Postpartum Pain Points: How to Deal: Elisha and Kathryn Voetberg
Whether this you're a first-time mom or a seasoned veteran, your struggles postpartum might be the same: Sleep deprivation. Healing. Body insecurity. Lack of sex. Expectations. Caring for yourself. Keeping a tiny human alive. Hormones. Kathryn and Elisha Voetberg provide ideas to navigate the biggest challenges of bringing a child into the world.
I had this expectation my mom was going to come stay at my house for a week after the baby. And now we’re in this, you know, tiny two bedroom apartment [Laughter] and Elisha has like his mother-in-law there 24/7. It’s just kind of like, “What do I do?” Right? -- Kathryn Voetbert
About the Guest
- Connect with Elilsha and Kathryn Voetberg www.nowthatwereafamily.com.
- Find their books here: nowthatwereafamily.com/after-the-baby
- Intrigued by today's episode? Think more about life "after the baby" in our blog post, Postpartum Depression: Admitting It to Myself … And to My Husband, and this FamilyLife Today episode on the wake-up call of new motherhood.
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Kathryn and Elisha Voetberg provide ideas to navigate the biggest challenges of bringing a child into the world.
Postpartum Pain Points: How to Deal: Elisha and Kathryn Voetberg
Katie: I had this expectation my mom was going to come stay at my house for a week after the baby. And now we’re in this, you know, tiny two bedroom apartment [Laughter] and Elisha has like his mother-in-law there 24/7. It’s just kind of like, “What do I do?” Right?
Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Shelby Abbott and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on the FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: Okay I’m taking a shot here but I’m going to guess one of the hardest transitions for husbands, I can’t speak for wives, is when his wife has a baby. [Laughter] Not because that’s not a wonderful, it’s awesome, incredible, what a blessing of God, but at least for me, you’ve heard me say this before. I felt like I became number two, and then number three the baby came first. I was an afterthought.
Ann: And I felt like, “I don’t even know who I am. I don’t know what’s happened to my life.” It was such a shock to me. I thought I’d be this great, amazing mom--
Dave: –and you were.
Ann: –and I remember my dad coming to visit with my mom.
Dave: Oh you’re going to bring this up?
Ann: I think that our baby was a month old, super colicky first born. My dad said, “How is it? How are you?” I said, “Dad,” I’m the youngest of four. I said, “This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my entire life. Like Dad, I could go run a marathon and think like boy that was hard. This is 1,000 times harder for me to transition into this life.” I lost myself and so I can understand why you would feel like that because I didn’t even know who I was. So I’m sure you felt left behind because I was lost in the desert somewhere. [Laughter]
Dave: Well we’re going to talk about that because I think life and marriage and family changes after the baby and I just read the title [Laughter] of a book that we have the authors in the studio with us today. Elisha and Katie Voetberg are back.
Ann: And the subtitle is The Five Biggest Pain Points of Postpartum and How to Work Through Them as a Married Couple.
Dave: So obviously the subtitle tells us a little bit but have you experienced the same thing? Like wow, after the baby it’s a whole different ball game.
Katie: The whole reason why we wrote these was because I did feel like there was a lot of information supporting moms on the transition through postpartum, but then there wasn’t a lot for dads. There was definitely nothing that we found that was talking about navigating through it as a couple, because when you’re married everything that you’re going through your spouse is also going through to some extent.
Elisha: Yes and I think there was an element of being totally taken off guard because as we’ve talked about before we’re from big families. We thought my dad was happy. My mom–they were happy. They had this great marriage and for whatever reason we just thought we were going to seamlessly go from being these people that were newlywed with no children to going into our first children and that was not going to have an effect on our marriage because you’re excited about the child--
Elisha: –and you’re reading parenting books and-- [Laughter]
Elisha: –all the things to prepare you for that but then you’re still married when you go into that postpartum season and in fact your marriage becomes even more of a crucial element of your life. I was excited to be a father. Katie was excited to be a mother. Then a couple of weeks after having the babies you’re thinking, “What happened–who is this person I was married to?” [Laughter] And so all of sudden our marriage started suffering even though we were thrilled to have a child.
Katie: Well I feel like my mom kind of tricked me. She birthed 11 children. I was the oldest of those and so I was able to see a lot of new babies enter into our home.
Ann: You watched her all those years.
Katie: Yes and she just made it seem like a piece of cake. Like one week later she was back to homeschooling, making all the meals, my dad was back at work. I was just like, you have a baby, you’re in bed for a few days, and then life goes back to normal. [Laughter] Like that’s what I thought.
So we’re like three weeks in with our first, nursing didn’t come naturally as you’d think it would. I was stressing out about that and Elisha is kind of acting like I don’t exist at this point, because [Laughter] he’s just stressed out about all of it and I think kind of feeling like, “Where is my place in all of this?”
Elisha: Yes I was a really, really brilliant guy. I’ll tell you what [Laughter] because I was thinking, “Okay, sex is off the table, so I don’t need to show any physical attention towards my wife. I don’t need to give her any affirmation.” She was feeling the neglect from me, because I was just kind of well I don’t know how to show affection at this point if it doesn’t lead to, you know, the ultimate affection. At that point in our marriage communication was terrible. We weren’t, you know we talked about we are one but we weren’t feeling as one at all.
Elisha: Katie felt very isolated with her baby, and I was not caring for her in any loving way at all. If anything the entitled mindset that I had was, “Okay you’ve taken care of the baby, but then why–I’m left on my own here,” you know feeling isolated from you.
Dave: What about me?
Elisha: Yeah. What about me?
Ann: Katie I’m understanding like that’s not on your mind. Your physical relationship isn’t necessarily at the utmost part of your mind right now because you’re thinking, “Like how am I nursing this baby?” and your hormones are shifting. What were you feeling?
Katie: Elisha told me every single day I was beautiful, every single day. Our first year of marriage, right? So then we have the baby and he just like stops complimenting me. [Laughter]
Ann: Oh no.
Katie: And I think part of it was because I was walking around the house in this like jumper trying to get as easy access [Laughter] for nursing as possible.
Dave: In fact Elisha, you’ve got to tell the story. Maybe you don’t want to, but you wrote about it, when you said to her when she was talking about you know nursing.
Dave: I laughed out loud.
Ann: Me too.
Elisha: Oh sure. I’d say this is not one of my better moments. [Laughter] I’m going to go ahead and say that with this one. I’d just gone back to work and I came home and Katie was pretty broken down with how challenging it was to nurse our first born Liam. He was really little so we were watching his weight and of course there’s added stress.
Elisha: I do remember trying to encourage Katie and saying, “Well you know you had a cow growing up. You know [Laughter] how much work it took to milk the cow. Just think about that. I think for some reason Katie feeling like she was being compared to a milk cow didn’t sit well with her.
Dave: I wonder why she thought that?
Ann: [Laughter] I laughed out loud too when I read that. I’m like, I can’t even imagine like Katie what were your thoughts when he said that?
Katie: Oh my goodness like I think, I probably just cried. [Laughter] I just cried all the time. It was so funny because he’s just looking at me like, “Okay, so apparently women go from like being this fun person to just this emotional mess for the rest of their lives,” and he’s thinking, “I’m just going to cry at every milestone of this kid’s life.”
Ann: –and walking around in these jumpsuits.
Katie: Yes, exactly.
Ann: Mine were sweatpants.
Katie: Exactly. No fashion sense, no, I don’t know, self-dignity. I had no dignity at that point I was just, yes.
Dave: Both you two have gone through you know being a mom, and there’s a mom listening that is maybe having her first, and struggling with all the things you’re saying. What would say to them?
Katie: If you’re already in it, you know there’s no time to really prepare because you’re already there. Just know that this is a season and it does end. I think that’s something that we can forget a lot as parents, or just a lot in our marriages. Life is not just a straight uphill climb. There’s lots of dips and valleys in it. This is a hard season and you’re in it. It feels like you’re not sleeping; you don’t feel attractive; and maybe you and your spouse aren’t communicating well. But it does end if you just keep putting in the effort, even if it seems like a long time. When you’re in the thick of a hard season, a day, two days, that can seem like a really long time.
Katie: Then you look back and you’re like, “Oh, that was eight weeks,” I think of the fact that women go through nine months of a pregnancy, have a delivery at the end, which is really painful, [Laughter] and then do it all again. It’s like we forget how hard the hard was. Make the best out of the season that you’re in and know that it ends, and you’ll probably do it again. [Laughter]
Ann: I would agree with that and give yourself grace. But also to know too, that some women are entering into postpartum and it’s really deep and dark. I’ve had friends and even some of my friend’s daughters go through that, where I think the greatest step too is to talk about it, to tell people, “This is what I’m feeling. I’m scared sometimes about what I’m feeling,” but to talk about it with a mom, somebody you can trust even spiritually. I think too, maybe some people don’t agree, but see a doctor. Sometimes our hormones are so messed up to find that out. Medication can sometimes be really helpful too, but talking about it is important, because there are a lot of women that are walking through that same thing.
Dave: What would you say to us men? Elisha and I are just like–I can relate to what you felt like, “I don’t know what to do. I can make a cow comment too, you know. I’m not sure what she needs from me right now,” and I responded probably the wrong way as well. I responded like how I started the program like, “What about me?” I’m like number 101 now in the family. Talk to the guys. What is the best thing we can do to come alongside our wives when they’re going through this?
Elisha: Katie already mentioned it’s a season. For me when I simplify things and looked at the most important things in life, sometimes crazy seasons can help you do that. Okay, we’re not going to make Bible study every week and we might not even make it to church and you start breaking down what are the core things in my life that I can really take control of right now?
And you get in God’s Word and you’re edified by that. When we talk about being renewed, transformed by the renewing of your mind - that’s a daily thing, getting into God’s Word. As a husband I think I would get bogged down. It would be day four, five, or six, or eighteen in the house, and people are bringing you food and you’re eating out all the time and your workout routine is thrown off. You don’t know when your quiet time’s going to be. I just wouldn’t feel like I was equipped at all to have clarity when it came to being a spiritual head.
First and foremost you need to be sensitive to the reality of your wife’s situation. That is carnage - I tell you what. [Laughter] That is a crazy thing that happens when a child enters the world and to be able to walk with her in that and seeing that. My respect for my wife went through the roof in a huge way. She became just like a celebrity to me in that time after our babies entered into the world.
Being also sensitive to the reality that her body is, there’s just a physical healing that needs to take place. There’s going to be emotional things that you aren’t going to be able to wrap your mind around at all. And I think that was really big for me is not taking it personally when Katie needed to lean on other women because we had talked about that need to be one, and that need to be the person that we go to.
There are things where Katie is talking to me about what she’s feeling or not feeling and trying to figure it out, and I’m giving her a blank stare. I’m trying to be a problem solver and saying, “Well, let’s find a verse in the Bible.” She really – it’s never a bad time to go to God’s Word of course - but really what she was probably needing wasn’t necessarily somebody solving the problem in that way and not taking it personally when she felt like she needed to call her mom or call an older woman in the church.
Katie: Yes. When you mentioned like your priorities I do think you leading yourself was still helpful for us. You know because one person is really depleted and this is a time when Elisha just started expecting less from me. I think sometimes we can expect our spouse to fill certain needs that we have, and that’s a blessing in marriage that we can fulfill each others needs, but ultimately we have to be filled by Christ. There’s a season where I wasn’t filling as many of Elisha’s needs, and so I felt like when you became a lot more sustaining in your own relationship with Christ - even things like working out for you - kept your mental health in a good place. Eating well, going to bed at a decent time, you know he just became a source of strength for me and for us and it gave me this season to be able to focus on recouping and not really feel pressure to prioritize him in the same way. Although that is something we did talk about, because I do think it is important for wives to still show their husbands, even if it’s little ways, that they are still a priority. I think that’s actually really important in marriage in the postpartum season.
Ann: Elisha you talked about you that weren’t the greatest communicator and even in your book you talk about tool number one, what not to talk about.
Ann: I was laughing. Number one: jobs. Number two: housing. Number three: moving.
Elisha: Yes, like I said I kicked into problem solving mode [Laughter] you know and so--
Dave: That’s what we do.
Elisha: Yes. We made some life altering decisions in that really eight week period that by God’s grace haven’t been too detrimental to our life, but they probably weren’t great decisions. That is something that’s so crazy about this season. You think, “Oh how long does it last?” and of course it’s going to last a different length time for everyone. You think it’s a small amount of time, but you can say extremely hurtful things that last a lifetime in that amount of time. You can make decisions that the pain is felt for a lifetime and so I don’t think that you can really treat this season too lightly.
When you think about poor decisions, life altering decisions in our life, it came in a season, it came in a moment of weakness. It came in a moment of not feeling clarity in where you’re supposed to be heading. I guarantee your thinking is not clear. You know you don’t have this clarity on this is the direction where the Lord’s leading us in. This is what’s important for our home and that can lead to just making poor decisions.
Ann: Part of that is from no sleep. [Laughter]
Elisha: Exactly, just the physical reality of not thinking clearly because of the lack of sleep.
Dave: Yes, one of the things you do and both of your books is the expectations, and help our listeners understand because you gave a lot of very practical ways to communicate and think through this season of your life. Help our listeners know what’s that looks like, the expectations chart.
Ann: You even had 25 questions to ask before you go into labor. I was looking at those Dave and I thought, “Did we ask any of these things?” [Laughter]
Dave: We weren’t smart enough. [Laughter]
Katie: Well it’s funny we start out the book with expectations being one of the biggest pain points of postpartum, because really if you have expectations just communicate them ahead of time. Then you have a place to work from. So you can pivot afterwards and be like, “Hey, I know we had this conversation and this is what we thought we wanted. I’m not feeling that way anymore so let’s try this.”
But at least you’re starting from this shared point of view and you’re aren’t trying to find that shared point of view when you’re both emotional or sleep deprived or one of you is struggling mentally.
We kind of formulated these workbooks based off of what we felt like we needed to work through. [Laughter] The 25 questions, these are all the things we should have talked about before, and then you’re trying to talk about these things afterwards when emotions are high and sleep is low and it’s like that’s a you know, communication disaster.
And it’s the same thing with the expectations translator. We actually–Elisha and I were working together at this time and this was a business tool that we took from our business coaching at the time and we reformatted it to reflect our expectations in other areas of life. Because this is how we get on the same page with business, and we can use this in other areas of our life. We found that when we’re writing down our expectations of, even simple things like, “Oh I had this expectation my mom was going to come stay at my house for a week after the baby.” Now we’re in this tiny two bedroom apartment [Laughter] and Elisha like has his mother-in-law there 24/7, and it’s just kind of like, “What do I do?” Right? [Laughter]
So there are all these things where when I wrote them down I was able to clarify my own thoughts. Then we would show these papers to each other, and I’d be like–we’d notice the discrepancies in there.
Ann: What were some of the discrepancies?
Elisha: Yes. That was one, I think, the “I love my mother-in-law, but again it was a small space.”
Elisha: And I think the involvement from our church. We were blessed with an amazing Christian community. I think that early on their love and support became overwhelming, you know which is a crazy privilege place to be. A lot of people feel isolated and alone in that first, in that season of postpartum, but we had our church and our small group wanting every day, multiple times to come by and bring meals [Laughter] and show support.
Katie: And see the baby too and so it was like social hour every day.
Katie: We’re both pretty introverted and I wasn’t feeling at my best.
Ann: Because you want to look halfway decent with some clothing on.
Katie: Yes, I don’t want to be this bedraggled be like, “Hey, I just had a baby,” you know. Things aren't going so well.
Elisha: Getting on the same page there then kind of gave me the playbook so to speak with on how to engage with people from our church. I was able to text and say, “Hey you know today’s not a good day. Maybe if anybody is to come by, this is the day to come by and meet the baby.” Katie and I were able to be on the same page with that rather than just being receptive to anything and trying to react, and not knowing, “Does Katie want to see these people, does she not want to see these people?” Because if it were up to me I’d tell them all, “to get lost you know,” [Laughter] but maybe Katie wants that support.
Dave: I hope they’re listening right now. [Laughter]
Katie: Exactly. We love you guys. That’s the thing. People don’t know how to help either, if you haven’t set clear expectations for your community. So are you expecting help and no one is expecting to give it to you, or are they expecting to give you a lot of help, and you’re like okay I’m feeling a little over helped?
Physical intimacy after the baby, talking through that. What are your expectations for that? What are your expectations for just things romantically? We had friends who the wife didn’t want to go on a date without the baby. Her game plan was two years. The husband was thinking a couple weeks we could just get a babysitter, right? [Laughter]
So those are things that are helpful to talk about, or sleeping. You know are you planning on co-sleeping, because that’s going to be something you’re going to want to talk about with your spouse before you have the baby in the bed with you? Do you have that expectation of your husband getting up with you through the night every time you’re nursing or bottle feeding the baby? Are you going to share those duties or is someone going to take it and run with that? Those are just different things that we had to discuss and a lot more.
Ann: We wrote down a couple of them too. I thought they were really smart. Like what role do you see your parents playing in our lives after the baby is born? How do you feel about, as you said, children sleeping in our room or our bed? Who are you comfortable with allowing to watch our child? Do you feel our marriage is ready to take on new strains, or should we look into conferences or counseling before the next baby arrives? Those are just super wise things to talk about before the baby comes, when as you said, your emotions aren’t high, you’re sleep deprived. It’s so much better to have those conversations then.
Dave: Now how do you it now? You have four, number five on the way. We talked earlier about you know your marriage being a priority. Even when you just said the wife wants to take her baby for two years. I’d be like, “That’s a really bad decision.”
Again, I’m not telling everybody how to live but it’s like man you want to make your marriage a priority you’ve got to let go for an evening or an hour or whatever it is to say to my husband, “You’re number one. You’ll always be number one. Our marriage is always going to come first.” How are you navigating that world, because you’ve got a houseful? Is your marriage something that you’re able to keep as a priority?
Elisha: Yes, we do make great efforts to do that. Early on in our marriage we live close to family that were extremely supportive in taking the kids, which is a huge blessing and we’ve got that. They want to take, even if it’s a newborn, they want to take them and send you away for a date night and our parents were really supportive in that.
We’re currently living in a town where we don’t have that family support. Honestly, on our list when we moved to this town of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. We knew we didn’t have any family, it was on the list it was” find a church, find a babysitter that we could really trust and we did. It’s got to be a decision that’s made with wisdom and discernment. You want to scrutinize the person that’s coming in to care for your children, but we prioritized that early on.
I love that Katie especially sets the expectation for our children that mommy and daddy, if we’re in a conversation, you know we’re not going to blow the kids off, but they know that if we’re talking about something important, it’s to their best interest if we get stuff sorted out. You know it’s to their best interest when we are on the same page and when we are walking in unity. We want to not just say that to our children, we want to exemplify that and truly prioritize that. So even if it doesn’t mean getting away you know for a Weekend to Remember® conference and having your kids taken--
Dave: –Hey, way to throw the plug in there.
Elisha: –Thank you, yes. [Laugher]
Katie: We’ve gone to two. We appreciate them a lot.
Elisha: So helpful. But maybe it does mean making sure that all the kids are in bed at a certain hour, so you can count that two and a half hours in the evening to talk stuff through, or maybe it means getting up earlier before the kids, but it’s something that we’ve prioritized. I think there’s always a way to be able to prioritize that in a practical manner.
Katie: Yes, I think for us quality time is really big so date nights are big. Then if we want to be spontaneous, the kids can watch something, the baby can sit in their pack ‘n play it’s a safe place for them, and I feel like Elisha and I are still able to show each other, “Hey we’ve got this house, this bunch of kids and it’s crazy but you’re still a priority to me.”
Ann: And the conditions will never be ideal when you have this many kids in the home.
Ann: So somehow, make it a priority.
Ann: You guys this has been really helpful and really wise. I’m just looking at all of their lists and things like I’m thinking if you aim at nothing you’ll hit it. [Laughter] Many of us parent just making it through the day without really any kind of plan for our marriage, with our walks with God, for discipleship. You guys have put together these books to really help couples navigate a difficult time so thanks for doing that.
Elisha: Thank you.
Shelby: You know prioritizing our spouse in the midst of the chaos that is raising children is a common struggle. A lot of people go through it, but one that we’ve been given so much help with today.
I’m Shelby Abbott and I’m extremely grateful. You’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Elisha and Katie Voetberg on FamilyLife Today. Elisha and Katie have written two books. One called After the Baby for Her and one called After the Baby for Him. These books help walk you through the pain points of postpartum and really how to work through them as a married couple. You can pick up copies of those books at FamilyLifeToday.com or you can give us a call at 800-358-6329. Again that number is 800, ‘F’ as in family, ‘L’ as in life and then the word TODAY.
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Shelby: On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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