Updated: Jan 4
I’m going to start in the middle, on the day my husband forgot to show up. The day I gave birth to my second child. He showed up in body in his handsome male form but not in the way that mattered. And I was not prepared.
There was no reason for me to think he was going to half-ass it this time. I can still remember the first time and how he stood by my side during most of my 30 hour labor, how his eyes filled with the perfect amount of worry, wonder, calm and excitement. And afterwards he changed diapers and fed me and held the baby and cooed at him and said adorable things like “Don’t worry I won’t let anyone spank you!” And we discussed swaddling techniques and argued about when to introduce a pacifier and we totally nailed the sleep training as a team and we were happy.
But this story is not about that time, it’s about the second time, my second childbirth, which at least, luckily, went a lot quicker. From the time my pains began to “I don’t want my 4 year old son to see me like this” was only about an hour or two and I retreated to my bedroom to try to gather myself and get geared up for round 2. My husband followed me and I was on my yoga mat panting and moaning and he was sitting on the bed, on his phone, giving me little peeks but not seeming too interested.
“Can you help me count my contractions,” I asked.
And he said, “Yeah if you really need me to.” Or “if you think it’s necessary” or some extremely odd, condescending, incomprehensible thing.
I said, “YES I DO.”
But he kept getting distracted and looking at his phone and he stayed on the bed and he wasn’t with me at all. I gave up trying to help him help me keep track of my contractions and by now I was about to transition and finally my friend/savior showed up and my worthless husband left the room. It didn’t take long for my friend to realize we needed to go!! I couldn’t even make it to our car without stopping to breathe/scream through contractions. I must have been fully dilated on the ride to the hospital, just like in the movies. I was making a racket and cursing like a sailor over every bump and the hubs joked about not having the baby in the car. I remember looking over at him driving all calm and collected and thinking what is going on in that thick beautiful skull? I didn’t know, I just knew I wanted to smash it in.
I didn’t take time to process that feeling and express it for several more months. I asked him later “What was going on with you? Why couldn't you put down your phone? Why did you act like you didn't care?” he stated three reasons. 1. I was distracted because I was mad at your mom because she disappeared into her room with a headache just when you were going into labor (true story but even more of a reason for him to step up) 2. I thought it was going to be another 30 hour labor and I was pacing myself (DID I LOOK LIKE I WAS PACING MYSELF WHEN I WAS MOANING LIKE AN ANIMAL AND PANTING IN HYPERVENTILATION?) and 3. I think something is wrong with me and I can only feel joy and excitement when something is novel (yes closer to the truth; there was something wrong with you).
My husband drove me to the hospital, wheeled me in, and it was a very dramatic entrance as I snarled at the front desk I DID NOT HAVE TIME FOR PAPERWORK. I have very few fond memories of my husband the second time. That’s magnanimous. I have very few memories where I didn’t feel like kicking him in the balls later (at the time I was very logical though and none of these feelings surfaced).
The midwife checked me and said, “Wow you were trying to do this all by yourself, you’re at 10cm.” My mother-in-law was still on her way and a nurse asked if we wanted to wait around for her to show up. My husband was like “She doesn’t want to wait.” And that was probably my only memory where we were on the same page and he didn’t let me down.
When I started pushing I remember the midwife having to tell him to take my hand. It was like he was a wooden person, not my husband at all. It was the day my husband struck out, didn’t show up to play, choked, failed, screwed me over, abandoned me, betrayed me and I have had a hard time forgiving and letting go. I’ve raged at him and I’ve continued to sneak out some snarky comments. Like the other day when he was suffering from the man flu and I had brought him tea and was dropping popcorn into this mouth because he was dying and barely had the strength to open his mouth let alone move his hands, and we were giggling, and it was this cute silly moment but then I said,
“I think I’ve given you more attention with the flu then you gave me during the birth of our second child.”
And why oh why did it have to be true????? On Dec 14, 2016 I didn’t have a choice but to be ALL IN. He had a choice and I didn’t. And the reason I’m telling this story ( I didn’t want to, I didn’t want to defame the name of the man I love) is because I have to make sense of what my choices are and how I can be more at peace with them. There are the times when we as women literally don’t have any option but to give it our all. It is our body that gets taken over, our body that feeds. If we don’t show up, the baby suffers or dies.
During my pregnancy, my husband got to choose to sleep in or stay up late but my exhausted, uncomfortable body didn’t have a choice. It would fall asleep when it didn’t want to and wake up way too many times. After the baby is born we have more support and we get more choices as our baby ages, but it still often feels like we don’t get to choose many things, especially if we decide to breastfeed. “Either I suffer or my baby suffers.” So, of course, we choose to suffer for as long as we can handle it.
Although my husband’s lack of presence that day cast a shadow over our relationship for some time, I read back over my journals of the first year of baby #2 and it is full of many positive things about my husband and our life. Of me coming home from work to a super clean house and the delicious meals he cooked and many good things. But the truth is even if my husband had showed up with his game face on Dec 14, even if he cleaned and cooked every day of his life with a smile on his face I’m not sure he could make up for all I endured carrying and bearing and breastfeeding and loving his 2 children. But I think I’m finally ready to stop keeping track and just to revel in my awesomeness. And his too. But I will never stop noticing all the things that women do and I will never stop trying sometimes to tip the balance.
When my kid comes up and asks for something I like to say, “I’m busy right now. Ask your Dad.” Even if I’m just reading a book! And sometimes I say it nicely like that, and sometimes I say it different, especially if I’m doing something for the benefit of the whole family. “Do you see me making dinner/cutting the dog’s nails/on the phone making a doctor appointment/bleeding on the side of the road? Do you see your father sitting on the couch? Now go ask him for help!!” And I’m realizing that often times I have more of a choice then I think. Yes, for a time I didn’t have a choice between stepping up or making our baby “suffer.” I got sooooo used to saying “Yes” to everyone else and “no” to myself that I was denying myself and excusing others longer than I had to. I had so gotten used to it that when my husband didn’t show up I barely noticed…until I did.
So, beautiful women, thank you for showing up, for stepping up, for giving of your soft animal body and sacrificing the many things you would have rather been doing when you were growing, bursting, nurturing life into existence. I have been humbled by the many women I have known who have been able to give birth and go on with life like nothing happened, who have juggled expertly working outside the home and in, and who made it look easier than it was. I have been humbled by the many women I have known who have given birth and it rocked their world and it was so hard and you struggled just getting up and staying positive and keeping your baby alive and just getting into the shower. And then despite all that you had another baby and started all over again. And no one called you “superwoman” and your body took a toll and you soldiered on and you sacrificed and I am so proud. I love you all.