I have written before about the first days after becoming parents – notably in my piece Life with a newborn (those first few days), but thanks to @chellemccann and a discussion we had on twitter, I thought Id write a post about BabyMoons, AND what happens when it’s all over…
The term Babymoon was first coined by Sheila Kitzinger in her book The Year After Childbirth when she said “The transition to fatherhood is easier when a man can take time off to be with his partner and baby in what I call a ‘Babymoon’.” The term has, unfortunately, since been hijacked by the travel industry to refer to a holiday for the couple before the baby is born.
Those first days after baby arrives are a magical (and yes, tiring!) time and a BabyMoon gives a family time to enjoy and adjust – time spent together as a new family unit, time spent gazing in awe at your new baby, learning about each other, learning new skills, bonding, experiencing a whole raft of emotions… but then reality strikes and suddenly its time for one of you to go back to work.
It can be such a turbulent and unsettling time for both, I think Alex (DaddaCool) sums it up in his piece in the Guardian “When the two weeks were over, and it was time to go back to work, I felt genuinely devastated. I was torn between my role as the primary wage-earner in our family and my role as a new dad.”
But of course that is only half the picture, what about mum when she is left at home, suddenly alone with their newborn baby? Again, I think this sums up how a lot of mums feel, “In the first two weeks of our son’s life my husband and I were united in our ineptitude; together we got to know him and learned how to care for him. At the end of a fortnight he had to return to work which upset both of us – he felt pushed out of the family circle and I felt abandoned. After five months of maternity leave on my own I found the structure of our parental leave had turned me into the experienced expert parent and had positioned him as a less capable onlooker.”
I think as parents we are often not prepared for these feelings.
Mums can start to feel isolated and alone, suddenly it goes from working together as a new family unit, a team, to suddenly being left to cope, increasingly, with little other support. To me it is no surprise that nearly 1 in 5 mums suffer PND in the first year when you look at it like that.
For dads, suddenly having to leave their new family for large parts of the day can leave them feeling empty, guilty and sometimes resentful. For some men, the way they deal with these feelings is to pretend they are not there and that nothing has changed – so expecting our relationship with our partner to go back to how it always was. Unrealistic – Yes – but it is not conscious behaviour. Sometimes that resentment of mum having this time with the baby, and baby getting all of her focus can make us dads feel resentment, even jealousy. Yes – its true – we dads can get jealous of our own babies! As men, we seek sex to feel loved, and a lot of those postnatal sex discussions/arguments/advances (delete as appropriate!) are about dad’s wanting to feel part of the family again.
In my discussion with Chelle she said “It took two years for me and hubby to find ourselves again. “ I think most of us who have become parents can relate to this. Our lives will never be the same again, as people WE are never the same again. Forgive the cliché but communication is key, keep talking about how we feel, don’t feel pressured to expecting life to ‘get back to normal’, make sure that there are lots of opportunities for mum AND dad to be hands-on with baby to help prevent feelings of resentment. Life has changed, and sometimes it takes a little time to work out how to realign all the new pieces.
For expectant parents, just be aware of the changes ahead and don’t place too much pressure on yourself or each other, it takes time for all of us to adjust to our new roles. Don’t worry about what your friends are doing/not doing, all that matters is about you finding what works for you. Our modern day competitive parenting culture means that people tend to exaggerate how ‘well’ (whatever that means) they are doing anyway, so no point measuring yourself up against fictional milestones.
For those of you who are already parents, I would love you to share your experiences of this period for expectant parents to read. How did you help yourselves adjust as a family, did it come naturally or were there some bumps in the road?
When you look at it all in this way, you can certainly appreciate where Kitzinger was coming from with the BabyMoon – it’s a great start, but certainly adjusting to becoming parents is a continuous work in progress.