My husband and I prepared for our first child very differently. Of course, I was having the child and he wasn’t, so there were practical differences in how we both got ready for the baby to arrive. But we differed in many ways other than physical changes too.
Culturally, our community is vast, unique, and complex. We don’t approach things the same way simply because of how we identify and we are all a product of our unique upbringings. I know my approach to pregnancy and motherhood is a result of my childhood and family relationships, as is his approach to fatherhood. But one thing I learned very quickly is how important it is to share your intentions, your vision, and most importantly, what you need during this time so that you and your partner are on the same page.
As Black women, I think we are used to wearing many hats (quite effortlessly and beautifully I might add) and proving that we are capable of doing it all. We are expected to carry so much on our shoulders that it has almost become second nature for us to bear the weight of burdens we shouldn’t have to try to hold. For most of us, motherhood is our most important role, making it even harder to delegate tasks or ask for help. But I’ve learned that self-preservation – physical and emotional – is one of the most important aspects of being a good mom.
If someone could have given me advice on how to manage pregnancy and new parenthood with my partner, I would have loved to hear the following:
Ask for what you want
Is your back aching? Ask for a rub. Do you want something to eat but are just too exhausted to get up? Ask for a snack. You’re growing a human being! While you can certainly manage without a rub and can likely make your way to the kitchen, you don’t have to. Start to get comfortable asking for what you need. These things may seem trivial and if you’re like me, they were hard to say out loud. But by starting with very small, practical things like this, you will become more comfortable asking for the bigger, more important things that you will need in the future.
As first-time parents, you can’t know what it will be like once the baby arrives, but I’ll tell you that you can anticipate sleepless nights, unexpected laundry, and a slightly messier house than normal. So share what is making you nervous or anxious and use it to connect. The likelihood is that your partner is nervous and anxious about the same things.
Make a plan in advance
While pregnant, I encourage you to have conversations about how you will share the work after delivery. I spent a lot of my pregnancy preparing for labor, birth, and those first few days, but I didn’t even consider what week four or five would like. A month into limited sleep, sore breasts, and excessive laundry, I think we both felt a bit overwhelmed and unsure of how to divide what needed to get done. You’ll be managing through sleep-deprived brain fog no matter what but give yourselves peace of mind by thinking about what may come up. For example, if you’re pumping (a much more time-consuming and laborious task than one may expect), be prepared to tag-team on the defrosting of breast milk and bottle prep and post-pump equipment clean up. Think about your approaches to sleep training, pacifier use, whether the baby will sleep in your bed or who will attend the (many) doctor’s visits. There is a lot to think about that you can’t know until you live it, but by reading and talking to other parents, you may discover that there is plenty you actually can work through beforehand.
Often our partners witness our physical and emotional transformation during pregnancy and want to support us but simply don’t know how. Anticipating ways for them to pitch in to ease your load will benefit your partner as much as it will benefit you. Talking through what is to come will also help ease some of the fear and anxiety of the unknown for both of you.
Spread some knowledge
I may be generalizing here, but most partners (men or women who are not carrying the child) are less likely to read up on pregnancy and labor than those of us who are having the baby. If you come across a great book – pregnancy, parenting, or sleep training – share it with your partner. Doing this part together will remove some of the burdens from you and reduce your stress.
Some reading ideas for you:
Black, Pregnant and Loving It: The Comprehensive Pregnancy Guide to Today’s Woman of Color, By Yvette Allen-Campbell and Dr.Suzanne Greenidge-Hewitt
My Brown Baby: On The Joys and Challenges of Raising African American Children, By Denene Millner
Some reading ideas for him:
The New Dad’s Playbook; Gearing Up For The Biggest Game Of Your Life, By Benjamin Watson
Dear Black Dad’s: Wisdom For Your Journey To Fatherhood, By Jamal J. Myric
Ultimately, parenting will be the most important thing you two will ever collaborate on so starting with clarity will lead to the best partnership.