A dad's view of postpartum
The postpartum period tends to be all about the baby and the mother — as it should be!
But what about the father or co-parent? What’s that experience like?
To give you one man’s point of view, I asked my husband, Nick Hook, to provide his take on the topic for this month’s column. Here’s what he had to say:
Before the birth of our first child, I had rose-colored visions of sharing child-related duties equitably with my wife/partner.
Living in Progressisota in a smugberhood near Lake Calhoun, I was confident I was going to be so progressive, so supportive, that all the other parents would sit up and take notice of how Shannon and I had eschewed traditional childcare gender roles.
I daydreamed about all the reusable diapers I was going to change.
I fantasized about taking my cooing baby girl on long walks through the bird sanctuary at Lake Harriet to afford Shannon the requisite alone time needed for her emotional well-being.
I pompously envisioned how I would help impart to Lydia the lesson that, in this day and age, dudes can (and should!) play an equal role in child-rearing activities.
I knew there were some obstacles to achieving this utopia of balance.
For instance, I realized Shannon would probably end up doing most of the actual breastfeeding; but even that situation seemed easily remedied: Shannon would simply take a few minutes to pump an extra bottle or two before settling in for a relaxing eight hours of sleep each night.
Then I would wake up to the plaintive little wail — an adorable whimper, really — signaling that my angel felt peckish.
I’d saunter down to the kitchen, heat the natural, immune-boosting elixir that is my wife’s refrigerated breastmilk, snuggle up with my girl and just bond the night away! Such were my thoughts before Lydia entered our world.
What actually happened?
Lydia was colicky from the get-go. She could (and did) scream impressively during the vast majority of her waking hours for the first three months of her existence. She was not a happy newborn.
She had trouble breastfeeding from day one. If one attempted to set Lydia down — even for a minute — between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., she would scream until her face turned blue while waving her arms around, spastically swatting invisible demons away.
I remember swaddling her as tightly as I could one night and then watching, horrified, as she worked her skinny little hand up through the swaddling so that it exited the wraps under her chin, like a zombie’s hand coming out of a grave.
Basically, none of us slept at all for three months.
Needless to say, all my progressive ideals about gender equity in childcare fell away immediately.
Shannon (who I still owe big time!) woke up for virtually all of the night feedings during those early days.
I did my share of 2 a.m. marching-around-the-kitchen-bouncing-Lydia-while-blasting-Stereolab shifts (the only thing that sometimes kept her from screaming for a few moments).
It was not the snuggly little bond-fest I’d imagined.
Then every morning I’d trudge off to work, just like Ward Cleaver, to bring home the proverbial bacon.
My paycheck was the one thing of value I could actually deliver for my wife and newborn child at this juncture.
I distinctly remember thinking at one point, “Our lives are grotesquely traditional right now and there’s virtually nothing we can do about it.”
Sleep and snuggling
Luckily, the situation basically fixed itself. Lydia’s colic dispersed after three months — no thanks to any diet alterations or better swaddling techniques (but thanks for all the suggestions, everyone).
She began sleeping through the night and our permanent, corpse-like state of sleep deprivation was replaced with sporadic — but deal-able — sleep deprivation.
I began feeding Lydia with supplemental formula during the night when she woke up.
I walked her through the bird sanctuary.
And, sometimes, I did end up snuggling with her in the middle of the night while Shannon got some sleep.
Shannon Keough and Nick Hook live in Minneapolis with their son and daughter. Send questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Shannon Keough — fully immersed in the traditional mother-to-a-colicky-baby role — had a fully supportive husband, but they both struggled during their daughter’s first few months.