Real Parenthood: First Time Dad

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I was lucky to come from a household where my parents loved each other. They showed it, they lived it. My siblings and I had a dad that would talk with us, play with us, and when home, liked to be around us.

When I told my dad Shelly and I were expecting our first child, the look on his face showed a kind of joy I had never seen. A kind of love (and worry now that I think back) that was there behind his wide smile and a huge hug. I was going to get to feel what he had felt, and his response showed me again, just how much he loved me.

My wife's pregnancy was normal. It seemed like the things we worried about were normal, and the things we thought were abnormal, were normal to think were abnormal, too. We liked our doctor. We had a plan. And when it came time to meet our daughter, my wife was incredible. She was so strong. And so incredibly powerful. She has always known what to do and how to help everyone around her feel seen and loved. And she welcomed our daughter to the world with every ounce of herself that she could muster. And then she was here. My daughter had been born, and she was perfect.

I don't really remember much of the hospital stay. My wife was sore, and breastfeeding was challenging. I felt helpless. I couldn't fix it. I asked if we should give the baby formula, and the nurses said it wasn't necessary, and that figuring out how to eat would just take some time. My daughter was so tiny. I remember looking at her whole hand holding on to my one huge finger. I remember thinking, "how is she so tiny?"

The next weeks were hard.

The next months were hard. We were worried so much about our little peanut's entrance to the world, but we were not prepared for what came after. We had given almost no thought to what happens after she got here.

I had one week I could take off of work. One week to spend time with this perfect little person and not worry about needing to be anywhere. One week to be a new parent with my wife without outside distractions. It was over before I could even blink.

I can't really pinpoint when I realized that my wife wasn't ok. But luckily my dad spoke up.

I didn't know what she would be talking about some days when I got home. She had stories of changing diapers, and poop - so much poop. And she had charts. And she had made a nest where our living room used to be.

The poop was surprising but natural. The charts were very helpful. And the nest seemed like a logically choice being that there were now so many things that might get milk, pee, poop, or tears on them regularly.

I found out later that my wife was one of many women who had postpartum depression. Her mood did not steadily get better after a couple of weeks of baby blues. She had a hard time sleeping even though she was exhausted. She was sad often and cried for what seemed like no reason, or for reasons that didn't seem to be connected to the thing she was doing at the time. She carried a lot of guilt around about breastfeeding, and she said a few times when it was a tough night, that she didn't think she was a good enough mom for our child.

She didn't want to leave the house. She didn't want to do any of the things that she usually did for herself, like bathe, go for walks, or talk with her friends.

I didn't know what to do.

I had been keeping my dad in the loop every time he would call to see how things were going with the new baby. I would share the cute new thing my daughter had done, and he'd always ask about Shelly. I'd share honestly what was going on, and what I was nervous about.

And then one day, my dad said, "It sounds like Shelly has what your mom had with you kids. You should call her doctor."

Apparently, "What my mom had," was postpartum depression. I called Shelly's doctor and we had a conversation about what was going on. At that time, I shared Shelly was not sleeping well, she was sad all the time, and she was having a hard time letting others help with the baby, and to me, she just was not herself. She was angry.

So after an appointment and a reality check, we had to make some changes. Shelly shared what was going on in her day, but I never realized all those things were happening, and they were happening to someone who was nervous, sometimes frightened, and lonely.

I am embarrassed to say I had to be told by a doctor that it is lonely to take care of a newborn all day.

The doctor said she didn't believe Shelly needed medication at this time, but we needed to make nutrition and sleep a priority for Shelly, and not just for our baby.

I called Shelly's friends, and we set up some visits for help, made some charts to make sure she had what she needed, and, again I'm embarrassed about this, I had to learn how to take care of this woman who made everything in life seem simple and easy.

I never had any idea how much she did. I never knew how many decisions she was making daily. I had no idea what life was really like for my wife until her health and welfare necessitated it.

Thankfully, with our friends and family's help during the day, and the support of a postpartum doula for a few nights to help Shelly catch up sleep, we got through it. For 5 months, my wife was suffering, and for another 5 we helped her come back out of it. And we are nearing the end of this first year of milestones, amazing growth, and adorable experiences, and we are doing it.

It seems incredible to me that we have gone through so much and it hasn't even been a year. So if I can be honest to anyone reading this, I hope expectant families take an opportunity to look at what could be important for their first months home, and not just what to do in labor. My daughter's birth was so special, and really incredible. And her birth was one day of a much larger experience.

If I can share just one more thing, it is that you will need much more help than you ever thought necessary. While I hope your family does not experience postpartum depression or any other illnesses that make things harder than they already are, one thing it has shown me is that relationships matter.

My dad clued me in first to what was happening. My mom helped Shelly in ways I didn't know how. Our friends showed up, over and over, for big things and small. And I learned how to see my wife and her life through a totally different set of eyes.

I'm learning how to be a parent, and it is so much more than caring for my daughter.