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The Vine: July 17, 2013

Submitted by on July 17, 2013 – 10:41 AM42 Comments


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!


Dear Vanessa,

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.

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  • Sean says:

    From a new father with family several states away, I wholeheartedly agree on the "don't stay with them" advice. It will only add to her agita to have a houseguest; plus, although the company will be nice, both she, the baby and you will need space at the end of the day. Find a hotel and don't be afraid to vary the length of your days with her — some days she may need a break and you can go to dinner alone; other days she'll want you there from dawn on. Just listen to her cues and roll with it. Life with a newborn is different every day, so flexibility will be the key.

  • Anne says:

    I work at a boarding school and know all too well the "the school needs
    Me" dads who work here. We don't. There are lots of extracurriculars and even some overnights but the way it works at every school I've worked at is that the youngs pay their dues doing that stuff so others can be at home with new babies. He's still doing them because he wants to and needs to step up at home.

  • Cora says:

    A word on the breastfeeding issue: find out from your mom if she's getting pressured about this. I breastfed my child and believe in its benefits; but I'm sorry, some of those La Leche League women can be incredible bitches. As in: "if a DROP of formula (sneery sneer) crosses your baby's lips, he will grow up STUNTED and DEFORMED and you will have singlehandedly LET DOWN THE ENTIRE COMMUNTIY" la la la shouty shouty judgement. She may be feeling like a failure because she's actually hearing that from a third person; have your mom shut that shit down if it's happening.

    I've never met a pediatrician who does this — in fact, they've always been on the side of "give mommmy a break and for Chrissake let the dad feed the kid, he's a parent too". Which brings me to another suggestion: has bro been to the pediatrician with sis and new baby? Good pediatricians can pick up on issues like this and address them, because it really truly is in the best interests of the health of the child. Maybe sis can invent a well-baby check — insurance companies never turn these down for coverage — and get bro to come with. It's not a magic bullet, of course; but the doctor can maybe ask some pointed questions whose honest answers bro needs to hear, and see a doctor validating.

  • Anlyn says:

    Something to keep in mind about BIL: he may not be very good with babies.

    My dad was a loving father who came to as many plays and softball games as he could, and eventually stopped working overtime on weekends when he realized he had practically missed his son's childhood and was well on the way to missing mine.

    But one time when Mom left me with him to go church, she came back to find me squalling with a full diaper and Dad looking on helplessly. He was simply out of his league.

    Granted, things have changed and men are often less likely to pull the "it's the woman's job" bullshit. But some men just have no idea how to care for newborns.

    I don't know if that's the case, but it could be in a few years BIL will step up in a major way and surprise everyone.

  • Bubbles says:

    Check and see if she's got a La Leche League in her area. They're most places now. It'll give her a mom group, and some support on the breastfeeding front. There are some teas and such that are supposed to help with the milk coming in. I know it sucks, but in the long run, formula or breastmilk, she's doing her best. One of the hardest things about being a new mom is seeing all the ideal things you had planned just fall to flames around you. But kids still turn out alright. Mine was formula fed because my milk never really came in, because she was a csection that was forced on me and I had nobody really step up and support my right to say no to my doctor. So kidlet was born a few days early and I don't think all my hormones got triggered right. She's five now, crazy healthy, and starting kindergarten next month already reading on an at least first grade level. I was breastfed exclusively and had crazy asthma and bronchitis all the damn time when I was a kid. Breastmilk: not actually magic.
    For now, call her. Maybe buy a gift certificate for a post-natal massage? A gift certificate for a house cleaning service? Get some flowers delivered. Send her a dvd you think she'll dig, because breastfeeding is boring. I watched so much Netflix trying to feed the baby.
    And oh upside of formula! Dad doesn't have any excuses to get out of midnight feedings.

  • Sarah T says:

    I'm nursing my 4 week old as I type (so apologies for typos!) but second time around I'm much more relaxed about it all – I remember the nightmare of breastfeeding my first, though. I second Sars' suggestion about new mum groups – even if she doesn't fancy the particulat activity it's a chance to make local new mum friends she can meet up with/vent to. It may help with perspective too – she'll most likely find lots of mums will be struggling, and some already bottle-feeding.

    Also helpful can be a sympathetic online resource or community – eg though I'm in the UK I've found reading really helpful, and breastfeeding and supply issues come up a lot – eg

    One final thought – sleep-deprivation really exacerbates postnatal issues. If your sis moves to even partial bottle feeding, it means other people can do feeds and she can get more rest, which often helps things look a bit brighter.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    But some men just have no idea how to care for newborns.

    Okay, but: tough. I'm not "very good with" cat barf but I'm not getting a parade for cleaning it up and that's just how it is. A newborn is a snap to care for if you have the necessities on hand and ten minutes of training in holding them. If the issue is that BIL doesn't know that, or that you get good with babies by…dealing with babies, okay, but someone needs to point out that very few dads (or moms) are a total natural at it from the get. We have more than one picture of my dad holding me like a tray of smelly hors d'oeuvres when I was very tiny, but he got the hang.

    "Not very good with" is okay, but it doesn't sound like he's even trying. No bueno.

  • Adrienne says:

    Breastfeeding resource that is a HUGE source of info for breastfeeding and the common topic of making more milk is

    If you can find a breastfeeding support group near your sister that could be the turning point for many of her issues. A place she can go and find out that many moms struggle with making enough milk. She can have someone watch and help her breastfeed. She will have an outing to look forward to where crying babies are welcome. She will make friends. Etc. Etc.

    I struggled with both my kids (each for different and varied reasons) to breastfeed. Always had to supplement at some point and couldn't make it the full 12 months with either of them. I was disappointed, and she will be too, but it fades with time. The lactation consultants I worked with always said "Breast is best but formula is not poison – the first rule is to just feed your baby!"

    Also offer to pull a night shift for her. If hubby hasn't been stepping up, just getting a few good nights sleep will help. Hand her the baby to feed, then you do the settling and shushing and she'll hardly miss any sleep at all. You're a good sister, keep it up!

  • SorchaRei says:

    There is no such thing as postpartum depression that is too mild to need treatment. Treatment doesn't have to mean meds, or therapy, by the way. It would be a good thing for your sister to make a doctor aware of. Bear in mind that PPD is a life-threatening illness at its worst, and that mild cases sometimes go south pretty quickly. This is why it is a good idea to have an outside professional tracking it.

    See if you can get your mom to understand this, too. Maybe she can encourage your sister to talk to her doctor about her mood fluctuations and feeling that her body has betrayed her.

  • Anlyn says:

    Sarah, fair enough. And as I said, times have changed and even in the '70s, my dad certainly could have stepped up himself. But he didn't, and he was gone a lot, but he was eventually a great father anyway.

    I guess I'm just trying to say to OP, don't be too quick to judge; as Sarah said in her response, it's ultimately the sister's decision as to how she wants to handle her husband.

  • ferretrick says:

    And I'm going to stand up for Dad, here. He is a teacher-doing extracurriculars is part of his JOB. Very often teachers are paid extra to coach or advise and it is part of their contract. He might not even be able to leave the extracurriculars in the middle of the school year even if he wanted to. Teaching is not a 40 hr./week job, and sister knew that when she married one and had a kid with him. Suck it up.

  • ferretrick says:

    Sorry, but LW's whole tone about "BIL won't change his ways" put me off. It sounds as though she thinks he is just partying and playing with the teenagers for the fun of it, which he is NOT. No matter how much you love kids and coaching sports or whatever it is he does, it's not all fun and games. It's hard work, just as hard and tiring as being in the classroom. He is WORKING, and I don't think he deserves the contempt Letter Writer or Sars expresses.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    He is WORKING, and I don't think he deserves the contempt Letter Writer or Sars expresses.

    He has a newborn, and his wife is overwhelmed. I'm sure he has his side of the story, but I don't have that information. The information I do have suggests that either he doesn't get that he needs to spend less time away from home at this point in his life, prioritizing family over his career; or he does get it, and just isn't doing it.

    Work is not per se sacrosanct, is one thing. It sounds like his not cutting back a bit to stay home more is causing problems. But another thing is that I acknowledged in my response that this may be Sister and BIL's arrangement, so I don't think *I* deserve the Ballantine blast for contemptuousness.

  • OP says:

    Thank you everyone for your comments and suggestions. Fortunately since I first wrote the letter, my sister has been doing much better. Our mother was able to stay with my sister and nephew, helping out with the baby as well as being emotionally supportive for my sister in her transition into motherhood.

    Sister has transition to more formula, with the encouragement of my mother, because nephew is turning out to be a big boy! and formula is working out to be a good supplement to her own breast milk. As to BIL is not good with kids, he's actually fantastic. He has two young nephews that he loves to be around and having kids really prompted him to get married to start his own family. I definitely think it is a big transition for him that it's his OWN kid with a different set of expectations and responsibilities instead of family or friends kids.

    @ferretrick, while I am not trying to escalate the conversation, the issue with BIL has never been that he's a teacher; it's his priorities. I've had issues with him two years prior to the baby being born because he keeps taking on MORE responsibilities at work than he had to at the sake of my sister (read: leaving her home alone until late night, in a new state, 4+ nights a week; volunteering to create curriculum for classes, chairing his department; followed by not cleaning the house or otherwise doing things my sister wants/needs to do). BIL also didn't change his schedule for the upcoming fall,after my sister found out she was pregnant in May. My first concern is my sister and nephew's welfare which I see BIL neglecting regardless of his occupation.

  • Liz B. says:

    Possibly an unpopular answer here, but…

    I got the impression that Vanessa was getting most or all her information about Sis from their mom, which raises some red flags for me: 1) that Mom is also physically removed from the situation and not seeing Sis, just gathering impressions via phone or whatnot. 2) Moms tend to be a little prejudiced in favor of a) the way things were done when they were doing them; and b) their own offspring over their offspring's spouses. It seems entirely possible to me that BiL *has* stepped down his work duties and Mom merely thinks he's not doing ENOUGH. It's also possible that Sis is mostly handling things great but merely calling Mom to unload when she's feeling overwhelmed, which may be giving Mom a skewed picture of exactly how unbalanced Sis is feeling, if she's only hearing the bad stuff. I don't want to downplay the seriousness of PPD, by any means, but… she's swamped with hormones, her body is doing all kinds of things it's never done before, she's sleep-deprived, she feels like everyone she meets is judging her performance, and she's on full-time call for someone who, quite frankly, appears to not even care about her. She is GOING to be feeling pretty stressed and crappy, even without full-blown PPD, and would be feeling pretty stressed and crappy even if BiL had quit work entirely to help out.

    My advice would be to urge Vanessa to talk more often with Sis directly, if she can. (NB: communication methods that are easily interruptible — like email and IM — may be easier for Sis to handle than things that require constant presence, like phone and Skype.) Don't address a negative item until Sis brings it up, but then urge her to take some actual action (especially action like talking to BiL, if that's needed, even if it's a, "Hey, I thought this would be fine, but now that we're actually doing it, it turns out I was wrong and can you at least stop the overnights?"). But just knowing that there's someone she can talk to to let off steam is huge.

    From a distance, there's not much else that can be done. Just keep in mind that it IS a very stressful time for Sis, and she may want to unload frustrations more than get excited about the good stuff, so until you're actually there and can see how things are, then even talking directly to Sis might be giving you a slightly skewed view of her actual wellbeing.

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    OP, thanks for the update! And yes, it sounds like BIL is a workaholic–I'd armchair shrink him as getting a lot of his self worth from work, or fearing that any perceived "cutting back" would mean he's an inch away from being invited to leave.

    It's really tough on that kind of personality to be told "We'll get along fine without you, go be with your new family!" Rather then feeling relief, or valued, they hear "You suck and you have always sucked and you weren't fooling anybody with all that extra work, so nyah nyah nyah!" Since this has been going on since well before the baby, BIL might need to get some of his own counseling.

  • Chiming In says:

    Oh man, so MANY nerves struck! Sars has most of it well-covered, but a few comments from someone with an 18 month-old who also had her baby far from family.

    1) Make sure you (or your mom) are keeping an eye on the post-partum stuff. Even when things are going well the hormones and related mood swings are tough on mom (and dad, BTW- not at all giving him a pass, but it's worth noting), and the mom is dealing with complications that can cause some really crushing (if irrational) guilt.

    2) DEFINITELY research whether there are any new moms' groups in the area that she can join and do everything in your power to get her to go. My hospital network provided a weekly group for moms with babies 0-3 months totally free of charge, and it made life better for me in so many ways to spend time with women who were going through so much of the same things I was. I knew about it beforehand, but it took a friend saying "hey we're going to this now" to give me the push I needed to actually go, and it brought me an incredible support network.

    3) The best pre-childbirth advice I got in a parenting class was that moms have to think about and ask for exactly what they need whether it's from their family or their parenting partner. As I said above, BIL does NOT get a free pass for skipping out. However, he may be genuinely bewildered about what to do, and if the mom is all anxious and guilt-ridden about the other issues she's having, she may be even more reluctant to hand the baby over and take a break. I think Sars' advice on this topic above is spot-on.

    If the LW can fly in and just be prepared to hold the baby while mom showers, that will be an incredible relief. If she can locate a mom's group and help the mom get out and go (it would take me 2.5 hours+ to get ready to leave the house with my newborn), even better.

    Good luck to all.

  • Maria says:

    Chairing a dept comes with a pay raise where I live. If it's the case for him, he may have taken it on to help support a bigger family. Babies' first year is very expensive with gear, formula, and diapers (cloth are a pricey investment, disposables cause you to pay as you go).

    Is she truly complaining about BIL, or are you just angry at him from a distance? For example, did she ask him to change his fall schedule or not? Is that even possible with his job, or not? Is he the only one working outside the home?

    Maybe they didn't talk enough about what it would look like when they started a family. But if she thinks they need to make changes, she is the one who has to bring it up and hash out it out. All you can do is plant the seed about going to a little bit of counseling to buff up the marriage post child. It's pretty common to do this, now that family life is no longer theoretical. Beyond that, maybe you are over reacting. You almost sound parental towards your sister; do you feel that way sometimes?

  • Kim says:

    Leaving BIL out of it (because as Sars said, he needs to step up but it's not the letter wroter's biz), my advice would be twofold.

    Encourage your sister to get out of the house at least once per day. It is sooooooo easy to come up with a million reasons why you can't, as a new parent: what if the baby cries, or poops, or pukes, or I haven't showered, or it's too hot or too cold, or just too hard. But in that first year, there was never a time that leaving the house didn't make me feel better, no matter how much I dreaded it ahead of time. And the more you do it, the easier it gets, and it's good for the baby too! Even if it's just a walk to the corner, or a stroll at the mall, or a quick trip to the grocery store, it really, really helps. That was the best advice anyone gave me as a new mom.

    And second, see if there are any places nearby with drop-in daycare. Many gyms or YMCAs have it, even for newborns and under 1s. Just knowing that, on the toughest days, you can go hand the baby to someone else for an hour makes a world of difference. She doesn't even have to work out — just go and take a shower or sit in the sauna or whatever.

    Good luck!

  • Marie says:

    It's already been mentioned but it is worth saying again – if you have the money, arranging for her house to be cleaned by a service would be a spectacular help/gift. With the first newborn, sometimes just getting out of the house by noon is a major feat so cleaning the house often ends up way down on the list.

  • Bria says:

    My tidbit of advice for supporting new moms in general is to make an effort to send her regular texts and emails. Phone calls can be tough when you have a new baby, but texts/emails are easy to respond to from your phone as you nurse (or are held hostage in a recliner to a baby who only wants to sleep in your arms). It can be such a lonely time, and little checkins from friends and family that are easy to read/respond to can be such great pickmeups.

    Another thing to know, generally – babies in weeks 2-8 are just TOUGH. They are suddenly more alert than they were at birth, but they don't have any hobbies yet other than eating, sleeping, and fussing. Emphasis on the latter. Even if you have an "easy" baby, have no problems breastfeeding, and totally know what you're doing, it's a hard, hard time. After two babies of my own, I know this all too well and try to keep good tabs on friends when their babies are in this phase. If you know a new parent who's there, go send them a quick note to say you're thinking of them and that they're doing great. Seriously, it will mean a lot.

  • GrammaK says:

    Is there a reason that the baby is described as being *rather long*? It feels like there's a word missing (since tall babies aren't problematic in and of themselves, as a rule), which might make a difference in the situation- long *awaited*, long *dreaded*, long*ed for*, perhaps?

  • Leigh says:

    I think you're covered on the emotional/practical answers to your actual question, but I wanted to chime in on the breastfeeding issue…I have now witnessed two new moms (one my high school BFF with her first, the other a 3rd timer) struggle with BF'ing and *seeming* not to produce enough milk, only to find out after a few weeks of torture for everyone that it was actually a lip tie or posterior tongue tie. Let me be very clear: THESE ARE VERY COMMONLY MISSED. In both cases they were missed by pediatricians, nurses, lactation consultants, midwives, and pretty much everyone else. They were both finally diagnosed after being taken to a pediatric dentist, the only person with enough specific training to actually know what to look for. It can be very subtle but make a HUGE difference…and they can be clipped with a laser in a very short appointment with little trauma. It changed their lives, seriously. Please, PLEASE at least mention the possibility to your sister. If that is the problem and they can get it fixed, it will have a huge effect on so many other things.

    Having a new baby is life changing and stressful enough. Having a new baby with feeding problems and all that that entails is another world of stress entirely. If she's only showing moderately worrisome levels of depression in this situation, that's actually really good. Support her in getting the help she needs to fix the feeding problem–the rest will follow!

  • Leigh says:

    (For those of you not steeped in all things baby, let me just briefly explain that milk production is directly tied to the efficiency/frequency of a baby's sucking. If baby isn't able to suck properly because of a tie, then the mom can't make enough milk because the stimulation isn't there.)

  • CJ says:

    With regard to the BIL, it's entirely possible that he just needs a serious wake up call like Sarah suggested. Couples often have no idea what baby care is like before their kid comes, and don't really understand that taking care of the baby is a BIGGER, HARDER job than any outside employment. They may have figured her job would be baby care and his job would be his job, and that sister thinks she ought to be able to do it without his help, like he does his job without her help. (I say this from my own, now-hard-to-believe-this-actually-happened experience. It was insanity, and short lived, but this is the way I was thinking when my first kid came, before I completely lost it.) So anyway, it's possible that they both need a reality check on what's normal and necessary for getting through life with a newborn.

  • MizShrew says:

    Since I'm not a parent, I can't offer advice on the new-mom front, but I have close friends who are teachers. And at least here in Wisconsin, they've suffered huge wage cutbacks paired with increasing requirements in their contracts, and hostility from the both the current state administration and the general public. So while I'm not suggesting that BIL doesn't need to be available, it's possible that he's doing all he can to maintain the *same* salary as he had pre-baby, and the only way he can do that is to take on more responsibilities. Or, the extra responsibilities were handed to him and he's afraid he'll get replaced if he doesn't agree. Which is a distinct possibility for teachers around here.

    Again, that info isn't provided, so who knows, but just throwing it out there.

    I am glad to read that the OP's sister seems to be doing a bit better.

  • Phineyj says:

    The UK site is great for support and has posters from all over the world (it's also not just for mums).

    Their book 'Babies' is great for practical advice too and as a bonus, is very funny, which you need when it's 3 in the morning and your only clean pair of pyjamas has been vomited on.

    You sound like a very caring sister.

    I don't think you can do a lot about BIL but do encourage your sister to make use of paid childcare/get a cleaner/whatever makes her life easier, if possible.

  • meltina says:

    I hate to disagree with the ones that are defending BIL, but to me, given the OP's reply, it sounds like it's not a case of needing to put in all the extra work, but that indeed he assumed that parenting his own child wouldn't be any different than making time for his own nephews. So it speaks to me as to cluelessness about how time consuming it is to deal with a newborn, and the only one who can set him straight is going to be his wife.

    So, if Sister is clearly bothered by the arrangement and complaining to her relatives, one of them needs to have a "come to Jesus" conversation with her about needing to communicate with her spouse about it. Before my husband and I had our first child, we took a seminar about how to survive as a couple with a new baby in our lives. It was totes helpful, because it helped us realize that we could stand to communicate to one another better than we already did, and that lack of communication during the first, stressful phase of child rearing is what kills marriages. One party becomes resentful of the other, and if that's not communicated and heard without judgement by the other party, the resentment will only grow worse.

    The authors of this book ( also created a companion seminar called Bringing Baby Home, and they've made effort to train counselors/midwives to organize it nationwide. You can find out if your sister might have an opportunity to take the class with her husband here:

    When we attended it, at least one of the couples already had an infant, but took the class to work out some of their problems adjusting to baby, and by the end of the workshop they said "oh, it's already been pretty beneficial to us, we've had a lot of discussions that were overdue".

    Attending the seminar might be a good way to educate BIL into revising his expectations of how much he has to work on parenting and marriage, now more than ever, and that's never a bad thing. Because that can include BIL communicating stuff like "I would love to be able to stay home with the two of you, but I am being pressured into taking on more work, and I worry if I don't take it I'll be out of a job", rather than expecting his wife to just have an implicit understanding this is the case, and the patience to suck it up.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    Because that can include BIL communicating stuff like "I would love to be able to stay home with the two of you, but I am being pressured into taking on more work, and I worry if I don't take it I'll be out of a job"

    I'll take this opportunity to walk back my comments on BIL a few feet, because despite the year in which we live, some men have a drive that lies dormant until they get married or become parents, and then they feel more pressure to bread-win, and when they know it's irrational and somewhat…let's say "vintage" of an attitude, but they still can't help it, it's hard for them to talk about, because admitting that it's tough means they're not good at taking care of their little families, etc.

    Or maybe he's just clueless or a dillweed, but I've seen that weird "I need to make us a bunch of money, even though that means I'm taking care of you LESS" thing kick in after an engagement, even, and sometimes it does just take a gentle but firm "I respect that you feel this way on a visceral level, but the working 'til nine every night is not accomplishing what you think it is."

    Kid still needs to get a grip, though. heh.

  • meltina says:

    Oh, absolutely. My point was (1)This is a conversation about what it takes for both of them to raise their child and (2) It would have been better had they had it before a child was actually there, but better late than nothing.

    The one thing that can't continue is the status quo: it sounds like there are needs driving both sides not to function as a team, which need to be all put on the table. The husband seems to need time away from home, and will probably not clarify why unless the wife asks, and the wife seems to need more support than he has been pulling in, and will probably not get it unless she makes it crystal clear that he needs to step up. Meanwhile, if nothing is said on both sides, they'll probably just grow to resent each other, which yeesh… even if the marriage survives it, how worthwhile of a marriage is that?

  • MizShrew says:

    Meltina, I absolutely agree with you (and Sars) that they both need to communicate, and even if the BIL is in a bad work position, he can't leave his wife drowning.

    I was just getting the vibe from several posts that the BIL might be volunteering to do extra work to avoid the baby stress — and maybe that's the case, but maybe not. And since the letter-writer doesn't live in the area, she might not be aware of whatever work situation the BIL is dealing with. (Lots of people assume the teaching gig is an easy one.) But again, they've got to find a way to give mom some relief, and I think a lot of the moms here offered fantastic suggestions.

  • Sherry says:

    To second phineyj – I found online communities to be a great help with my first little one. Here in the States, the Bump is probably the biggest. They have boards organized by infant age and birth month, as well as location and "niche" issues – breast feeding, eco friendly parenting, post partum depression, etc. The larger boards can have some classic Internet snark and cliques but the more specialized ones are pretty friendly, and it's easy to find women going through the same thing you are. I have not been on as much with my second child, but I found it invaluable the first time around.

    It's shockingly difficult to acclimate to a new life with a child, and being able to communicate with other women in the same boat can help a lot with the "what am I doing wrong" feeling you get when it feels like everyone expects you to be deliriously happy all the time and you just aren't.

  • Meg says:

    New mom of a now-15-week-old kiddo here. I have a great husband who prides himself on being sensitive to my needs, but even he has done a number of things since the birth of our child that have made me (briefly) want to murder him.

    Here's the thing. Since (in the US and in the "typical" family model) women are generally the ones to take leave, baby becomes our primary responsibility. Our job, as it were. The thing dads (yes, generalizing on the gender here, sorry) seem to have trouble truly internalizing is that the "mom's" (or "primary caregiver's") job is never done. At best, it gets put on pause when someone else (dads, I'm looking at YOU) takes the responsibility for awhile. And, often, when my husband has a break from work, all he wants to do (and does, damn it, at least for a little while) is kick back, take a break, and not worry about baby (and hey, why worry? Baby is mom's job, right?). I've talked to my guy about this, gently (can't stress the gently part enough–everyone is fragile as all hell in the sleep deprivation of the first month or, god, year(s) and confrontational discussions derail before they even get going), but he still forgets that his home-life responsibilities have changed drastically in the last 3.5 months.

    And I'm rambling. Damn it. And I've even gotten decent sleep the last two nights. It's still hard to keep a thought on track, though. Sigh.

    So. To try to salvage this rambling comment. It's really, really, really hard to be the primary caregiver, and so the person who is getting to LEAVE THE HOUSE WITHOUT BABY in order to go TALK TO ADULTS (or high schoolers, whatever…I'm a teacher, too) needs to be REALLY, REALLY SENSITIVE to just how insane it is to be responsible for a small human 24/7.

    Yes, working is difficult. Yes, teaching is insanely hard. I've done it for more than a decade at a top private school. And yet the past 3.5 months have kicked my ass worse than the teaching ever has. So BIL hopefully will get it together as far as being more sensitive to his wife's needs. If our interpretation of OP's letter is correct, BIL is falling down on the husband and parenting job.

    As far as all the other commenters' suggestions for how to help OP's sister, I concur. Getting out of the house is key. Getting to take a non-speed shower is key.

    And I'd like to add the following: getting some sort of workout daily (walking, running, yoga, hiking, swimming, whatever works) is ENORMOUSLY helpful to counter post-partum hormonal and mood swings. A lot of this can be done w/ baby (jogging strollers and baby carriers rule), but company is helpful…it makes it harder to talk yourself out of getting out of the house and breaking a sweat for reasons other than nursing/feeding/cuddling/acting as human furniture.

    Sorry this is so long. My brevity has been swallowed by my baby, as has at least part of my sanity. Love the little bugger to pieces, but it's definitely been a trip.

  • Jody says:

    I agree with Meg. Sometimes the new dad just doesn't know how to help. New mom has to tell him and has to be very specific. I know this sounds like he is getting pass…he isn't. I know from experience that with my husband who was GREAT with the babies but only after I told him exactly what I needed from him.

  • meltina says:

    This is where learning to communicate post baby is key. My husband knew that he would have to take a leave of absence from work to help me (his work does have a fairly more generous than standard parental leave for both sexes, six weeks for new dads and twelve weeks for new moms, but that's another tangent), because (a) I told him I was overwhelmed with caring for baby (by week 2 it was clear I had a mild case of PPD, btw), and (b) he knew to ask how baby rearing was going, and to expect that it would invariably turn into "I need you to take this baby for an hour so I can [insert activity here] to feel like I'm a human again instead of a milking and burping machine".

    For the most part, he was not super happy about having the baby "dumped on him all the time" (we don't have any family nearby, so our childcare options the first few months were either me, him, or praying that the sitter was not all booked up for the week), and he did communicate that as well (my answer would range from a "pleeeese?" to "just be grateful I'm only asking for an hour, and not going running off to a spa for the weekend", depending on the mood I was in), but he did step it up, and even two and a half years later, I am really, really grateful he sucked it up as much as he did. It helped that he knew going into it that I would ask him to, and he knew he had to suck it up and not browse the web or do other things he wanted to do if he wanted me to not be royally pissed at him the rest of the day. It's all about making the expectations crystal clear… and if they didn't want their lives to change too, they should have thought about that nine months before. :P

  • What Meg said. Also, if the BIL from this story was married to my baby sister, he and I would be having a Long and Serious Talk with just the two of us, concluding with an I Am Completely Fucking Serious warning that I would remove his tongue with a grapefruit spoon if he breathed a word to my sister. And, yeah, if baby sis ever found out, she'd be furious. But damn it, that's my SISTER. Dude needs to step up or be gone. Work pressures suck, but keeping your spouse sane while they are raising your child comes first no matter what.

    Anyway, I know OP doesn't have that kind of relationship with her sister, but it sounds like sister needs a protector here. And BIL ain't it.

  • Nikki says:

    ferretrick – would you say the same thing if MOM dumped her new baby with the husband, all "Well the chess club's popcorn's not gonna pop itself."

    "Suck it up" is your advice, really? Mom has postpartum depression – which could literally take her life, so I'm sure that a reminder to suck it up will help!

    I'm a college professor, and what you say about money and contracts just isn't the whole truth. The vast majority of institutions require "a certain amount" of additional work, and a faculty member with a new baby saying "I can't do overnights for a couple months" or "I need a day committee instead of an extracurricular" is totally expected and probably totally fine.

    Very few employees are paid extra for their extra work (maybe coaches) – those are considered a part of their job duties. Ho hey! You might say, well, even better, that's his job. Well, not quite. Extra work is extra; the core of the job is still education. More importantly, these responsibilities are managed by all the faculty, not just him. He is doing more than his share, probably because he likes it this way.

  • Susan says:

    I won't speak to the PPD and husband involvement as many others have. But if no one else has mentioned it, I think one thing you or your mother could suggest to your sister is to join a new mom's group. Being a new mom is one of the most isolating experiences you can go through. All the sudden you're home alone, away from work and just an inch away from certifiably insane due to sleep deprivation. Also, you have no idea what you're doing and are concerned you're going to break the baby at every turn. Your friends who have children may not have them the same age, so can't quite relate to the newborn stage anymore. And your friends without kids definitely can't relate and while they may be super helpful and can come and visit, they certainly won't want to chat about feeding schedules and diaper rash issues.

    I joined a mom's group when my son was 6 weeks old and it was the best thing I ever did. I was nervous to go and it felt like I was putting myself out there in a weird online dating way. But there were a ton of women. You don't have to like all of them. I'm not super crunchy, so I steered away from the crunchy folks and found some of the mom's who I related to really well. About 6 of us ended up meeting frequently for coffee or a beer in the late afternoon. And the wonderful thing is that these women know exactly what you're going through 'cause they have a baby the exact same age. It's a few years later now and these women are still some of my closest friends. I can count on them for last minute babysitting or advice on the latest parenting challenge. I really don't know what I would have done without them.

    Anyway, so, for what it's worth, if there's a way you could help her find one in her area…I think that might really help her out. Especially since she hasn't built a strong friend network there.

  • Morgan says:

    Slightly late to the party, but after suffering through 5 months of PPD myself, I have to advocate for encouraging her to talk to her doctor. I did, and it was such a fucking relief to go in every week/then two weeks/then month to just TALK about how fucking hard it was, and how I couldn't stop crying. I didn't end up with a therapist or on meds, but knowing that I was being cared for was just … huge. It meant I didn't have to monitor myself obsessively, to see if things were getting worse or better. I could just … be, and know that a medical professional would step in if things turned darker instead of lighter.

    And yes, PPD can come back. Just because someone's better now doesn't mean that, say, the 4 month sleep regression isn't going to knock them right back down.

  • Candace says:

    This was my sister and BIL several years ago. After they had a baby he seemed to think it was the 1950s and taking care of the baby was entirely her job. He wouldn't stop coaching high school volleyball, he was gone all the time, everything was on her. Rock bottom was when they'd had a second child and the baby needed minor surgery and my sister was taking trying care of the healing baby and a toddler and my BIL left town for a week to go on a _bowling_ trip.

    They are now divorced. BIL has partial custody of the kids which means he has had to quit all the extracurriculars and you know, actually take care of and spend time with his own children.

  • Rbelle says:

    In case the OP checks in again, I wanted to mention that the peak time for PPD is actually not those early weeks, but sometime around 7 or 8 months. So please keep in touch with your sister and monitor how she's doing down the road. Kids don't develop in a linear way, so there can be a lot of blips along the road (growth spurts, sleep regressions, developmental leaps) that bring parents who thought they were handling everything well to a "why am I such a terrible parent?" place.

  • Amanda says:

    I'd like to echo Rbelle's comment, both for the OP and for anyone else who's kid-free but has a friend or relative with a newborn. The 7-8 month period can be surprisingly difficult on the mother. That was certainly my experience. The excitement of a new baby has died down, the well-wishers have found other things to focus on, the pre-frozen meals have been consumed, and the visitors from out of town have left because by this point they figure you've got things well in hand. If you haven't put together a solid support network by this point you can easily find yourself isolated and at sea. In my case, I had decided before my daughter was born that I wanted to take a year off from work to raise the baby and take life more slowly. Cut to me 7 months later: bored, depressed, lacking in perspective, and desperate for adult interaction of any kind.

    I imagine that for family members dealing with a new mom's hormonal roller coaster, it could be really exasperating to see her hitting emotional walls after the point where you believe she *should* have everything figured out by now. But it really never stops being a challenge, and PPD doesn't always manifest right away.

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