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how our marriage survived our baby

Someone close to me recently had a wedding anniversary timed very poorly in the midst of some trying days, and it gave me bad flashbacks to 2010 when Marc and I had an anniversary that I think we could officially declare our worst ever. You know, the kind when you're not sure if you'll make another 12 months so it might be your last one ever, too? So I wrote a long supportive email all about me, realized that was basically the opposite of "supportive", cut my email down to be less of my drama and saved the whole story for my blog, like we do.

The thing is that in 2010 I didn't even write down all my feelings because they were too awful. Darling baby Josie was eight weeks old and supposed to be the light of our lives but to be honest, we were in a staring contest for who was going to leave her at a fire station or post her on craigslist first. When our anniversary came around I wrote that I thought it should really be a year worth celebrating because we'd truly created something beautiful... but deep down inside, one or both of us was constantly wishing to just not exist in that house.

Because beautiful or not, Josie was angry. all. the. time. add this to some "supportive" people around me who'd say "Well you're a first time parent, you probably run to her every time she cries and she picks up your neurosis and you trained her to be a monster, it's all your fault, horrible mother, all your fault..." I didn't know to slap them, or I was too tired. But let's just say that anyone who implies blame towards a parent of a colicky baby does indeed deserve some punishment because the odds of us "training" her to be so frustrating starting when she was four days old or whatever are incredibly low. I watched other parents who behaved no differently than us, who wound up with babies that would randomly pass out and sleep through being thrown on the couch and i'd beg "Oh my GOD how'd you GET TO THIS?" and they looked at me all confused and said "isn't that what babies do? you pat them once and they fall asleep?"

We hadn't slept in two months, I had just returned to work, I was still nursing and pumping and to be honest, recovering from childbirth. We hadn't had sex and I really missed it. We couldn't go out for a nice dinner because that would mean I'd be pumping AGAIN. and I knew, based on all our other recent conversations, that even if marc and I did spend time alone it would just be another bickering contest where we compared who'd gone the longest without showering, sleeping, changing clothes, eating with both hands, or talking to other adults. that was all we had to talk about that month.

So I posted about it in some livejournal communities, not here, because I was too ashamed to admit that I wanted 1) the best anniversary ever but was actually facing 2) the worst anniversary ever.

And you know what advice I got from the world that actually really worked?

Lower your expectations. Seriously.

You'll be married for years, hopefully decades. If you have 50 anniversaries, who cares if one sucked? Or a few were forgotten entirely here and there, or celebrated late?

Of course we went into parenting knowing that babies are tough on relationships, everyone says it. We knew. So why pretend now that your year is "just beautiful"? Take it for what it is... something you're going to survive. That's the only goal you need.

Stop making excuses, when you tell someone you're miserable don't say "and I swear I'm not running to the baby every time she cries!" Plenty of experts say that's what you ARE supposed to do anyway. Just say "I don't always like my baby." There. Fine. You'll like her next year. Really this is why I can write this entry now, I can honestly say that I do like Josie much better now that she's almost three, still a high-spirited "I want what I want" kinda kid but in an entertaining, endearing, light up the world kind of way.

Get yourself checked out for post-partum depression. Okay so I did not do this... but so many people were hearing "tones" of mild issues in me, if things had been much worse, I should have seriously considered it. In fact a lot of women should seriously consider it... but that's another entry. Bottom line is that we spend the days after childbirth sobbing in a hormonally-driven mess, and when that stops we think we're okay, but the months wear on and we're still faking to the world (or maybe beyond faking to the world) that we're not okay, it's a sign. of something.

Don't have sex, just cuddle and be intimate in other ways, isn't that SO SPECIAL... I ignored this advice, we had sex. But not "I'm sure this will be perfect and magical!" sex, more like "let's get this over with because I'm tired of cuddling and pretending that we don't need sex and the first step is STEP 1" sex. There you have it. You can read all kinds of books about how to make your sex life more exciting but nobody every brings up "step 1" sex, the kind you have to get your courage up for, and I'm guessing there are several times in life when you need to think about it as a Type. Maybe it's in the kama sutra.

Celebrate your anniversary with a pizza on the couch, and if the baby sleeps for ten straight minutes take one of those minutes to look at each other and say "We're gonna make it, okay?" and then be done with it.

And we ended up going a step beyond that... a local mexican restaurant. But oddly enough the baby slept. And we let her sleep, even though it was daytime and off the schedule that people kept trying to tell me to invent for her. But that's around the time when we did stop fighting for that schedule, and stopped fighting the baby, and ourselves, for that matter. If she wanted to sleep all day we let her sleep all day. If she wanted to be awake for a few hours at night then screw it, we were turning on a movie and ruining the "quiet dark 12 hours" that we'd been enforcing as part of our "strategy". We started cosleeping... she'd wake up at night, I'd roll over, nurse her, and if I didn't feel like picking her up and laying her back down in her bed I didn't. I'd just roll BACK over. I learned to nurse laying down from either breast and maintained a state of semi-consciousness like a mother pig for the next 18 months, just not caring. Josie's nighttime wakeups just suddenly became that... wakeups, instead of extended late night baby parties lasting for hours. And eventually she did sleep all night, even in a toddler bed where we'd just kiss her on the forehead and leave her in the dark. And marc and I liked each other again. Not always perfect. But now when we get a sitter and go out to eat we soak it in and feel renewed, we don't fight over who's got less free time, we just take what we have and enjoy it together.

I think the whole ordeal taught us that marriage has to be about ignoring the pressure a little bit, worrying less about what everyone thinks and more about what you need. After the wedding presents start getting lost, or that frame on the wall about "hold hands every day" or the "always kiss me good night" brick gets thrown out the window, you can get real. For us that meant admitting that we were going to survive, and that was pretty damn good for 2010.



( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 13th, 2013 10:59 am (UTC)
I love this post. Babies make marriage complicated and people don't talk about that enough.
Apr. 13th, 2013 11:09 am (UTC)
Great post. I was just looking through a photo album from the first few weeks with Melanie, and instead of feeling nostalgic, it was like I could FEEL the stress emanating from the pages of the album. I remembered how exhausted and terrified I was, and how much I thought my husband resented me for making this crying pooping machine.

I will say that it was light years easier the second time around. Granted, it's still hard, but in my opinion, nothing is harder than going from being childfree to having a newborn.
Apr. 13th, 2013 11:24 am (UTC)
Oh yes!

This picture?

I was so proud of myself for being DRESSED, I just wanted to sit outside and have a photo proving my accomplishment but instead marc and I were screaming about laundry or something and I needed a half hour to recover from the meltdown before I could go out on the porch and I'm happy in the picture, and the baby is cute and I still adore that dress as my favorite newborn outfit, but the house behind us is lucky that I hadn't just burnt it down.

so much for having a nice photo... because I can't even look at it without remembering what a miserable day that was. not even worth getting dressed, why'd I try?

thank you for telling me the second one will be better :) I need a bit of that, although you're right, when I think about our life as a childless couple compared to our lives now, I can't help but think a baby has to be able to fit into this life MUCH easier. we already cook at home most of the time, meal plan, have other mom/parent friends... it's gotta be better. maybe because it can't be worse.

Edited at 2013-04-13 11:26 am (UTC)
Apr. 13th, 2013 11:54 am (UTC)
In all honesty, when I had my oldest, I cried... not out of happiness but out of sheer terror and mourning for my old life. I felt so guilty for that thought, even though I remembered a year before, these two women I knew told me one of their first thoughts on holding their newborn was, "Oh GOD, what have I done???"

But then with the second, you know exactly what to do, and it's just more of the same. It's more like, "Oh yeah, I remember this." Your life changes, but not in the same kind of earth-shattering way... it's more like little adjustments.
Apr. 13th, 2013 12:18 pm (UTC)
That's reassuring. I've been thinking a lot about #2 lately (more than my husband most likely!), in part because I keep thinking "I'd like the opportunity to try it all again with a bit of experience under my belt." Even if your second baby is totally different, even if you've got two kids instead of one to deal with, I can't help but think it's got to be easier.
Apr. 13th, 2013 12:48 pm (UTC)
I definitely mourned over my life when I passed that first pregnancy test. actually I think I cried for days and couldn't tell anyone, except marc who'd seen the test with me, I was partially worried about my medical future, the baby's medical future, but a lot of "oh shit what have we done, I LIKE MY LIFE, did I forget?" I mean we were trying to get pregnant but I suddenly realized I'd assumed I wouldn't actually get pregnant.

When Josie was born I just remember not wanting to be there in childbirth anymore. I definitely didn't get those "the first time you hold that baby is so magical!" sorts of feelings, that's for sure. there were neat things about childbirth but holding the baby didn't erase all the fear/pain of it.
Apr. 13th, 2013 12:17 pm (UTC)
My 30th birthday was when Gwen was 5 months old. We had a system in place by then (I did days, he did nights), and while we were getting adequate sleep that was about it, and that weekend we were so cranky with each other, I was surprised I even got a birthday gift. It wasn't until some 5-6 months later that Joel even realized that it had been my 30th.

31 is coming up in 9 days, I think it'll be a lot more enjoyable than 30.

(I'm honestly trying to remember our anniversary last -- a month after my birthday -- and am blanking. I remember 2011, since the day after I left for Vienna for 6 weeks, but I don't remember 2012 at all. 2013 should be good, we're headed to Bulgaria for a long weekend).
Apr. 13th, 2013 12:44 pm (UTC)
I was so incredibly pregnant when I turned 30 that I couldn't do anything, the baby was born two weeks later, so for my 31st we just had a re-do! A cake with "happy 30th" on it, a party, friends, martinis, I got kinda drunk maybe for the first time since having the baby (since I'd been nursing, alcohol was doable but had to be carefully timed). It's actually one of my favorite memories ever, Marc threw it together as a surprise. Just goes to show how much different life was with an almost-one-year-old, compared to that wedding anniversary with a two-month old.
Apr. 13th, 2013 01:00 pm (UTC)
I like the idea of a redo! Much better than waiting until I'm 40.
Apr. 13th, 2013 01:35 pm (UTC)
It irritates me that society tries to paint a magically picture about all these events like childbirth and parenthood. I am sure there are moments, but the way it's portrayed gives people that feeling they are doing something wrong when it isn't. I think that's unnecessary stress right there. I love reading posts like this because I think it's important for people to understand that it isn't always magical. Sometimes it's downright awful.

I have never been a parent, but I have watched my closest friends go through all of this with their children, and I have to say that those "magical" people need to be smacked in the face with a reality bat :)

Thanks for sharing this story. I enjoyed reading it :)
Apr. 13th, 2013 04:39 pm (UTC)
Thank you for this post! I've always been scared about kids, because I just couldn't understand how someone could think this screaming, needy, sack of flesh that had wrecked their body was so damn wonderful all the time, or how parents hadn't starting killing small animals as a sacrifice to the angry fertility gods.

Now I know that the world is lying about how magically perfect life with babies is...which seems substantially more sane.
Apr. 15th, 2013 04:00 am (UTC)
With my first pregnancy and even post-birth, I felt a lot of guilt for not being myself. I felt bad for being what felt like neurotically sensative to smells, a weird claustrophobia/suffocation sense where I didn't even liked being kissed or having my pillow to close to my mouth when sleeping and a change of our intamacy. There was also a lot more stress between us once the baby arrived as we were new to it and working out roles and boundaries and what life would be like. That didn't get too carried away as I gained a lot of respect for him, too watching him be a Daddy. But, it's hard to forget the worst moments that you experienced because of the newborn.

The second time around? I didn't feel guilty because I knew it was just part of the package (we planned it again, so it's not like he didn't know what he was getting into), I wasn't paranoid that my body would never get back to normal senses, etc. and each of us knew how to handle things and where our strengths are. It's easier to pick your battles because you know how long the phase is and you don't feel like you have to lay the groundwork for the rest of your parenthood. That feeling like if you don't fight for it now, you'll be stuck with it forever goes away.

Yes, you'll have two, but you'll already have your groove. You will find yourself shopping at places that either have a double-seat shopping cart (like Costco or Target) or one that has the little tykes cars attached to the front (the price chopper closest to us, thank goodness). Sometimes it's easier to split the difference - you take one kid and I'll take one kid.

Even labor will be better because you know what to expect for recovery and you aren't shattering your expectations of bouncing right back, such as with child #1.
Apr. 15th, 2013 04:58 am (UTC)
I agree with the expectations being different. When I had my second, I arranged for a LOT of help ahead of time, because I learned the first time how hard it would be. It turned out to be easier, but definitely having less expectations and not letting my pride get in the way made a huge difference. the first time, i was like, its just a baby, how hard can this be? and i didn't really admit how bad things had gotten until he was like 8 or 9 months old. :-(

PS: i am also very impressed and inspired by this very honest post.
Apr. 17th, 2013 07:22 pm (UTC)
Thank you for posting this. My partner and I are probably going to start talking about having kids in a couple of years, and part of me is terrified at how much everything will change because of it.
Mar. 16th, 2015 08:33 am (UTC)
Thank you for directing me to your post. Kind of was nice to remind myself that I am still doing my best and it's ok to feel frustrated.
( 15 comments — Leave a comment )

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