Fighting with Your Spouse
I swear I love my husband, but when the baby won't burp or sleep or poop appropriately, all hell breaks loose in our relationship
By Ariel Horn
"I'm DONE. You take her. I've been burping her forever and I can't get anything out of her. I've been with her since 11 and it's 2 in the morning. I. AM. DONE!"
And with those belligerent words, my husband shoves our mewling two-week-old into my arms. And there is no love in that shove, trust me. He storms off to our bedroom, desperate for sleep, desperate to be anywhere but the nursery. And I know I should relish this moment and appreciate in my sleepy state--in spite of Husband's frustration--just how beautiful our daughter looks in the glow of the nightlight, how ethereal her newborn skin is, how beautiful and foreign it smells, how soft her baby-bird-hair feels against my skin, how unbelievably lucky I am to hold her, to have a child, to have two children, to be snuggling with the kind of healthy, rosy-faced newborn that so many women crave. For a second, I think about a Walt Whitman poem I remembered reading in college: "Your very flesh shall be a great poem." Eliana's flesh is a great poem, and our children are a triumphant symphony, and I should appreciate this moment, it's a blessing, I should say a prayer maybe, at least be grateful, and enjoy and savor it because it will be gone before I know it, but I am much more consciously aware of and fixated on my other thought:
I want to fucking kill him.
There's really nothing like a newborn to bring out the romance and love in a marriage, is there?
As Eliana whines in my arms, twisting, turning, contorting left and right to get out some gas or, from the sound of it, perhaps an elephant that has shoved its way up her intestinal tract, I sit down in the crusty-old, second-newborn-in-the-family glider next to her crib and start to have an imaginary fight with my husband, which is what I like to do in the wee hours of the morning when the rest of the world sleeps, dreaming of lottery winnings, tax refunds, and college scholarships for tuba playing. I would feel guilty about our heated rhetorical wars, but I know that Husband has imaginary fights with me too, and given the expressions I see on his face as he has these one-sided debates that I am far too smart to inquire about, I feel rather fortunate that neither of us has yet taken the fancy can opener in the kitchen and jabbed it into the other's jugular.
I prop my feet up on the ottoman and feel my face transform into a monstrous, deformed version of itself, not unlike Skeletor: the Postpartum Model. Venom blackens my brain as my thoughts churn out hateful, resentful things that are better left unsaid.
Oh, are you tired? Are you pumping your tits after you have someone feeding on them constantly like a parasite? Is our 3-year-old shoving herself onto your lap while you try to nurse the newborn on engorged, painful, Jessica Rabbit boobs that flow like Niagara Falls? You know what? I'm tired too! I'm exhausted! JUST SUCK IT UP! I'm not a superhero--I can't do this all by myself!
Like all of my one-sided battles, it's the best of whines, and it's the worst of whines. It is the best because I am right--eternally right. I am the Mommy, and that is my God-given privilege--to be right about everything for the rest of time. I am right about when to pick up the baby and when not to. I am right about when to give into big sister Lila's 3-year-old demands and when to stop babying her. I am right about when to shush the baby and when to give her attention. Right, right, right. Impossibly right about everything. Husband stands no chance in the face of my right-ness, and he knows it.
It is the worst of whines because though I do not want to admit it, I can sometimes be wrong. In fact, there are many times when I am really horrifically wrong. And these happen to be the times when my husband astounds me with his ability to make up the difference. I'm supposed to be right, but it's his patience, not mine, in the face of a tantrum that allows the storm to blow over. He's the one who can make me smile in an hour so dark I don't even want to face myself. His words, not mine, can bolster me like scaffolding, propping up sagging parts of my ego that are ready to collapse. It's Daddy who is in the right often, showing love and kindness to Lila in place of my own frustration and short temper. These are the times when he is so right, and I am so wrong. Even his willingness to generally suck it up and pretend I'm right all the time--even though I know he's pretending--is right.
But this whine--this accusatory, resentful bitch of a whine--it's the whine I know, and it's the one that lures me into its lair in the inky-blue pre-dawn hours like some hateful siren smacking her lips at the chance to ruin what had once been a beautiful marriage.
Anger at Night
With little oblivious Eliana snuggling in my arms, my anger with Husband grows even more pronounced as I imagine him nestled in our bed, resting peacefully. So what if I have loved him from the moment I met him on a teen tour of Israel? So what if he's the one person I consider my absolute best friend in the whole world? So what if my heart used to ache once upon a time at the thought of not being able to spend every second with him?
Pass me a barf bag. You know what? Make it a jumbo, Kirkland garbage bag, actually.
All of that is shattered at night. Love, romance, shared history, and mutual respect curdle like rotten breast milk at 2 AM, and the stench of it ripens in the poorly-ventilated air of Eliana's room, stifling my ability to breathe like an overstuffed Diaper Genie clogs the nostrils.
Eliana turns to look at me, her bright blue eyes--they are my husband's eyes, damn it-- suddenly wide and hopeful. She is no longer twisting, which is a good sign. I glance at the clock: 2:18. Jesus, he couldn't wait 18 minutes more?! Eliana seems fine now--a turn of events I triumphantly take credit for just because I can. Eat it, Daddy! She is calm and quiet. Peaceful even. Her physical angst--a manifestation of her solidarity with Mommy's resentment of Daddy--is gone. Eliana is no longer a physical mirror of Mommy's emotional and matrimonial agita, but a happy little baby, looking to play with someone at 2:19 in the morning.
Dear God, I do not want to be that someone.
In spite of myself, I make eye contact with her, though I know that will only engage her more, prolonging our nighttime encounter. I prefer my nighttime feedings to be quick and dirty, clinical and devoid of emotion. Eliana's no idiot, though, and she sees her entryway: time to turn on The Cute. She locks eyes with me and gives me a huge, toothless Muppet-y smile that makes my heart melt. And with that, I am a callous soup kitchen worker no more. I smile back at her and gently brush her soft cheek with my pinky finger. How nice it must be to live in a bubble, blissfully oblivious to how much Mommy wants to kill Daddy right now.
An Eventful Changing
Seething that I am still awake when Husband should have just sucked it up and finished the job in here, I take Eliana to her changing table, granting myself the luxury of superiority as I think, Did Daddy even bother to change you? I glance at the near-scientific chart of Eliana's feedings/poopings/peeing that he and I obsessively keep on the nightstand next to the glider. All it says is "Ate 2 ounces in 10 minutes. Burped her for 50 minutes--NO BURP." The capital letters and underline are accusatory, there's no doubt about that. The subtext of the sleepy handwriting screams, "Did you eat something that made her this gassy? THIS IS YOUR FAULT."
I un-swaddle Eliana and lift up her Victorian-looking nightgown to find her diaper. Eliana rests contentedly on the changing table, smiling up at me affably. Eliana is 100% Husband; these are his eyes, his good nature. I roll my eyes for my imaginary audience and then roll my eyes at Eliana. "You've got to be kidding me."
I open her diaper to an unremarkable sight. Wet. But as I slip the diaper off her pink body, I hear a horrible, terrible sound--the sound of nursery terrorism. It goes a little something like this: SQUISH-SPLASH-SMACK.
Welcome to ShitStorm, U.S.A. Population: ME.
I'm not sure what sound it was that I made at that moment--it may have been a "There is a man with a knife in the room sawing off my leg!" scream or it may have been a high-pitched "YAAAAAA!", like the squeal of terror that rabbits allegedly make before they die, but whatever it was, it was enough to send my husband running down the hall into the nursery.
"Oh my god, are you okay!??!"
I look up at him, my eyes filled with what my heart felt at that moment: "How did this adorable baby projectile shit all over me, the dresser, my hands, the changing table, and her nightgown so quickly?"
That kid's flesh may be a great poem, but her shit happens to be an anthology.
But the beauty of the Shit Storm is this: with it, the Spousal Storm breaks, and the cloud clears, and for the first time all night, I'm able to see my husband, to love him again for rushing to my rescue even though just 20 minutes before I wanted to see him maimed.
Suddenly, we are both laughing--God, it feels good to finally laugh and to stop seething--even if my wrists just so happen to be dripping in mustard-seed poop. Eliana lies unbothered on the changing table, her eyes--even though they're still cross-eyed--dancing with the kind of mischievous delight I recognize as her sister's trademark.
With shit on my hands but penitence in my heart, I look at Husband. "It's a shit storm in here."
He nods sympathetically and smiles. "So that's what was bothering her!"
"Yeah." Shit-covered, I smile too because now we are partners again, not enemies.
"Geeze. I'm sorry."
And with that, it's nearly time to face another morning.
Marriage with kids ain't easy. For more proof, read Sarah Tuttle-Singer's take on the post-baby marriage and the ways you can take just one night to spend some time together.