We finished baby class number 4 last night, which was All About Breastfeeding, and I saw more nipples on film than if I’d sat through ten hours of Girls Gone Wild. GGW doesn’t know anything about latching on, though, so at least my exposure to exposed breasts left me with a basic understanding of what to tell Susanne to do when she’s struggling to get into the nursing schtick. I’m sure she’ll want to hear advice from me at 4:20AM when the baby is crying and we haven’t slept in three weeks.
The baby classes have been good overall, but I’m a bit aghast at how low the expectations are for men (I’m not using the generic “partner” here because the content I’m talking about is specifically designed with men in mind). The whole breastfeeding situation, we were told, begins like this:
After 12-24 hours of being crushed inside a hollow container that is forcefully shrinking and getting expelled down a tiny tube, forced to swallow relatively freezing cold air, and having a dozen pairs of enormous hands placed all over it in judgment of its appearance, health, completeness, and sturdiness, the baby is slapped up against a bulbous protrusion and expected to suck droplets of fluid down into its throat for its first meal.
The father, meanwhile, doesn’t have to do anything.
Mom is exhausted, baby is alert from shock, and Dad is fooling around on his iPad. It’s an easy role for Dad, apparently!
I understand the advantages of breastfeeding, really I do. The immune system support, the way in which Mom’s milk helps the baby get used to different foods—because what the mother eats changes the flavor of the milk—the assistance in helping to prevent allergies, all of those things are terrific. But the insistence on no bottle feeding for several weeks, and the very frequent, round-the-clock feeding schedule can start an unbalanced pattern between parental partners.
Already a first baby kickstarts one’s stress levels and puts pressure on a relationship, so when we instruct couples that mothers need to breastfeed until the baby is settled in to it, which could be anywhere from 2–6 weeks, and that fathers shouldn’t bottlefeed until then, I worry about putting an emotional distance between dads and babies. Adding this message to the other cues about expected imbalances that have come out in our classes, like:
- Dads, help Mom a little by doing the dishes one night
- Tell your partner she doesn’t have to be superwoman
- Fathers can contribute by changing some of the diapers! (said with a big smile)
- Remember to encourage Mommy that she’s doing great
—Aren’t we setting up mothers to bear the vast majority of childrearing activities? In my personal life, I know many partners, male and female, who are way more engaged than this. Maybe it’s the model of a Catholic hospital, or perhaps the instructor is looking to find ways to communicate to traditional-minded men that won’t make them get resistant. Any help is better than no help, right?
For me, I’m hearing a range of approaches and advice from people that put these old-fashioned-sounding ideas in some context. My own mother has told me that I need to step it up for the rest of my life now. Mommy friends of mine want me to be “trained” and responsive to Susanne and the baby’s needs, and not think that I can sit around playing Angry Birds at all hours. Lots of folks have sent me links, books, organization ideas, stroller recommendations, and stories about what has and hasn’t worked for them and their families, and for all of this input, I am grateful, if not a little busy sorting through it. I know I can’t actually breastfeed our child, but I’m going to continue resisting the idea that I don’t have to put out at least as much energy as my partner does in the early going (and the later years, too).
Having babies is like baptism by fire. Which is, I guess, why we’ve tended to douse them in water. We’re just trying to stem the blaze.