Chapter Seven: Apologize Every Chance You Get
Taken separately, most of the first-year fights Matthew and I had weren’t terribly significant; it was their accumulation that was the problem. As year two of parenthood began, though, the intensity increased and our recovery times did, too.
The First Trimester Tussle was one of our worst arguments of all time, and it was largely my fault. In addition to the apparent cause was the underlying one, namely: I was pregnant.
And I was miserable. I was miserable in a way I hadn’t been in years, before the baby, before ever meeting Matthew. Exhaustion, nausea, lower back spasms: my pregnancy pain cocktail tasted terrible. I even felt pregnant in my sleep.
My sixth week in, I gave up exercise. My seventh, I gave up healthy eating. By my ninth week, depression had fully set in, and everything was difficult, even conversation. Other than the requisite life management stuff and bare civilities, most of the words that exited my mouth were complaints.
Towards the end of that three-month period, myself, Matthew and Poppy went to my hometown to visit my family. Under normal circumstances, it would’ve been a happy occasion full of old favorites: favorite hotel, favorite restaurants, favorite scenic drives. This time, though, I dragged through the routines, and for some reason Matthew was nearly as sullen. And so, on the second night, as he and I lay in the hotel bed, I attempted some perfunctory compassion.
I asked Matthew what was wrong.
“Do you really want to know?” Matthew asked, placing his hand on my foot.
“Yes,” I said. “I really do.”
“Okay. Well, Hon, I’m sick of your complaining.”
Deep breath. In, then slowly out. In, then out again. Anger, sadness. Anger, guilt. Anger. Sadness. Deep breath.
“Okay,” I said. “So you don’t want me to talk about anything I’m feeling, what I’m going through? Is that it?”
“It’s just too much,” Matthew said, rubbing my foot. “I feel like I can’t take it anymore.” The only thing that saved us from the inevitable full-scale fight that night was that he said it nicely.
“But I’m trying,” I said. “I really, really am. You have no idea what this is like.”
“I know. But the complaining—does it help? Does it actually make you feel better? I don’t think it does. I think it makes it worse.”
I didn’t answer; instead, I turned my body away, loosening my foot from his hand. After several minutes, Matthew turned on the TV and found an old movie to watch. When it ended, he turned off the TV, then adjusted his pillow.
In the dark, I turned back towards him, then put his hand on my stomach. I held it there and rubbed it a bit.
“I’ll try harder,” I said in just-above-whisper volume. “I won’t complain so much anymore.”
It was a promise I didn’t keep for long.
The following day, Matthew returned home and went back to work, while Poppy and I stayed on. I hoped that the last two days would be better than the first, but it was not to be: they were worse. By the time the trip was over and I met Matthew at the airport, I wasn’t at my breaking point; I’d already slightly cracked.
“How did it go?” Matthew asked, greeting me with a kiss. Anger filled me. As if he cares. He doesn’t want to hear about it, and I told him I wouldn’t complain. There’s nothing I can do but lie or say nothing.
I shook my head. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
He gave me a grim look and took one of my bags, then led me down the long hallway to the door. One moment down, a million more to go, I thought. And it wasn’t long before there was another.
“You’re quiet,” Matthew said as we left the terminal. “Did something happen after I left?”
Hmmm . . . ., I thought. He knows I’m mad, but he asked anyway. Points for that. I’ll try to calm down.
“Well, I’m not allowed to talk about it, am I?” I replied. Okay, that didn’t sound as nice as I’d hoped it would.
“I don’t know, Hon,” Matthew said. “Maybe not. I don’t know.”
It was not the right answer.
As soon as we got in the car I turned my face to the window, trying to hold myself together. By the time we exited the parking garage, though, I couldn’t stand it any longer; I spoke.
“After you left, my dad yelled at me, which pretty much ruined the rest of the trip. On the way to the airport, I got a speeding ticket. And the rental car company was closed when I got there so I couldn’t figure out how to return the car and we almost missed our plane. It was horrible.”
Matthew could’ve let it go. He could’ve given me some leeway. Instead, he sighed. “Hon. You didn’t even make it one hour.”
Second crack. Tears. Third crack. Shaking and sobs. Several minutes of this, and I felt shattered. The screaming that followed came not from my throat, but from somewhere much deeper inside.
The First Trimester Tussle wasn’t a single-day affair—not by a very long shot. The yelling lasted hours. The sarcasm, days. And the anger lasted nearly a month.
During this time, my terrible night thoughts visited regularly. And their themes were familiar. I can’t believe he actually said that, the narrative began. Can’t he even pretend to feel compassion? I’m pregnant, sick and hormonal, but I still have to be the strong one; he’s not picking up the slack.
Well, I’m stuck, now. Especially after having kids. That’s great. My life is ruined.
One night, feeling helpless against my inner rage, I made a healthy decision.
I called Gen.
“I’ve been mad at Matthew for a solid month,” I said.
“Yeah?” she said. “Tell me about it.”
“He’s been doing his stuff–his stuff with Poppy–the schedule stuff I told you about. But there’s this . . . undercurrent. I can’t forget the fight. At least, not for very long. I don’t know what to do. Do we go to counseling? Or do I just assume this is pregnancy hormones and it’ll pass?”
“Well, the fight was bad,” Gen said. “It might take a while to get over and you can’t expect to feel great mentally right now. I don’t know, Rachel. Marriage is so hard. It’s just hard to deal with another person all the time, even when you’re trying your absolute best. The good news is, most of this stuff you’ll forget soon enough. Probably much sooner, and much more thoroughly, than you think.”
As I considered this, she went on. “Do you even remember what your last few fights were about? The small ones, not the big ones.”
“What about a big fight that happened several years ago?”
“I guess not. Not right now, no.”
“I know you already apologized, Rachel. And I know you want Matthew to do the same. But he might not. And that’s okay. Sometimes, you just have to be the apologizer. Play that role. You’d be surprised how much it will help and how much will be forgotten. As for the emotions, they’re going to be there sometimes. My advice? Just put your head down and get through it.”
And so, that is what I did. I apologized to Matthew again for my moodiness and anger, even though I felt doing so was unnecessary, even unfair. I reminded myself how much my hormones were affecting me lately.
I put my head down, and got through it.
Read the rest of the series at Fights You’ll Have After Having a Baby: A Self-Help Novel.