Before Henry was born, Jeff and I—who hadn’t yet been married two years—swore we’d be the ultimate support crew. We’re both athletic and skilled in the outdoors. Together we camped for a week on an Alaskan glacier in winter to climb and ski narrow chutes that ran for 3,000 feet. Several months before I got pregnant, we logged two weeks in the Austrian and Italian Alps on skis, traversing mountain passes, rising before dawn and climbing to mountain summits to watch the sunrise and then ski down.
If we could pull off expeditions like that, we were sure parenthood would be a cinch.
I realized how misguided we were when, about four months post-partum, we were having our millionth argument about something unimportant and I growled that everything would be fine if Jeff would just fuck off. Jeff is not the kind of guy you say that to. He’s a sensitive introvert, a Ph.D. scientist, and the man who, on our first date, cooked me a five-course meal of saffron risotto, Osso Bucco, arugula salad, a fruit plate, homemade biscotti, and several nice bottles of Chianti. In the past, when my impulsive temper came between us, he always claimed the high ground, embraced me, and assured me of his love. This time, when we were both void of emotional and physical reserves, he sank to my level.
“Go fuck yourself,” he hissed as he turned on his heel and stormed out of our house, leaving me clutching our swaddled son. As tears streamed down my exhausted face, I hated motherhood—and not for the first time.
But then I had an epiphany: Cramming marriage, a baby, new jobs (his and mine), and co-habitation into the short span of a few years put a lot of pressure on our relationship. So much pressure, in fact, that when faced with the realities of parenting a newborn—namely that neither of us were getting much sleep, I was a hormonal basket case, our son had relentless demands that we were just learning how to meet, and we were both trying to get back to work we loved—I began to doubt if we would make it through the tough part.
We didn’t have the bandwidth to work on our relationship, but we had to find it. We both realized that not dealing with the streak risked damaging our marriage. And since he and I are both children of divorce, and neither of us was keen on the idea of splitting up and negotiating visitation rights, and we truly did love one another, we managed to get through the recriminations and fights, starting with a pledge to not swear directly at each other anymore.
But hell. Surviving that first year as a couple was harder than dealing with the months of sleep deprivation, blistered nipples and mastitis, and recovering from a Cesarean.
Having a baby is hard work. Even though Jeff and I very much wanted Henry we were laughably unprepared for the endless nights without sleep and the learning curve of how to take care of a newborn. I’m convinced most new parents struggle with the same things we did: sleep deprivation, fussy baby, colic, changing identities, stress. And like us, I suspect most new parents fall deeply in love with their baby, and, eventually (or, if they’re lucky, right away) more in love with each other.
I wish I had known it was normal to be in such a haze as I entered motherhood. It might have spared me some tears and some angst. And I’m glad to have the hindsight of four years and to be able to look back on those days, which everyone told me go by so fast, and see them for what they were: absolutely unique, completely essential, hard, and beautiful.