My baby was born 16 days past his due date, following an intense four days of labor and 45 minutes of pushing. In the process, I ripped my cervix in three places and I barely got any rest, because a nurse would come by at regular intervals to check on me or my baby. By the time we finally came home, my body had reached a level of exhaustion it had never known before. Luckily, my husband Karl knew just what to do when I hit my most desperate point following childbirth. My husband did the one thing that saved my sanity postpartum, and I'm so grateful to him for it.
I awoke from a nap that first afternoon to find my baby sleeping peacefully beside me on our bed, my cat at my feet. Karl had gone to the basement to check on a flood and was keeping an eye on us via a baby monitor. When he saw me wake up, he asked if I was OK via the two-way radio feature on the monitor. In my exhausted state, all I heard was the disembodied voice of my husband — where was it coming from? I looked at my baby and was confused. For some reason, through the fog of my exhaustion, I believed I had just given birth to two babies, and I could not figure out which baby was next to me. (To be clear, I only gave birth to one child.)
By the time Karl entered the room, tears were streaming down my hysterical face. Upon seeing him, I let out a wail from the pit of my stomach, my emotions catching up with my ravaged body, the delirium setting in. Somehow, my husband’s instincts kicked in, and he knew just how to handle the situation.
Karl and I are not religious, but he grew up in a devoutly Lutheran household. Perhaps this is how he knew exactly what to do next. First, he gently picked up our baby, who had begun crying upon hearing me, and handed him to my mother, who was staying with us for the first few weeks of our baby’s life. He rubbed my back and told me just to breathe, and he breathed with me. It was like we were using the tools we had learned for labor in our birthing class. Like so many plans that have to do with childbirth, those tools went out the window once I was actually in the delivery room, but they became useful in this desperate post-birth moment.
Karl said to me, “Your only job in the coming weeks is to take care of our baby and take care of yourself.” With that simple statement, he gave me permission to acknowledge the power and importance of motherhood. I am so grateful to him for that.
Karl guided me to our bathroom, looked me in the eye, and told me everything was OK as he sat me down next to our bathtub. He then proceeded to wash my feet gently in the bath until I began to relax. My tears stopped, and my anxiety dissipated.
The simple act of washing my feet was surprisingly helpful to me. There was the soothing part of being touched and cleaned, but also the humility of Karl's actions. He was a husband kneeling before his wife, who had just undergone the most intense physical experience of her life to bring their child into the world.
Karl said to me, “Your only job in the coming weeks is to take care of our baby and take care of yourself.” With that simple statement, he gave me permission to acknowledge the power and importance of motherhood, and I am so grateful to him for that.
When I was beating myself up for getting nothing done all day in those first weeks, he would remind me that I was already doing so much: I was keeping a tiny, defenseless human alive and healthy and happy.
It was hard enough dealing with the physical and hormonal changes following pregnancy — the stretched-out abdominal muscles, the engorged breasts, the inability to get enough sleep — without also feeling guilty that I was not doing more with my time, letting dishes go unwashed or assignments pile up.
In those early days, Karl respected the transition to motherhood even more than I did. When I was beating myself up for getting nothing done all day in those first weeks, he would remind me that I was already doing so much: I was keeping a tiny, defenseless human alive and healthy and happy. And it was Karl’s job not only to help take care of our child, but to take care of me. It all started with the simple act of washing my feet.
It’s amazing how having a child can put such a magnifying glass on your life and values; how it can make you reassess where you are in your life and your relationship with your partner. For me, becoming a mother showed me just how supportive the man I married is. He knows how to step up in troubled times, and he always does the right thing to remind me that I am doing the best I can.
I’ve always loved foot rubs, and Karl has obliged in this area more than once, including when I was pregnant. But I had no idea that a foot washing could be equally soothing, especially when I had no idea that it was exactly what I needed. Parenthood is full of unknowns, and I’m glad I have a man with good instincts by my side.