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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