Your woman is now a mother. She has changed dramatically and you may feel like you’ve lost her.
You have – temporarily.
When a woman becomes a mother, her brain has to change in ways that make her highly sensitive to her helpless infant. Someone needs to be ridiculously preoccupied with that new, dependent life that cannot speak for itself or fend for itself…or that baby won’t survive.
Your woman, who is now a mother – has become hyper-focused on the baby. To you she appears anxious, moody, particular, irrational, and unfamiliar. I bet you’re sad and scared and you’re wondering if you will ever have your woman back? You’re wondering if she even loves you anymore? You see how she looks at and talks to the baby with such tenderness and devotion, and you feel like chopped liver. Let’s face it – she’s in love with someone else.
Let’s go back in time, a year or two ago…
… when the two of you were talking about having kids, were practicing the art of making a baby, or were anticipating the arrival of your new baby. Those days may have been full of joyful fantasy and sweet expectations of what the two of you were creating together. You might have been anxious, but you were in this together and that felt good. Something new was coming and it felt hopeful, like growth and progress and…new life.
When you imagined this new life being born and developing into a human you could love and feel close to, you probably envisioned that person as a kind, intelligent, secure being. In your vision of your child, you probably saw eyes that made warm contact with yours, arms that encircled your neck, a face that smiled and a happy, lively laugh bursting from that child’s mouth. You may have imagined the child speaking, saying “mama” or “daddy” and I bet you thought about how that little one would play ball or turn cartwheels or write stories about rainbows and dragons one day.
All along, you have been expecting a little miracle. You’ve been envisioning a child with a nervous system that is regulated and a brain that’s at ease in the world. This child you’ve pictured is a child who knows how to have relationships. You saw all this a long time ago…but what you didn’t see and didn’t yet know was that:
In order to grow into healthy children and eventually adults, babies need mothering that offers a super-human level of devotion, attention and responsiveness. This super-human level of care usually comes from the baby’s mother. The baby’s demands are so immense, that it isn’t an overstatement to say that a mother donates her body, her mind and her heart to her baby. It’s a super-human offering.
Her body, her mind and her heart.
The woman, who is now a mother, becomes a vehicle for this new life. She hosts the embryo, which is nourished and sustained by her body in a way that is often nauseating, and always depleting. Then she hosts the fetus, which makes its presence known to her nearly every minute of the day and leaves very little room for her to breathe, to eat, to sleep or to experience her body as her own. Her organs are pushed aside to make way for the needs of this baby. Her chemistry has changed to be suitable for sustaining this new life. And though the mother may feel excited about her pregnancy, amazed at her body’s capacities, she doesn’t feel like herself. She is more than she was before and yet, her life is increasingly less dedicated to her own autonomy.
She is a vehicle from which the new life will emerge.
And the new life emerges in full, three dimensional intensity, with sounds that wake and startle every nerve of her body. With a voracious, unending fluid-rich cycle of substances emitting from her body, gushing down her front and into the baby’s body and back out again with almost no breaks, she forgets what it was like to not be wet, sweaty, milky, pooped on, stuck to sticky fabrics, body parts adhered together by milk and sweat and heat. She feels like a vehicle that hasn’t been washed, or fueled, a vehicle from which the driver often complains and never leaves. And it’s all so uncomfortable, so unsettling, the watching of this baby for signs of unwellness, for signs of danger and for signs that she is failing, as a mother.
The constant watching, the constant holding still, the not getting to pee, or eat, or itch or talk. It’s all so uncomfortable.
Something fierce is driving this vehicle and it has a racing heartbeat and bald tires. It feels like it can’t stop, but at the same time, it gets nowhere.
At the same time, magic is happening.
Magic: the power of apparently influencing the course of events by using mysterious or supernatural forces
If you’re lucky, you chose a woman who has mysteriously and magically transformed into a mother. If you’re lucky, you chose a woman who has lost herself to the baby. If you’re lucky, you chose a woman who has a healthy, flexible, open nervous system – one that scans for the baby, finds the baby, locks into the baby’s rhythm and devotes itself to the process of teaching the baby what security feels like.
Every second of every day the baby’s brain, which is wired tightly to the mother’s brain, is taking in code, downloading raw data and getting programmed for what to expect in the future. Is this a scary world where baby needs to be hypervigilant and on edge? Is this a safe world, where baby’s needs are met and she can rest in the cocoon of protective arms, under the watchful gaze of eyes that understand her cues and respond as though she makes sense and is deserving? If you’re lucky and if the baby is lucky, you’ve got a loving woman who has mostly lost herself (temporarily) to building this new nervous system and to the supernatural forces at play between her and her baby. If you’re lucky, you may feel like you’ve lost your woman (temporarily!), but as you watch your baby growing, you are aware that magic is happening.
Mothering = magic
Mothering = regulation
When your woman looks into your baby’s eyes and your baby looks back, listening to the sound of her voice, soothing, soothing, tasting the milk she delivers so generously, feeling the warmth of her body swaying and pulsing, settling the fearful edges of the baby’s awareness into a soft, cradled experience of wellness…you can know that critical areas of a brain are being built.
What is the magic between a mom and a lucky baby? Your woman’s undivided attention and immense sacrifice of self are going into the building of a potentially compassionate, insightful, well-regulated human being who can grow up to make meaningful contributions to the world and live a healthy, full life.
The work of attaching to a non-verbal, dependent creature requires a mother to relate from an area of her brain that as a childless woman, she doesn’t much inhabit. That area is the “right brain” - the fertile ground where emotion, somatic experience, bodily memory, non-verbal knowing and deeply felt, embodied awareness are generated and stored. We can also think of the right brain as the home of the unconscious. New babies require that depth of attunement from their mothers; how else would a mother be able to instinctively know and feel on behalf of her helpless baby – and make all the adjustments necessary to ensure baby’s security and survival?
Your woman isn’t your woman these days. You probably miss her. You probably wonder what the heck happened to her and if she will ever be back. You might be feeling a little insignificant these days, but you’re not. The actions you take over the next year or two – you the dad, you the partner - can make or break the health and cohesion of your family. You may feel like a bystander in your family these days, but you’re not. Your ability to sustain your own health and support your woman as she supports your baby will create the space in which the magic of secure attachment can happen.
What are the “right” actions to take? How can you create that space for magic to happen? What is your role in this new family?
You are the supportive foundation underneath it all, providing love, care and protection. You are the difference between your woman and baby merely surviving and truly thriving.
Your woman needs care from you in the form of lightening her load. She needs love, food, water, rest, time to shower, to take breaks and get away. She needs to hear that she’s doing a great job and that she’s a good mother – and she needs to hear it from you. She needs protection from the outside elements (people, tasks, overstimulation) so that she can rest and focus on the baby. You have the power to provide this, if you stay physically and emotionally well. You require and deserve care yourself, but your partner will not be able to provide or monitor your care in these early months.
Here’s a quick checklist of things for you to be thinking about when it comes to your own wellbeing:
Are you sleeping?
Connecting with friends/supportive people?
If the above isn’t happening sufficiently, you will become unhappy or unwell. I recommend that you check in with a therapist or Dads/Partners Support Group to generate ideas about your own care and mental health.
You are vitally important.