A Labor of Love
The other night I was out with a few girlfriends and the topic of my area of focus once I am a therapist came up. I said I am thinking about marriage and families because I care deeply about the experience of children and yet know I do not want to work directly with kids. I said that I find it sad how little we are prepared for or educated on things like communication in a family, the evolution of members in a family or stages of life, and that I think we could be having much more harmonious home lives and I would like to help with that. I also said I want to work in that area because I think there is a lack of awareness of how our body and mind work together to create our experience and again, support in that area could dramatically alter someone's lived experience. I started talking about the dynamic shift in a family when they have babies and the conversation got interesting! I will share a little of what I shared then as it seems to be a very common experience and yet one that is rarely talked about. *I understand family life is a very sensitive topic and this particular concept is for families who have a mom and dad that are together in one home. Know that I in no way think that is the only way or the right way, it is just what this particular little piece happens to be about, that's all and maybe other pieces will be about other versions of family so please do not feel that any of this is in judgment to any other version. And of course there are situations where this will not apply, so if it does not resonate for you all good just leave it behind. A labor of love. Mom, as you have been growing your baby you have been falling in love. Your body has been releasing hormones that make it so you are rewarded for bonding with your baby. Then during labor you are flooded with it, it keeps on going as you partake in skin-on-skin, as your milk comes in (even if you do not breastfeed), and as you feed your baby (bottle or breast). You develop an affinity for the smell of your baby and your baby for you. That smell will mean so much to you from that moment on. You are now soothed by the smell of your child. We are led to believe that the baby needs us, but once you have that bond, you need that baby. They will calm you, they will soothe you, holding them securely in your arms will make all seem right in the world. This makes perfect sense as your baby really does need you, so we are designed to be rewarded for actions that create bonding. You may not notice them but they are there. Little hormone rewards for taking care of your baby only deepening your need to care more.
It is a different biological story for the father. He too is being prepared for the change. A father that lives with the mother to be as she nears delivery is having hormone changes as well. He is driven to care for her, for the family and his desire to stay close to her is deepening. He too will bond with the baby but it will not be in the same way as the mother. He will bond to the family, he will bond with the mother and the baby.
Not that long ago it was just you two. Lovers. Now it is you three. Parents and baby. Maybe it is you four or five or six, parents and all the kids! Now there have been years where neither of you were the main focus, your infants needed full-time care. Perhaps it has been years since Mom has felt like her body has been her own. Maybe she is not deeply connected to the body she has now. Maybe she has not connected with herself sexuality in a long time. And on top of all of that, she still gets that calming effect from her babies. She still feels like all is right in the world when she holds them in her arms. She gets much of the love she used to crave from her partner by holding, kissing, and cradling her babies. Typically this is not the same for the Dad. He too loves his babies, but remember when I said he was being prepared for fatherhood by honing in on Mom and baby. He needs her.
So, what do we do? Firstly I think recognizing what is happening helps. You are in new roles and it might take some figuring out until it feels settled. Secondly, Mama, you might need some time connecting with yourself, just you to you. Not you as a Mom or wife, but you to you as a woman, as a person, as you are now. I know time may be scarce and this does not need to be a big thing. If you can take a few minutes to move your body, to sit with your thoughts, to breath deeply, that would be a lovely start. Maybe you and your man can find some time to just be together. Just to see each other again. Like you were relearning one another. Know that your baby can most likely fill most of your desires right now. They give you love, they fill your need for adventure, for creativity, for play. There might be moments when you could reach for your partner but you instead go for the kids. Perhaps in those little moments reach for him.