When you’re pregnant, advice is pointed at you from every direction and the phrase ‘things change you know’ is used a lot by people nodding sagely at you.
Something that wasn’t mentioned was that my husband and I would have more rows in those first months after a baby than we’d had in our whole relationship and that at times I would feel an anger towards him that left me rigid and shaking, or quietly seething in a Gollum voice ‘You did this to me’.
The first couple of weeks after both babies were fairly harmonious. Everything was a bit warm and fuzzy, paternity leave meant we were both there and going through this new experience together. Although I can remember calling my mum crying after I had Mabel because Doug was using his paternity leave to build a shed and had been to the gym and I just wanted him to unpack the dishwasher and Stop. Fucking. Hammering. But still, newborns actually sleep quite a lot and we were both there to stare at the babies and think ‘we did that’. Closely followed by ‘now what do we do?’.
The growing tiredness plays a large part in the rows – the exhaustion compounded by fear you might never sleep again mean that there is a heightened sense of irritability and anxiety. The little things that previously hardly registered become not only beacons of stupidity and laziness, but a personal insult. How could he leave his wet towel on the bed? He is purposefully making my life harder. And not replacing the toilet roll when he’s used it all on his big disgusting arse? SELFISH. Then there are the nights; lying next to you snoring whilst you get your boobs out again in the wee small hours. A text from my friend shortly after she’d had a baby simply said ‘I want to hit my husband in the face with a spade’. It made me feel glad I wasn’t the only one.
There is one almighty row that sticks out. It was December and there were a lot of Christmas drinks to be had, and as I was at home with a three month and a two year old, I wasn’t partaking in any of them. There may have been some bitterness at that fact, even though in reality I didn’t want to squeeze in to my glad rags and stay up beyond 9pm. He missed bath-time and stumbled through the door pretty drunk. I lost it. I screamed, I pushed him, I gave considerable thought to smashing up the kitchen a bit, but even in my rage I knew there was little point as I’d have to clear it up, which made me even angrier. I left the house, rang my friend to scream about my shitty husband and my final act of rebellion was to buy 10 Marlboro Lights and smoke them on the street corner. Then the battery on my phone died and I realised I’d forgotten my keys so I had to tap quietly on the front door so as not to wake the kids and hope my husband would let me in. For the love of god, I couldn’t even get storming out right.
I suppose what got to me was that Doug could go out and have impromptu fun. He wasn’t being unreasonable, he was at his work Christmas drinks. But at the time it felt like there was nothing to stop him – probably least of all the thought of coming home to a miserable and shout-y wife – whereas I couldn’t. It sounds a bit ridiculous as I didn’t actually want to go out, but the resentment that suddenly my life felt insignificant and secondary to his was quite overwhelming. Again, ridiculous when you stop to marvel at what a bloody awesome (and mental) experience having a baby is, and I felt guilty for not feeling appreciative of that at the time. It was also unsettling to feel so needy – in a practical sense, I needed him there if I wanted to get up and go anywhere – but also wanting a constant reassurance. We don’t want to be needy. We’ve spent our lives showing we can do everything that men can do, and now we’re suddenly strapped to the settee holding a baby and eating a pack of biscuits for lunch, feeling unconfident and a bit small and lost.
Hormones have a lot to answer for too. They are very real – look at what your body has just done. I’m no doctor, but of course there are all sorts of chemicals and what-not going on.
You just made a person in your own body and are producing food for it AND on less sleep than you’ve ever had in your life. If that’s not recipe for some irrational behaviour, I don’t know what is. There are some very real feelings of loathing caused by things said or done that in hindsight don’t warrant it. The way he breathes comes in to that category. Unless you’re usually an angry person, those feelings of hate for someone that you love are terrifying.
A lot of men may not realise that these moments of irritability (or anger) don’t make us feel good about ourselves. I don’t think any woman likes being a nag. It creeps up on us, usually because we’re tired and, well, sometimes because he’s being a bit of a twat. We don’t turn on them, narrow-eyed, face all twisted with clipped and venomous words, and feel a sense of pride in ourselves. It wasn’t lost on me that there were moments where Doug probably disliked me every bit as much as I detested him. Even though in my head I felt he shouldn’t feel like that because I was trying my best and not being that unreasonable…I could see that at times I’d wiped the life from his eyes as well as my own. Remember the funny, vivacious, confident, sassy woman you met? Yep, we prefer her too. This shell of her you see before you – the deep set tired eyes, aging skin, and a down-turned mouth with the capacity to ruin even the most lovely day out because something doesn’t run to time, who says things like ‘I don’t know why we bother doing anything’? She’s not a lot of fun for anyone.
So what’s a man to do?
Be kind to her. I appreciate it may be hard when she’s whispering angrily at you with the Gollum voice, but cut her some slack. You are in this too and for all the bodily fluids she’s parted with and wild emotions that have taken over her brain to create that beautiful baby, this is your penance. It doesn’t make you a doormat. It makes you a rock solid partner able to show empathy when your missus is possibly a bit fucked and incapable of giving the same back. If you rise to every bitter word, it will never end. Despite the exhaustion, she will come at you with every stupid thing you’ve ever done. Our spirits may be broken, but our memories will always remain intact.
My husband says now that once he realised he wasn’t dealing with a logical, ‘normal’ version of his wife when I was firing bitter comments at him, he could handle it. Whilst this still makes me want to stab him in the eye a bit, I know he’s right. At some point she will recognise that you were kind when she was not, and she’ll love you a little bit more for it. Just don’t call a new mum irrational, weird or mental at the time. Quietly be aware of it, she will come out the other side and realise it, and then we can all breathe a big sigh of relief that things are a little more harmonious.
And pick up your pants and replace the toilet roll. Every little helps.
Were me and a couple of my more neurotic friends alone in feeling like this? I’m very interested to hear from you, dear reader…