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With this ring, I give you my dregs

I always thought I’d be one of those women that would call my husband a mother fucker in labour and vow never to let him near my body again.

Actually in between delicious gasps of gas & air I kept telling him I loved him. I felt this rush of togetherness. We were unbreakable.

We met and fell in love pretty quickly – Doug was playing rugby in Italy and we flew back and forth to see each other until nine months later he proposed. I knew that this rugby-playing, musical-loving (yes really), intelligent and ridiculously compassionate hulk of a man was The One. We got married the following year and had a lovely old time thinking of not a lot other than ourselves before falling pregnant.

The first couple of weeks with a newborn were fairly blissful – neither of us knew what we were doing, but we were in this together. And then reality and sleep deprivation kicked in. Without fail, every single honest friend I’ve spoken to has said their relationship struggled. It’s hard to find time for each other, hard to stop the nagging and criticism because he doesn’t do it like you, and I imagine hard for them not to feel a bit neglected when all you can think about is your baby and at times it’s pretty apparent they’re little more than an annoyance. You are emotionally and physically spent and there ain’t no change left for him.

That exhaustion leads to very limited patience and things that were previously a nothing – I hate to say it but I might have even enjoyed mothering Doug before I became an actual mother – become triggers for eruptive rows. A few Christmases ago I got Doug an embossed towel. I bought the love of my life a towel with his name on it. Because it drove me mad that he regularly used my towel or got another clean one out of the cupboard. I tittered as I gave it to him but beneath those smiling eyes was a warning: for fuck’s sake, USE YOUR OWN TOWEL. That Christmas coincided with Mabel being three months old and Buster was just two. I felt permanently on edge. I was tired. He thought he was just using the nearest towel available. I felt he was selfishly adding to the washing pile that was becoming my nemesis. The little things become almighty.

Chances are when you have a small baby you’re spending a fair amount of time around people you don’t really know. If you voice your marital concerns in the wrong circles – like a lady you’ve just met at a stay and play – it might make people feel uncomfortable:

‘It’s the way he chews his food. And he comes home expecting me to smile and jazz hands like the chorus of Annie and I’m seething because he’s late and I want to punch him in the face, and we haven’t had sex in three months. Oh isn’t your son marvellous with a rattle?’

For the first couple of years after having a baby, we often gave each other our dregs.

It wasn’t all grim, but when we were tired (which has been quite a lot) and had nothing left, we have given each other the very worst of ourselves.

We also watched as the other person managed to exude more energy and kindness for others than for us, even for people at work. It’s unlikely if a colleague was late for a meeting you’d text calling them a dick before ringing every 30 seconds until they walked in the door to you snarling. I for one *may* have done that once or twice to Doug (by once or twice I mean maybe a couple of hundred times). Equally those times that he came in and wanted to slump on the sofa, I felt aggrieved that he had nothing left for me but could still manage knobby banter with his mates on Whatsapp.

It kind of makes sense that your partner gets relegated. But it still comes as a bit of a surprise, and a kick in the face. They are also not the only one that’s relegated because we tend to put ourselves right to the bottom of the pile. This new tiny person is all consuming, and I found it terrifying – my world had been set up around the two of us, and if I now didn’t like the way he breathed, it could be a problem. I’d always been quite blasé about marriage – of course we’d make it work. For the first time I understood why so many people can’t.

When I get together with my girlfriends now, we always end up cackling riotously over the ridiculous rows we’ve had with our partners. And our derision isn’t reserved just for the men – we know that we are also pretty tricksy to live with at times. It’s liberating. The conflict is a real part of being in a relationship and I don’t doubt the woman that says having a baby has bought her closer to her partner. I felt that – I knew Doug was a good man, but simultaneously I felt an internal rage at his inability to take his shoes off before treading his germy feet all over the house.

Having kids is a huge shift for a couple and one that we’re probably not really equipped for, especially if we think everyone else has found it a breeze. Like most things about motherhood, finding your relationship hard is something that feels a bit easier when you know the majority of people around you are going through the same. We’re going on holiday on our own in a few days. Guilt and fear aside, I know it will be brilliant because fundamentally we’re still that same daft young couple that thought each other was the best person we’d ever met. We’ve just been too tired to show it sometimes.

Anyone else want to share…?

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16 thoughts on “With this ring, I give you my dregs

  1. Emma says:

    Love this! Laughed out loud at the ‘knobby banter with his mates on what’s app’ . My boys are 6&7 so less all consuming than they were at 1&2, but still … That bloody what’s app has caused some arguments.

  2. Nicola says:

    I’ve only just caught this and it is so perfectly timed. My 2 are 3 and 1 and at the moment me and my partner are living parallel lives. It’s hard not to keep score and to just be there for each other – there are days when I have been touched so much by the kids that I feel sick at the thought of being touched by anyone else! Thanks for being honest – it’s good to hear when peeps are feeling the same. Gives me strength x

  3. Suzanne says:

    Oh Steph, i can so relate to your words and THIS is why we absolutely make time together alone an essential part of our marriage. We simply don’t give each other our best and that is the reality of marriage and living together. When we go away together, it says that we think the other person deserves to see us at our best and we actually CHOOSE to spend time with them. That in itself is a huge thing. Also just remembering little gestures of kindness. I’m not so good at that when I’m tired and grumpy….January seems to do that to me. Hope you’ve had a wonderful break away. It’s good to remember what it is you loved about them in the first place. x x

    • Steph says:

      Somehow missed this! Thanks Suzanne – that’s exactly it, I CHOOSE to spend time with you. This has reminded me I need to book a babysitter as we’ve not seen each other for about a week! xx

  4. Becky | Spirited Puddle Jumper says:

    I love this post, Steph- really resonates with me, and I really didn’t expect such a shift once we’d had kids. We get on great most of the time, but often too knackered to really give each other our all. I’m hoping this will change for the better over the next few years! x

    • Steph says:

      I’m hanging on to that! It doesn’t sound like the teenage years are easy by any stretch, but perhaps due to more sleep people seem to have more headspace, and that’s the bit I seem to lack most of the time at the moment! xxx

  5. Katie Hill says:

    Exactly what I was trying to explain to my husband today…5 months in and we have no time for each other. End of the day, we’re both on our phones and then getting as much sleep as possible and then bickering in the middle of the night…thought we’d pull together but it’s really tough! Thank you for this post – really needed to read it today!

    • Steph says:

      Oh Katie – so many of us are in the same boat, so hopefully that makes you feel better. I know it doesn’t make it any easier, but we are definitely not alone x

  6. Sam says:

    Steph, I always love your posts, and despite being a bit further along the path than you, I can always remember the feelings you evoke…and I quite often have a tear in the eye as I’m reading, if only in memory of those toddler days (my boys started secondary school this year and they are very definitely on the road to teenager tants…I wish you had some words of wisdom for me at this stage…!)
    My wish for you is to enjoy your time away with Doug, and trust that your children are in good hands and don’t need you to worry about them, so that you enjoy that time together. It’s precious, and rare. I know from experience!!

    • Steph says:

      Thanks Sam – we did enjoy it very much and weirdly, once we were gone (having held them and wept as they slept before we left!) the guilt went! We’re now back, and all is back to noisy normal and I’m so glad we did it. I’ve no idea how we’re cope with the teenage rants…let me know how it goes!! x

  7. Riddles says:

    Another brilliant read. Can very much relate to this. I share a similar experience in that when I met my now husband we fell in love very quickly, we travelled the world, we laughed ALL the time, we brought the very best out of each other. Then this beautiful little screaming non sleeping baby came along and very quickly my “one” became the person I wanted to knock out quite frequently. We were bringing the WORST out in each other. He couldn’t understand where his fun loving, caring wife had gone and I couldn’t understand why he couldn’t just WAKE UP! It’s a huge adjustment. But push through because it’s worth it as you very rightly point out.

  8. Taryn says:

    Great piece and something I can very much relate to. We have been married 5 years and had 3 babies in that time who are now 4,2 and 5 months. We are both knackered and it’s hard for stay connected when life is so tiring. At the same time these 3 little people have brought us closer together and tested us as a couple and even though it can be tough we are a team (albeit one that bickers a bit – particularly over who is most tired!) Like you we are planning a night away in 6 months time for our wedding anniversary and I can’t wait . Have a great time x