When I learned I was expecting my first child, I was elated. I ran to the corner store to buy a baby brush and rattle. I called my husband, not to tell him the news but to see if he wanted to meet for lunch. I miss you, I said. I also want pizza. And I packed the aforementioned items into a gift bag. I schlepped into the city, with the positive pregnancy test in tow.
My husband, like me, was overjoyed. It’s now been seven years since that day, and I can still recall how his eyes widened and smile grew. I can still feel the tightness of his embrace. He held me by the shoulders and placed one hand on my flat but occupied stomach. And immediately we began to imagine our family — our future.
But things changed. Our relationship changed, and somehow, we became two strangers living in the same home. By my daughter’s first birthday, I was ready to leave my husband.
I don’t know what happened. I mean, I have an idea; I was spending all my anxious new mom days feeding my daughter, changing my daughter and (trying) to nap my daughter. My mind was consumed by my daughter, and keeping her alive and safe, and at night, I caught up on work and chores. I (tried) to catch up on sleep.
So where did that leave me and my husband? Well, our relationship floundered. We passed each other silently, like ships in the night, and when we did speak, our conversations were superficial. We discussed movies, the weather, and (of course) our kid but not “me” or “us.” Never “us” — because we were scared, and because we didn’t know what to say. We were lost.
But that wasn’t all. I was anxious and sleep-deprived. I was overwhelmed and screaming inside, and I was severely depressed. When my daughter was four months old, I received a PPD diagnosis. I also resented my husband and his “unchanged life.” He still went to work, went to parties and, well, went out period. He also showered every day and slept every night. But not me. I couldn’t go to the corner store alone. I couldn’t finish a cup of warm coffee.
Before long, we were bickering. Before long, we were arguing. Before long, we were fighting. The walls of our 1,400-square-foot home felt like they were closing in. I was certain divorce was imminent.
I didn’t want to be with this guy — or any guy.
I am not proud of these thoughts or these feelings, especially since rage and jealousy are not a part of my usual MO, but the truth is I experienced them. I felt them deep in the pit of my stomach: in the core of my being. Like cars on a track, they zipped around my mind. Because having a child changes everything, and while I was warned about the sleep deprivation and the way my body would never forgive me, I was never told how much a baby can change your marriage. I was never told just how difficult it could, and would, be to swallow the words “I want a divorce.”
So what did we do? How did we make out? Well, we stayed together — in spite of the sadness, silence, anger and adversity. But it wasn’t easy. It has never been (and will never be) easy. When my daughter was 8 months old, I began therapy. When my daughter was 16 months old, we began couples therapy, and we fought our way back from the edge.
It’s been six and a half years, and I know the drop-off is just over the horizon.
But there is help. There is hope, and knowing is half the battle. We just had our second child and our relationship hit very similar road bumps.
So if you are reading this because you are struggling, with yourself or your marriage, know this: Your thoughts are normal. Your feelings are normal, and you are not bad for feeling pangs of anger, guilt or jealousy. But instead of shutting down and shutting up (like I did) or walking away, walk toward your partner. Talk to your partner. Let them in. And get outside help, if and when you feel like you need it.
Does this mean things will improve? Not necessarily. Things change. People change. But if you know change is coming — and is normal — you will be prepared, for better or worse.
Here are the most accessible mental health apps — for new parents, and for everyone.