I taught a yoga class tonight. It happens to be in a space in a small local theatre where my husband has tread the boards many times. Over the mirrors of the yoga studio/warm-up space is a large photograph of an outdoor show he did once with the theatre company, him shouting into the wind, for a crowd circled around on a beach back-dropped by moody west of Ireland mountains. It was during rehearsals for that show I discovered I was pregnant with our older boy.
I knew him then, or thought I did, what our relationship was and how it operated. How we loved and how we fought. What things he did that irked me, what habits of mine he wasn't so keen on. We knew each other deeply, so deeply that we had decided to grow a human together.
Nothing could have prepared me for the challenges to our relationship wrought by sleep deprivation, the erosion of me-time (his and mine), the constant physical demands of babies and little ones, the logistics of childcare pickups and drop-offs, the never-ending pile of admin and laundry, the constant eye on the "who's had more sleep than who" tally.
You've been there. We've all been there. Maybe you're there right now, or maybe you might be about to amble in that direction..
Maybe it's feeding baby for the millionth time before dawn, seething while an oblivious male snores soundly in the bed beside you? Never mind that you have the boobs and that's what the baby wants, and so there's really no need for both adults to be awake. Yet your desire to point the baby in his direction at the next sign of a projectile baby vomit is strong. Your rage slowly grows with each snore.
You begin counting and conjuring up the black marks. The dishwasher that didn't get emptied. Your white t-shirt died navy from his new jeans. The 'wrong' baby wipes on his turn to do the shopping. A forgotten anniversary, the fact that he arrived home a whole ten minutes after the stated arrival time.
By the 6am wakeup call from your darling cherub you are ready to throw baby straight at him and run him out the door so you can sleep undisturbed.
Maybe it's not just at 6am. Maybe it's not just when baby is small. The minutiae of life with tiny ones takes its toll on a relationship, even the ones that appear in amazing shape pre-baby.
Maybe he didn't dress the baby warmly enough when he takes her out for her evening stroll. Maybe he got up with the toddler but then fed him muesli bars for breakfast instead of porridge. The horror!!
You were expecting the two of you would band together post-baby and would become closer than ever. But in reality and in an effort to have at least one parent half awake during the day, he spends nights in the spare room and sometimes it feels easier to have open and honest conversations about your feelings with the other mamas on that whatsapp group than with him.
You love him really, you've had a great relationship that led to a wonderful baby. So why at 4am are you filled with anger towards your husband?
The writer Jancee Dunn gives us the book with the memorable and provocative title "How not to hate your husband after kids". Jancee wrote it as a response to her own feelings of anger towards her husband which rose to peak levels over whose turn it was to empty the diaper genie
Some tips inspired by Dunn that may help to connect, share the load and rediscover that love.
Don't shut your husband or partner out. Dunn talks about 'maternal gatekeeping'. You know, that urge to micromanage him in a simple nappy change.. the feeling that you must supervise or it won't be done properly. This is not likely to make him feel comfortable, and may make him hesitate before pitching in. You've got to let him do things his way.. and accept that his way might look very different from yours!
He can't read your mind. Yes, if you are in need of help, you have to let him know... by asking him to help you. You can bang the pots and pans all you like as you place them in the dishwasher, but a friendly request for assistance is more likely to result in you getting the help you want. And yes, he may not stack the plates the same way you do.... but this is OK (I promise.. see tip 1 again)
Describe the problem, not the person. What does this mean? Instead of accusing him of never getting up with the baby, you tell him you're in need of a break and could he get up with baby? This is an extension of number 2 really.
What does it (really) cost you? So he wants to take a nap in the middle of the day, or he plans to meet a friend for a drink? What does it really cost you to have him do that? Maybe it increases your workload- which is one thing- and merits discussion taking tips 2 and 3 into consideration. Or maybe it just annoys you because you haven't taken a daytime nap in weeks, or haven't gotten around to a meetup with friends lately? If it doesn't cost you anything.. consider letting it go.. and at the same time consider planning your own meetup, or take that nap the next time you feel the need for it.. Feel like you can't take the time off, or like he won't know how to handle baby's bedtime? Back you go up to tip 1 for some perspective..
Say thank you often. One piece of US research from showed that expressions of gratitude were “the most consistent significant predictor of marital quality.” A simple thank you can go a long way.
Do dates (once the dust settles post baby..it's normal to be in survival mode for the first months). Do it when you can- even if it's not very often- having it in the calendar can already make a difference. Make it a date at home if you can't get out. And try for even 10 mins a day for a chat with just the two of you. Even a brief focused daily connection can make a huge difference.
Have sex. Yup. The oxytocin release can do wonders for melting away any rising frustrations. And it promotes long term bonding. There's an argument sex after babies is even more important than before. Schedule it if you need to (let's face it...you probably need to... ). Don't wait until exhaustion takes hold of an evening or it may never happen. Be prepared to do a little more work to get into the mood. Take a shower, change into underwear that make you feel sexy (and out of the leggings and t-shirt you've been wearing all day), whatever you need to get into the mood. And this is not to say that you should feel under pressure to get your sex life back on track before you are really ready. Sex after babies can look very different from pre-baby times and it's important to acknowledge that too.
Small things often. What you do every day matters more than the things you do once in a while. So small everyday gestures of affection and love are the building blocks of a happy partnership is built. Regular hugs and squeezes, a gentle touch here and there can boost your bond and cost very little in terms of time and energy.
And when all else fails, take a breath or ten, a step back, and look at that photo of that guy from before the babies crashed into your worlds. He's still there, and you're still there. Get help to manage some of the minutiae if you can, take a tiny break and go find each other, reminisce, create a new memory of the person there in front of you now. Then, take each other's hands and step back again into the madness.