Navigating relationships post-birth can be complicated. Your body is recovering, there’s a brand new baby to care for, and your life is totally different. Throw a romantic partnership into the mix, and things can get overwhelming quickly. You may even wind up feeling resentment or anger at your partner after giving birth. As it turns out, this is actually pretty normal, and experts agree there are ways to cope with these feelings as your relationship — and everything else in your life — adjusts to all of the newnesses of parenthood.
As a certified psychologist in development and neuroscience, the inevitable imbalance in responsibility and recovery is a recipe for resentment. I see it in almost every first-time parent situation, especially my own. No matter your dynamic, whether same-sex relationships hetero relationships, it’s even true in the weeks and months after newborn adoption if one parent is taking on most newborn care.
Parenting a newborn means that you’re basically in survival mode 24/7. This tiny human has sucked the life out of you from the inside for over nine months, and even though they’re out now, the drain on your body hasn’t stopped. Whether breastfeeding or bottle-feeding, you’re up multiple times a night to feed them. Your body is adjusting to not being pregnant anymore, and your hormones are everywhere.
The hazy fog of new parenthood is the perfect breeding ground for resentment to grow and fester, even in the strongest of relationships.
There is a significant focus on the birth experience and almost none on postpartum, especially in America. Thus, the arrival of this fraught phase is a massive shock to many unprepared parents. Even if you’ve read all the pregnancy books, went to all the classes and, unfortunately, a doula like myself. No one can truly prepare you for the rift of Postpartum. There is a lot of physical healing that takes a first-time mother or C-section birth weeks and sometimes months. Breastfeeding, or attempting to breastfeed, can be a monumental task that most of us aren’t prepared for. And then there’s the lack of sleep. If you’re the one getting up to feed a baby every two to four hours for months, you will look at your sleeping partner and see fire.
Between hormones, physical discomfort after birth, and a complete upheaval of your daily routine, it’s perfectly normal to feel resentful of a partner who gets to walk about pain-free without breastmilk-stained shirts or a child clinging to his body. But there are things you can do to alleviate the resentment and work to make your relationship more robust in the long run.
1. Clarify your roles.
Until you have clearly outlined, who is supposed to do what, how can you know if your expectations are realistic? “Resentment is just an unmet expectation. To combat resentment, sit down and say, ‘these are the unsolved problems we have,’ and then face the problem together.
2. Check in with your own emotions.
Sometimes our internal struggle can manifest as resentment even when our partner isn’t doing anything wrong. Our pregnancy was blissful; after our first trimester of HG suffering up until 40 weeks, the joys of pregnancy took over. However, all that training and education went out the window when the pressure and anxiety of breastfeeding our baby took over. Constantly feeling like I wasn’t doing it right, feeling like a failure but wanting to ensure I exclusively fed, was firm on my mind. Though my husband was off work for the first month of our daughter’s life, it still felt like I was doing everything (even though all I was doing was feeding). I had resented my husband because he hadn’t suffered through her physical, mental, and emotional issues. Plus, I was no longer a working woman; we decided that becoming a homemaker was the best for our family, so losing the extra finances made me feel powerless.
Sometimes, acknowledging these feelings can help you move on and find ways to work together. Believe in yourself enough to put words to your feelings and [express them], simply and authentically, by attaching a feeling word to the word ‘I’. It helps show your partner you’re not blaming them by saying “You” and is acknowledging your feelings.
3. Encourage teamwork.
Research shows that couples approaching problems as a team may be more likely to avoid marital dissatisfaction after having kids. This can be hard if one parent is carrying a heavier burden. Make sure your partner knows – and feels – like he is a parent and not just an observer. If you’re breastfeeding, ask your partner to be in charge of diapering and comforting the baby to sleep. And make sure that in your reallocation of tasks, he shares the emotionally rewarding parenting duties and not just the household chores.
Many parents would say ‘my son’ or ‘my daughter’ during the baby’s first year. That can be a real turning point. Of course, you want your partner and child to have a close bond! And, of course, you do not want to parent by yourself. It takes time to look at this new phase as ours.”
4. Take control of what you can.
Your husband can’t spontaneously lactate. He may not be able to take sufficient paternity leave. He might be deployed, leaving you to manage things independently. Suppose the other person can’t meet your expectations (due to situational circumstances). In that case, the only thing you can control is your expectations. Finding ways to decompress rather than mask your emotions can result in “bickering, criticism, and irritability.
Take a yoga class on the weekend when your partner can be with the baby. Join a stroller strides group to get fresh air, company, and exercise. It may seem trite, but if there’s really nothing you can do to change your situation, the best option is to increase your happiness in whatever small ways you can.
Or join an app like peanut – peanut is an app for birthing people, moms in menopause, women dealing with infertility and many more groups. You will find women in your area and create a meet and greet for everyone.
Download the app today in apple or google store: https://peanut.app.link/rGnnQM72rob
5. Focus on your friendship.
Research suggests that couples with “strong marital friendship(s) are the most resilient to decline in marital satisfaction when they became parents.” Hire a babysitter or have a friend or family member stay with your child – even if it’s just for an hour – and spend some time remembering what you and your partner liked about each other in the first place.
One of our mom’s friends mentioned this to us. It wasn’t until my husband, and I went to a Phish show – something we associated with our pre-baby lives – that we realized we’d barely touched each other in the six months since our son had been born. As we sang along to one of our favourite songs, he reached over and grabbed my hand. In the coming months, there would be more arguments over who did what, more hurt feelings, and more petty anger, but it all fell away at that moment.
When I’m angry with my husband, I force myself to listen to that song. It reminds me of what we had. What we still have when we take the time to recognize it. It’s not an absolute cure for resentment but more a remission. And sometimes, that’s enough to muddle through.