Trouble by Elizabeth Dodson


Before having a baby, I read articles with titles like “How a Baby Ruined My Marriage” or “Marriage Survival Tips Post-Baby”.  I knew having a baby would be challenging and stressful, but I figured we had already been through so much as a couple, and we were always able to work through things,  We both had such a strong desire to grow and develop as individuals that we would find our way through challenges.  I felt like knowing it was going to be hard made me prepared; it was all going to be okay.

When I gave birth, I was on such a natural high that I felt completely in love with everyone and everything.  Life was beautiful.  My fiancé, Nic, was amazing.  I had just had the most awesome experience of a lifetime. I was holding the most precious human in the world, and life couldn’t get better.  Nothing could upset me or anger me.  It was a little irritating that Nic watched football and did whatever he was up to on his iPhone right up until just a few moments before I finished nursing Hunter, when he suddenly fell asleep.  It was slightly annoying that he washed my pump parts for me once, and then the rest of the times I had to just do it myself because otherwise they’d sit dirty until the next time I needed to pump and I’d have to rush to wash them with one hand, while I held Hunter in the other, and have slightly wet pump parts as I pumped.  I was pumping after every nursing session in order to supplement and avoid having to give her formula.  Really in those early days and the weeks that followed, I was so enamored with that tiny human I helped create, so overwhelmed with everything I now had to do, and so very sleep deprived that I didn’t think too long on any of those little annoyances.  I didn’t focus on any of the negative.  I was way too focused on the bliss.  And I even, mistakenly, wondered how anyone could feel a baby caused trouble in their relationship.  Having a baby had brought Nic and I so much closer together.  It was challenging and so very overwhelming, but we were so much more in love and so much stronger in our relationship because of it.

Somewhere around one month into it things changed.  Was it my hormones?  Was it the continued sleep deprivation?  Was it just clarity?  Maybe it was all these things and more, but I suddenly started to notice those little things that over time become big things.  He did sleep a lot in the hospital.  While I sat up taking care of the baby, OUR baby, after I had been pregnant for ten months, in labor for 23 hours and spent nearly 3 hours pushing a human out of my body – he was the one who slept!  His parents came several days after we came home from the hospital (against my wishes) to “help.”  Nic and I had already worked out a system of taking shifts staying up with the baby at that point so we each could sleep at least a little each night.  His mom helped out with Hunter during one of his shifts.  One.  His only.  I had mastitis for the second time since Hunter’s birth.  I was running a fever, I needed rest and sleep.  No help for me.  I passed a blood clot during that visit the size of a tennis ball.  The only person who told me I needed to slow down, rest more, and take care of myself – my midwife.  Still nobody helping out more at home.  I started thinking of the pump parts and the nurses in the hospital telling Nic he could help out and make sure he cleans the pump parts every use.  He cleaned them that one time, the first time, when the nurse showed him what to do.  The next time I waited for him to do it.  I waited until I needed them again and they still sat dirty, while he slept, and I cleaned them.  I didn’t wait on him after that.  I thought about everything and started to see the negative and then I started to focus on it.

I had postpartum depression and anxiety.  It was diagnosed and I guess a little bit I thought, oh that explains so much, but at the same time I thought “really?”  I thought everything I was feeling was normal.  Whenever I talked to another mom about how I felt I was told, oh yeah, that’s totally normal.  Completely overwhelmed.  Cry sometimes for no reason and just feel completely trapped and helpless.  Always worry about Hunter.  Every time I’d finally start to fall asleep, just as I slipped deep into that darkness, I’d suddenly be filled with panic and gasp and awaken.  I’d then need to check on her, I needed to know she was okay and still breathing.  I worried about germs, I worried about SIDS, I worried about her eating enough, I worried about my milk supply, I worried about her sleep, I worried about a car crash, I worried about people touching her, I worried about EVERYTHING.  When I was diagnosed with postpartum anxiety, I thought at least Nic will stop giving me a hard time about the worrying.  There’s an explanation now, it’s not my fault, there’s a reason for it.  Now he can be supportive and try to help me feel better rather than getting angry with me all the time and make fun of my fears.  But his response was to get defensive and tell me how much he does to help out and how he does so much more than other dads.  Because, this was, after all, all about him.  He wasn’t supportive.  He wasn’t anything close to supportive.  He made things worse.  And that drove me further to looking at the negative.

My first Mother’s Day, Nic went out of town for the weekend.  He left me a gift on the kitchen counter before he left and didn’t say anything about it.  I found it later after he had already gone.  It was all so cold and strange to me, and it made me feel like this person who is supposed to be my partner in life is now a stranger.  I opened the gift while he was away – burp cloths with bikes on them (he bikes, I don’t really, aside from a beach cruiser around the boardwalk), chai tea (the only part of the gift I felt was actually for me), and tickets to see Roy LaMontagne several months away.  Now, while I enjoy his music, it’s not like this was a concert I had talked about wanting to see, it’s not like going to a concert was even on my radar at that point.  If I had a few hours away from Hunter, the number one thing I would want to do was sleep.  Massage would be number two.  A night at a concert, getting to bed late, dealing with Nic drinking, was pretty far away from my thoughts on what I’d like to do with a night away from Hunter.  But at least he tried?  That concert turned into a point of contention for many reasons before it was all over.

Once Hunter got a little older, we started to have more time for ourselves again.  But it felt like a lot more Nic making time for himself and I got stuck taking care of Hunter so he could go out and have fun.  And I HATED feeling that way.  I absolutely love spending time with my daughter.  She is so fun and funny and sweet and amazing.  I still sometimes tear up when I look at her and just think how lucky I am to be her mom.  I never ever want to say I’m stuck at home with her, or I’m stuck being the one to watch her.  It’s not that way.  But it is.  Because I need a break sometimes.  Because being a stay at home mom, working during naps and after bedtime, practicing a belief that parenting doesn’t end when bedtime begins and always being there for her at night too – which means lots of nursing and lots of wakings some nights, and participating in extended breastfeeding is draining.  It’s hard.  It’s the most rewarding, fun, enjoyable job in the world and better than I ever could have imagined but it’s also hard and demanding and exhausting.  And I need a break too.  But I feel like asking for time isn’t enough, even getting to the point of expressing “I am at my breaking point, something needs to change, I can’t, I need a break” was apparently not enough to elicit any help or change.  He continued to take – going out after work, telling me he was doing something rather than asking, inviting a friend over to hang out when it was his night to handle any wakings – and I continued to get more and more resentful.  I expressed this to him too.  But nothing has changed.

Now, back to that concert for a moment.  I initially asked him who would watch Hunter.  He responded we’d find a babysitter or his parents could come.  Remember PPA – I told him I’d feel much better about his parents coming.  I asked weeks later if he had talked to them about it.  Not yet.  About 6 weeks before the concert I asked again, no not yet.  At that point I was over it.  Not my job to do extra work to make sure we made it to a concert I never expressed interest in going to.  So he never asked them.  And two weeks before the concert when I asked he told me I was supposed to find a babysitter.  Really?  That was my job huh?  Because nothing says “you’re special and you do so much by being a mom, happy mother’s day” like giving said mom ANOTHER task to add to her to do list.  Thanks.  So I told him he could sell the tickets, take the money from that, get me a hotel room and I’d go get a real night’s sleep away from the baby.  That was what I really wanted anyway.  It was a huge fight at the time.  He ended up giving the tickets to a couple friends and I still (2 Mother’s Days later) haven’t spent a night away in a hotel.  It continues to come up every now and then, as he bitterly mentions how I can’t leave Hunter with anyone and don’t trust anyone.  None of which is true, by the way, but I am picky.  Oh, he called me a helicopter mom once too.  When our daughter was 6 months old.  I explained to him that term doesn’t really apply to a parent of a baby, it’s called not being neglectful at that age, but he doesn’t seem to understand.

When I think about leaving, I think of the time he cut her with a knife while holding her when he was cutting cheese.  He pretended he didn’t know why she was crying.  He had sliced a cut on her leg and she screamed in pain.  I grabbed her immediately.  Luckily it wasn’t a bad cut, but he actually tried to do it again about a month later until I reminded him it wasn’t very smart to hold her and try to cut with a large knife at the same time.  He also would hold her while cooking over boiling pots until I yelled at him for it.  He actually argued with me over that – I had to really fight him on it to keep him from doing this.  And the MANY times he has insisted it’s fine to drive without putting her in her car seat because we’re driving a short distance.  A short distance on a major road, a short distance in a parking lot, a short distance up the highway.  Doesn’t matter, it’s safe, according to him, because we didn’t have car seats when we were kids and we lived.  And once when he was feeding her he left a sharp knife sitting on her high chair tray – which she of course immediately picked up to play with.  I was standing right there and grabbed it.  But what if I wasn’t there?  What if I do leave and she spends time with him alone?  And what would he do if she cries in the middle of the night?  The reason I take care of all her wakings is he tells me I should just let her cry.  Will she just be left alone in a dark room to cry until she gives up and realizes no one is coming to hold her?

So that’s how we got here.  It is and it isn’t.  It’s so much more and nothing more at all.  It’s confusing and straight forward.  Because when you’re on the outside it seems so simple.  It makes so much sense and seems so clear what steps to take.  But when you’re here – when you’re me with a child and looking at a man you once loved and once laughed with and felt like not only did you want to share life with this person, but you also wanted to share creating life with this person, it’s confusing as hell.  It’s so much that I can’t explain.  It’s wondering how you can feel so lonely living with someone else and wondering how much longer you can stand it.  It’s hope that things will change, despite the logical voice inside your head that tells you it won’t.  It’s seeing an old photo and remembering old feelings of happiness, passion and love and wondering how you can look at that same person and feel so much hurt, and anger, and disgust.  It’s fear of being a single mom, of giving up control when he has any kind of custody, of not knowing she’s safe with him, of missing her and any moments with her.  It’s questioning if it’s better for your young child to see those things and feel the tension and understand things she doesn’t even realize she does, just to stay under the same roof and be a “family.”

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