When you hear the word postpartum you probably think of moms and pregnancy. Moms get most of the “press” in the period of time just before, during and after the birth of a child, and rightfully so. Carrying and birthing a child is a monumental event. The postpartum transition for dads is more subtle and less physical but just as monumental. Just in case you’re thinking “I sort of know what that word means, but I’m not sure…”- postpartum is defined by Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary as relating to or happening in the period of time following the birth of a child. A friend of mine recently summed it up by saying that it’s marked by a “lack of sleep, sex and solitude.” I would add two more S’s – lack of self-care and social life. I’ve often joked with my dad friends about one or more of these things disappearing (temporarily) but it’s not funny, especially while you’re in the midst of it. These five things are difficult enough to maintain in any romantic relationship, partnership or marriage, let alone once children are introduced into the equation. Some of these areas may have been tentative at best before you had children, now they’re hanging on for dear life!
The lack of sleep is a reality that is apparently unavoidable. It’s a crap shoot whether your baby will sleep regularly, and so it’s a crap shoot if you will sleep regularly. Sleep for new parent’s ranges from poor to very poor. It’s tough, no one is prepared for it, it affects all aspects of your life but it does get better. The complete lack of control around sleep can inspire a unique frustration and helplessness that is very difficult to manage.
Lack of sex is a universal theme that I hear from new dads. There are plenty of good reasons for it but that doesn’t change how difficult it can be to be mostly cut off sexually from your partner for periods of time. I think this one is especially difficult for dads because many of the dads that I talk to still want to be sexual with their partners, while their partners’ sex drive is taking a temporary vacation. It is important to acknowledge that there are very real physical reasons for women’s drop in sex drive after the birth of a child (more on that in a future Porch Light blog). The lack of intimacy and connection to your partner during this period is very challenging, and it can be easy to feel that you have been ‘replaced’ by the baby. This thought is often followed by judgment and confusion, but it makes sense to have all kinds of feelings about the loss of connection with your partner.
Lack of solitude. This makes me chuckle a little…because it feels like solitude goes away entirely for new parents. I found myself staying up late even though I knew the consequences in the morning. The opportunity to be alone and to reconnect with myself was a more powerful desire than the voice that was telling me to go to bed. It’s important to find ways during your day to get a moment of solitude. One thing I’ve noticed as a parent is that the value of time changed dramatically. You may not have an entire afternoon available but finding 15 minutes to be by yourself can be invaluable. The obvious barrier is that you will likely have to ask your partner, which may be difficult, or not ask and potentially feel guilty for “stealing” some you time. I encourage you to ask – it’s important.
This brings us to lack of self-care. Prioritizing YOU can be very difficult as a parent. It can bring up self-judgment and guilt. Asking for time to do something for you can also spark an argument with your partner, who is likely themselves feeling the same lack of time and/or resources for self-care. You may have ideas of how self-care is “supposed to look” or supposed to look now that you’re a parent. A yoga class, meditating, eating healthy, or (insert your self-care ideals). If those are of interest to you, then by all means go to a yoga class or meditate before bed. If not, then find things that resonate with you – a walk around your neighborhood, a nap, a massage or a bike ride. The important thing isn’t what you do; it’s that you’re doing something for YOU. One thing that has worked well for me is to schedule it. I play in a soccer league and it’s paid for ahead of time and on the calendar. Those two factors seem to help make it more likely that I will go. It also allows me and my partner to talk about that commitment ahead of time instead of at the last minute.
Your social life inevitably changes when you become a parent. It is similar to the challenge with self-care in that it can be difficult to prioritize. You’re friends who do not have kids may or may not understand some of the changes that you are experiencing. They may be hurt or have judgments about their perception of your availability or commitment as a friend. This can be difficult at a time when you need MORE support but may feel that you have less of it. The feeling of being trapped can be overwhelming at times for new parents. Getting out of the house and meeting up with friends, other families, or just being around other people (park, coffee shop) can shift your perspective dramatically. It can be hard to think of it when things get stressful but it’s important to remind yourself that there’s a world outside of your house.
I wish I had brilliant solutions for ‘what to do’ as a new dad or new parent. The good news is that there is a lot of support and things evolve and change continually as a parent. This phase passes. However you’re feeling now; just know that it will change.
Andrew Bednarzik, MA, LPC, specializes in new dads, transition into adulthood and men's issues.