1. Should I make my wife take the epidural? Do something less “kooky” for our birth plan?
Well there is kooky and there is KOOKY. I am against anything KOOKY. But if this is the first baby, most husbands are understandably intimidated by the whole labor/delivery idea. The notion of being in a hospital with a doctor seems the logical way to go… why reject modern science when we have spent centuries trying to get it? But because of inroads made by natural childbirthers these days, and the rise of unnecessary medical interventions, many moms-to-be want to explore a natural childbirth plan. To her, it seems philosophically and biologically good. To him, it seems like his wife is making a demanding and unsafe decision. He is protector and provider, so it is ok for him to be concerned about his wife and new baby. But until both husband and wife can see each other’s perspective, progress will not be made on the issue. You will end up having a him v. her stand-off. And probably the wife will win because it’s her body but then she’ll be sad because she has a less than willing partner.
This is not the way you want your birth to go (tension, disinterest, fear). So if you really can’t make progress on the issue, I’d say to opt for a midwife in a hospitalized setting. Then you get the best of both worlds. Mom is happy because she can try to have the unmedicated birth, but Dad is happy because intervention is on-hand if it becomes necessary. On the second pregnancy, there can be more reasonable debate.
That said, Dads cannot “make” wives take the epidural or do something less kooky. Natural childbirth in homes and birthing centers has made much progress in the last twenty years and is generally very safe. Proponents rightly point out that other cultures tend to more readily accept natural childbirth and that Hollywood in particular has skewed our imagination of what the labor/delivery will be like. Dads really have to listen to moms about what they want for their birth plan because it IS her body and she has to produce this baby. It is a deeply personal and biological decision, and one that will affect how she perceives reproducing and mothering… a dissatisfying birth can make her unbonded with her newborn or hesitant to do it again. So keep that in mind when you’re discussing options.
And yet moms also need to keep in mind that dads have a practical advantage over her in this debate. In the large majority of cases, having a hospital and/or medicated birth goes just fine and is completely subsumed by the amazing pleasure of having your baby put in your arms. Hospitals are very safe and there is no need to necessarily try natural childbirth just because the majority of neo-childbirthing lit out there touts it as the only way to be a REAL mother. I personally believe the effects of most hospital procedures on the newborn are minimal, and Dad’s comfort level should be respected since he is involved in the process too. Or, he will be more involved if you let him have input! Remember that Dad wants his two precious people in the process to be safe and sound. So if he wants to help and be a part of this newborn experience, he has a right to advocate for what he thinks is logical.
And if you do both choose natural childbirth, discuss the epidural beforehand so he knows your “don’t let me cave” whining from your “I’ve seriously changed my mind” pleading =)
2. When will be able to have sex after the baby?
Doctors rightly tell you to abstain for 6 weeks postpartum. That is because it takes approximately 40 days to heal from childbirth. Basically, Mom has a huge wound in her abdomen that needs to heal, and the bleeding needs to stop. The uterus needs to shrink and contract to its normal size, allowing the connecting parts to go back to how they were before. If she’s had an episiotomy, it takes about that long for the stitches to dissolve and the tissue around there to heal. Also, the pregnancy hormones are more significantly out of Mom’s system by then, allowing things to physically and emotionally get back (relatively) to normal.
Mom will get her check up and if the midwife/doctor gives the green light, you’ll be set to have sex. The doctor/midwife will also ask what the birth control plan is, and give the green light for that too. Keep in mind that barrier methods may be a little rougher than non-barrier methods, as things get going. There’s nothing magic, however, about the sixth week or 40th day per se… it can take shorter or longer to heal (even up to another month) depending on the stress and workout of Mom’s day. A lot depends on the stitches and Mom’s activity post partum. After subsequent babies, it can take longer to stop bleeding because you have other children you’re running after at the same time you’re trying to heal. Moms who go back to work immediately also have more activity which can postpone full healing.
Dads are always excited about the six-week appointment—it is the one appointment they’ll put on their own calendar and ask about! But getting the biological checklight doesn’t necessarily make Mom emotionally ready. Be prepared for other issues to crowd the turf: tiredness from staying up all night, feeling fat and out of shape, being scared it will hurt, repulsion at the idea of something else being present in the “you know where” parts, reluctance to think about reproduction again, irritation at the birth control if using barrier methods, anxiety from listening for the baby during sex, being unshowered or feeling unfeminine, etc etc. All the Mommy Reasons will rear their ugly heads. Just warning you!!
Work through these. If you’re the man, understand. And for heaven’s sakes BE GENTLE for the first time or three because it is EXTREMELY tender down there. You may even have to stop half way through and try again later– that’s fine. Think of it like your second chance at virginity… try not to let your eagerness make things go fast and furious. And if you’re the woman, get a lot of KY Jelly and dive in. Don’t wait until you “feel” like trying because you never will. In fact, it’s probably better to get the first couple times over with soon so your man isn’t going more weeks unfulfilled. That will only add pressure. Do your duty and know that with some practice, things will eventually get fun again. The more communicative you are with your husband, the lower your standards are for that first time, the better it will be.
Dads: Don’t worry if you don’t “fit” the first couple times. Even if Mom had stitches, they didn’t shrink her. It’s normal. Mom will eventually get her elasticity back and you’ll be fine.
3. Will we be able to have sex during the pregnancy? Will I hurt her?
Every woman is different about sex during pregnancy, probably because pregnancy makes women feel very different. For some, pregnancy is beautiful and eye-opening, and sex feels good. For others, it is bewildering and uncomfortable, and sex becomes an obligation. And still for others, pregnancy is awful and distressing, and sex is painful or repulsive. Physically, it doesn’t affect the baby at all. So talk to your mate and find out what her feelings are. You should be able to have sex during the pregnancy as long as you find out what works for both of you—you will probably need different positions that keep the weight off her abdomen, or you may need a different schedule because she’s sick in the mornings and tired at night. You may need to go faster or slower, or make any number of adjustments, so communication and light-heartedness are the key. Don’t feel offended about each other’s feelings and needs, and find ways to communicate before, during, and after sex to consult each other about what works and what doesn’t work. As a rule, you’ll probably get the most sex in the middle of the pregnancy because hormones are high and the body is probably over morning sickness but not too big yet to make things uncomfortable.
Moms need to know that dads’ sex drives don’t go away just because they’re pregnant. And dads can’t be expected to abstain for a year while you incubate, deliver, and then tend to the baby at night. You have to respect his needs which are natural but different from your own.
Dads have to know that moms are going through the Twilight Zone as it concerns her body, and that physical and emotional things are in radical shift during pregnancy. Sexual desires (or lack of) are not purely rational or consistent, so you have to hang in there and not be offended over changes. Things will return to normal next year.
Also Dads: never make your wife feel self-conscious about her appearance. She’s already conscious enough for ten people. If you want her to still get naked with you, then you need to put the charm on and continue to bless her as if she were the paragon of beauty. She won’t believe you, of course, but it will go a long way towards making her feel comfortable, which is the key to more sack time ;-)
4. How much does having a baby cost?
How much do you want to spend? People all over the globe in every time and place have babies. So babies, in a sense, cost what you want them to.
In a more practical sense, my husband and I were living in a one-room apartment on a very slim budget when we had our first baby. We had to be real cheapies, so here’s a breakdown of my out-of-pocket expenses the first year:
Medical (We had an HMO then):
- $20 for each prenatal visit copay- about $300 total
- Admission fee to hospital- $250
- Well-baby check-ups were also $20 copay (HMO)- about $100 for first 3 months
- No extra medical charges throughout.. it was all covered.
- =$650 total
Free- Borrowed and Gifts
For our first baby, our baby shower guests bought us small items like the baby tub and onesies. A close friend of ours bought us a Pack N Play. Our guests also pooled together to give us $200 to buy a crib and mattress. My dad bought us a special bedding set, so we didn’t have to buy that. I borrowed most baby equipment items that the baby would grow out of (i.e. baby carseat w/fitting stroller, sling, Boppy) from friends. I got a second-hand dresser off the street for free.
My Discretionary Expenses:
- Bags of second-hand clothes off Craigslist-$100
- New bouncy seat- $30
- New umbrella stroller- $20
- Cheap nursing pump- $20
- pacifiers, nursing ointment, special toilet paper for after the delivery- $20
Diapers- abt. $30 a month. (Let’s say $150 for six months because they use fewer diapers as they get older).
So that comes out to be around $1000. But only $200 was STUFF. You can see my post on Top Ten Pieces of Baby Equipment if you are not a cheapie and want more details on “stuff.”
Because we breastfed the baby, that’s really all we paid for about the first year. One of our subsequent babies was on formula for awhile and that added about $20 a week from Sams Club. Many people get the vital equipment and accessories they need in a baby shower. If you’re lucky like that, the only thing you have to regularly budget the whole first year are diapers, clothes, and food. If you breastfeed and use second-hand clothes, you save mucho there. If you don’t have a baby shower, there are still many opportunities to get things used from garage sales, Craigslist, or friends. Check out Catholic schools which often have very cheap tag sales on clothes and baby equipment items. Many Protestant churches have moms groups where any one of a dozen moms in the nursery would be happy to offload some of their baby gear/clothes to someone who needs them. You just don’t need all that stuff around your house very long!
I mean obviously there are things that will come up that you need, but so much can be borrowed, handed down, or bought second-hand. I got free formula in the mail, free diaper bags, free samples. Later I bought a can of paint when we painted the nursery for $20, and I bought the baby new shoes or whatever. But all of those were small expenditures. You don’t have to buy extra airplane seats until they are 2 years old. We didn’t get a bigger apartment right away either— we put the baby in our living room! We didn’t get a changing table… we just changed the baby on a mat on the floor. Grocery money didn’t get affected until they were older. We saved on gas because we didn’t get out much. We saved in other areas because we didn’t go shopping for ourselves as much. The only place we didn’t save was… takeout! We spent significantly more money there for awhile =)
Conclusion: Nothing except the medical costs significantly impacted our budget for the first year. So be assured if you are young parents on a new budget that having a baby is relatively cheap. Anything else that you want to spend is a privilege, not a necessity.
5. How is my wife going to change? What does motherhood do to women?
A tough question… Every woman is different. The standard answer to this question is that her attention will change from you to the baby, and she’ll suddenly be agonizing over totally irrelevant topics such as which pacifier is best for the baby’s gums. But this is kind of simplistic… although true ;-)
I asked my husband this question—what changed the most about me—and he said the biggest change was probably how I started seeing my own identity in reference to the kids. I think he meant how I am no longer an impartial judge of myself, but however the kids are doing is how I’m doing. And whatever they are going through, I bring into the marriage so the whole family is going through it. Or maybe he means that I so easily see myself first as Mom instead of Wife or Individual, that it is hard to get lavish attention or uncritical responses. I can see how he said this.
But as the person who changed myself, I would say that the biggest change is that I don’t feel able to “think” anymore while I am going about life and doing my Mommy thing. I just kind of survive each day, each week. And I only have enough mental space (or RAM, for you computer dudes) for people’s issues every day before my hard drive crashes. I used to be more aware of my identity, goals, and passions in life as I went throughout my day. Now it is like that part of me—which I miss at times—is buried deep within and only gets attention some days, at some times. There is the Mommy Me and the Real Me. I feel less passionate or purposeful at times, although I think that’s superficial just because I’m busy… the passions would come back out if i were suddenly beamed out of Mommyland. I wonder how I’ve changed and, when I have time to myself, am not always sure how to spend it. I guess I would say I’m just less aware of myself and try not to think about it much. For some husbands, this might be nice. For others, they might feel like they “lost” a part of their companion that they cherished before. Some moms do emerge from Mommyland incredibly different, after their children are grown, so that is something for husbands to think about. But for now, that’s my biggest change.
6. Do I have to attend the birthing classes?
Well if you want to make your wife happy you do. It’s just one of those things that lots of modern couples and newly pregnant moms do. It’s too much information and you may opt out of a natural childbirth in the end, but it is your one big chance to show your wife that you care about the baby SHE’S carrying! Be glad it’s not you, and remember that understanding what’s going on is probably the biggest thing you can do to foster empathy. Plus, when you fight over something, you can say, “I know exactly what you’re talking about, honey. I was there, remember?!” Just kidding, don’t say that! ;-) If you can get past the gore, it’s actually a very miraculous process. Plus, doctors and nurses expect fathers to be part of the birthing process these days, so you don’t want to be fainting and saying, “You want me to do WHAT?” in the delivery room.
7. What do I do when my wife panics about (breastfeeding, baby’s not sleeping, he’s not developing on time)?
Number one, don’t panic with her. Number two, restore her confidence. Parenting in the early days is all about surviving. You’ve heard this but now you have to live it. And as the dad, you’re still pretty much in the same boat as you were when your wife was pregnant: the coach, not the participator. That doesn’t mean that you won’t DO any work. But your wife has to do most of it, especially if she is breastfeeding, and this is like trial by fire. If she can get past the hurdles, she’s made it to happy Mommyland. If not, the peace and joy is going to be a lot harder to come by. It is your job, as Dad, to help get her there. And that means not panicking whatever she’s panicked about. And it means comforting her in whatever ways necessary to restore her confidence.
Some dads are into the baby thing and have lots of advice. If you have advice and are a problem-fixer, be gentle about this during panics because Mom probably doesn’t want a solution… even though it seems like she does. She probably knows what she wants to happen but is overtired and can’t make it work. So give her a break by holding the baby for awhile, send her downstairs for a nap, and make it seem like you’re just fine being in charge for awhile. When she’s rested, try again. If she’s having a philosophical crisis, find her her favorite book on the subject. If she’s having a practical problem, advise her to call another Mom friend. Sympathy and empathy go a long way into restoring confidence, and sometimes some ridiculous tip from a veteran is all that is necessary. Whatever you do, don’t lose your cool. Don’t tell her that the problem doesn’t matter and the baby doesn’t care and she’s just being ridiculous. Don’t tell her that she’s making it worse by worrying about it, or that you’ve never heard of that problem before. Don’t tell her that she’s not doing it right and your mom never did it that way. Or anything of those infuriating things that may or may not be on the tip of your tongue.
But you are right not to take it as seriously as her since most baby things should be taken with a grain of salt. And all first moms struggle with stuff. Soon she’ll be an expert on everything and you’ll be smooth sailing.
8. What should I do about parents and in-law’s expectations?
As the dad, this is the ONE area that most moms would LOVE you to take over. With the exception of probably her own mother, most new moms want some boundaries between the grandparents and the baby but the grandparents don’t want any. If you don’t get some, and get on same page about it, there can be quite a bit of rocky soil ahead. And especially with your own parents, you need to take charge.
Grandparenting is a phenomenon that is not well-studied yet. But a little observation shows you that grandparents feel suddenly released from all the hang-ups they had when they were parenting you, and now they want to have unlimited access to their little grandcherubs. Many want to know how you’re going to raise them, when they’re going to get to see them, what opportunities you’re going to give them, etc. It can be a blurrying experience, and you’d think THEY were having the baby!
So your job, as the rational partner in the equation, is to figure out some boundaries and enforce them, especially with your own mom. Your wife is going to feel very protective of your new little person, and will feel pressured or jealous if your mom is trying to take charge, spoil, or enforce her way of bringing up baby. She has her own mom to deal with (which could be equally as dizzying but more likely not as threatening), and you need to balance the needs of your wife and your extended family.
Good luck. My suggestion is, make sure each grandparent gets to see and fawn over the newborn. Let them buy all kinds of ridiculous paraphernalia for him/her if they want. Let them take as many photos and videos as they want. But after the initial hubbub, make everyone back off for awhile until your wife is healed and on her two feet again (six weeks?). Send digital pictures or do whatever you have to, to stave off the parents and in-laws. But put your wife and baby’s relationship first, let them get the nursing thing down, etc. Then slowly start working in regular visits for extended family (once a week if local, so your wife can get out; or once every three months if you’re long-distance). And if at all possible, get your visitors to stay in a hotel instead of at your house. This gives everyone some breathing room, and allows you and your wife to still feel like you’re in control of your own house.
9. What kind of supplies do I need when the baby gets home? How much should we expect to spend?
Elsewhere on this blog I have a Top Ten Pieces of baby equipment list. But the short answer is:
- crib, mattress, and bedding (or pack n play)
- carseat and winter snowsuit if necessary
- bouncy seat
- baby sling or carrier
- baby blankets
- size 1 diapers, rash cream
- baby Tylenol (dropper), thermometer
- any special gear you have in mind for feeding, nursing, etc.
- a couple baby toys
Spend whatever you want to spend, but know that you don’t have to indulge the magic nursery picture on the Toys R Us/Pottery Barn catalog. Save your money for when the child is not growing out of things as fast as a NASCAR racer.
10. I think my wife is depressed, what do I do?
For some women, having the first baby is heaven on earth, everything they ever dreamed. For most, it is a surprising experience where they are prompted to adapt like never before, in between gushing periods. For some, though, it is a real emotional dilemma.
There are lots of popular things out there about postpartum depression, such as Brooke Shield’s book. But the best thing to do is get help. If your wife is truly depressed—she’s not eating, she’s crying or hysterical a lot, she can’t get out of bed or is trying to avoid the baby—you need professional help immediately. If your wife is less severe than that—lost in Mommyworld and unable to get out or be happy—then you can probably help with some simple strategies:
1. Get her a shower time EVERY DAY.
2. Get her out of the house EVERY DAY. Even if it is just a trip to the grocery store or 7-11.
3. Get her some phone time with a friend or sympathetic person EVERY DAY.
4. Get her something new like a couple new shirts or a haircut.
5. Paint a room or somehow sparkle something up in her living environment. (You don’t have to actually SAY “sparkle.”)
6. If you have to leave town or be away long hours every day, consider getting someone to live in for awhile like her Mom. Especially if she’s actually having trouble taking care of the newborn. If you can afford it, hire a nanny or babysitter for a couple hours a week (DO IT YOURSELF: Call a friend for a referral or use Craigslist if you don’t know where to start). Otherwise, just be available to help yourself. (And make sure you actually help, don’t sit around and watch TV).
7. Pick a chore or two that you can handle yourself regularly and do without asking… but one that she’ll notice… cleaning the kitchen is HUGE.
8. Get her out of the house each weekend at least once. Have her go meet a friend and walk around the mall, go to an exercise class, a cooking class, or whatever is motivating/normalizing.
9. Find a Moms group of some kind she can take part in once a week… most towns have various options such as: La Leche, Moms walking clubs, Moms morning in the park, Storytime at the library, Caretaking seminars at the hospital. Good places to find info on these things are the library, grocery store, pediatrician, maternity wing of the hospital, preschool bulletin board, or local parents paper.
I know some of these steps seem like a lot, but really it’s not so bad. If your wife is depressed, you just have to focus on getting her back on her feet and then things will fall back into place. You’re working against hormones and an amazingly precious yet needy new bundle. Go into Action Mode, just for a couple weeks, and I guarantee that the majority of moms will turn around with this type of care. It is totally normal but takes some comprehensive attacking. I’m sure, as Superdad, that you’re up to it ;-)