Fights You'll Have After Having A Baby
Chapter One: The Beginning
Everyone told me it was normal to be nervous. More than nervous—freaked out. Insecure. You’re going to let us take her home now? By ourselves? they remembered thinking before leaving the hospital. Are you sure that’s such a good idea?
And actually, it was pretty weird. The nurses taught me how to latch the baby, how to change a diaper, how to adjust the straps on the car seat. They helped Matt and I get the swaddle neat and tight. But they didn’t say a word about, well, parenting. Crib or bed? Feeding schedule or no? Go back to work or stay at home? All of the hard decisions were saved for another day, not this day, the day Poppy was born.
I labored at the hospital, Matthew there and gone again, making trips between the delivery room, various eating establishments and home. While he distracted himself with errands, I distracted myself with an audio book, trying not to wish he was nearby. Thing was, I didn’t want him there. I really didn’t. I didn’t want to have to have a conversation. But if he would have held me–just that, and nothing more–that might have been all right.
It took two hours for the pitocin to kick in, and in late afternoon the real labor came. For this, Matthew did hold me, both my head and my hand, offering his body as leverage. When the midwife told me to curl, Matthew pushed my legs to my head, and laughed at how hard I pushed back. Lots of pushes. Lots. So many. So many. Then the head was visible, and the midwife asked if I wanted a mirror.
“Yes!” I said.
“No,” said Matt at the same time. Then: “You do, Hon? Are you sure?”
“Yes,” I said. “Of course I do. Don’t you?”
The midwife positioned it for me, and I saw my baby for the first time.
It didn’t look like a baby.
Three more pushes. Hard pushes. Long ones. Then: relief. The head was out, and with a last push for the body, Matthew and I became parents.
Matthew looked at the baby, then at me. “It’s a girl,” he announced.
“We know that already,” I said, laughing.
“She’s beautiful,” he said.
“But we knew that, too.”
“Of course we did. She is perfect.”
The midwife put Poppy, now crying heavily, on my chest. As I smooshed my breast against her mouth, Matthew put his hand on her soft hair.
“There she is.”
“There she is. She is ours.”
* * *
Late that night. Matthew gone again. He didn’t want to sleep on the pull-out. And as I soon learned, it was just as well. No, not just as well; it was better.
I got to spend the whole night with just her.
No sharing. No small talk. No deciding. No details. No normal life stuff. Just life. Just the room, the dark, except the street lamps below the half-drawn blinds, and a simple light behind the bed dimmed to almost nothing.
So this is motherhood, I thought as I stared at Poppy’s face. This is who I am now. Strange that I’m not scared. Everyone says you’ll be scared. But I feel good. I feel confident. It feels simple.
Here’s this little alive thing, sort of like a plant, except that I am her air and sunlight, her photosynthesis. She needs me completely, and I accept the challenge. That is the way this thing works.
It’s the most straightforward relationship I’ve ever had.
Honestly, that was it. That was my conclusion. I would be the giver, she’d be the taker—and I was fine with that. It was when I expected something, when I needed someone to behave a certain way—that was the situation I worried about.
Which is why lying in bed that night, there was only one thing I was worried about, and it had nothing to do with the baby.
It was Matthew.
What’s he going to be like, now that we have a kid? I wondered. Will he be the same person? For that matter, will I? Will being parents affect the way we treat each other? How we are together?
How will our relationship change?
And as it turned out, I was right to be nervous. Because while that first year with Poppy was one of the best of my life, it was the worst for me and Matt.
* * *
The following day, the hospital. Only that room in the hospital, and the bathroom adjoining it. Nothing more. Matthew came and went, bringing meals, bringing news. We opened a few presents, saw doctors, did paperwork. I slept a bit, too, Poppy next to me on the bed, though the nurse had advised against it. When I had to change my pad, the nurses helped me to the bathroom. They changed all of Poppy’s diapers and held her when she cried. It was the first time in my life I’d been waited on so thoroughly, and I relished it. I didn’t want to leave.
The following morning, Matthew arrived at 9 a.m. to take me home, and I delayed the departure as long as possible. When the time finally came—it was close to noon—I took a long last look at the room.
Maybe it was nostalgia. Sentimentality. Hormones. Or maybe—just maybe—it was more than that. Maybe it was the inkling I’d had the night before about Matthew.
Maybe I was sensing the learning curve ahead.
Yes, that was it. Just hours after giving birth, I had the mom thing figured out. I didn’t know how to do anything—not even change a diaper—but I knew how to be alone with my child. But four years into my marriage, I still didn’t know what Matthew expected of me, what he didn’t expect of me, and, most important, what to expect of myself. When it was just Matthew and I, this oversight didn’t matter. I compensated for not understanding what he really needed by giving him more of what he wanted, which worked fine. But now—now I had a second relationship to consider. My usual coping strategies wouldn’t work.
Even before Matthew and I arrived home the tension between us had begun. Matthew wasn’t himself. He was irritable. Hurried. Though whether due to jealousy, neglect or just impatience, I’ll never know.
He tried to hide his annoyance with humor. “Should’ve had a home birth.”
I responded with a tight smile and forced laugh. “I liked it there,” I said.
“Yeah, I noticed. Thought you were going to sprain an ankle so you could stay.”
“Don’t begrudge me my reward,” I told him, smiling again. “Besides, I thought about it. Wouldn’t’ve worked.”
The things I didn’t say: “Why do I have to bring up the pain of childbirth this soon?” “Why aren’t you happier?” “Why aren’t we celebrating?” I wanted the day we left the hospital to be special, an occasion. Instead, I just felt sad to go home.
Maybe it was too much to expect him to know how I felt, how I wanted him to support me on that day. But a small gesture made in that tender time would’ve gone a long way towards lessening my fears. He could’ve held my hand. He could’ve told me how proud he was of me. He could’ve just asked me what I needed. It would’ve taken so little, almost nothing—but instead, he chose jokes and I chose smiles.
The first two weeks after the baby was born, I cried nearly every night before sleep. A few times, Matthew heard me; he came to the bedroom and asked what was wrong. Each time I told him the same thing.
“It’s just hormones, Hon. I’ll be okay.”
I was working too hard. That was part of the problem. I always had and didn’t want to stop. Baby in the chest carrier, I cooked, cleaned and, my favorite, organized. There’s never an end of things to organize.
Part of me realized the emotions were normal, and that I wasn’t taking good enough care of myself. Another part of me, though, blamed Matthew.
He wasn’t helping enough. That’s the truth, unvarnished. He didn’t seem to know how to, really. While my life had changed completely—no more day job, constant sleep interruptions—he was quickly back to his usual routine. Work. Eat. Play. Sleep. Weekends: basketball, projects. Which is why, during those first few weeks with Poppy, I felt all the good stuff you’re supposed to feel— gratitude and love—I felt a lot of bad stuff, too. I was scared. I was angry. But mostly, I was sad. Sad that things weren’t right with me and Matt.
Chapter Two: Pretend That Your Partner Is Perfect
Afterwards, I called it the Muffin Incident. Because though it wasn’t exactly a fight, it was significant enough to name. It happened in December when Poppy had just reached three weeks of age and Matthew’s mom, Mary, was visiting.
I’d taken a walk with Poppy, who had by now established herself as a fairly high-maintenance child. The stroller calmed her and the walking calmed me, and even in the coldest weather I didn’t go a day without at least one long outing.
When I returned home, I was tired and thirsty and I badly needed to pee. I opened the door to see Mary sipping tea and Matthew on the couch, his bathrobe still on, even though it was eleven in the morning.
“Hello,” I said.
Mary stood. “Nice walk?”
Mary turned to her son. “Now, this is when you step in, Matthew, and take the baby so Rachel can get her shoes off and settle in.”
I smiled tensely. Matthew did as he was told. Then I escaped to the kitchen. I got a glass of water and was heading to the bathroom when it happened: Matthew asked the question.
“Can you make me a muffin, honey?”
I paused, took it in. Emotion rushed to my head. My throat started to close, but I caught it, swallowing.
“Sure,” I told him. “Just a minute.”