My whole life, I thought when I had a baby we would take care of the baby equally. Now that I’m on my third baby, I know that equal baby care is a myth… or perhaps something that happens if you don’t nurse.
I successfully nursed all three girls– the first two for more than a year a piece. With Lily, I really thought my husband and I might take turns at night. It never happened. For one thing, I was nursing so what could he do anyway when the baby woke up at night? For another thing, if I pumped so he could feed her a bottle he never actually heard the baby when she woke up. I would wake up and wait and wait for him to notice she was up. I’d get so angry about this that I couldn’t fall back asleep so the whole thing was pointless anyway. In the end, Lily hated bottles and screamed so long each time he tried to take a night feeding that I had to get up ANYWAY. And so, I ended up with all the night time stuff.
Most of my fellow nursing mom friends have had similar experiences. We THOUGHT we’d do things equally with our husbands, but our husbands can’t lactate so it never happened. As much as we tried to be equals in parenting and shrug off the stereotype that moms do more, it just wasn’t possible. The popular opinion right now is that breast is best, so those of us who are able to (or want to) have successful breastfeeding relationships are stuck in a non-equal situation.
The inequality stretches beyond just the nighttime feedings. My babies seem to know from Day One that Daddy is NOT the one who lactates. When Daddy holds a baby, the baby gets upset and cries until the second she is returned to my arms. Is it knowing that the milk is near that comforts them? Or are they comforted by the familiarity of me after having been inside me for 9+ months? I’m not sure. All I know is that a baby will be screaming bloody murder while my husband is rocking her, burping her, changing her diaper, humming to her– trying EVERYTHING to make her happy– and the crying stops the second he hands her over to me. I’m not nursing or actively doing anything to comfort the baby, she just wants me.
This has happened to us three times now, so it’s no coincidence. As a result, baby care is almost all on me, the mom. The equality we planned when I was pregnant with Lily is completely out the window. My husband tries, but there’s nothing he can do to please a baby.
Now that we have big girls, there are tons of things he can do to help even things out. Nothing can make up for the fact I’m up in the middle of the night or nursing for hours and hours each day (at least in my mind), but he has been doing all the baths and bedtimes for the big girls, preparing most of our dinners and spending a lot of time with the big girls after he gets home from work. It all really helps, especially since I’ve always hated bath and bedtime.
Our equal parenting dream seems more in sight with all he does with the big girls. By the time our youngest is 2 1/2 years old, equal parenting may be a reality, but for now it is elusive.
Some day maybe nature will somehow catch up with our new cultural views that parents should put in equal time, but for now we’re stuck with biological realities.
Or maybe I just need to switch to formula. (Not a chance of that happening on the THIRD kid.)