response is more of a one-off, I’d still encourage you to just quietly step away and let her have the bonding time she feels like she needs.
Remember, even the most well-adjusted of new moms is likely dealing with some pretty major physical and emotional changes, and her sense of self is extremely fragile right now. If I had to guess, she’s probably asking herself some pretty big questions about her identity and what role, if any, she serves now other than that of wife and mother. If one-on-one time with the baby is what she needs, it doesn’t hurt you to let her have it and it doesn’t help you to press the issue with her, because deep down in your heart, you know that her having a few minutes of bonding time by no means precludes you from having yours.
Is she being irrational? Yeah, a little bit. But what is love if not doing irrational things for the people we care about, at a time when they need us most?