“The birth of a first child is among the severest shocks of adulthood, which begs us to critically survey ourselves and our fate. It is the hallmark of the transition from youth to adulthood, the move from passion to duty, from I want to I must.” - Carl Jung
If you’ve had a child, that quote probably resonates with you like it does for me. Having Della was the most dramatic transformation in my life.
I learned that women experience a physical transformation when they become a mother. Not just from the process of growing and birthing a baby, but research suggests that their brains actually change, too.
Now, men don’t physically change, but we do have the opportunity to change emotionally.
When Della was born, I realized that in some ways, I hadn't fully matured as an adult. My identity was myself only - me as an individual, not me as a partner or me as a father.
When Della was born, I had the opportunity to embrace a new identity, and to more fully become an adult. No longer could I rely on Serenity to “parent” me. I had to parent my own inner child so that we could take care of our own child.
Sounds dramatic, I know. Because it was. This process can be pretty overwhelming. No longer can you make decisions only for yourself, or just pick up and leave the house for a movie. Everything changes. But if you can stay the course through the transformation, and through the tough early days of newborn life, the rewards are immense. Those early days aren’t forever, but being a dad is.
I learned a lot early on, and truthfully, I’m still learning. How to show up for Serenity, for Della, and for myself. Here are 10 ways I showed up for Serenity and Della as a postpartum dad.
1. Feed mom
She just ran a marathon. And it's not over. She’s going to be HUNGRY. Never EVER comment on her appetite. Just make it easy for her to stay nourished and satiated by buying and prepping her favorites. Bonus points if it can be eaten with one hand while nursing AND tastes good at room temperature.
Some of Serenity’s favorite snacks were Roam sticks, KIND bars, Bulletproof bars, Siete chips, and LMNT electrolytes. Hu chocolate and Cappello’s pizza were fun extras I’d grab sometimes too.
2. Wash pump parts
If you or your partner pump, you know that pumping is… not a fun task. Make it incrementally better by taking care of the clean up and set up. Wash her pump parts when she’s done and make sure everything is set up to go when she needs to pump again. Pro tip: buy an extra set of pump parts so there’s always one clean set ready!
3. Take night shift
If she’s breastfeeding, she’s going to be getting up anyway, but you can do everything BUT the feeding. Get and change the baby when he/she wakes so mama has a chance to grab some water or run to the bathroom. Ask if she needs a snack while baby is eating, and then be the one to get baby back to sleep. Serenity and I alternated nights (and still do to this day) so that one of us always gets a full night's sleep a few days a week.
4. Change diapers
Listen, I know baby hates being taken off of a cozy chest to be stripped down and changed. And changes can get REAL messy. It’s not a glamorous task. But taking baby for a quick change takes one more thing off mama’s plate. Plus, Serenity kind of hates poop, and I don’t mind it (okay, I kind of like it), so I became the Minister of Poop around our house.
5. Do laundry
For being so small, babies create a lot of laundry. Don’t make mama pretreat poop stains, just take over the process. That means remembering to move it to the dryer and fold it, too! Pro tip: get drawer separators so that baby clothes don’t need to be folded!
6. Don’t let her refuse help
It can be hard for moms to accept help. They can get this perception that they *should* be doing it all. Mom guilt is real, so don’t ask, just do. Yes, even if she criticizes how you load the dishwasher or how you fold a towel, do it anyway!
7. Coordinate help from friends
She probably doesn’t want to ask for help. And she probably doesn’t want to be the one to politely decline visitors. Make it easy on her by coordinating with her friends on what you know she could use help with (e.g., drop off a sibling for a playdate, tell them her favorite drink to pick up at the coffee shop, etc.). Tip: The book The First 40 Days has a great discussion of creating a postpartum plan - this book is not just for women!
8. Maintain personal practices
I don’t just mean things like showering daily…although that can be a challenge at times. I mean to keep doing the things that fill you up. If you aren’t taking care of yourself in the core ways that you require, you risk burning out and even feeling resentful. This is HARD when life is so hectic, but is your best way to help with number 9.
9. Avoid addictions or checking out
There’s a fine line between self care and checking out entirely. Chat with your partner about ways to take a minute for yourself - like a walk and a podcast while she’s feeding baby - maybe NOT heading out to golf and day drink with friends for 8 hours. Bad habits you may have previously used to cope will likely pop up again, so stay vigilant and choose the meat stick over the potato chips!
10. Let it transform me
It can be tempting to resist the change and maintain our old “identity”. Change is hard. But letting the transformation to fatherhood happen naturally, even when you feel like you’re just making mistakes along the way, can produce some pretty significant rewards.
It did for me. I’m a more present and patient person, a more mature man, a more committed partner, and every bit the dad I wanted to be.