Wednesday, February 7, 2007

The leaves are red; the leaves are brown.

My father is color-blind. Growing up in Michigan, I enjoyed watching the leaves on the maples turn from their usual green to a deep claret red. My father, too, noticed the change, but for him the leaves went from greenish-brown to a darker shade of greenish-brown to just plain brown. Every fall he'd ask me with an air of detachment, "Are those leaves red?" Sometimes they were; sometimes they weren't. The shift was so subtle that it barely registered to him at all.

So it is, sometimes, with postpartum couples. For one partner, the postpartum period can be the most wonderful time in life. Having a new little one in the family is awe-filled experience, often drawing extended family, friends and kin together to support the baby and her/his parents. This period can deepen one partner's feelings of joy, responsibility, love, creativity, and playfulness.

To the other partner, postpartum can seem like the darkest period of life. Sleep-deprivation; health challenges; tense relationships with extended family; a loss of identity, spontaneity and intimacy can make one long for the days before baby's arrival.

It's easy to fall into the trap of trying to prove who's right and who's wrong when two very different perspectives on the same situation arise. Rather than get pulled into this binary thinking, I am curious about what might be helpful or useful from each of these perspectives.

The view that postpartum is a great challenge could lead to discussion of unmet needs or wants. Perhaps parents need to explore the need for more help--or different types of help--from their support network. Professional support (a doula, a therapist, or a nanny) may be needed. It could be necessary to acknowledge what they've lost as a couple--spontaneity, intimacy, etc.--and to explore ways they can nurture their couple identity while their parenting one is at the fore. And while postpartum can bring about a great deal of love and excitement, what's less talked about is how tough a job being a new parent can be. Sometimes simply acknowledging to each other that there are going to be low moments can help mitigate them when they do happen. And they do happen...

Which is why it's useful to recall what's wonderful about postpartum. This new little one is a gift--often a hard-fought one. No one will know or respond to her needs or wants as well as her parents. Perhaps baby's presence can help mend previously broken relationships in a family. A baby has a way of getting one out of one's serious adult mind and into a more creative, playful one. And babies can be so darn cute.

If one can detach from one's own perspective, it's possible to see how two seemingly contradictory statements can be true at the same time. The leaves are green; the leaves are brown. It all depends on how you see it.

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