Just after having our son, I was holding him while sitting beside my husband, and felt something strange. It was unfamiliar, something I couldn't place at first.
I was feeling a deep ache in my heart, mixed with some grief. The best word I could give to name the feeling was longing. I really missed my husband, which seemed odd since he’d been by my side day and night through labor and beyond.
Guiltily, while holding our precious new baby, I realized, I missed us. The two of us.
We knew our relationship would change after becoming parents, but didn’t know what it would really be like.
The change started with a small regret for taking our last days alone for granted. We had a sweet morning routine together prior to being parents, when the alarm clock was a programmed sound that came out of the phone at a chosen hour, rather than the spontaneous wails of a hungry baby. We'd come together in the evenings to sit down and have dinner together, having conversations with complete sentences.
I thought back to our dates, to the concerts and restaurants, the vacations and camping trips. I had no regrets about expanding our family, but was sad about the chapter that was ending, too.
The first Friday night with a baby was tough. I felt a little depressed the night before as I realized: tomorrow is Friday and for once that means nothing. No break, no playtime, no date night, no friends. I felt like I was just on a never-ending loop of feedings, soothing and diaper changes, coupled with sleep deprivation like I'd never known before.
My husband and I went from having quality time together everyday to feeling like coworkers, like we were on a team managing this big task together, but we didn’t have real connection.
Connecting was the hardest.
After a day at work he’d come home and start cleaning the house and cooking for me, which was great on one hand, but I just wanted him to sit down and look me in the eyes and ask how I was really doing. For the first couple of weeks with our son we were just focused on trying to keep our baby alive and well. We were zombies, there was no hope for intimacy at that time.
Resentment crept in hard as well. I often resented him for not realizing everything I was going through 24/7: that I was the source of life for our baby who needed to feed from me constantly (literally). That I was bleeding and weak, while spontaneously dripping milk all over the house from my new boobs that I didn't understand. Plus, I’d forget to brush my teeth most days cause I didn’t have a moment to myself. None of my clothes fit in that new stage, and I was uncomfortable in my new body--I had stretch marks that I was mad at and hair that hadn’t been washed in a week.
One night when our son cried for the zillionth time after a frustrating eternity of sleeplessness, I got up to feed him and glared daggers at my husband who was comfortably tucked in bed. “Must be nice to be a man and not have boobs,” I said angrily.
Becoming a new mom was lonely, I felt isolated in our relationship because my husband couldn't relate at all to my struggles even though he was right there with me. I didn’t want him to fix the hard stuff or even thank me for doing it, I just wanted him to acknowledge that I was doing a lot. After a long, rough pregnancy, a traumatic labor, and then being on demand for our baby every second of the day and night, I wanted him to notice that I was the one bearing the marathon of struggles. I couldn't figure out why but I just wanted him to say, damn babe, you’re doing hard stuff.
I couldn’t help him understand that though, anytime I tried to explain, he grew frustrated and just heard me complaining about him.
We were so off—bickering about the dumbest things, passing by each other in the house as we divided and conquered all tasks. We even slept separately so my husband could sleep at night, which I didn't mind until it became another thing that separated us.
While I was pregnant, we took classes on newborn basics, childcare and breastfeeding. We did everything we could to prep for labor, for postpartum physical recovery, and we did meal prep to have a stock of ready-to-go meals in a pinch. We had a slew of tips, hacks and advice from our support team, friends, and family, but nobody talked to us about preparing our relationship. To be honest, I'm not sure what they could have said, except maybe to give some expectations set about what challenges couples face after their first baby together.
In the midst of the ongoing disconnect, I Googled “how to stay connected to your husband after baby” and found no results related to my struggles. It seemed like I was the only one on the internet with this question (which I found hard to believe!)
Around that time we were in the car and got into a petty argument about something so stupid I can’t remember what it was. He asked why we just kept snapping at each other all the time, and said I was talking to him like he was an idiot.
That’s when I realized that while I was going through all my own shit, my challenges and frustrations and feeling alone with my struggles, he was going through his as a new dad too. I don’t know the nuances of his challenges, as he can’t truly understand mine, but I realized he was feeling insecure about being “good” at being a dad.
Becoming parents forced us to see each other as new people in a way. I mean, he had to see a whole lot of me that was new to him in labor, things he never hoped to see (wink wink). He also saw me completely vulnerable and in lots of pain while I delivered our son. And I see him now, vulnerably taking on a new role that’s very unfamiliar to him.
As the truth all dawned on me, it reminded me of something I heard Esther Perel say. Esther was discussing the key to success in her marriage and how she and her husband have continued to date each other. They keep dating each other because they continue to grow and change. It makes sense. People evolve constantly, and life asks us to step up to new things all the time, so it seems fair to allow one another to flex and adapt and evolve during those times too.
Which is what we’re doing now, we’re dating each other as new parents. Connecting and intimacy look very different from when we were one-on-one, and we're learning to find it in new ways, instead of looking for the old ones. Now, we'll find ways to show love to each other in the precious few moments we have. We hide things for one another in the other's sock drawer or bag, we trade off bringing each other coffee, and offer to hold the baby so the other can take a hot shower.
Losing quality time together felt so painful at first, but since our time is so rare now, we make it count so much more.
I’m sure there are plenty more relationship challenges ahead, we didn't win the game yet! But we made it past "survival" after our love life felt like a distant memory, which means it can be done. ;)