Postpartum Partners

In every relationship we’re given challenges as we face different stages and phases of our lives together. As my girlfriends and I sat around the table one night, sharing and relating our stories of love, life, and motherhood, this is something that became very clear to me. And what I’m figuring out is that women’s and men’s experiences are completely different from one another, but that is not where our problems lie. Without an understanding of and an appreciation for our partner’s experiences, there is naturally going to be a divide.

I think first and foremost, we have to grant ourselves permission to feel what we’re feeling. Whatever it is, there’s a reason for it, so allowing ourselves to experience our own emotions without shame or guilt is a crucial step in figuring out where those feelings are coming from. We also need to be aware of ourselves. We can’t expect our partner to understand us if we don’t even know what’s going on inside our heads. But sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint why we feel so unsettled; there may be several factors all contributing to one problem. So, patience and kindness must become cornerstones in any relationship.

Since our experiences differ, our perspectives are also going to be incongruent from one another. It’s easy to feel slighted, overlooked, or unappreciated when we don’t feel our partner recognizes or cares about our experiences. Validation becomes the missing key ingredient then for harmony to exist between two people who are coming at the relationship from opposing angles.

What my friends seem to be going through is something I can remember going through and what I think so many couples with young children encounter. It’s the hump that we all must get over. Or not. One statistic I read is that around half of all children in the U.S. come from divorced families. Perhaps partly because, again, women’s and men’s experiences vary so much from one another, especially when it comes to parenting. We forget to acknowledge the difficulties unique to our partner as a mother or as a father, which may not be fathomable to us, the opposite.

Of course a man can’t even begin to know what his wife is going through after giving birth. And women, how can we even begin to explain it, right? Men, it’s no wonder you may feel neglected after your wife gives birth. SHE JUST GAVE BIRTH. To a real, living and breathing human being. That’s kind of a big deal. And it kind of requires a lot of work to ensure that that tiny person continues to live and breathe. We all know how excited men can get over the size of their turds. So men, imagine shitting an 8 pound human being that’s actually cute, smells nice, and is fun to hold. Can you really blame your wife for obsessively concerning herself with the livelihood of this tiny creature that she forced out of her body?

As a woman who’s had children, it’s easy for me to say: Hey.. guys.. suck it up! Your mother may have been a woman, but that doesn’t mean all women are here to cater to you. There is a tiny person who now exists partly thanks to you and who requires attention. So rather than complain about how little of that you’re getting, how ’bout you tune into your baby’s needs as much as your partner does? This will lighten her load and may mean she has more energy for “other things” that now seem to be more of a priority for you than they are for her.

Speaking of “other things”, boys, please understand the strains that having children bids of a woman’s body before, during and after giving birth. Are you really going to put her through the guilt of not wanting to have sex? When a woman starts having children, her body goes through a series of changes. She begins to see herself differently; she may not like what she sees. And she fears that you won’t either. During this time, your wife or partner needs constant reassurance that she is still the sexiest woman alive in your book. Yet even though she needs to know that she’s still sexually desirable, that in no way means she wants to have sex.

A woman’s priority once becoming a mother is, naturally, her child’s needs, not yours. So while men still feel driven to bury their bone immediately after becoming a parent, women’s experiences are so much different, for obvious reasons. So many demands are placed on women’s bodies during and after pregnancy. Believe it or not, gentleman, we are not just fuck boxes. Our bodies are vessels through which life can safely enter this world. Our bodies are milk machines sustaining that life upon its arrival. Our bodies become a comfy place for tiny babes to rest their fragile heads and for growing toddlers to climb and pull upon as though our limbs resembled monkey bars. Our bodies do not belong to you.

And while you may crave the physical intimacy that was once so much a part of the relationship, if you care about your partner and are willing to validate her experiences as a woman who is now the mother of your children, you will put those desires to rest as you respectfully admire from afar the wonders of her body; as you begin your way towards a different kind of intimacy. One that embraces the responsibilities of parenting and grows out of a sense of cooperation, mutual trust and compassion.

Sure, as a man, you may begin to feel put off; your advances are denied time and time again and you start to question your adequacy. But at this point in your lives, your wife doesn’t want you for what you can offer in bed. The only thing she cares about when her head hits that pillow is sleep. At this point, a woman wants her partner to offer a helping hand, to share the responsibilities of parenting equally; afterall, making a baby is a joint effort. She wants encouragement and reassurance that she’s a great mother; something she’s probably dreamt about her entire life and which may come with a few let downs. A woman wants to feel like her partner is in awe of all that she’s done to bring this little human being into the world and all that she continues to do to take care of them. I mean, it is amazing, is it not? Perhaps the power this ability wields is what has threatened the male species since the very beginning and has led to their efforts of trying to “put women in their place”, knowing that ultimately it is women who give life. And what could be more powerful than that?

Men absolutely struggle with feelings of rejection and sexual frustration as their partner’s body becomes off limits. These are experiences that deserve to be acknowledged and validated by their partner. However, I guarantee the sacrifices men make in their sex lives do not outweigh the sacrifices women make during pregnancy, labor and postpartum.

Easy for me to say, right? The only experience I can attest to is that of a woman who’s given birth twice. But all I’m suggesting is that men consider it a possibility. Because in addition to the stress motherhood places on a woman’s body, there are also mental strains that women experience which men do not. Women often worry so much more than men beginning the second they find out they’re pregnant. Of course they do! They know their unborn child’s health and chances of survival depend on them and them alone. What the father does in no way affects his unborn child, but the mother must be wary of nearly every choice she makes, including what she puts into her body, as well as her daily activities. And for women who breastfeed, these sacrifices continue to be made for months and sometimes even years.

As children grow, generally speaking, it seems mothers tend to put more thought into what is best for them than fathers do. And I think women have been criticized for this. But men, imagine the concern you would feel for something that was once literally one with you, that began its life inside of you. Women want to feel like even though you can’t know this bond, you respect it and understand its value in the evolution of the human race. Your partner wants to know you feel just as responsible for your child as they do because of the love you share for one another and the commitment you’ve made to being a family. Women want to see that you’re willing and able to make life altering sacrifices the way they have.

And in turn for their natural role as givers of life, women want men to be protectors and sustainers of life. It isn’t often that I feel content to place labels on the two genders qualifying them as either ‘this’ or ‘that’. But from what we have observed in the natural world, this often does seem to be the case. Not that females cannot or do not protect and sustain their young; however I think after giving birth a woman looks to her partner and she wants to know how he’s going to show his love for her and their child the way she did by loving and caring this little person into existence. What grand gesture is he going to make? What can he now offer that will at all compare to what she has done for him and their offspring? Or will he instead believe his needs to be more important, dismissing the weight of the responsibilities of parenthood, and allowing most of it to fall onto her shoulders?

For women, perhaps their disinterest in sex is some way of unconsciously settling the score by forcing their male partner to sacrifice as women must sacrifice; to suffer in some way as women must suffer to bring new life into the world. But also, and without question, it can take a while for a woman to adjust to the new, constantly shifting demands suddenly imposed on her. One minute her body is wanted for milk or to comfort a crying babe. And the next it’s being groped by the hands of a man who expects her to be able to make the switch instantaneously from mother to lover. If only it were that easy…

While, as a mother, I can only give testament to the experiences of women after having kids, I do encourage women to consider the challenges men face as they learn to adjust to this new lifestyle of parenting and partnership. Surely it isn’t easy for a guy to suddenly lose his wife’s interest in him sexually, or to make sense of her emotions being controlled by the rush of hormones surging through her body, causing her to respond and behave in ways he’s never had to deal with before. All of these changes and challenges are an indelible part of relationships once children are brought into the picture.

But I think, if it were easy, wouldn’t it cheapen all those moments that eventually make all of the sacrifice and hardships worth it? Through struggle we gain strength and wisdom. Through family we learn the true meaning of love. And with gratitude we can begin to see this time as one that will help to shape us into the greatest version of ourselves. But the longer lovers go without validating their partner’s experiences, the harder it is to break down the wall of resentment that can split a family apart and cause much more than just a case of the baby blues.

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