“You don’t really love me if you won’t split the molten chocolate brownie!” We were out to dinner celebrating the anniversary of our first date, and my husband declared he wasn’t hungry anymore; he didn’t want dessert. I, on the other hand, wanted “just a bite” of something sweet. Naturally, I burst into hysterics. Even after the bill was paid and we headed toward the parking lot, I was still sobbing over the long-lost brownie.
I remember my husband’s utterly bewildered face and gentle pats on my shoulder. Between sputters, I decided on a solution to this soul-crushing dilemma: We must drive to the grocery store and buy mint chocolate chip ice cream to eat wheresoever it pleaseth me.
When we arrived at the freezer aisle, I became overwhelmed by all the choices: “I want Breyers, but it’s so expensive. This green one has brownie chunks in it, which might redeem the missed brownie opportunity.” We got the bargain brand, and five minutes later I was sitting in the car eating frozen “milk product, high-fructose corn syrup, and artificial mint” out of the tub with a plastic spoon. I immediately saw the error of my choice and burst into tears—again. My husband screeched the car into an action-movie U-turn, ripped the tub from my frigid hands, and ran back in to the grocery store. Shortly thereafter we were driving home, and I was eating Breyers. I managed to squeak out a teary, “I love you," between spoonfuls of cold, minty goodness.
Sounds like a pretty bizarre and unnecessarily dramatic night, right?
Well, folks, thus is the way of pregnancy hormones, a.k.a., insanity. And I'm loathe to admit that during all of my pregnancies, this was not the only such event that occurred. It only takes a little research to learn that “extreme mood swings are totally normal and temporary” during gestation. But what took me a bit longer to discover was that it doesn’t do much good to rationalize your insanity as the byproduct of normal hormonal shifts if you forget to use that knowledge and provide fair warnings to your spouse—the stunned man in the freezer aisle worried that the woman he married will never be heard from or seen again.
You see, throughout all of the ups and downs of my past pregnancies, I have done what I think many other women do: occasionally turned inward, leaving my husband in the dark. To compound my own uncertainties, when we experience this disconnect, I’m also out of touch with whatever fear, confusion, or even joy he’s experiencing.
When I was pregnant with our oldest son, I read about all of the stages of development and what to expect during pregnancy. But I read by myself, neglecting to draw my husband into these discoveries. But how could I expect my husband to understand what I was going through if I didn’t invite him to join us—me and our baby inside me?
With all of the bodily changes to undergo and the great baby gear to register for, sometimes a woman can get caught up in the newness of being a mom and forget that she has to stay tuned in, sometimes now more than ever, to being a wife. But it has to be done. Otherwise, distance and even bitterness can creep in. And that's the last thing you want during this magical time of growing your family.
Aside from the dessert incident, my next clearest memory of forgetting to consider my husband was when I rapidly transformed his home office into a nursery. This was the spare room in our apartment, so naturally it would become the baby's nursery; but in making that shift, I totally neglected to acknowledge the fact that I was taking away his space—something he cherished.
He didn’t want to say anything because he knew it had to be done, but it was still painful. The very real sense of displacement leaked out because I never checked in with him to ask how he was feeling, and that led to a lot of misunderstanding. I had concluded that his unhappiness about the redecorating meant he wasn’t excited for this baby and didn’t want to make any sacrifices (while I was making so many!). Meanwhile, he interpreted my fuming as not appreciating his sacrifice and launching a pattern of putting kids before him. Cue enormous fight.
The stress from the fight was so intense that we actually feared for the baby (since mom’s stress is baby’s stress). That moment gave us our first clear picture of what our child really needs most of all: loving parents who are united, not living in different spheres. The best way to provide for our baby was to become unified, to communicate, and be in on this together.
So I resolved to start letting him know when things were happening with me or the baby. I remember how, midway through my pregnancy, I told my husband when the baby could hear. This was a major breakthrough for us in allowing our pregnancy to bring us closer together, rather than further apart. The news that our baby could hear was a perfect in for my musical husband, who decided to start practicing piano again. The baby always responded to it, and even soothed to those familiar sounds after he was born. It was great bonding for all of us—sharing the highs was very nourishing.
Much has happened since then: another son, a major move, a new life in a new town. The lessons we learned the first time around have made us better spouses and better parents, especially since we’ve been much more proactive about checking in on each other’s concerns. In addition to our weekly date nights, we have a monthly meeting that we call “The State of the Union” which provides time and space for talking broadly about our marriage and our parenting.
Now we are pregnant again, and it’s time dust off those old insights and renew our commitments. In this first trimester, I feel like I’m riding a roller coaster without a seatbelt (emotionally and physically); but I'm determined to make a greater effort to include my husband and let sensitivity lead the way.
As always, good communication really helps. It’s better to express what is truly going on than to radiate an inexplicable bad mood. (“I’m making this face because I have heartburn, not because of this lovely birthday card, honey.”) If I can clearly articulate my woes, it gives him a chance to empathize and even fix it. This time, I’ve been horizontal most nights after dinner, leaving my husband to put our other kids to bed by himself. He knows what a help that is, and it’s such a clear reminder that we’re in this thing together.
Pregnancy can be scary because there is so much vulnerability. But with that can come great intimacy, as well. In our case, it forces us to jump off our independent tracks more often and work as a team. It reminds us what marriage is made for. By testing its foundations and structures when adding a whole new wing, I know that it can withstand major renovations, and I’m reassured that it was built to last.
Photo Credit: Britt Rene Photography