Baby talk: Forget being PC, catch some Zs

Why all fathers should take paternity leave.

June 14, 2007 13:12
4 minute read.

He stumbled down the hall, shoulders hunched, barely able to keep his eyes open. Unshaven, unkempt, he had all the makings of the new father he was. Bleary eyed, he blinked at me, comprehending slowly that a question was being addressed to him. "Another bad night?" I asked sympathetically. "I don't know why," he said, bewildered, "but I just need more sleep. I don't feel well; nothing specific, my body just doesn't feel well. Five hours of sleep isn't enough for me." I smiled at him wryly, thinking how much I would have given for five hours of concentrated sleep in the first year of my kids' lives and thought, "Oh, he's in for it for sure." This poor sap usually works the evening shift: He gets home around midnight and tries to get to sleep shortly thereafter. His wife is nursing and he doesn't usually get out of bed during the night. But being a mentsh, he feels badly for her and gets up with their daughter at 6 a.m. and lets his wife sleep until 9. Which is the cause for his current haggard appearance. THIS WEEK, the Knesset made law the country's paternity leave policy, which allows for fathers to take off from work and still be paid - after the mother has already taken six weeks' maternity leave. Because the Knesset also recently passed a law that maternity leave is now 14 weeks, in principle men could take longer leaves than their wives, according to Dalit Azouli, spokesperson for the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women. But I ask, why couldn't a father take off the first six weeks with the mother? Especially after the birth of the first child, both parents are shell-shocked. Add the postpartum trials the mother goes through - painful stitches, swollen breasts, cracked nipples, bloody flux and a general feeling of "Who ran me over and left me to die in the gutter" - and the father's contribution at home is vital in those first few weeks. Ya'ir was born during my husband's winter break from the university. Which was very considerate, seeing how hard both of us took the first weeks of his life when all he really did was sleep, cry a little and poop a lot more than we thought possible. After his brit, my parents stopped by to make a meal and say good-bye. Their plane was set to take off later that evening. My husband, looking very much like the gentleman described above (but clean-shaven for the pictures at the brit), excused himself halfway through dinner and went to lie down. I desperately tried to follow my parents' conversation, but the room was spinning, I was sweating, and they were speaking in slow motion. I begged them, handing them a colicky Ya'ir, "Please, just let me rest for half an hour..." I joined my husband, and all was black. My husband and I waded through those early days together, and I was so glad to have a partner - albeit one without milk on tap. But since he was pretty much useless during the night feedings, I let him sleep, and this helped him get back on his feet for that dreaded day of his return to work. Instantly my life was measured by small successes: Did I shower today? Is there a semblance of a balanced meal? At least pita and humous in the house? My boss phoned about a month after Ya'ir's birth to let me know that all the magazine's writers would be having a meeting. He said that I obviously didn't need to come, but I leapt at the opportunity: I wanted to feel like a person again. I wanted my old life back! Of course, by the time the twins were set to be born, I had adjusted to my new permanent identity of Mother. We scheduled the cesarean for Succot, which meant my husband was available for two weeks after their birth. Definitely not enough time, we found out, quickly realizing that our parent-child ratio would forever not be in our favor. My husband then began his life of double duty: Work during the day and housework once he got home. Everyone had told me to find hired help when the twins were born. My husband complained that I'd gotten a slave instead. But a slave who rarely missed a full night's sleep. For I had decided that taking care of the kids (not the house) would be my full-time job - a job that paid pitifully in comparison to the hours I put into it and had little positive feedback from my demanding twin bosses (but at least I didn't need to dress to impress). And this time I wised up: Almost every time the twins would both blessedly sleep, I'd shut my eyes as well. Whether it was a three-minute nap or even up to an hour of rest, I realized that merely lying down was refreshing, and the dishes, and laundry, and cooking ... could wait for my husband. BACK TO our poor, tired-out new father. I gave him a mini-lecture on how he needs to have that tough talk with his unsuspecting wife concerning how he has to be able to function at work. And let's be really callous here: Perhaps she should just go to bed earlier, when their daughter does, and let him sleep a bit later. He responded that she just doesn't feel like she's accomplished anything if all she's done that day is take care of the baby. "But in a way," was my very un-feminist response, "she is being paid to take care of your daughter. It's her job. Once she gets back to work, then you renegotiate the terms. And then you'd better haul your butt out of bed just as much as she does." In the meantime, working a 24-hour day, seven days a week, is nothing to belittle. The writer is the mother of twin toddlers and a three- year-old. Any advice is appreciated. [email protected]

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