I’m realizing that it’s hard to keep up with writing this blog when I have a job that takes up my day, and then there are the boys. My kids fill the rest of my time that isn’t used for eating or sleeping, and to further complicate staying on top of this, Game of Thrones is back. I also don’t make any money of off the blog, and money is always a good motivator. However, I have found that writing is a release of sorts and a way to work through whatever thing is bothering me. Usually, that thing is something I’ve read in a mom’s group that sets me off, like today’s topic – marriage after kids.
Obviously, you don’t have to be married to have kids, but I have no idea what that feels like so for this conversation, I’m talking about my marriage.
I read a post that made me a little nuts. It was about a marriage under stress and the wife feels like she’s a different person since having a child, and that she can’t be the person her husband wants her or wishes her to be. Based on the post, it sounds like their marriage isn’t going to make it as she’s not willing to bend to whatever it is her husband is asking. (While I may sound like a jerk, I’ve read many posts by the same person and she is one of the people who thinks that her way is the only and right way and that everyone else is against her, from her husband, family, daycare providers and job. You know the saying if everyone is a problem in your life, you may be the common denominator?)
Truthfully, I think that babies are bad for a marriage.
For the first year of going from no kids to kids, it’s basically a lot of misery with times of incredible joy sprinkled in. Yes, kids are great, we know that so don’t get all pissy. I’ve never loved something or someone as fiercely and completely as my boys. I don’t regret having them, and I’ve tested my regret threshold by wondering how much money someone would have to offer me to buy one of them. I’ve gotten up to a billion dollars in my head without hesitating to think, “no, I wouldn’t sell my child for that amount” (on a good day; tantrum days I may consider off-loading the toddler for a billion).
I would describe my marriage as fairly solid, or at least we’re four years into it and we haven’t threatened each other with divorce yet, neither of us has slept the entire night on the couch out of anger, and I think that for the most part we’re still pretty into each other. We are reasonably good communicators (thanks for the therapy, Mom and Dad!); we don’t have nasty name-calling fights, but we do have conflicts that we usually resolve by working through them together even if it takes some time. But all of that didn’t protect us from how hard it is to have kids.
Even if you’ve had baby experience, or helped with your nieces and nephews, been a preschool teacher or a nanny, nothing prepares you for how incredibly hard it is to have a baby that is full time, 24/7, your responsibility. No matter how that baby gets to you or out of you, there is now a tiny, helpless creature that needs a whole hell of a lot.
I was physically wiped out from having been pregnant and I didn’t have any additional complications like some people do. I was sore from the daily blood thinner injections which I had to continue for six weeks postpartum (so about 40 total weeks, from finding out I was pregnant until 6 weeks PP), and my body was stressed from cooking a person. I had a c-section with our first, so I was recovering from a major abdominal surgery. I was completely beat, and then hit with the horrifying realization that I was expected to heal while surviving on a Gitmo-like sleep deprivation schedule.
My first was tongue-tied and early nursing was miserable. My hormones hit the floor and I spent many hours pants-less and/or topless crying. My baby wouldn’t let me put him down and he wouldn’t stop nursing. He wouldn’t sleep for more than short stretches. I rapidly spun out to a bad, tired, anxious place compounded by what I realized in retrospect was Postpartum Anxiety.
When I say my first wouldn’t sleep, I mean it. He didn’t sleep for more than three hours at a stretch until he was about 8-months old and we discovered his food allergies and got them managed, and I put him on a boot camp like sleep regimen to get his overtired ass caught up so he would be able to sleep more.
If you haven’t been able to figure out where this is going, you may not have kids yet, and if you don’t relate to what I’m about to say, you’re probably lying or delusional.
With every day that I plunged deeper into my sleep deprived anxious hole, I became better able to see everything that my husband was doing wrong. I began to believe that as the mother I knew better than him with all things child related; he couldn’t “get” the baby on the level that I could, and he didn’t understand my feelings when he made suggestions like, “why don’t you just put him down, take a shower and let him cry for a little while.”
From this place of self righteous anger, I began to talk to my husband like he was an idiot. The man I married won’t take my shit for a minute, which is yet another reason why I married him, and he dished that sassy ass tone right back at me. Which made me even more nuts.
We weren’t emotionally connected to each other.
We were both so fucking tired. Yes, I was up all night nursing, but he woke up when I did enough to disturb his sleep. We weren’t spending time with each other that wasn’t also with our son, or if we did get time away for dinner or a date, we had to actively avoid talking about things baby related and/or I was distracted wondering if I would have time enough to brush my teeth before the baby woke up when I would get home, or would I have to pump, or some other focus that put my mind elsewhere.
There was little to no sex in the first nine months or so of the first year. I say little, but my husband would consider sex frequency that you can easily count as no sex. This lack of sex was more than just being tired, although I did think of any obligatory sexy time as time I could be sleeping. Shit, I guess my use of the word ‘obligatory’ is fairly telling actually. I didn’t feel particularly sexy with my soft mom body that didn’t resemble my pre-baby body. I don’t just mean weight, I mean my ribcage is in a different location, my boobs are totally different (and huge compared to where they started, so hubs wants to touch them and if you’re a nursing mom you know the deal – NO TOUCHING!), and I don’t look like “me” to me. My nursing hormones throw my body out of wack and sex starts out as painful to not that comfortable. I was viewing sex like a chore or something to check off the to-do list (to-do me list?) and not something that I was into.
To recap: no sleep, no downtime, no personal time and no sex. All of our money goes to child care instead of to fun things we used to enjoy, like going to see live music or traveling. And no, we don’t really travel with the baby because once they’re mobile, traveling with them sucks as we don’t make magical, portable babies. Doing the fun stuff, like staying out late for a show, doesn’t seem fun anymore when that means even less sleep.
We weren’t like this before kids. But we made it, and we’re still married. Which brings me back to why I was so annoyed at the woman who said she’s so different as a mother and there’s no changing for her husband.
In order to survive the first year and to have our marriage survive, we had to make some changes to our own relationship. This wasn’t about changing who we are fundamentally. I’m not about to tell you to put your marriage/relationship/husband first and before your kids, because I don’t think that’s a realistic ask in the first year, or it wasn’t for me. I will tell you what we had to do.
I had to stop talking to my husband like he was an idiot and give him a voice in child raising. If there was a topic on which I was unwilling to bend, then I didn’t pretend I wanted his opinion, I just said this is the way I think it is and I’m not willing to compromise on it. But, I had to remember that I wasn’t single parenting and having birthed the child didn’t make me more qualified than him on most parenting topics. Things that were issues for me or seemed like really huge deals, like sleep training or solids, had to be sorted out either explicitly together or totally on my own. I had to let go and let him parent.
Communicating my needs clearly was the only for my husband to know what I needed. He’s not a mind reader, and if I needed to get a nap, have a night to go see a friend, or just needed carry out to magically appear on paper plates so there was no cooking and no clean up, I had to tell him. It wasn’t fair for me to get mad at him for not meeting unstated expectations.
There were things my husband needed too, like time with his friends, nights out, etc. and that was what he needed for his mental health. I couldn’t penalize him for it, and I couldn’t stay resentful and punishing for him taking care of his needs if I wasn’t asking for what I needed too.
We understand that we are different people as parents. When it comes down to it, I have to make sure our relationship stays intact and that he is involved as a parent, or he might as well have been a sperm donor for me to become a single parent. That’s not what either of us want.
Do I think that we need to change to be parents and then change back to stay married? No. Kids are hard on a marriage, and if we can’t change and grow together through the experience of becoming parents, it’s just like any other relationship-ending life event. We change and grow together, or we grow apart.