I love my partner so much but this is a nightnare. I can't believe it's come to this point so quickly. Do we hate each other now? Is this the start of the end?
Of course, the answer is no. We're just both suffering from a condition called 'Parenthood'. Symptoms include an inability to get anything done, zombification brought on by sleep deprivation, and the complete reordering of life as you knew it.
To the men and women who get through the first few months unaffected by the strains having a baby causes... congratulations and hats off to you! To the rest of us... don't worry... you're going through the same thing almost everyone does. I think it must be a kind of right of passage.
I've spent some time pondering why my partner and I fell out so badly. I've talked to other Mums and Dads and I've come to the realisation that there are a standard set of problems that all new parents face. Maybe if we'd understood a little more what we were both thinking and feeling, we wouldn't of had to shout in each others faces before realising we just needed to be a bit nicer to one another.
1. Sleep deprivation turns even the tinyest mole hill into Mount EverestBabies have no concept of nightime- they need feeding and changing and entertaining when they need it. 24 hours. Everyone will say 'get some sleep when baby sleeps' but when baby is sleeping for an hour or two at a time, it's actually impossible to get enough sleep to feel refreshed.
You might share the load if you're bottle feeding, which means you're both going to be moderately
But the real problems stem from one partner being more sleep deprived than the other. If you're breastfeeding it is inevitable that Mum will be pretty severely sleep deprived, but if you're bottle feeding and Dad has galantly offered to take on night feeds then it's going to be him that takes the bullet.
This is how it looks from both points of view:
Parent a. (sleep deprived) thinks 'I can't think straight, I can't take another hour of this s**t, I haven't slept more for than two hours together in as long as I can remember... but I don't know how long that is because time has stopped meaning anything and my brain's too fried to work it out anyway. I can't focus on ONE thing at a time, let alone multitask or plan or remember what I was supposed to be
Parent b. (after a pretty good night's sleep) thinks 'Oh god, that blank zombie stare again... that means they're going to be over-emotional and useless. I've already got a hundred things I need to do but now I've got to take on their responsibilities too, and support them emotionally, and look after the baby so they can get some sleep. I feel so bad for them but seriously, I can't do all this on my own. It's so unfair that everything's down to me. This is miserable.'
2. Oh god, she's crying again
About 4 days after giving birth, a new Mum's milk comes in properly, coinciding with a surge of hormones that will, probably, make her (let's be brutally honest here) a bit of an emotional car crash. For me it was singing Joni Mitchel to my sleeping baby, practically drowning him in tears because I couldn't believe how much I loved him.
Even though the hormones calm themselves down before long, you have to bear in mind that the body that just created this little human has gone through a hell of an ordeal over that past 9 months and it doesn't just snap back to how it was before- it's a gradual process of normalising. If you're breastfeeding you can throw that into the mix too. Milk making requires hormones. Hormones create excitable emotions. And of course, there's the sleep deprivation.
The most stoic of new mothers can suddenly find themselves crying at that advert on TV with the starving children.
Maybe the tears are brought on by sheer joy and love, maybe it's empathetic, maybe it's because something has upset her... It's just much more easy to be set off than usual!
Over emotional Mum is thinking 'Just please give me a hug and tell me it's all OK. I don't need a solution I just need some love.'
3. You're not having sexIt takes a while... because she's healing, because it's a bit scary not knowing what giving birth has done to your body and how it will feel the first time, because the hormones in her system actually reduce feelings of sexual desire... and because you're both so busy and exhausted it's almost impossible to find the time!
He's thinking 'Is that it then? No more sex? She's totally lost interested in me. Doesn't she want me any more? Our relationship used to be half based on sex... now we haven't touched each other in weeks. I need that sexual connection, what happens if we never get that back?'
She's thinking 'He's being distant. He hasn't kissed me passionately or held me like he used to. I miss him. Doesn't he see me that way any more? I know I haven't been able to make love yet but I still need love. Is it because we haven't had sex? Doesn't he understand I physically can't do it yet?'
4. Your daily lives become very different
For most couples, life before Baby would have been quite similar. You're probably both working, sleeping together at roughly the same time, cooking meals together or at least eating together, sharing household choes, socialising, relaxing, hanging out doing nothing... it's all fairly equal.
Then Baby arrives on scene and throws everything off balance. Now Dad probably has to go back to work while Mum looks after Baby. It's so easy to underestimate how hard this actually is... for both of you! Ok, so he may be itching to escape, and she may be relieved it's him having to work... but there's a lot more going on.
It's almost impossible to understand someone else's life, and how it feels to live it. We all see things from our own point of view in the context of our own day-to-day life. When your lives were quite balanced and similar this wasn't a problem. Now you're doing very different things so it's hard to see eye to eye about each other's lifestyle.
She's thinking 'It's OK for you... you get to have time off from this! You get to leave every day- to go and be just you! You get to socialise at work while I'm stuck here at home just me and the baby. All day. Every day. My back's killing me because I can't put Baby down. I'm trying to do everything one
5. Baby is equally both of yours... but you won't always agree on what's best for him
My partner and I have always agreed on pretty much everything, and we're both fairly easygoing generally, which makes life easier! Now there's a baby on scene and we both want him to have the best start in life we can possibly give him. We're both doing what we consider to be our absolute best for him, in our own way. We just don't always agree on what that is!
I rock him in my arms if he won't sleep. My partner thinks holding him keeps him awake, and so puts him in his cot till he drops off even if he's grizzling and crying. I don't want to give him too much formula as I'm also breastfeeding, my partner wants to fill him up so he'll pass out in a sleepy food coma. I want to dress him in all his gorgeous dinky baby outfits, my partner thinks he gets too hot and undresses him every time he holds him...
Mostly it's just little things. But when you throw exhaustion into the mix, or lots of little things on top of each other, or that one big thing that takes you by surprise... well...
You're both thinking 'I know what I'm doing here! I'm trying to tell you why this is the best way to do it! Why won't you listen to me?!'
But it's OK!
The thing is, all of this is fixable as long as we're all able to find some patience and try to understand each other's feelings. There is no right or wrong, it's just hard work for both parents! And my personal advice, speaking from recent experience, is:
1. get some help- if someone else can come and give you a hand making some meals or babysitting for a couple of hours so you can do something together baby-free it will make everything seem easier
2. take a little time to listen to each other without reacting... you both just want to be heard
3. remember this is the hardest bit and it really does get better!