When a baby arrives, it's not quite happily ever after, and other lessons a father learnt
Those are the toughest days in a marriage, says this father of two, one that’s not simply fixed by the couple sinking into the sofa in the evening with zero per cent beer and Netflix. He could have been more proactive, he writes, in this instalment of CNA Women’s series on men who champion women’s issues.
They say the days following the birth of a child are among the toughest in a marriage. And so it proved for mine when my wife and I became first-time parents in end 2015.
Well, it’s hard enough for the obvious reasons: There’s a recuperating mother; a wrinkly human to keep alive; and the wad of unfamiliar things to attend to – from assembling diaper changing stations to figuring out how to work a swaddle.
But I had assumed the rough would be allayed by the smooth. That somehow long, hard days could be fixed with the two of us plopping on the sofa in the evening with an over-elaborate sushi cake, some zero per cent beer (not for me) and Netflix.
What I least expected was to find myself mired in some kind of almighty civil strife. Yet that’s what happened.
Handling a raft of new errands was manageable, but learning to understand a person who had just broken down her body to birth a child would be far trickier.
THE ROW-FILLED POSTPARTUM PHASE
Newly minted parents are almost always naive, especially after a fuss-free pregnancy but this row-filled postpartum phase came as a shock. And in hindsight, there were several things I could have done to mitigate the fallout.
First, I should have taken charge of the chores.
I’ve always seen myself as someone who would pull his weight around the house, but apart from cleaning the bathrooms and the vacuuming, everything else – from doing the dishes to the laundry – would be done only on my wife’s cue.
Shouldering the mental burden of organising a household is an onerous job, but continuing to do so as a new mother is next-level exacting. Imagine having to think up shopping lists while trying to get the child to latch or figuring out a meal plan for the day after a night of interrupted sleep.
And this is a common enough grouse.That while men are happy to do the grunt work of fetching the kids or cleaning up, it’s mothers – mostly – who have to deal with the more mentally draining tasks like divvying up and delegating chores, and checking in on the children’s homework.
And because my wife never complained at the start or asked for specific help, I thought everything was hunky dory. That she was managing okay, because, hey, I was there by her side.
This couldn’t have been further from the truth.
Some proactiveness and tighter communication on my part would have gone a long way. I should have paid closer attention to non-verbal cues, but I didn’t know any better.
I only learnt later that it is hard to verbalise your thoughts and gripes when one is in survival mode, when you simply just get on with it.
THE MUM GETS NO BREAK
Another lesson from those trying times was that I should have been around a lot more for my partner. I was always eager to catch a break; whenever parents, in-laws or friends were around, I'd head out for beers with friends knowing she’d be in good company.
But the mother gets no break. A crushing kind of isolation sets in when you are surrounded by people who are chuffed to be around a newborn and yet somehow you don’t quite share in the mirth.
Those early days were not pretty: When the something’s-not-quite-right fog cleared the incessant quarrelling began, and resentment and anger spewed from those fights.
I resented the fact that my contributions were not appreciated. I felt that my wife was being overly nitpicky and emotional and unreasonable in her criticisms of me.
I resented not being seen for doing my share of the heavy lifting when it came to minding the child.
But I now know that I wasn’t really doing any share of anything: I just wasn’t in tune to what she wanted and was dancing to my own beat. It came from a place of hubris.
In fact, when first confronted, I fobbed her off. I thought all her grievances can’t be true, that she was hallucinating. She resented not being listened to and my stubborn defensiveness.
Eventually, we grew sick of bickering. We realised the only way forward was through more listening, more empathy and more patience. It was new territory for us after all; we too needed to have our baby steps.
So, were lessons learnt? I’d like to think so.
Things were far smoother – but by no means a cinch – when our second child arrived some years later. We obviously were a lot more battle-hardened and savvier as parents and spouses by then.And I also did far better with the chores: This time, I could outsource some of the work to an eager beaver three-year-old.
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CNA Women is a section on CNA Lifestyle that seeks to inform, empower and inspire the modern woman. If you have women-related news, issues and ideas to share with us, email CNAWomen [at] mediacorp.com.sg.