On Fatherhood, In Admiration of My Wife


We had a rough weekend. It seems that as often as we make progress with Rosalyn, we also take a few steps back. Sometimes she settles and sleeps well at night, and sometimes she treats the dark bedroom as if it were her nursery at full noon. She kicks (she loves to kick) and she coos and she whines and fusses. Friday night, we got three hours of sleep. She fussed when she was laid down. She fussed when she was picked up. She fussed when she was being fed.

The baby fusses. And on Friday night, she fussed like crazy.

I don't know how Megan does it. She tries to feed our child and it seems that Rosalyn rejects her. How that can feel I can only imagine, and not well. I don't know what it's like to have that frustration, and the frustration I feel myself when Rosalyn is crying and won't stop (be she hungry, wet, etc...) I feel like I'm falling apart. 

I become frustrated and nearly inconsolable myself. 

Megan works through it. She tries and tries, with a patient, beautiful cool that I don't think I could mimic in her situation. I know how difficult this new born feeding thing has been for her. We all know how much pressure is put on mothers to breastfeed. We all know the pressure of taking care of your child (or of someone you care for, or depends on you.) Parents know the pressure (and advice, often unwelcome) that comes in torrents as a new parent.

And there she is, my wife, calm, angelic, and trying to feed our fussing child as well as she can. Sometimes it goes very well and Rosalyn eats and it's the picture of domestic tranquility, the painting of motherhood that we have in our mind in some kind of Platonic ideal. 

All too often, however, it's reality. It's the real versus the ideal, and the real sucks. (Thanks, Plato.) The baby is crying and frustrated and she kicks and fusses with her hands and tosses her head. Megan tries, with all the patience in the world, to get that little girl eating, and it is a hell of a process. 

I worry that Megan must sit and think of herself as some kind of failure, as the negative version of motherhood. She sees the TV and movie moms who just put the baby on and away it goes. Popular consensus is that breastfed is best-fed, and that means it's also easy. We're told it's easier than bottles: just pop her on the boob.

Yet, that's not the reality!

And I wonder at that. If this is the reality, the fussing, the kicking, the hands in the way and 15-20 minute or even 40 minute ordeals where we're not even certain she got enough to eat, then why is the popular version so easy and clean? We've sanitized motherhood and made it this idyllic process that is in no way connected to the reality, and new moms and dads wonder: what's wrong with us? What's wrong with our baby? Why is this so hard?

 I think about this often, and about the fact that we are a social and tribal people. That when these issues arose in the past there was a tribe of women who could support the new mom and give her practical advice, and, if need be, take and sit with the child or even nurse it. 

Now, isolated away from the realities of birth and child rearing, of feeding and late nights with a crying baby, all we have is the picture we're given. No longer do we know the hard realities of raising a baby because women are not having babies in their homes, girls are not raising their little brothers and sisters in close proximity with older sisters, cousins, aunts, or mothers.

Megan has taken the job of a tribe onto herself. She is magnificent. She is beautiful and strong and loving. She does what I couldn't do, not in a million years. I sit by the wayside, like my tribal ancestors, and wonder at the mystery and strength of my wife.

Is she on a pedestal right now? Maybe. It's hard not to admire someone who tries and works so hard and who worked so hard to bring this new life into the world. However, I also recognize her humanity, that there are days when I come home and I have to take a screaming baby from a crying wife before we've said hello. 

That's normal. All of this is normal.

And that's what makes me stand in awe of the women and mothers who have come before, and who will come years from now. The quiet, powerful, normal motherhood of my wife, who feeds our daughter when she can, gives her the bottle when she can't, who loves her, cuddles her, keeps her warm and safe, and cries alongside her when things just aren't going right.

The Platonic ideal of the Mother shouldn't be a woman holding a smiling infant, but a mom sitting, her hair in disarray, holding a crying baby, and doing it day after day.

I knew this on the day that Megan gave birth, but I am reminded of it daily now: My wife is stronger than me. 

Jeff Hewittfatherhood