Before I even begin this, I want to make two things very clear:
1) I love my wife and daughter immeasurably, and I am grateful for every moment I can spend with them
2) There are many, many wonderful things that come from marriage and parenting which people can and do talk about.
The thing is, at least for us, we don’t remember anyone talking about what it’s like–really like–to be relatively young, recently married, and parents.
Maybe they did. In fact, I’m sure someone did. Or tried to. But we couldn’t understand what they were trying to say. Perhaps they just didn’t want to scare us too much before we were ready for it.
This gets me to my point: there are things about being a parent that you don’t talk about with people who are about to be parents. It’s just not–polite.
My wife and I attended a symphony fund raiser hosted by a local brewery. We went with a colleague of mine and his wife, who are expecting their first child any day now.
We had our first child about a year ago. So there was a lot that we said to them about what to expect.
–There was much more that we didn’t say.
Back home over beers, the battle to put our daughter to sleep now victorious, my wife turned to me and made a lucid comment:
“If we fought like we do now back when we first started dating, we probably would never have gotten married.”
It was honest. And I wasn’t a bit upset by it. In fact, I very quickly replied:
“If we fought like that back then, we should have broken up. We didn’t have any real problems or issues to fight about.
Getting married, having a baby, living through that–that’s serious shit. That’s where the real fights come from.”
We thought about how impolite our conversation would have been to them. How anything unlike encouragement it would sound like. More like foreboding:
Congratulations! We’re so happy for you guys.
Just so you know, it was definitely the hardest and most miserable experience we ever had.
This is an opportunity to say just a few of the things we wanted to say to them the other night:
In all honesty, it caused us to question our marriage and ourselves. Separation became a legitimate-sounding alternative to the anger and depression we would find ourselves in.
We fought like we’ve never fought before–hating and despising the other person at times. Who are you? Where’s the person I married? we’d both say to each other.
The first week when she is born will be the hardest week of your entire lives. By day three, we were wrecks and needed help desperately but didn’t know what we needed or how to get it. I went to work after two weeks, my wife after just a month, and we both felt like we needed more time to “catch up” on our rest. We still feel like that a year later.
Breast feeding starts immediately, and from what I’ve been told, is much more painful than the birth–and will continue to be every few hours for the next 3 months.
I had a nervous breakdown and almost quit my job so I wouldn’t commit suicide, and only after months of therapy was I able to start feeling normal again. But it wasn’t the same normal as before. It was the new normal.
I can’t tell you the number of times divorce either directly or indirectly has come up in the last year. And we were very happy, well adjusted people two years ago! I swear!
If we weren’t such good friends. If we didn’t get along as well as we did back then, seriously, we would be separated or dead by now. I’m not being sarcastic. One of us–dead! And you will, in the proper setting, admit this in all sobriety to anyone who will listen.
And after at least 6 to 9 months, when the baby is asleep, and you’ve eaten, and it’s that time of night when the opportunity to “reconnect” physically appears, here’s what will happen:
because you’ve been wishing you could go to sleep since you came home at 7.
Before you played with the baby.
Fed yourself (using dishes you’ve been forced to clean after two days in the sink because everything is dirty, in the floor board of the car, or outright lost).
Bathed her, changed her, put her to sleep.
Done a few normal chores, and finally sat down at 10:15 to “take it easy.”
–The thought of just moving is unappealing.
You both probably smell, because showering is a luxury, and there’s a mix of old baby food and diaper smell still lingering in the air.
And most problematic of all–you will also realize you have nowhere to do it: the baby’s play area is strewn with toys; outside that area, all you can think of is dog hair and old cat vomit remains; the kitchen is grungy, and the baby is asleep in your bed, the last sacred place you had.
And you’ll look at each other knowingly, and finish the beer you’ve been sharing, and go to bed so you can watch “Star Trek: The Next Generation” reruns on Amazon Prime on your phones before going to sleep. And you’ll think of how awesome and lucky you were to do that.
Take it from me, at some point, you’ll begin to feel yourself changed, different. More like an adult than you ever were.
More like a parent–maybe even like your own parents. And instead of being disgusted, you’ll snicker. Because it’s so funny.
You’ll be able to see where that parenting-type thinking comes from: I can imagine when she is 15 and she breaks up with her first boyfriend, and she’s so upset. And we tell her, it’s ok, just give it some time, maybe a year.
And she’ll look at us like we’re jackals and say, “A year? A whole year? I can’t wait that long! That’s an eternity!” And we will remember what it was like when a year felt that long, and we’ll smile, because we, too, got here through roads of adversity, misery, and injustice which makes up life.
And you’ll realize why it means something to announce a 50th wedding anniversary. Style points aside, just sticking with anyone for that long is an accomplishment.
You’ll grow suspicious of smarmy people, and anyone who tells you it was easy, or it was wonderful, without telling you all the other dirty stuff, too.
Because that dirty stuff is just so–unpleasant. And not appropriate for polite conversation.
If they are decent folks, they will just keep that stuff to themselves. Like we did.
And let me tell you, when you, too, have a conversation with your wife about this stuff, about how hard and miserable it’s been, about how mean and unloving you’ve been to her, you’ll be able to do so with more honesty and vulnerability than you thought possible.
And you will look at her–and I promise you on this–and you will love more now than you thought possible because of the hell you’ve been through.
And you’ll thank her for sticking with you through it all.