A number of us in the queer parent blogging community are participating in a blog carnival. This week’s topic asks us to explore the impact having a child has had on our relationships. Mine is just one story among many. Please click on the link at the bottom of this post to follow the carnival on the next blog.
When I was a freshman in college, I took a speech class, and at the beginning of that class, we were paired off with another student, asked to conduct an interview, and then assigned a speech introducing that person. I shared with my partner my origins, that my parents divorced when I was four, that my mom divorced her second husband when I was thirteen. I didn’t think much of it until his time came to introduce me, and he began by saying, “We’ve all heard of people coming from broken homes, but I think T’s home life can best be described as shattered.” Whoa. I guess I had never considered how people viewed my family of origin, especially those who came from privileged, stable, nuclear families like this boy had, but looking at it in this new, stark light, I had to admit, I never really had much stability.
I am a child of divorce. I spent my childhood primarily with my mom, but then would have obligatory visits with my dad on holidays, random weekends, occasionally for a week or so over the summer. I never really knew much different, but I can say that I always wished for a stable family life. I wished to not have to split my time between homes, to have a mom and a dad who lived under one roof and loved me. But I think that’s pretty standard fare for a child of divorce. To say this hasn’t colored my feelings about relationships would be a pretty bold lie, and to say that it hasn’t impacted the steadfastness with which I stick to my own marriage now, well, that would be an even bigger one.
When I met my wife, fourteen years ago, we were immediately friends. We more slowly came together as a couple, but once we did, it just made sense. We got each other. We understood one another’s pain, our struggles, our strengths. We were polar opposites in so many ways, but it worked, and we loved each other deeply. However, it really didn’t take long for our arguments to begin. We’re both very emotional and sensitive people, and we’re also fairly vocal. Initially our arguments could derail us for some time, regardless of their cuase, but over the years they have gotten more mature, more productive, and we have always sought to find our way back to one another before going to bed at night. No matter how hurt we were, no matter how long we had to stay up, we would work on finding common ground again and would manage to kiss each other goodnight.
During our pregnancy, we had our moments when we could not see eye to eye, but looking back, so much of that related to my hormones. For the most part, we were pretty blissed out. We were finally getting what we both had wanted for so many years. My wife was so grateful to me for carrying our child, and she treated me like a queen. It was wonderful feeling so close, yet it was scary too. I knew things would change when the baby was born, and I didn’t want this bliss to end. I guess I had a sense of foreboding.
The initial weeks after BG was born were pretty great, although I can see this is where our struggles began. We started to bicker over minutia, and I had a rough time adapting to life as a non-pregnant new mom. In hindsight, I wonder if I had some postpartum depression that I wasn’t dealing so well with. All I know is that my wife found that I had disappeared, and upon my return, I disappeared again into nursing mother land. In the midst of sleep deprivation, we stopped connecting well, stopped comprehending one another well, and every day was fraught with bickering.
When BG’s sleep hit a new stage of nightmarishness at around four months old, I started wanting to cosleep. My wife didn’t want to. She couldn’t sleep with him in the bed. He would thrash around, and she wanted her sleep. She began sleeping on the couch, and she stayed there. She stayed there for a year. At first it was about the cosleeping, but later it was more. It was too painful for her to share a bed with me when she couldn’t access me in any way. She felt like a third wheel half the time. Even though she shared equally in caring for our son, she felt like I didn’t trust her. I admitted at one point that maybe I didn’t in those early days. I had had so much experience with babies, and she had had almost none. I defaulted to control freak, and suddenly my wife felt utterly underappreciated, untrusted, and unaccepted. I felt self-righteous and in charge–and I was totally and completely out of line. I stopped pumping because it was too much trouble and because–well, I was home, why shouldn’t I just breastfeed? I vetoed my wife on baby decisions. I was a monster. I didn’t recognize myself. I was just in some sort of sick mama bear state, and I had given up my compassion for my wife. We started seeing one another as adversaries. It was a very, very dark time.
Perhaps the worst moment in our relationship came at the beginning of this year when my wife told me she didn’t want to have another child with me. We have always talked about two kids. I have always wanted to kids. I wanted BG to grow up with siblings because to me, they were invaluable. I flipped the fuck out when she told me this. It wasn’t pretty. Finally, I had to see why she was saying this though. She didn’t like who I had become. She didn’t like the mama bear who fought everyone who came near her cub–including her wife. She didn’t like being treated like a second-class parent. When it came down to it, she had wanted to share in this childrearing equally, and I had monopolized it all and been, frankly, quite awful about it. It took me time to see this, and she did admit eventually that she would want to have another child with me if I had changed, if she knew things would be different, but she remains dubious, and I still understand.
It didn’t help during all of this time that I was underemployed and my wife was unemployed and we were living in an outrageously expensive region where we really had no hope of getting by at the rate we were going. It didn’t help that we had absolutely no family around (except for my sweet mom who would travel three hours for a quick overnight visit every few weeks). It didn’t help that we were sorely short on friends, or that those who were in our lives were far from being able to understand what we were going through. We both felt utterly alone, utterly strained and terrified financially, and totally and completely unstable in our marriage.
Something shifted when we moved last spring. The first was that we started making an effort to get BG out of the bed and to get us back in the same bed. Then it was a matter of sticking together to get our family out of the hell hole we had moved to. We came together in that crisis. We were closer there than we had been in a long, long time. Then we had to spend nearly two weeks apart while BG and I stayed with my parents and my wife got us packed. Being apart reminded us that we really did miss one another, that we loved one another, that we wanted to be tougher as a family. When we moved to our current home, we finally made a solid and successful effort to move back into our bedroom together and to move our son into his. This has helped. But as we have settled here, our problems have risen up again. We have bickered and fought and threatened to split up. We have resorted to unhealthy crutches. We have been at our absolute worst some days.
On top of all of this is an issue only two-woman households can truly understand. Shortly after my period returned following BG’s birth, our cycles lined up. This has happened in the past, but never for very long, although each time, it has been disastrous. Presently, our cycles have been aligned for going on two years. My wife and I are some of the most obnoxious women I have ever encountered a week before our periods. It became predictable for awhile that when we had the “That’s it; we’re splitting up!” fight, we were most certainly a day away from a visit from old Aunt Flo. This little matter has not helped. Not one bit. It doesn’t seem fair that amidst all of the other adversity we’ve got clashing hormones to compound it all, but it is our reality (and something we can both probably do more about).
It doesn’t escape me, however, that many women’s cycles line up, and they don’t threaten to split up. They might argue or be catty, but they don’t go this far. As I mentioned in the beginning of this epic account, we are two very emotional, sensitive, and, I think I can safely say, even volatile people. But we’re also two people who were given absolutely no tools by our parents, no good modeling for healthy relationship behavior. And we’re also two pretty broken people in many ways. We have been very codependent for many years, leaning on another for absolutely everything, relying on ourselves for very little. Adding a child to this was a bit disastrous because suddenly we were focused on caring for him, and there was nothing left for one another. We couldn’t be one another’s everything when we had to be everything to this little boy. This is where things started to fall apart. This is what we’re trying to repair so that we can rebuild.
At present, we’re in therapy. We’ve had several sessions and have been given some good tools. Some weeks, we’re really good at using those tools. Some weeks we fall back into old behaviors and go into therapy acting like a couple of kids sent to the principal’s office for a fight. We are acknowledging, though, that we both have our “work” in this, as our therapist likes to call it. We’ve both contributed to the pain, and all we can do is work to improve ourselves and how we behave in the relationship. This is new for us, holding ourselves accountable, focusing on ourselves, not relying on the other to do the molding and shaping.
On one of our date nights recently, my wife and I both agreed that we would like the idea of our marriage ending to be off the table, that we would both like to be in a place where when we do argue, we aren’t immediately looking for separate apartments (and we have both been there more times than I would like to admit in the past two years). For so long, the impetus for not splitting up was that I didn’t want BG to have the childhood I had. I didn’t want him to have to choose who he spent Christmas with or who got the bulk of his summer break. I didn’t want him branded with that “broken”–or gods forbid, “shattered” label. I want him to grow up in a home where he sees two parents who love and respect one another, where he can feel safe and secure.
In the past few weeks, or maybe the past couple of months even, my reasoning has changed a little though. I have seen my little family–the three of us–doing our thing in the word: going to the beach, having a picnic, enjoying a particularly great lunch, snuggling and reading a book, gardening in the backyard. And I have fallen in love with this family. More importantly, though, I am rediscovering my love for my wife. I have so much more compassion for her, so much more empathy, and so, so much remorse for the hell I put her through. I can’t go back and change who I was in the months and now years following BG’s birth, but I can be different now. I am working to lighten up, to give my wife the space to be her own parent to BG, and not a carbon copy of me. I’m working to prioritize our relationship too. And I’m working on finding time and space for me. I feel like we’re in a place of becoming, and that while we aren’t out of the woods just yet, we’ve got a compass that is mostly reliable. I have faith that we’re going to make it. We’re both so damn stubborn; I would be surprised if we didn’t.