Newlywed Mother with Baby

• Also see New Daddy Secrets

Husbands, your wives are already a mystery, right? Then comes your first baby. Now throw raging hormones, criminal doses of exhaustion, body pain of uncharted scope and proportion, identity crises, and helplessness into the mix, and you’ve got quite the challenge on your hands. May I offer some secrets to help you unlock the mystery of your wife after childbirth?

Secret 1: Life takes longer with a newborn; your wife will be late.

For the first eight months after our daughter was born, my husband and I got into a fight every Sunday morning on the drive to church because we were late. He treasures efficiency and timeliness, so he was frustrated that I hadn’t been able to get out the door on time, even when we all woke up early.

But with a baby, getting ready rarely goes smoothly. You can’t control when the baby wakes up, so your morning routine becomes unpredictable. And if your infant needs to nap when you are supposed to leave, you and your wife don’t have much wiggle room unless you’re willing to have a cranky baby. All that to say, there’s no such thing as a routine.

So if you value expediency, timeliness, and efficiency, then you’ll encounter this conflict. Rather than assume your wife doesn’t share those values, consider instead that she’s physically exhausted and mentally mushy from the frantic run-through of preparations (and the compounded lack of sleep). Stand in her shoes and acknowledge that she’s doing the best she can.

My husband and I made a checklist of all the items we needed the next morning, so he could help me get everything ready the night before. Another way you can help your wife is to adjust your wake-up time so it syncs with the variable flow of the morning.

If you do end up late (like most new parents) and frustrated, apologize for your blame without expecting your wife to apologize for inefficiency in return. And if your standards are inflexible or more than she has the capacity for right now, then the onus falls on you to get things done without complaint.

Secret 2: “Pregnancy brain” and “mama brain” are real.

I can’t explain these phenomena scientifically, though I’m pretty sure they have something to do with hormone changes and lack of sleep. Nonetheless, they are legit.

Ten months into parenting, my brain still acts like mush. Holding my own in a conversation is tricky because I can’t think past the initial question. I can talk at length in response, but I can’t initiate any follow-up points or questions. Basic math is even worse! If I told you how long it took me to figure out how much $11 for a pack of 27 diapers cost per diaper, you wouldn’t believe me (by the way, it’s expensive).

All this to say, if your wife says something stupid, give her grace. When she realizes her mistake, she’ll be both embarrassed and frustrated that this keeps happening. Remind her how intelligent and articulate she really is, and assure her that once her sleep returns, her hormones settle, and her conversations with adults return, she’ll feel herself again.

Secret 3: Her boobs are not yours, for now.

A husband usually grasps the fact that his wife’s body needs to heal from childbirth before he can romance her sexually again. But once sex is back on the table, your wife still isn’t always ready to romp.

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Try putting a vacuum hose on your nipples for an hour eight to twelve times a day for four weeks, then get excited about having them touched during sex! Painful, right? She’s likely to have extreme sensitivity, and not in an arousing way.

Added to this is the fact that milk has a way of leaking out from your wife’s breasts. Having something so distinctly “baby” invade your sex space also might kill the mood.

Your wife might struggle with compartmentalizing her breasts. If they previously were a means to arousal for her, then she might really have to fight to keep breasts as a feeding mechanism wholly distinct from breasts as a sexual body part. Having you try to engage them sexually if she isn’t able to compartmentalize can be really disturbing, embarrassing, and/or shameful to her. No mom ever wants to think of her baby during sex or sex during nursing.

Secret 4: Despite her joy over your baby, she’s grieving a long list of losses.

Your wife will be at the beck and call of your little one to the point where she doesn’t feel like a person anymore. For a long while, she won’t be able to exercise routinely or sleep sufficiently. For many new moms, there’s no window of time to see friends or talk on the phone without being preoccupied with the little one or sacrificing precious sleep, so her relational tank might be running on empty. Also, especially if your wife had a career she loved or kept a tight to-do list, she might feel lost without that routine and productivity. Add to this is the very tangible learning curve of raising a child that she has to believe she can master yet doesn’t always feel so certain about.

Your wife could really be shaken by being so out of her element. She might be drowning in deep insecurities but not even be aware of them except that she’s feeling nervous or sad or listless. A frustrated or demeaning word from you might rock her just enough to capsize her confidence.

Even if all seems whole from the outside, she battles a fragmented focus. Her mind is split between baby and everything else (yes, even during sex). She’s so bonded to the baby that her mother’s instinct runs on autopilot to make sure your little one is cared for at all times. As sad as you might feel to know her mind won’t be focused just on you, remember it can feel deeply frustrating for her never to feel present even when her heart longs to be wholly connected to someone other than Baby.

Encourage her. Help her put words to what she’s experiencing. If everything else in her life seems to give her an identity crisis, be the plumb line she can use to remember who she is in this give-and-take.

Secret 5: Frump needs to be the new sexy . . . just for awhile.

No new mom dreams of being known for wearing sweats, ponytails, and baggy t-shirts. But in those first few weeks of postpartum recovery, even taking a shower is a win. And if she does have a moment away from the baby, let her sleep instead of brush her hair or put on makeup. If your wife is able to get dressed, she’ll need super comfortable clothes that fit her postpartum body. If those include leggings and t-shirts, keep in mind she’ll be on the floor with a little one all day long and needs tops that are nursing-friendly.

Eventually your wife will feel like herself again. When she’s ready, she’ll get back in a routine of self-care. Give her grace and safety to be who she needs to be in this season, and help guide her out of frumpsville by reminding her how beautiful and sexy she is, rather than by complaining about her ponytail.

Being a new parent takes a season of adjustment for you both. By better understanding your wife’s deepest feelings and needs, you and she can become a stronger, more unified team. You will get your wife back, and as she grows in her motherhood, there will be even more of her personality, passion, and character to know and love.

• Also see New Daddy Secrets