You have no doubt heard it said "It takes a village to raise a child" and yet motherhood so often feels like a solitary pursuit. If you delivered, you carried an unknown being within your physical body for months on end. You bore the guilt of every meal, felt the pang of every movement, and dealt with stress your spouse could only imagine. Once the baby is born, the stress only worsens. You worry about breast milk, cold wipes, bumps and bruises... But you are not alone.
As hard as it was for me to imagine, I knew my husband suffered with and for me. He worried for the baby, but no amount of carrots or caffeine withdrawal could help. He couldn't feel the movement for the most part, and couldn't gauge growth and health. He watched me feel the heartburn, the leg cramps, but also the joys behind a wall of glass - just waiting for the opportunity to pitch in.
Not everyone has a spouse in the picture as I do, but you might have another situation to which this advice might apply. You might have a partner with which you're no longer in a relationship but would like involvement, you might live with your parents or share rent with a roommate. When you think about your pregnancy, there are always people in your life that want to help you and your child. Keep this in mind while I cover some of the strategies I used (or wish I had better used) during my pregnancy and the early months of my son's life to keep my husband involved.
Early pregnancy can be a very scary time. You feel a great excitement, but also a paranoia about all that can go wrong. Neither member of the couple can really see the progress of growth. Especially if you are older or have had a loss in the past, your tension during this time can impact your relationship. If your partner has some flexibility at work or with their schedule, try sharing the doctor and ultrasound appointments. Let them hear from the source how things are progressing and ask their questions. By feeling involved in the process, my husband experienced some of those early highs of seeing the motion and hearing the heart beat.
As your baby and your body grows, so too can your moodiness and your discomfort. It can be very hard to put in to words how you feel; the aches and pains, but also the emotional stresses about pregnancy and delivery. As difficult as it is, try to talk to your spouse or support team about how you are coping and what you need to feel your best (given the circumstances.) This could mean that all important night walk for all-dressed chips and grape pop with your Mom. It might involve running over the budget and making lists for the nursery with your husband. It might even mean ensuring the curtains are washed before a shoe shopping trip with your cousin. Hey, your feet start to swell and bending for laces starts to seem laughable!
Be sure also to talk about your expectations for the big day and hear your partner out. Do they want to be in the room, cut the cord, stay the night in the hospital? Talk about how you can share the experience together, and this might involve some compromises. Some couples go so far as creating a birth plan; a list of numbers, strategies and steps for ensuring the birth goes smoothly. If this is not your style, at least talk over who's driving (or calling the cab), who calls the parents and where your go-bag is. You'll be focused on other things when the time comes, so being a well prepared point-man is daddy's role.
After baby's arrival, you feel worse before you feel better. You might have stitches, pain, and a lot of bleeding to contend with. A helping hand for feeding baby, changing diapers, and possibly getting around yourself is important. It's essential bonding time for both of you, so don't be afraid to ask for help! Start while you're still in hospital. If your spouse is unsure how to do something (or if you are), ask the nurses while they are still immediately available. No question is too dumb, no random thought is unimportant. They are there to help you succeed. It was emotional for me to watch my husband attentively learning how to give our son a bath as a nurse gently washed him in a little blue tub. I felt very peaceful watching and knowing I could count on his help.
The amount of visits and outpouring of love in the first few weeks can be overwhelming. While you don't want to turn away guests who mean well, it is okay to have limitations. Take some time to just be a family and acclimate to your new life. Whether its your first or not, your family has just changed for now and forever. It's special and you should savour it. It moves more quickly than you can possibly imagine.