There’s no doubt about it, having a baby really changes your relationship. In one day you go from being husband and wife, or partners, or girlfriend and boyfriend, to mummy and daddy. The whole concept of your relationship changes to a new paradigm.
Before my baby was born I was the most important person in my husband’s life; as he was in mine. I prioritised his needs over mine, I hope, and he did the same for me.
Now those priorities have changed, as our son has become the most important person in my life. I once heard a friend comment that he would push his wife under a bus in order to save his newborn son, and, while I wouldn’t put it in those words myself, I understand the sentiment.
It’s not that I don’t prioritise my husband anymore; rather, it’s that he can look after himself. My son is dependent on us for everything, so his needs must come first.
Writing that last sentence, I nearly wrote, “my son is dependent on me.” Therein lies the heart of the matter. In my own heart, I feel that I can provide better for my son than my husband can. This, not the broken nights, lack of a sex drive and general exhaustion, is what affects our relationship. Although, the others do play a big part.
This ability to provide is certainly partly caused by the fact that I have breastfed my son for 8 months so far. Both my husband and I were very keen for me to breastfeed, and he was a great supporter when I struggled at the beginning. Breastfeeding meant that I was the one nourishing my son. I could calm him when he was crying, with a quick feed. I could get him back to sleep at night. My husband didn’t have that option.
Don’t get me wrong, I was keen for my husband to take part in nourishing our child. I expressed, I pumped, I froze milk in those funny storage bags. I sterilised bottles. The baby would happily accept a bottle. But for some reason, my husband wasn’t keen. He didn’t seem to derive the same pleasure from feeding the baby as I did. When I suggested he gave the baby a bottle so that he remembered how to take it, my husband would make some excuse. I would end up doing it. On the occasions when I went out and the baby needed feeding, he would do it, but he didn’t get the pleasure from feeding the baby that I got. Now that I’m starting to wean the baby onto formula, I wonder if he’ll be more keen to get involved? In all honesty, I’d be surprised.
There’s also the simple fact that I spend more time with the baby than he does; I’m the one on maternity leave. I spend each day trying to think of ways to entertain and stimulate the baby, of ways to get him to exercise. I’m the one who spends time trying to work out a daily routine to suit him. My husband, to his credit, totally follows my lead in the routine, and will happily stick to nap times and work our day around our son’s needs.
Weekends are interesting. Not only is it my husband’s chance to spend a lot of time with the baby, he also sees it as his chance for a rest. It’s not unusual for my husband to assume that it’s still ok for him to take a mid-afternoon nap on a Saturday, or to watch hours of football. Those things mean he’s not spending time with the baby.
I see weekends differently now, mostly because they’re very similar to weekdays – I’m at home. But there’s more mess to clear up, there’s more washing up because there are two adults at home and not one. I have to think about when to put the laundry on because my husband doesn’t like the machine whirring away when he’s in the kitchen. In some ways, for me, weekends are more stressful.
There’s also the sense that we should do something at the weekend as a family. After being at home for the majority of the week, I want to go out, to go somewhere. My husband wants to be at home. I guess it’s about compromise. Before the baby arrived, we would usually go out on a Friday or Saturday night on a bit of a date; that’s rarely an option any more. Friday or Saturday night becomes just like any other, if you’re not careful.
Before the baby was born, we had an equal footing in our relationship: we earned roughly the same amount of money, we both drove our own cars, and shared most of the housework. With the arrival of the baby, and me taking maternity leave, this makes me much more dependant on him; we also share a car now, which adds another dimension. Our roles have become much more gender-defined, as i’m doing the cooking, cleaning and he’s going out to work and being the ‘provider.’ I admit, sometimes, I’m a bit jealous.
I think at times, he’s a bit jealous of my role too: I get to be at home with our baby, no stress, a slow, quiet pace of life. Generally, I’m very happy here. It’s just sometimes I’d like to swap places for a day. I’d like him to deal with the constant stream of nappies and clearing up. I’d like him to think about what the baby might enjoy for 12 hours a day. I’d like to have the freedom and flexibility that he has.
It’s about compromise. It’s about communication, and making an effort to understand each others’ situation. I guess it’s also about sometimes standing up for your own needs, and knowing it’s not going to be like this forever. It’s about making the effort to spend time together and have sex, even if you don’t always feel like it, and there’s a huge pile of washing to do. Because, ultimately, I chose to have a baby with this man. I desperately want my son to grow up with two loving parents who are happily married to each other. I want my son to know his father as a wonderful man. I need the love and support of my husband.
I want us to be a family.