If new mums are often angry, how are the men faring in this? Is it a bed of roses for them…?
After much ‘discussion’ (ahem) with my husband Doug and some male friends, it seems things are a little thorny for everyone involved. I may be all for the Sisterhood, but that doesn’t mean I think all women are good and right and men always have it easy.
Let’s start at the very beginning. It’s really easy to assign the trauma of birth as a mother’s right. Indeed, it’s us who have our bodies turned inside out and are left with the consequences. But they have watched that happen. Most of us are out of it on gas and air, adrenalin, drugs. However you did it, not that many of us could say we were completely aware of what was going on. Me? I LOVED gas and air and completely tripped out on it. I could hear dance music and felt like I was floating and kept trying to tell everyone how wonderful I felt – I was all love and flowers. For a short while anyway, until my waters broke, I shat everywhere and the pain really kicked in. Our partners, however, have watched it all without drugs or the distraction of excruciating pain and as well as feeling in awe, many might be a bit freaked by it. Especially if it’s been a traumatic birth.
A friend of ours saw the woman he loves cut open and their new-born baby almost die, followed by a week in Intensive Care whilst he travelled back and forth to the hospital and tried to stop their toddler from realising anything was wrong. There isn’t a moment to process what a new dad might have seen because then they’re home and their wife is experiencing highs and lows like never before, and he is supposed to work out how to manage the situation. So they have to compartmentalise it and move on with little sympathy from anyone. If it was a natural delivery, they may also be a little traumatised about whether/how they’ll ever have sex again. Robbie Williams described seeing the birth of his daughter as like watching his favourite pub burn down. I haven’t seen what birth looks like from that angle, but I imagine to suggest it’s not pretty is an understatement.
The inability for a new mum to empathise is tough. My husband would say ‘When you say ‘You’ve just been at work all day’ it implies work is meaningless and I just want you to acknowledge that it’s not, and that you appreciate that I am fulfilling a role which is to put food on the table and all the other stuff you expect to just happen’. The problem is, we’ve done work. We know what it’s like to have a job. And now we’re doing this and we can only see the good bits about going to work – travelling without a child, going to the toilet on your own, eating your lunch quietly when you want and not having to sweep up 3 times per day. For quite a lot of men, the arrival of kids coincides with their ascension at work – as natural progression, or because suddenly they’re after a promotion as there is only one salary coming in. Either way, you might be working harder and with more responsibility than you’ve had in your life so a little support wouldn’t go amiss. I can only acknowledge now that giving Doug emotional support, appreciation or an occasional pat on the back were often the last things on my mind in those early months.
You could possibly help yourselves by being a bit better at managing expectations. You know how if you tell a kid you’re going to do something and then you don’t, and they whine and shout and hold on to it for a long time? If we think you’re coming home for bath time and then you don’t, we will likely behave like a toddler. A friend said his wife throws the kids at him when he gets home and says ‘there you go, your turn’. I think a few of us can identify with that. Doug said “One of the hardest adjustments was walking through the front door and switching on, not off. When greeted with someone who doesn’t seem to really like you and at times would be outright hostile, switching on and trying to help was…testing”.
The text message you had at 2pm with a cutesy picture of the baby and your partner saying she couldn’t wait to see you wasn’t some weird trick to enhance the impact of the she-devil you were greeted with when you walked in.
The witching hours from 5pm are a breaking point for all mothers of young kids if it’s been a bad day. If you can avoid radio silence it helps. Even better, get home in time for the bath in those early months, and you will be her knight in shining armour. There’s also a high chance she’s hungry. Maybe come home armed with snacks and lob one through the letter box like a grenade two minutes before you come in.
Underlying the accusations of a man ‘going off’ to work as if he’s on a jolly there is a new pressure on his role as Provider. The sudden appearance of purchases for the house and the baby don’t help matters. When we’re spending more time than ever at home, many of us finally get the whole nesting thing. Online shopping and soft furnishings give us purpose, as well as researching and buying all the stuff we need for the baby. Some of us might even manipulate the situation by baffling you with baby-science – ‘we need this additional sling/pump/whizzy-chopper-thing’ – and as you can’t be sure we don’t (we don’t, btw) you have to quietly let it go. If you tentatively suggest that we need to be careful with money, you might receive a full-scale assault that ends with ‘We’ll just keep the baby in a box, SHALL WE?’. Possibly punctuated with a ‘You made me FAAAAA-AAAT’.
Another common thread between male friends was that any acknowledgement of tiredness from them would invariably be met with ‘You have no idea!’ or ‘I’m more tired’. Doug agreed “I don’t think many men wouldn’t happily acknowledge that this is ‘more’ tiring for their wife. It just doesn’t mean that we can’t also feel tired. It’s something we should be united in solidarity on, but it is rarely the case because women want to turn it in to a competition.” It pains me a little to admit, but the man is talking sense. New mums also don’t hold a monopoly on feeling lonely. For a new Dad, he’s working out his role, the woman he loves has temporarily gone AWOL, and his opinion appears to count for nothing. He might also be missing seeing his mates – even if we don’t always act like we want you there, in those early months we need you around. When Mabel was tiny, Doug casually mentioned that ‘all’ the boys were going for a curry for someone’s birthday, and I responded ‘Doug, I’m still bleeding’. As a general rule of thumb, if she’s still bleeding and it’s a non-essential outing, don’t ask. Just say no.
I completely recognise that during this time for many women logic is absent. The men I spoke to felt that if there was a problem, they would want to offer a logical solution. For example:
Her: I’m so tired I might die
Him: Why don’t you go and have a sleep and I’ll cancel the visitors?
Her: I can’t get the baby to sleep in her cot, she’ll only sleep on me
Him: Have you tried leaving her for a little bit to see if she’ll settle, or shall I hold her?
Her: I am in agony, the baby isn’t feeding well, and my nipples are about to fall off.
Him: Why don’t you let me try a bottle so you can get some rest and then try again?
Now in normal circumstances we might agree with you. Or say ‘Not right now, maybe later’. But in new mum world, you may have just woken the beast. She thinks you’re criticising the way she’s doing it and if it’s her first, she also doesn’t know what she’s doing – she’s read about nipple confusion and separation anxiety and she’s in a state of panic that every action taken now could be right or wrong and have an impact on the adult this child turns in to and it’s the most important thing in the world and it all sits with her. All the men I spoke to agreed that once they realised their partner was possibly just needing to vent and not looking for a logical solution, it got a bit easier. All agreed that the journey to get to that point was pretty bumpy.
So what does your man get for his troubles? Silent treatment, weeping, possibly wails of ‘You just don’t get IT’. I can see that watching your partner torture herself and disregard every helpful suggestion you come up with would be hard work and a tad frustrating. Maybe I can be of assistance – ladies, sometimes we need to sit the fuck down. When you’re so tired that you’re in a constant state of blub, it’s not necessarily your partner that is being a div, it might just be you. If we just STOPPED and were a bit kinder to ourselves, we might actually have capacity to be a bit kinder to those around us.
And there you have it. Here I am, publicly admitting that snarling at someone when they walk through the door after a day at work is shite. Especially as they’ve been out earning a dollar. See? Not unreasonable. I also understand that our expectations of you as provider, counsellor and protector are a big deal when you’ve previously been used to a fairly stable and independent lady that looks at you with loving as opposed to dead eyes. This is a major period of adjustment for everyone involved, and once we’re out the other side, we can see that a lot more clearly. In the meantime, we thank you for your patience.
So…how was it for you?
Images: mytvlog.blogspot.com; webapp1.wright.edu/housing/addresses.php