In my experience, no matter how prepared you might feel about entering into parenthood, there is always something that throws you for a loop. When Shep and I found out that I was pregnant, we spent a considerable amount of time talking about how it might impact our marriage. He and I have always had an easy relationship. Communication, affirmation, support and understanding have come naturally to us and aren't things we typically need to work at. In every sense of the word, he is my partner. We did what we believed to be a proper amount of preparation. We upped our sessions with a couples therapist, booked staycations and more dinner dates to enjoy our time together before baby arrived and we talked about how no matter what we'd make sure to never lose sight of the fact that we needed to put our relationship first.
We both thought we were in a strong space. Plus, Shep is just so damn loving and emotionally available. My girlfriends adore him and often call or text him just to chat or when they need advice or just want to share a funny meme. My siblings call him when they want to talk through the financial implications of buying a car or when they're unsure of their next career move. Being married to him truly is a dream. He makes me laugh, he makes me feel beautiful and maybe most importantly, he never demands that I be anyone else, but myself.
When we learned that our first child would be a little girl, I ran around the living room in our condo hollering and crying. I was just besides myself with joy with the idea that I was going to give birth to a girl that would have such a good man as a father. My own relationship with my dad, while in a good place now, is... complicated. Our current relationship is the result of a lot of tears, fights, hurt feelings and also hard work to get to a better place. I knew that my own daughter would avoid such heartache with Shep for a daddy.
Throughout my pregnancy, Shep was a dream. He did all the typical dad-to-be things like go on runs when I had a craving and rubbing my feet at the end of the day. I'll never forget the look on his face when he installed Nola's carseat for the first time. He was so proud.
When we went to the hospital to have our daughter, he was calm but excited. I remember crying just before that last push that brought Nola into the world. I looked over at him as he was holding up my leg and staring up at me, encouraging me to push a little harder just one more time. I was just overwhelmed with how much I loved this man. I did push one last time and my baby girl was put on my chest, all warm and wiggly and smelling of wet mulch, and I was changed. Forever.
Because I'd spent so much of my pregnancy expecting heartbreak, I also prepared myself not to immediately have an emotional connection to my baby when she was born. But fuck, did I ever. When she let out her first little cry, I just started shouting praises at God. I couldn't stop looking at her. I still can't stop looking at her. I remember Shep snipping away her last physical tie to me and then after a while, the medical team left us in the room alone and Shep took off his shirt, placed Nola on his chest and looked at her with sparkling eyes and said "my whole world is in this room."
For me, falling in love with Nola was unavoidable. It rearranged everything I'd previously known to be true immediately. If you had asked me before her birth who I would save in a fire, I would have said my husband's name before the question was even fully asked. After her arrival, that same question had a much different answer. I was so deeply lost in love with my daughter (and happy to be so) that it was hard for me to comprehend that Shep wouldn't be on the same page as me.
Once we got home and the realities of the enormity of our new life began to sink in, our once easy relationship began to buckle under the strain of sleep deprivation, raw nursing nipples, mustard-colored shitty diapers, and our shifting identities. On top of all of this, Shep and I also had and have very different parenting styles. I wanted nothing more than to be around Nola all the time. If she cried, I picked her up immediately. If she whimpered in the night or breathed in a way I thought was strange, I was up, hovering over her bassinet watching her chest rise and fall until I was sure she was okay.
Shep on the other hand was more laid back and hands off. If she cried, he'd let her go at it a bit before going to comfort her. He slept through all of her nighttime sounds and didn't rouse to check on her unless I, out of frustration, slapped at him in the dark to wake him. When he checked in on me while at work he wouldn't ask about her. That used to really piss me off. He'd ask how I was. How the dogs were and about my mom, but never about the baby we'd created out of our love.
It all came to a head one early morning when I confronted him about my feelings that he wasn't as in love with our daughter as I was. I was sitting in her nursery holding her tiny little body against mine and just marveling at her. I looked over at him and said something like "don't you just love her so much?" His response back to me broke my heart: "I don't know her yet. You've had all this time with her, and she and I are just getting to know each other." His response shattered me because, to a degree, I had put so much hope in the idea that he would immediately be a better father to our daughter than I'd had. It was the death of a dream I didn't realize I was holding on to so tightly.
I viewed all of my time spent with Nola as so precious. Everything she did was magic wrapped in sweet baby smell. I figured, if my husband didn't feel the same way, then he didn't need to be around my kid. I started to shut myself off from him emotionally deciding instead to spent my time in bed or on the couch or holed up in my mother's room with my baby.
We stopped being playful. Stopped communicating and laughing. Quite frankly, I didn't like him very much...for months. Sex? Forget about it. What was sexy about a man you felt didn't love your child as much as you did? Not a single fucking thing. I felt like I'd lost my partner and if I'm honest looking back now, my marriage was in a dangerous space.
There was no quick fix. We were in the first valley either of us had ever faced in the history of our relationship and there was no way out but through. A few things helped. Nola started sleeping through the night pretty early which meant that we at least weren't delirious anymore. We implemented weekly date nights and most importantly we started to really talk to each other again.
Shep admitted that becoming not only a husband but a father in such a short span of time was jarring and that he was trying to find his own way. He asked me for grace and understanding while he sorted his own emotions. In turn apologized to him sharing that it wasn't fair that I placed unhealed childhood trauma on his shoulders to fix and I also asked him for grace while learned to let that hurt go.
He and I joke all the time now that we have no idea who the hell would have a baby to try to save a marriage because in our experience, it's more likely to break it. In movies, having and caring for a child is the most beautiful experience in a couple's life. It brings them closer together and they are wrapped in this bubble of love and joy. The reality is that for a lot of other couples, that just isn't the case. Having a child changes your life in ways you can't understand until you're in it. It takes everything you once were as a two-some and throws a bomb on it. What you have to learn to do is create a new normal with the blown-up pieces.
We're six months in to parenthood now and I feel like Shep and I are just starting to hit a groove. Now it's not uncommon to find us dancing in the kitchen to music while Nola plays in her bouncy nearby. We have a bedtime routine with her that runs so seamlessly it almost like it's choreographed. We're having sex again and over the past several weeks I've gotten to watch Shep turn into the father I knew he would be. Nola always has a big gummy smile for him when he gets home and their bath time routine is sacred bonding time I dare never interrupt. I've fallen in love with him again watching how he cries when he dances with Nola to a song whose lyrics hit him differently now. But this all took time.
I love this stage we're in now, but getting here was ugly and it's okay if it is or was ugly for you too. Looking back, I'm grateful for those hard times because it allowed for us both to have deep conversations about expectations that we otherwise wouldn't have had and it allowed us to deepen our partnership and friendship in new ways.
I love my husband. I married the right man and I'm so thankful that he's the one I get to go through this parenting journey with but becoming parents together was the most stressful thing we'd ever done and our relationship was tested. I'm glad we made it to the other side but I wish more folks were transparent about how normal what we experienced was. So here is me, trying to be what I didn't have.
I guess I want you to know that it's normal to resent your husband in the early days of becoming a mama (hell even just period). It's normal for you to wonder WTF happened to your once happy marriage. It's normal for you all not to like each other. It's all normal. My only advice is to trust that you'll make it through together. Reach out to your family and friends for affirmation and support. If all else fails and you truly feel at your wits end with your partner and your child, draw yourself a bath, hand someone else the baby and pour yourself a strong cocktail.
You've got this. Trust me.