The secret to keeping your marriage alive after baby
Shortly after our son was born, I was holding him while sitting beside my husband, and I felt something totally unexpected.
It was not a blowout, if that’s your guess.
Suddenly I had a deep ache mixed with a little bit of grief. It took me a minute to realize what I was feeling. It was longing. I really missed my husband, even though he’d been with me 24/7 through labor and beyond.
Guiltily, while holding our beautiful new son, I realized, I missed us.
We understood our relationship would change after having a baby, but didn’t know what it would really be like.
The change started with a sadness, a small regret for taking our last days alone for granted. We used to wake up every morning and …cuddle… (I cringe to say that word, I’m not the cuddler in our house.) We’d have coffee together and chat before heading off to work. We’d have dinner together in the evenings and go for walks—nothing extraordinary, but meaningful.
I had flashbacks to our dates, to the concerts and dinners, 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 remember feeling a little depressed the night before as I thought: tomorrow is Friday and for once that means nothing. No break, no playtime, no date night, no friends. Things will never be the same.
We 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 pretty great on one hand, but I just wanted him to sit down and look me in the eyes and have a meaningful conversation with me. It was hard to connect because we were both just trying to survive the first couple of weeks with a newborn. We were trying to figure out how to keep a baby alive and happy and what our new roles were in the family.
I resented him sometimes for not realizing everything I was going through around the clock: that I was the source of life for this child who needed to feed from me constantly (literally). That I was bleeding from a gaping wound, spontaneously dripping milk all over the house from my new and very engorged boobs, that I’d forget to brush my teeth most days cause I didn’t have a moment to think about me, none of my clothes fit since I was no longer maternity size and not yet my original size, and I was uncomfortable in my new body. I had stretch marks that may never leave and hair that hadn’t been washed in a week.
One night when the baby cried again after a frustrating eternity of sleeplessness, I got up to feed him and glared at my husband who was snugly tucked in bed. “Must be nice to be a man and not have boobs,” I said angrily.
The start of being a new mom was lonely in our relationship because he could not relate at all to my struggles even though he was there with me. I didn’t want him to fix anything or even thank me, I just wanted him to acknowledge that what I was doing was hard. After a rough pregnancy, a traumatic labor and delivery, and then being on demand for our baby every second of the day and night, I wanted him to be like, damn babe, you’re doing hard stuff.
I couldn’t get that through to him though, anytime I tried to explain it he got frustrated and just heard me complaining about him.
It felt like 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 while I managed our son’s opposite schedule and feedings. Writing about it doesn’t feel like much, it almost feels like I’m making something of nothing. But it was really hard.
During pregnancy we’d taken classes on newborn basics, childcare and breastfeeding. We prepped for labor, for postpartum physical recovery and we did meal prep to have a stock of ready-to-go meals in a pinch. We were given loads of tips, hacks and advice from our support team, friends, family and beyond. But nobody talked to us about preparing our relationship. I know it’s an experience you have to go through to understand, but I do think it would’ve helped to have 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 nothing helpful came back. I rephrased it a few ways and gave up after finding that apparently nobody on the internet was asking this question. (Or maybe in my sleep deprivation I couldn’t find the right phrase to ask, hehe.)
A couple weeks later we were driving and got into a stupid argument about something so stupid I can’t remember what it was. He asked why we just kept snapping at each other no matter what, and said I was talking to him like he was an idiot.
That’s when my Google question finally got answered (and now I’m adding it to the internet). I realized that while I was going through all my own shit, all my own challenges and frustrations and feeling alone with my struggles, he was going through his own as a new dad too. I don’t know the depths of his challenges, as he can’t truly understand mine, but I realized he was feeling insecure about being “good” at parenting.
Becoming parents asked us to see each other anew 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. The man will hunt and process animals no problem, but did he want to see his wife’s incredible placenta? No. But, he did get to see me completely vulnerable and in lots of pain while I delivered our son. And I get to see him vulnerably taking on a new role that’s not so easy for him.
As the truth all dawned on me, it reminded me of something I heard Esther Perel say. She’s the magician of relationship therapy if you’re not familiar. Esther was talking about one of the keys to success in her marriage is continuing to date each other, all the versions of each other that have come over the years. People change and grow, and life asks us to step up to new things all the time, so it’s only fair to allow one another to flex and adapt and change and grow during those times too.
So that’s what we’re doing, we’re dating each other as new parents. Connecting looks different than it did when we were one-on-one, which isn’t bad or scary, we just get to reinvent it with each other.
I’m sure there are plenty more relationship challenges ahead in the parenting world, and when I encounter them, I’ll be sure to plug in my experience so the lonely 2am Googler at least has some entertainment.