The following day, the hospital. Only that room in the hospital, and the bathroom adjoining it. Nothing more. Matthew came and went, bringing meals, bringing news. We opened a few presents, saw doctors, did paperwork. I slept a bit, too, Poppy next to me on the bed, though the nurse had advised against it. When I had to change my pad, the nurses helped me to the bathroom. They changed all of Poppy’s diapers and held her when she cried. It was the first time in my life I’d been waited on so thoroughly, and I relished it. I didn’t want to leave.
The following morning, Matthew arrived at 9 a.m. to take me home, and I delayed the departure as long as possible. When the time finally came—it was close to noon—I took a long last look at the room.
Maybe it was nostalgia. Sentimentality. Hormones. Or maybe—just maybe—it was more than that. Maybe it was the inkling I’d had the night before about Matthew.
Maybe I was sensing the learning curve ahead.
Yes, that was it. Just hours after giving birth, I had the mom thing figured out. I didn’t know how to do anything—not even change a diaper—but I knew how to be alone with my child. But four years into my marriage, I still didn’t know what Matthew expected of me, what he didn’t expect of me, and, most important, what to expect of myself. When it was just Matthew and I, this oversight didn’t matter. I compensated for not understanding what he really needed by giving him more of what he wanted, which worked fine. But now—now I had a second relationship to consider. My usual coping strategies wouldn’t work.
Even before Matthew and I arrived home the tension between us had begun. Matthew wasn’t himself. He was irritable. Hurried. Though whether due to jealousy, neglect or just impatience, I’ll never know.
He tried to hide his annoyance with humor. “Should’ve had a home birth.”
I responded with a tight smile and forced laugh. “I liked it there,” I said.
“Yeah, I noticed. Thought you were going to sprain an ankle so you could stay.”
“Don’t begrudge me my reward,” I told him, smiling again. “Besides, I thought about it. Wouldn’t’ve worked.”
The things I didn’t say: “Why do I have to bring up the pain of childbirth this soon?” “Why aren’t you happier?” “Why aren’t we celebrating?” I wanted the day we left the hospital to be special, an occasion. Instead, I just felt sad to go home.
Maybe it was too much to expect him to know how I felt, how I wanted him to support me on that day. But a small gesture made in that tender time would’ve gone a long way towards lessening my fears. He could’ve held my hand. He could’ve told me how proud he was of me. He could’ve just asked me what I needed. It would’ve taken so little, almost nothing—but instead, he chose jokes and I chose smiles.
The first two weeks after the baby was born, I cried nearly every night before sleep. A few times, Matthew heard me; he came to the bedroom and asked what was wrong. Each time I told him the same thing.
“It’s just hormones, Hon. I’ll be okay.”
I was working too hard. That was part of the problem. I always had and didn’t want to stop. Baby in the chest carrier, I cooked, cleaned and, my favorite, organized. There’s never an end of things to organize.
Part of me realized the emotions were normal, and that I wasn’t taking good enough care of myself. Another part of me, though, blamed Matthew.
He wasn’t helping enough. That’s the truth, unvarnished. He didn’t seem to know how to, really. While my life had changed completely—no more day job, constant sleep interruptions—he was quickly back to his usual routine. Work. Eat. Play. Sleep. Weekends: basketball, projects. Which is why, during those first few weeks with Poppy, I felt all the good stuff you’re supposed to feel— gratitude and love—I felt a lot of bad stuff, too. I was scared. I was angry. But mostly, I was sad. Sad that things weren’t right with me and Matt.
Read the rest of the series at Fights You’ll Have After Having a Baby: A Self-Help Novel.