#62 | Cynthia Mini: Deconstructing "Supportive Partners"

November 16, 2020

I've been doing this work a long time. And from where I sit, I have the unique advantage of being able to observe trends and societal patterns. And there's something I've been trying to figure out for a long time: What's up with postpartum women telling us their partners - especially when those partners are men/husbands - are "supportive"? This doesn't quite sit right with me, and in today's mini-episode, I explore why.

After you give it a listen, please message us @downtobirthshow on Instagram or click on our website link below. Do you agree or disagree? How come? I mean, is it just me? I think I'm onto something here. Now tell me what you think.

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View Episode Transcript

I've noticed in my years of working with women running postpartum support groups, and even interviewing women on this podcast, there's one thing that I hear over and over again, and that is when women say, their partners are so supportive. Think about what that means supportive of what exactly, bringing a baby into your relationship becomes a 24 hour a day job with no breaks on holidays and weekends, no vacations, you know this. And that is certainly the truth, at least for the first year, and then maybe for the next 10 years, it is a more than full time job. But that lasts every minute that that child is awake. I mean, you can have a five year old and you can't have a phone call easily without making sure they're occupied. So when we speak to women, and we hear them say that their partners are supportive, I just want to know what that means. So let's just take an example. Picture a father and a husband at work, whatever that means to you, whatever the work looks like, I want you to picture him being at work, and someone asking him how it's going at home with the baby. And imagine him saying to his co worker, my wife's been really supportive. Oh, that sounds funny, does it? What if he's home? What if he's the full time parents at home, and she's at work, which one of them is more likely to say their partner is supportive? I keep hearing women saying this about their partners, and in particular, when their partners are men. And I can't help but theorize that this is because we're still ingrained with society, our grandparents generation, maybe even our parents generation, were the default parent was that birthing mother. So when the baby needs to be picked up from a nap, the mother tends to get the baby. When the mother needs to go to the bathroom, or take a phone call or make plans, she needs to then check with her partner. But typically, we don't see this happening the other way around. We don't tend to see fathers holding the baby all day on a Saturday and finding the mother somewhere in the house and saying, Hey, can you hold the baby? Will I go to the bathroom for a few minutes? Or hey, I have to shower? Can you hold the baby and then coming out while he's still barely dry? Taking the baby back and then maybe even saying thank you? Because that's another thing? are you thanking your partner for changing the diaper for holding the baby? As if it's only your job? And I'm not saying to be presumptuous? I'm not saying not to be polite. But are you noticing that you're speaking differently about your partner than your partner is speaking about you? Are you noticing that your language toward your partner as it relates to the baby is different from your partner's language toward you? What does it mean? Because in the old days, the father's often didn't change a single diaper. And sometimes the mothers were proud of that, that they never had to because they did such a good job being the mom that the father never even knew where the diapers were because she had it all under control. And that's, you know, it's for you and your partner to figure out what your relationship looks like. But I can't, I can't get used to any one of those two people referring to the other one as being supportive. It's not like saying your partner is supportive of your career, because that's your career, but to be supportive of the fact that I have a child, and he's an active participant. I just don't know that. That's the healthiest belief system in a relationship. You know, I'm I'm open with my opinions. And I haven't totally formulated my opinion on this yet. I'd love to hear your opinions. Does this strike a chord? Do you have thoughts that you can help me to articulate to disagree? Do you think that each partner can go around saying the other one is supportive? Maybe? Yeah, I mean, if they're both saying that, I guess I still can't get my head around it. If they both are. I still don't understand it. When you sit in a room with women holding their babies in a postpartum support environment, and all their guards are down. You see them on their good days. You see them on there not so good days crying, you see them after an argument with their partner sometimes. There are no pretenses and because there's a beautiful lack of self consciousness.

It's easy to pick up on familiar patterns like, Wow, I've heard this before. Anyway, think about this, and find us on Instagram and shoot us a message down to birth show or go to email, if you prefer contact at down to birth show calm. I know about 24 hours after this episode is published, a few hundred of you will have already heard it. And I hope to hear back from a bunch of you. Do you agree? Do you disagree? Let's say our partners are really great. They really carry a good load in the house. Wonderful with the baby. But if we don't say they're supportive, implying that they are supporting you in your work. What can we say instead? I don't know. I need to give that some thought. But I'd like to hear your suggestions. What can we say instead, that we've done a really great job parenting together, that it's tough, but we're working out that when one of us needs a break, the other one steps up. It should have an ebb and flow vibe to it a give and take vibe to it. There's something really beautiful about that. But one supporting the other just doesn't quite sit right with me. Again, I need time to figure this out. So help me out. Share your ideas. And let me know what other language you think we can say about your partners who are committed with you, who actively participate in parenting with you, who listened to you, and you share their feelings with you, and who assume equal responsibility, not only for the welfare of your baby, but the day to day activities, or at least the day to day activities when you're both at home. And you're both available to participate in those activities. Obviously, if one works for 40 or 50 hours a week, the other one might have to step up and do 100%. But that's a really small percentage of an entire week for a 24 hour job. So what's happening the rest of the time? And if you have a really hands on partner, what language can we use instead? That implies an equal responsibility between the two of you. And the final point I want to make is changing our language in this way, is a service to your partner. I wouldn't want my husband to say Cynthia is supportive of him and his parenting I'd be like I beg your pardon what we they're our children, how can I be supporting you? So I do think it's a disservice to your partner. I do think it's a slight undermining of their role. What's good for you in changing our language is also good for your partner. That's it, everyone. I actually have a hypnobirthing class starting in three minutes right now. So I'm going to sign off. And I can't wait to hear your thoughts on this topic that I find so interesting.

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If you enjoyed this podcast episode of the Down To Birth Show, please share with your pregnant and postpartum friends.

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Between episodes, connect with us on Instagram @DownToBirthShow to see behind-the-scenes production clips and join the conversation by responding to our questions and polls related to pregnancy, childbirth and early motherhood.

You can reach us at Contact@DownToBirthShow.com or call (802) 438-3696 (802-GET-DOWN). 

To join our monthly newsletter, text “downtobirth” to 22828.

About Cynthia Overgard

Cynthia is a published writer, advocate, childbirth educator and postpartum support specialist in prenatal/postpartum healthcare and has served thousands of clients since 2007. 

About Trisha Ludwig

Trisha is a Yale-educated Certified Nurse Midwife and International Board Certified Lactation Counselor. She has worked in women's health for more than 15 years.

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