It’s absurd. You walk in excited, a couple on the cusp of an adventure. You walk out, battered, bruised (well, one of you) and confused. How do you keep this thing alive? No one is going to tell you. There should be a printout of basic advice for new dads. Instead, you'll get a duffle bag full of mesh undies, pads, and peri bottles, a coupon for formula, and a solid interrogation over your knowledge of the car seat capsule.
Here's what they should tell the other parent when they checkout from the hospital.
Get up when she gets up in the night. You can offer to hold the bottle, or you hold her phone up in front of her so she can look at Instagram while she breastfeeds. Or bottle-feeds. However she feeds. I know you don’t have any milk to offer, by way of your body. This isn’t about your body. This isn’t even about her body. This is about the body that the two of you made, and brought home the other day. It’s so tiny and yet it requires so so much. And no one wants to go it alone if they don’t have to. Even if she tells you that it’s alright — that you don’t need to lose sleep just because she is — stay up anyway. Sit there, in the low light of the room, and bask in the glow of the new unit that is your family. It’s a trip, right? Look at the person you’re going to manage this undertaking with. Isn’t she lovely?
And how about that baby? Yes, you could be sleeping, and yes, sleep feels great. But this baby is going to be this little for about five minutes in the grand scheme of things. You stayed up longer hours in college drinking with your buddies. Sit next to her. Talk to her to keep her awake. Go back to bed together. Talk about how tired you are. Together.
Maternity leave is not called vacation. BECAUSE IT’S THE EXACT OPPOSITE. Send her a funny text.
Let her be wrong. Maybe she has no idea why the baby’s crying, but you probably don’t either. You know who else might not know why the baby’s crying? The baby. They just cry. Like, a lot. If she claims it must be his diaper or it must be an earache, don’t dispute it. You guys will figure it out soon enough. Or you won’t. Regardless, the baby is going to cry. Dispelling what she thinks the reason might be doesn’t keep the baby’s tears away. It only sends a message that you don’t trust her thought process. She might be wrong. Let her be wrong. You’ll be wrong a lot too. That’s why it’s so funny. And when I say funny, I mean flat-out annoying, exhausting, and mind-boggling. But also funny.
Infancy is an eternity and the blink of an eye. Try to remember that everything now is both far more permanent than it ever was and also completely impermanent. One year from now, this baby is going to look like another baby. It’s going to move roughly 1000 percent more than it does now. It’s going to sleep differently. It’s going to wave its hands in your face and make silly faces at you and shock you and delight you time and time again. Don’t lose your mind when things don’t progress like you thought they would. Baby can’t roll over? Who cares! Once it does, you’re one step closer to never getting to walk out of the room for a second without fearing their possible injury. So settle in and watch them struggle like a bug on its back. They’ll get there soon enough. And then you can never go back.
Check in. Relentlessly. While you’re busting your ass at work, she might be pissed at you for having a spit-up free zone where you have access to hot coffee and other cognizant adults and are wearing clean clothes. Do not assume she’s having fun watching a TV show at home. Maternity leave is not called vacation. BECAUSE IT’S THE EXACT OPPOSITE. Send her a funny text. Ask her how she is. Maybe every hour. Unless she tells you to stop texting her. Don’t come home and ask where dinner is. Ask how she’s holding up, and then order some food in. Or eat boiled white rice with salt. Which is legit delicious, and will sustain you.
Don’t assume your partner wants you to do the laundry or take out the garbage or run to the store. She might want you to. But she might also be dying to do a task that is unrelated to the baby herself. Just check in. Ask her what would be most helpful, in those days thereafter. She might not even know until you allow her the freedom to decide. The definition of freedom in your household just changed by a landslide. Little freedoms help. The freedom to step out. To step away. To shut the door to the baby’s room and walk away.
Be amazed. Look at that tiny little butt that fits entirely in your hand and be amazed. How is this even possible, that this little thing was living inside a body and now it’s here on your couch? How amazing is this? Life is fleeting. You are tired. There is so much to do to stay afloat now. But don’t let the amazement escape you. The amazement is how it all feels worth it. Because it is.
If you or someone you know is experiencing antenatal or postpartum depression or anxiety, contact the Postpartum Health Alliance warmline at (888) 724-7240, or Postpartum Support International at (800) 944-4773. If you are thinking of harming yourself or your baby, get help right away by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or dialing 911. For more resources, you can visit Postpartum Support International.