After that night, and until Poppy was about nine months old, things were decidedly better between Matthew and I. Though we still argued regularly, and the ends to those arguments were more truces than resolutions, they were very welcome truces indeed. Sometimes, I even dared to hope our relationship was back to normal—or at least on its way to getting there.
I should’ve known this was just the beginning of the adventure.
And there was another, even greater consolation to be had, and that, of course, was the baby.
From the very first night—the very first moment, really—I just loved being a mother. I loved nursing. I loved cuddling. I loved long car rides and walks to nowhere. I loved staring at Poppy’s face as she slept.
I loved that my job was loving.
Contrary to popular opinion, I told Genevieve, being a mom wasn’t the hardest job on earth. If it weren’t for the long hours and the sleep deprivation, it might’ve even been easy.
And so, even though I still remembered the hard times with Matthew that first year—the stress, the arguing, the frustration—it’s not those feelings that come to mind first when recalling that time in my life.
Mostly, I remember my baby.
The baby’s smile. Her dark curls. Her new discoveries, favorite songs. The way she drew admiring looks from total strangers wherever she went. The first time she sang, played with a ball, and didn’t cry when Mom left.
And that’s what Matthew remembers, too. He remembers falling in love.
Of course, the intensity of the experience of first motherhood wasn’t all the good-feeling kind; particularly between the sixth and twelfth months, negative emotions ran high, too. Poppy hated babysitters, and being left alone, even for a moment. And getting her to sleep was still difficult. So, it wasn’t that I didn’t love the work.
It was just a whole lot of work.
One evening, the exhaustion caught up to me. Matthew was working late, so to kill time I took Poppy to the mall. In a seating area there I let Poppy “off the leash,” so to speak, to explore the area as I rested. As the baby ran her hands over some scuffs on the floor, a woman stopped and stared at me in surprise.
“Aren’t you afraid she’ll get some horrible disease?” she asked.
And I very nearly lost my composure. To prevent a scene, I glared at her, saying nothing, until she took her disapproval elsewhere. Then I spent the next thirty minutes just trying to breathe.
Finally, it was almost time to meet Matthew for dinner. As expected, Poppy cried all the way home. When we arrived, I tried unsuccessfully to put her to sleep early, and when Matthew got home—even later than expected—I had no tension left, only sadness.
“Hi, Hon. How was your evening?” Matthew asked as he poked his head into the bedroom.
I didn’t even look at him.
“That rough, huh? What happened?”
I just shook my head. I could speak, but nothing in me wanted to.
Matthew took Poppy and started pacing the room, singing a song, while I curled up on the bed. Twenty minutes passed, and after Poppy finally drifted off, I was ready to tell him how I felt.
My voice was hushed to the point of unfamiliarity. “Why does she cry so much?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” Matthew said. “I’m sorry, Rachel. I love you.”
It was the right response.
He put a hand on my shoulder, then put Poppy next to me and curled up on my other side. That night whenever Poppy woke up, he picked her up and rocked her, allowing me to sleep without interruption.
It was the best sleep I’d had in months.
Read the rest of the series at Fights You’ll Have After Having a Baby: A Self-Help Novel.