There are many things no one tells you about having a child. The sheer number of times you will be barfed, peed and pooped on, for starters. Or, the strange genetics that completely change your sleeping patterns, for another – I went from sleeping like a dead rock to waking the instant Carter makes a peep; Andy went from waking the instant I shifted in bed to sleeping like a dead rock through basically everything. However, for Andy and me, the single most surprising shift since becoming parents is the way in which our relationship has been sorely tested. We thought that having a baby would fill our hearts and home with even greater love and joy than existed here previously. And it did. But, becoming parents also brought a shift in our relationship for which we were drastically unprepared.
Carter’s birth is the greatest miracle in our lives to date. We hope for more miracles of childbirth to follow. He shines with a purity that has given me the ability to love boundlessly and infinitely. He gives me the desire to become a better human being so that I can raise him to become the man God intends him to be. Andy and I want to build a home on a solid gospel foundation that is filled with laughter, warmth, love and light. This sort of goopy love fest is just the kind of thing that I had been expecting upon baby’s arrival.
I did not expect Carter’s birth to bring up – for both Andy and me – childhood trauma or long-buried memories of parental imperfections and mistakes. We did not expect to be confronted with pasts we both subconsciously worked hard to lock away in memory’s darkest corners, or to be accosted by the fear of repeating the harmful and sometimes destructive patterns and mistakes we saw in our own families and lives. We didn’t realize that having a child would not only clarify our future vision, but also bind us more tightly to the past.
I did not expect Carter’s birth to separate me from Andy. I had visions of the three of us laughing and playing together in magical rainbow love puddles, frolicking through sparkling opalescent fields. With unicorns and stuff. And this happens. But more often, one of us is playing with or taking care of the baby while the other one goes to work, cleans, cooks, runs errands, attends class, naps (whenever gloriously possible), eats, socializes and on and on. Nothing about this feels wrong; it is highly functional and necessary. However, we realized only recently that this means we never spend time nurturing our relationship and the consequences of this unintentional neglect are harsh and unforgiving.
I did not expect Carter’s birth to exacerbate Andy’s imperfections in my eyes, nor mine in his. With a vision of our family’s future more clearly etched in my mind’s eye and a consciousness that we must build toward that vision now, I found myself extrapolating with urgency the long-term effects that each mistake and imperfection may have on Carter’s development and our family dynamics and future. The clear connection between past, present and future intensify every beam and mote of weakness; I became far less patient, supportive, understanding and forgiving as a result. With every perceived disappointment, I became more demanding, less nurturing, more hardened and less loving. Which, shockingly, only served to shut down Andy in the same way.
It didn’t happen all at once. It happened so gradually we didn’t realize it until we hit a period of several weeks during which we completely stopped speaking the same language. Even when we were really trying. It was terrifying and painful.
Attendant to the surprises above are the massive changes that have occurred – some chosen, others not – in the past year-ish: Andy quit his job and started grad school, I started working at Reset (a young organization in constant growing pain as we pave the way for a reimagined justice system), my dad completely disowned me without a desire to continue a relationship, and I was diagnosed with a low level postpartum depression. Add to that total sleep deprivation, boobing the baby and its time consuming counterpart of pumping, crazy hormonal changes, financial considerations, failed attempts at house cleaning, family pressures, health concerns and long commute hours and we have a pretty good recipe for crazy-making.
Andy and I seemed to have become locked in a downward spiral of doom. In my darkest moments, I wondered why I got married, whether I married the right person, whether I still loved my husband or ever loved him at all and whether I should stay married. Sometimes, depending on the day, the thought of separation either played like a horror movie or a fantasy in my mind.
I knew I was not seeing Andy as the Lord sees him, but it felt like I was losing the ability to see with a lens of love. I felt my heart harden and become stony even as I struggled to break free of the darkness growing within. I tried everything I knew to increase the light and to find guidance, but it seemed like my efforts were just barely keeping my head above water; I felt like my heart had hardened against the Spirit and I could not find nor feel its influence.
Two weeks ago, after a few months of pushing the prompting to the side, I finally went to talk to my Bishop. Thirty minutes and one book recommendation later, I felt the first beam of heavenly light crack the rocky surface around my heart.