I knew better than to think there was a pattern. TD had been operating on something resembling a schedule during our first four nights in the house: alert until about 11pm, wake up for a feeding at 2:30am, back to sleep until about 6:30am. It was as good a situation as you could reasonably ask for. But newborns don’t keep to a schedule, and in attempting to unburdening my wife, I unnecessarily burdened myself. As a result, I learned the hard way that there are times I need to ask my wife for help.
Since Kathleen is breastfeeding TD, her presence is required at all feedings for the near future1. This is an incredible expectation, especially during rough nights during which TD wants to feed more frequently. As a trade-off for this, I have taken it upon myself to deal with TD on the margins: diaper changes, swaddling, the essential four-point fussy baby check. Furthermore, TD tends to have 30-60 minutes in the middle of the night where she is awake and alert and ready to interact. I take this shift to ensure Kathleen gets as much rest as possible.
But TD threw a curve ball that knocked me off balance. A few nights ago, she didn’t go to sleep at 11pm, as before. While she wasn’t particularly fussy, she was awake, and–as it turns out– you can’t just lay an alert baby in a bassinet, leave it be, and expect that she’s going to be okay with that. TD was happily looking around, hanging out, and going through diapers like she was trying on outfits at H&M. I had opted out of a late afternoon nap2, which turned out to be a grievous error. When it became clear that TD was not going to go to sleep, I became more and more frustrated. I began biting my bottom lip in anger3, I muttered curses under my breath as I changed TD’s diapers three, four, five times in a tired, angry haze. I needed a rest, but I wanted to let Kathleen sleep. I tried to pull a hero move, and it just ended up making things worse on myself.
If I had told Kathleen I needed a break, she would have willingly taken over for about an hour. She would have been tired, but Kathleen didn’t have the pent-up frustration that I was rapidly accumulating.
This was a mistake on both the parenting front and the marriage front. It’s very hard to be a calming, safe influence to your helpless newborn daughter when you’re angry. It’s also hard not to be a grizzly bear toward your wife.
And, look, I know Kathleen gets the short end of this particular stick. She has the milk, she’s the only one who can deliver it for now. Building up resentment toward her for my behavior is selfish and unfair. I know this consciously, but so far I have not mastered the art of controlling my feelings. They do what they do.
If I’m going to be the best possible father and husband, then I need to ask Kathleen for help when I need it. I’m doing more harm to TD, my marriage, and my mood by martyring myself in order to achieve some sort of ethereal parenting ideal.
- We are trying to figure out the logistics of providing a store of milk for me so I can take a shift during one of the late-night feedings. This may take a few weeks.
- I still haven’t figured out this napping thing. Generally, I try to power through the afternoon lulls, but this is an unrealistic expectation. If I’m going to be an effective parent, I need to rest during the day to gain some steam back for these long nights.
- It was still sore the next day. It’s a wonder I didn’t draw blood.