Babies change relationships. A marriage before a baby and one after a baby may be two distantly related things, and the key is to thread one into the other, recognising that what was is gone and what is here is something new. This can take some getting used to.
Intimacy and common ground before a baby are built on having leisurely time to appreciate each other’s qualities and perspectives. If not leisurely time, it’s certainly time that can be found more compatibly. Once the baby comes, one partner is sleeping and the other on shift, one busy and the other pre-occupied, one trying to work and one hoping for sex, one organising help while the other buys the groceries, one out driving while the other folds clothes, each also trying to connect with different sets of friends, each needing a little time just for self, each sometimes too tired to think or communicate or notice what’s going on with the other. Intimacy and common ground are now not so easily found.
In the gaps of conversation, it’s easy to miss out on important things that need to be said or heard, and it’s easy to not really care. You are on autopilot half the time and you’ve stopped sweating the small stuff. The baby is a vortex of energy, taking up time, attention, emotion, thought and planning that otherwise went to creating a working union. And whereas before there were only two of you, now, the third sits squarely in the middle, perhaps often sleeps in the middle as mine does, mediating a relationship that used to be clear, direct and one-to-one.
Partners may not be on the same page either. Sometimes, you already know this but hope it will change. Sometimes, you need to just work with that reality, without expectation. Sometimes, its only about learning patience, and remembering that two completely different people are walking intertwined but not exactly similar paths, with all the frustrations, pleasure and lessons which that brings. Regardless, consensus can’t be rushed, pushed, demanded or enforced. It can be negotiated, but knowing how and when is part of the new too. It can be annoying to have to explain, bargain, accept and set boundaries, and inequalities and neglect can arise, but long-term relationships have to be approached with a desire to deserve, agree to and maintain long lasting love between two good people. It’s a lot to ask for even without having to be your best on a year of lack of sleep.
You have to be prepared to not win every battle and to not conceptualise the whole in terms of a war. Yet, you have to defend yourself at all costs rather than risk being taken for granted or negated, particularly as a woman. In the midst of this, it’s calming to remember that the goal is bigger love, deeper appreciation and better cooperation – if that’s what you want. Conviction, shared with gentleness, goes a long way when the means is also the end. It’s a balance between not losing yourself and not losing the companion you are committed to, and not losing what was for what is still new.
I know parents invent all kind of strategies to keep dialogue and partnership healthy and central to their changed relationship. There are tough moments, but those can help you grow. There are good moments too when you’ve made a step together and know where each other now stands. This builds trust that you just might make that next step together again, a little wiser about how much genuine valuing of yourself and the other it takes to really be in sync.
I’ve known for almost two years now that this cycle of my life is about the new. My friends Elspeth and Hebe did an ‘anew’ ritual with me one 6am morning, under the mango tree in the backyard. We wrote down and then rubbed off the past, shaking if off our shoulders. We affirmed our intentions and hugged the positive new vibes that were given room to rush in. We watched the fullest moon transform into a fleeting rainbow, seeing how the basic elements of the universe can cast new light on life.
So, I’m aware that I’m on new ground in both motherhood and marriage. I’m not sure yet where the changes will take us, how Zi will influence our paths and our future, who we will become. I know that eventually this too will pass and we will have found another familiar groove in which to thread, forgetting that we once had to get used to this different configuration of hearts, hopes, hurts and honesty. I guess I didn’t know so much would change while remaining the same, how much we’d be the same people we were while becoming such altered versions of ourselves. The new is everything rolled together with full responsibility for the now. Babies may change relationships, but it’s up to us to shape the transformation.