I never thought it could happen.
When we got married we had dated for a few years, we knew each other so well, and to top it off we had just gone through the best pre-marital counseling. On that August day I was sure these two college sweethearts were ready for anything. I was sure that we were rock solid. Sure I would never be able to love him any more than I did that day. Sure that no one on Earth could make me happier.
I was wrong.
We had a great few years as a DINK — dual income, no kids — couple. And then it happened.
We had a baby. You know what happens next, right? We brought that little bundle home and our entire life turned upside-down and inside-out. I felt like my life especially changed, maybe even a little more than his. Ok, a lot more. I mean, I loved my baby girl with all my heart but I quickly realized that nothing was the same and that the majority of her care was falling on me.
At first I was perfectly happy with this. I had longed for a baby! Missing Thanksgiving dinner because I was upstairs, alone trying to get my fussy newborn to latch wasn’t a big deal, was it? And pumping at 11 pm so that she had enough milk for her bottles when I went to work wasn’t a big deal, was it? And cleaning the poop off of, then sorting and folding all her tiny onsies (by size and season mind you) wasn’t a big deal, was it? And when we traveled, making the list & packing all 2,387 things she needed wasn’t a big deal, was it?
At first I cherished these moments. It was my joy to meet every one of my sweet little girl’s needs. But then it wasn’t. It was taxing. Trying. Really flippin’ hard. It felt isolating. It felt unfair. Resentment toward my husband started to set in. Not that he didn’t help! I mean, there were certain things he couldn’t do (like breastfeed) however, he worked hard for us and would do anything I asked! But I had to ask. I had to think about all the details in the first place. I had to have it “together” all the time – feeding our newborn around the clock, taking her temperature, worrying about her milestones, figuring out her Christmas outfit, & puréeing homemade organic baby food all at the same time.
My mind was never at rest. Not for one moment. As much as I loved my husband, I’m pretty sure I hated him – or at the very least was super jealous of him. I was jealous of how he could go on with life, seemingly unscathed by parenthood. Sure, he was tired. But he wasn’t physically scarred by childbirth. Sure, he worried about our baby girl. But his schedule never allowed him to take her to the doctor and
forget remember to ask all the right questions. Sure, he loved her beyond measure. But somehow he slept through darn near every middle-of-the night feeding. I’m pretty sure I thought I could go it alone because I was the one doing all the heavy lifting anyway.
Then we had another baby. And then another. And another. Four babies in less than 6 years.
Our marriage didn’t change all at once. It took a little time to unravel everything I thought I knew about us. Somewhere between our first baby when I (resentfully) “had it all together” and our fourth baby when all heck broke loose, something changed.
I’m not sure if it was my expectations, or if he stepped up his game, or if he’d been a rockstar all along and I just finally noticed. But right now we’re so deep in the trenches that all we can do is team up like some not-quite-so-bad-ass version of Mr. & Mrs. Smith. Bring it life. We got this. We. have. changed.
I have certainly changed – my mind that is. Turns out, we weren’t ready for anything. (I mean, who is?) I wasn’t ready for how my heart would burst as I listened to him sing our girls their bedtime lullabies. Or as I listened to him wrangle three pip-squeaks into brushing their teeth while I nursed the baby. I no longer resented being alone in the nursery trying to get a fussy newborn to latch because what he was dealing with in the bathroom was WAY worse.
Turns out our rock solid marriage cracked under the pressure of four babies in six years until it burst into a thousand pieces only to be rebuilt into a brick fortresses in the middle of the night as I watched him catatonically carry our 5 year old back to her room after a bad dream. As I watched him quiet her fears and tuck her sweetly into bed. As I saw how he tiptoed out of bed early on a Saturday morning, shushing the kids and hurrying them downstairs because he knew I needed a few more minutes sleep. As I watched his handshake ritual with our older son which included lots of “My man!” and fist bumping.
Turns out I can love him more. My heart has been crushed, irrevocably ruined, at the outpourings of love I’ve witnessed regularly – like when he ran out in the middle of the night on New Year’s Eve to find the only open store within a 50 mile radius that sold children’s Benadryl. Like how he works his tail off for our family and takes the garbage out like. a. boss. Like how he tries his hardest to make life easier on me as our world has been turned upside-down time after time.
Turns out, there is someone who could make me happier. Gone is the college boy who looks adorable with his baby blue eyes and his baseball hat askew. Here stands the stuff of legends. I will never be able to look at him the same way again. Having kids ruined everything I knew about him and in the ruins stands a man, and a marriage, I barely recognize.
It’s not by chance that our marriage is stronger now. I believe that this phase of life could have – should have – broken us. With the stressors of parenting it’s no surprise that many relationships end in divorce or at the very least disillusionment. Yet here we are – still standing, having been refined through the flames of everyday life. It wasn’t easy. In fact, just the opposite. We have had many nights when we stayed up long past the babies’ bedtimes in order to work through issues. We have said things that can never be un-heard. We have been brutally honest with ourselves and each other. We have apologized. We have wept. We have fought for each other. We have turned to God and prayed hard together. We have redefined our relationship. We have changed. And dammit, it’s been worth it.
Our marriage is not perfect. Far from it, actually. We regularly miscommunicate and squabble. My inability to sit still drives him crazy. His inability to close a cupboard door makes me want to scream. We do not claim to have it all together. But we do love each other fiercely. I thank God daily for putting this man in my life and for giving us the wisdom and guidance to have made it this far.
“Do you see what I’ve done?
I’ve refined you, but not without fire.
I’ve tested you like silver in the furnace of affliction.”
-Isaiah 48:10 (The Message)
So you want to ruin your marriage? My advice – have babies. Lots of ’em. Really fast. 🙂 Then let your marriage be refined through the flames. Take notice of the love in everyday moments and fight for each other not with each other. Let parenthood ruin your marriage, transforming it into something beautifully scarred & sacred. Because it is.
NOTE: I do not advocate staying in an abusive relationship because of children OR having more children in order to save a relationship. This post is meant to inspire and encourage couples who are cracking under life’s burdens/parenthood to turn toward each other and press into God to refine them through life’s flames. Seek help if you need it. Please.