At my baby shower, a friend pulled me in close when she hugged me goodbye and whispered something that broke my heart, “The first year will be hell on your marriage. It will be OK. But it will be hell on your marriage.”
I loved that a friend who had actually had a child shared a piece of her experience with me. I was grateful for her deep honesty. I held her statement to my breast and continued moving through the room, saying goodbye to all who had joined me. I left thinking, If she’s right, I”ll fight to walk through that hell.
The thing is, she couldn’t have been more wrong.
The first year was a blur of becoming. My husband and I were becoming parents, every day since the day our child magically appeared inside the cold, cold walls of a delivery room. We sped away from the hospital on four wheels—three passengers now, instead of two.
We became a team during late night feedings and blowouts and baby-food-making. Our baby was so small. So quiet. We sat him on the floor and watched each other’s expressions watching him—more than we watched his. We drank wine together and watched our favorite TV shows each night after he went to bed, celebrating another day of winning at parenthood.
We were so happy.
The second year was even better. He was cuter! More interactive! We couldn’t stop laughing. This time with our son as much as with each other. Life was nothing but evenings spent in our sweet little house, laughing.
Then, suddenly, our baby turned 2.
He turned into a toddler. And toddlers are like overly sentimental, super capable babies. Baby Hulks. Their faces are still soft and plush and you can get lost in their shiny eyes like the days of yore, but try not to. Because they’ll misinterpret your love as weakness (are they the same thing?) and they’ll do their best to derail your plans.
They’ll tell you they can only eat popcorn and ice cream and they’ll break things all over your house when you tell them no. Their vocal cords can’t be that well-developed, but somehow, they are able to yell a couple octaves louder than you yelled while giving birth to them.
It was like our baby was broken. And, because he was broken, he had to break us, too.
Our baby turned 2 and all prior processes in our home came to an end. He stopped sleeping in his crib, stopped letting us sing aloud to him, stopped eating vegetables. He started hitting us, tearing off his diaper and opening doors that were supposed to remain closed. His physical capabilities grew in tandem with his rotten attitude.
It was like our baby was broken. And because he was broken, he had to break us, too.
We’re about six months into age 2. And we are no longer swimming in the waters of parenthood, smiling at each other as we traverse the great murky but exciting waters of the unknown. Our limbs are tired. Our minds are tired. Our voices, too. We are struggling. We aren’t looking over at the other to see how they are doing anymore.
We are drowning. Separately. Alone.
It’s not like co-parenting ever looked easy. Partnership is hard enough without anything outside of the two people within in. I don’t have to tell you why. We can just look to the statistics to know it’s true. I didn’t assume that it would be a cakewalk, having a child with this person I loved, but I did assume it would be fun and hard, in roughly equal parts.
We had fun for two years. And now we’re hanging out inside the hard part. And it’s hell.
The problem is, someone can tell you something hard is coming. You can tell yourself, “Hey, girl! Get yourself prepped and ready!” But until you are gasping for air, you don’t know how it’s going to feel.
My husband and I don’t talk much anymore. Weeks go by where I forget to tell him all the things I had lined up in my mind. Things I read about. People I ran into. Dogs I saw on the internet or the street. That my friend is pregnant. That my friend moved. That my friend is getting a divorce.
We text and talk about the necessary stuff. Our son needs diapers. Our son needs a jacket that fits him. Our son needs a potty-training stool. Please make sure you are here at 5:15 p.m. Please remember to walk and feed the dog. Buy a whole shit-ton of beer.
If we’re being honest, I’m a little bit scared. It feels like I’m estranged from my best friend. My partner. My love. My husband. At the same time, I have become estranged from my baby. Because my baby—the baby he was—is gone.
But I have asked a lot of people that have years and years behind them in coupledom, what the key was to making it. And their advice is always, overwhelmingly, this: There are high tides and low tides, and nights where the water is perfectly peaceful and you do nothing but float atop it, your body supported by its great mass.
For now, I have to remember to keep looking up, across the water. Keep looking over at him. Wave at him from time to time, when I am able to lift up my arm. I’m here. You’re here. We’re in this thing together.