Editor's Note: Today's blog post was written by new father, and former Emerald Doulas client, Patrick D'Silva. Patrick's post kicks off our month-long focus on the non-birthing partner and all the important contributions they make to their childrens' lives.
N.B. This is not another “top 10 things you need to know about parenting” blog post. If you want answers to logistical questions such as diapering, getting babies to sleep, etc., then I invite you to jump into an ocean of information online. Good luck! Instead, I focus on the emotional side of things, on how my sense of what this world is changed when I became a parent, and some of the issues that have come up for me throughout the process.
“We’re pregnant!” “We’re having a baby!”
I shouted both these a lot when announcing we would be adding a family member last year. So much excitement, so much anticipation, and so much unknown. But the thing is, no matter what your family looks like, if you and your partner are going through pregnancy, only one of you is really carrying that load. That “we” I referred to above? I quickly understood that I was not carrying a baby inside of me. My partner had that blessing and burden, and it became clear that our physical and emotional experiences were not going to be the same. Unlike those penguins in the documentaries, there is no mid-gestation “baby handoff.” While my partner was exhausted by channeling her life force into growing our baby, I was left to stare at her belly and wonder what in the world it felt like to carry new life within oneself. This distance raised some tough questions: How did I fit in this new life’s journey? Wasn’t I replaceable?
At the heart of it: did I really matter?
In a word, YES! As the “other” parent, I matter to my partner. When she was working very hard taking care of that baby, she benefited immensely from my support. During the birthing time, she wanted me near pretty much the entire time. Immediately after our baby arrived, she needed me even more. Post-partum…you get the idea. And I needed her too. She and I plus our baby are members of a complicated organism with ever-changing needs: our family. Earlier in my life, changing my worldview to include my partner’s wants and needs was one shift. Adding a new being requires another shift, with the added wrinkle that this little one is utterly dependent on us for everything. I’m only six months in, but the longer we take care of our baby together, the more I feel we are equal members of this team. We contribute some different things, but we have a shared goal: lots of amazing smiles and world-shattering baby giggles.
There is a bizarre maze of conflicting messages regarding my desire to participate fully in raising my child. Should I feel guilty about asking for consideration at work in terms of scheduling in order to maximize the time I can spend at home? Is my need to be home taking care of my baby greater than, equal to, lesser than, or just different from someone else’s need to do something else? It seems like the message I take away from my social groups is that anyone questioning a mother’s need to be with her child is completely out of line. Does that apply to the “other” parent as well?
Then there are physical issues. Just a few days ago I experienced shooting pains in my wrist so severe I could not hold my child. My partner told me I had “mother’s wrist,” basically a repetitive stress injury that new parents experience from lifting, carrying, and holding a squirming infant so many times every day. So, I’m not the mother, but I have a mother’s wrists?
I identify with being a father, but how is that different from being a mother (my wrist issues not withstanding)? Why are there so few groups for dads in comparison to those for new moms? Is it because mothers need more support than “other” parents? Are fathers not interested in talking to one another about parenting because we aren’t really engaged with our children the way mothers are? Or, do most folks – whether employer, friend, or family member – still assume that dad both has and wants to be at work, while mom has and wants to be at home?
At times, my ideological desire for absolute equality is in conflict with biological differences that my partner and I cannot overcome. I mentioned my questions about my relevance to this whole endeavor when my partner is able to do things I simply cannot do (i.e. grow Baby inside of her, bring Baby into the world, and feed Baby). In these critical early months of emotional bonding, do I need to over-compensate in terms of how I interact with and take care of this little baby? I want to matter to my child for his entire life, knowing that in just a few years he will run and play with friends instead of with me, and that this is a healthy sign of growth and development. But, just as I noted above that I need my partner, I also feel so clearly how much I need my baby.
These are not easy questions to parse out. I have lots of help in the process. Family, friends, professionals (like the Emerald Doulas!) are amazing resources. Most importantly, I share my feelings with my partner whenever possible. We talk about what is working and what isn’t, what we can change and what we have to accept. We acknowledge our respective struggles, but most times we don’t come to any conclusions. I’m okay with that. I’ll take questions over answers anytime. I trust my questions will take me wherever I need to be.