"MOOOOOOOOM!" I'm sitting in the living room, and I hear that all-too-familiar appellative from across the house. Funnily enough, it's not one of my kids calling me but rather my husband.
We've been married for almost ten years. I've been "Mom" for less than three of those. We were married when I was 20, after an eight-month whirlwind romance. (Short story: We met in Italy while I was studying abroad. He was an Italian soldier.) We always knew that we wanted kids. In fact, one of our first conversations, three days after we met, was about how many we wanted—and growing this family together was always in the backs of our minds, even as we did all the things that young childless couples are "supposed" to do while we waited for that time to come.
We traveled. We dined out. We went to bars. We opened a business together. We spent basically all our free time together. We were totally unprepared for the ways that having a baby would change the dynamic of our marriage.
Our baby brought us down to earth.
Many of us move into parenthood with a certain idealism, the same way we approach our weddings. As we have expectations for the proposal, the ceremony, the reception, the honeymoon—we also have expectations for the pregnancy, the nursery, the birth, and the baby's personality. Expectations can be hard, especially when they are not met. I've also learned that expectations that fall short can quickly turn into resentment, and you are much more likely to resent your spouse than you are your kids.
To paraphrase something my mother always said, "Nobody ever fixed their marriage by having kids." It is hard. It is especially hard when they are young when there's more than enough room for frustration (Why doesn't he wake up with the kids every now and then? Why does he get to go out with his friends? Look at him with his useless nipples.)
Yes, babies will push your romance "down to earth"—with a massive, resounding crash. The same woman-in-love who wakes up before her new spouse to dab concealer on every blemish is suddenly an experienced practitioner of a contraption that removes snot from baby noses—with her mouth. But somehow, this unglamorous real world we now have made our home is full of far more real love. I'm not saying expectations are bad (and the right kinds can be very good), but nothing will keep these expectations grounded, and thus tangible, like having a baby.
Our baby allowed us to love and understand each other in a different light.
Your expectations and your priorities will change, but so will the way you view each other. When you become a parent you receive a brand new identity in addition to your old one. I'm now "Elizabeth: wife, daughter, art historian, professor, and mom." I get called "Mom" by complete strangers at the pediatrician's office, the daycare, and even in the supermarket—any time I'm with my kids. I'm also "Mom," "Mommy," and "Mamma" at home, not just to my kids, but also to my husband.
After our daughter was born he admitted to me that this new identity was one of his favorites. Despite the whirlwind beginning of our love story, he had never been more in love with me. I would never have believed that we would already call each other "Mom" and "Dad" in our twenties and thirties, but it feels incredibly natural. I'd even venture to say that his role as fun, loving, enthusiastic "Dad" is one of my favorite things about him, too. The way he nurtures those tiny combinations—those mergers—of the two of us, is truly our love in action.
Our baby accentuated the uncertainty of it all—and challenged us to communicate better.
Life is full of uncertainty, and marriage, as a part of life, is also full of uncertainties. Our marriage vows—"for richer or for poorer," "in sickness and in health"—are a warning and a reminder of that. Nothing brought this reality home like bringing our newborn daughter home.
Our daughter was born a month shy of our seventh wedding anniversary. I was in the middle of writing my dissertation (which I had hoped to finish during my pregnancy—pregnancy brain is real!), and my husband was between jobs. Suddenly the timing seemed horrible. It was an incredibly stressful time as we found ourselves wondering things like whether we still had health insurance, whether I would ever finish school, whether he would find another job.
Thrust into this new world of uncertainty, we were challenged to practice good communication to keep us together and for mere survival. By keeping the lines of communication open, we went through the changes together. Your teammate, or "better half" is there to support you—and you them—as you navigate the newness of it all. Your struggle is their struggle, and the best thing you can do is continue to communicate, especially when you're in a postpartum haze and you don't have words to describe all those crazy new feelings.
Our baby taught us the power of flexibility—and made us eat humble pie.
When we were married I insisted that we needed a queen bed. It was so important to me that we be physically close. I said that when we had children, those children would not be allowed in that bed. I even went so far as to judge other parents whose kids slept in the "marriage beds." I've now eaten those words and most of the words I said as a non-parent (and am the proud owner of a king). The idea of the kid-free "marriage bed" went out the window pretty quickly once we met our tiny baby daughter who was incapable of ever sleeping by herself. Just for fun, ask any of your parent friends about the things they said they'd never do. How many parents swore they would never buy a minivan?
This experience was, frankly, a humble reminder that we're human—that we really can't "do it all." What we realized was that those unfathomable ways those other couples had structured (or tried to structure) their new lives as parents were actually all survival mechanisms for themselves and their marriages.
I promise you: There will be a time that you'll have planned an epic date night, and just as you are walking out the door, your kid will experience some kind of health emergency (puking, fever, etc.), forcing you to stay home. In these cases, you have to be ready to adjust, continue the date later at home, or take steps to reschedule the date. Having a child taught us that marriage thrives when you master the art of flexibility. Kids or not, things will go wrong, all your plans will be foiled, and at the end of the day, you still have to make your romance a priority.