Chapter Nine: Brush Up on Your Endocrinology
In August, I gave birth to our second child, a boy. He had fair hair and a placid demeanor. We called him Harper. Same hospital as Poppy. Same midwife, too. I even recognized one of the nurses. But if we were looking for similarities in the experiences, we wouldn’t’ve found many. Harper’s birth was, well . . . it was better.
Part of the improvement might’ve been due to my lessened fear; I’d done this once, and I knew I could do it again. I made better decisions, too: I got the epidural sooner. I walked more, which sped things up. But the biggest change was in Matthew’s involvement. He waited on me, bringing me ice and towels. He timed my contractions and pressed “play” on my audiobook. He took care of Poppy, explaining everything to her, and, significantly, he was just around more.
I wondered about the change. Was it because this time, Matt was already a dad and the parenting thing just felt more natural? Was it because I talked to him beforehand, describing my expectations in a loving way? Or was it simply because he couldn’t relax at home like last time since this time, he had to take care of Poppy?
Whatever the cause of the difference, I appreciated our time together. With Harper in my arms and Matt and Poppy at my side, my memory of the experience became one of unmixed joy. And there was another reason to be grateful, too. A week after arriving home, I noticed I felt differently than I had the first time. I wasn’t crying at night–or during the day, for that matter. I was elated by the sight and physical closeness of the baby. When three weeks later my postpartum depression still hadn’t returned, I mentioned the improvement to Matthew. He said, “Maybe it wasn’t postpartum depression. Maybe it was just me.”
“Probably.” I smiled.”I’m kidding.”
I was kidding. However, it was also true that ever since making our decision to work together every evening, balancing tasks between us, my stress levels were significantly lower. Rare, now, were the times Matthew crept away to the TV room after dinner, leaving Poppy to focus her requests on me; instead, he waited till we went to bed to be alone. Our time together became more frequent, more lengthy and more satisfying, largely because every afternoon, either Matthew or I said the magic words. “What would you like to do tonight, Hon?” It was a question that was more like an answer. With it, we acknowledged that I was no longer the default parent–that now, Matt was on the hook, too. Many evenings, I only requested that Matt play with the kids while I cooked dinner and did the dishes. He took to the role easily, even eagerly, and often found time to help with chores as well.
“Wow,” I said one night after watching Matthew start a load of laundry without being asked. “Suddenly, I have a modern husband.”
“I suppose that is what I am now,” Matthew replied. “Not that it was really my choice.”
“Would you rather have our schedule back? ‘Cause, you know, we could do that.”
“Nah,” Matthew said. “We’re beyond that. We have transcended the schedule, mostly.”
“True. I still need a few guarantees in life.”
Then, in our second month with Harper, something came along that helped me appreciate my husband even more. That something was a wonderful book. Recommended by Genevieve and devoured by me in a single day, Venus on Fire, Mars on Ice: Hormonal Balance—The Key to Life, Love and Energy by John Gray was exactly what I needed, when I needed it. It outlined some of the main differences between men and women and (significantly) the hormonal reasons for them. And by the time I’d turned the last page, something inside me had shifted.
Though prior to Harper’s birth, my resentment had dwindled considerably, the feeling never disappeared completely. Then Harper was born, and in snatches, it made a comeback. Nothing I couldn’t handle, but still. Partly, I felt angry that Matthew couldn’t do some of the things that most needed doing. I had to breastfeed again–often, and sometimes painfully. I had to wake up with the baby at night. And, lest we forget, I had to push the kid out of my body. While reading Mars on Fire, though, there was a change that went deeper than information transfer. There was the start of a healing. My expectations had shifted. My chronic resentment had lifted.
For the first time, I felt like I not only understood my husband, but actually appreciated our differences.
Men really are men, I realized as I read. They really are their own thing. They need all that alone time that sometimes feels so selfish. They don’t need to talk as much as women do. They don’t get an oxytocin surge every time they help someone; on the contrary, testosterone makes them a bit cranky.
And that’s okay.
Read the rest of the series at Fights You’ll Have After Having a Baby: A Self-Help Novel.