What do you do when you're caring for your newborn day and night, and your partner complains of feeling ignored, left out, unloved? You're depleted and sleep deprived, without an ounce left to give. You might wonder, what right does my partner have to resent the care I give our newborn? Why is my partner jealous of the baby, and how am I supposed to help them now, when life is busier and harder than ever?
It's easy to be upset about what seems, on your partner's side, like a lack of empathy. But your relationship has just undergone a seismic shift, and growing pains are normal. Your partner's unhappiness may be a reaction to feeling nudged out of place by the new arrival. Dr. Alyssa Berlin, who runs The AfterBirth Plan workshop for parents, describes it to Romper this way:
"Mother Nature was very clear on what mom's role is. She's the one who's going to carry the baby, give birth to the baby, and if she's so inclined, she's the one who's going to breastfeed that baby." So where does the other parent fit in?
A generation or two ago, your partner's role was a little more clear. But having the other parent as the breadwinner with you as the sole caregiver isn't the vision anymore. You've shared your body with your baby, before and after pregnancy. That's a lot of coziness, a lot of purpose. "And here's [the other parent] on the side feeling marginalized," says Berlin.
According to experts, post-baby jealousy is common, and rooted in the shock of change. Remember when you had time to snuggle on the couch with your partner watching hour after soapy hour of This Is Us? Where did those carefree people go?
I know your plate is full right now — how many hours a night are you even sleeping? — but it's risky to let a powerful, painful emotion like jealousy, go.
"When I work with couples, I'm very clear that one of the greatest gifts we give our kids is to maintain the hierarchy of the family," with parents as the first, and most important, tier, explains Berlin. The more you work on your relationship, the more secure your baby will feel, in an environment inundated with love.
It might help to know that your partner's not being vicious. They're just jealous because they love you, "care about you, and want a really great relationship with you," explains Laura Silverstein, LCSW, of Main Line Counseling Partners, in an interview with Romper. "But right now, you’re in a place in your family where . . . it’s really hard for everyone to feel like they’re getting their needs met."
So find ways to include your SO — whether that's giving them a night feeding, or beginning each day with the three of you, snuggling in bed together. Divide your labor so that each partner feels essential, and no one is living on the outs. It may be easier to focus entirely on the new baby — she's cute and wonderful, after all. But Berlin and Silverstein both encourage couples not to let intimacy fall by the wayside.
New parents are creatures on the verge of transformation, reckoning with both losses and gains. Silverstein reminds clients of the incredible strain they're under for the baby's first year of life. In fact, 67 percent of couples report decreased marital happiness after the birth of a child, so you're truly not alone. But focusing on your relationship now can help you become part of the 33 percent who are just as happy, if not happier, than before.
Silverstein recommends the book, And Baby Makes Three, for couples who can't make time for therapy. "It talks about intimacy, and it's very practical. The idea is that if both people are leaning on each other . . . You feel like you have a partner in crime." When you view parenting as teamwork, there's little room for jealousy. In fact, when couples focus on making space for each other within their growing family, it may quickly become clear that what played out as jealousy was "really underneath, an unfulfilled desire."
Here's Berlin again:
"I compare relationships to trying to walk up a down escalator. When we stop actively climbing that escalator, investing in that relationship, and doing things to stay close, the natural stressors of life will bring us down . . . when we have a baby, it speeds up the escalator, so it requires double your efforts to stay connected."
Turmoil in your baby's first year is normal, but the good news is that the two of you are in it together. Remember that you both wanted this baby, and that your partner isn't trying to hurt you with their jealous feelings. You might feel like you have nothing left to give, so don't give — take. Let your partner change diapers and soothe gassy tummies for a while. To them, such inclusion and trust will be a gift.
Check out Romper's new video series, Romper's Doula Diaries: