The Vine: July 17, 2013
My sister gave birth about a month ago to a healthy, rather long, little boy. It's only month in, but she is not doing well transition to motherhood.
We are not particularly close, but through my mom, it seems the problem is two-fold: 1) my sister seems to be suffering a variety of postpartum and 2) my brother-in-law is not really stepping up.
For the postpartum, it doesn't seem so serious that she needs medical intervention and my mom is keeping a close eye her in case it becomes more serious. There seems to be quite a bit of hormonal changes (which I know is normal); however, she isn't really able to breastfeed as she isn't so far able to produce enough milk. As such, the baby has been more fussy and my sister said something to the effect that she doesn't know why her body is failing her. With the mix of the hormones and breastfeeding, my sister is taking it very personally and thinks she is not being a good mother. My mom says she's been very weepy and asked my mom (who lives a 2-3-hour plane ride away) to come help her. I think my sister is also now supplementing with formula. Which brings me to the issue of the brother-in-law.
BIL is a high-school teacher who is very involved in the school's extracurriculars. This ultimately means he is gone a lot of nights and even overnight sometimes. This was an issue before the baby and hasn't changed since the baby was born. We all had the concern that BIL wouldn't change his ways and that is proving true. When my sister and BIL got married, my sister moved to a new state and hasn't really built a support network; my mom lives two states away and I'm on the other side of the country. Since taking maternity leave, my sister has been alone a lot which I think is making the problems worse.
So my question is 1) how can I help support my sister right now? I planned a trip to visit just before she goes back to work. I want to take her shopping and help make some meals that can be frozen while she adjusts back to working while having a newborn, but the trip is still 6 weeks away. Short of calling/chatting online, what can I do for her long distance. Also 2) I really want to say something to my BIL about how my sister is being affected, but my sister doesn't want me to and my mom says I shouldn't. However, BIL doesn't seem to understand that my sister is not doing well.
I would appreciate any and all suggestions! Thank you so much for all of your help!
Continue to support her the way you have been — calling; Skype; giving her a visit to look forward to and plan for (note: don't stay with them; Sister may feel pressure to step up hostess-wise, which I think you want to avoid). Maybe occasionally forward her a column or ad or something about parents' groups and resources where she's living, planting a seed about her getting out more and creating a helpful community for herself…and thereby not having to say outright, and have it taken as a criticism, "I think you're too isolated, and by the way, tell your husband to get his eye back on the ball because WTF."
More on that guy in a sec, but generally, if you two aren't close enough that you can just tell Sister you think she needs a place to talk about her anxieties, you may want to let your mother take the lead on any real talk. Just keep listening, and debriefing with Mom on occasion.
As for BIL, well, he's clearly in denial about the change in his responsibilities, but the fact is, that isn't your committee. It's Sister who needs to say, in so many words, "Put your family ahead of fucking Ultimate Frisbee, DAD. I am not asking." That he won't cut back on the…sleepover trips? With the…minors? Not to go right to a Humbert place, but the field trips are for the teachers without newborns and wives who feel like they're drowning, and no, that doesn't sound like any fun to go home to. Well, welcome to "for worse," soldier. Suck it up.
She's not saying it because, probably, she resents having to in the first place, and also is afraid he'll shrug all, "Intramural girls' soccer needs me, so," and then she'll have to confront the fact that she married a sphincter and oh God now what. And she's kind of not trying to hear it from you and Mom because she feels judged by everything. It's still hers to handle, and you can urge her to handle it, and reassure her that nobody thinks less of her for not handling it, and offer to handle it if she's overwhelmed by nicely suggesting to BIL that Sister really misses him and needs his help and you're very concerned that he's not around…but if she doesn't want you to say anything, you shouldn't, unless it gets much more serious and you fear she's going to harm herself or BIL Jr. It's Sister's marriage and co-parenting; if she wants things to change, she can't delegate to her family. (It's also possible that, on some level, she prefers not to have BIL around much. Every marriage functions differently in that regard, and Sister's struggles may not have all that much to do with BIL's absences.)
Respect her wishes about BIL for now, and keep a hand in. Remember that her postpartum difficulties don't have to be the topic of every convo, and shouldn't be; find other common ground that lets you be there for her as a friend, and communicate that she can call you anytime.
Looking forward to seeing what readers who have lived either side of this sort of situation have to add.
Tags: kids the fam