At some point during my childhood, probably after asking my mom if I could do something my dad already told me I couldn’t do, Mama Eboh made it very clear to me that her loyalties were to God, her husband, and then to her children, and in that order.
That mantra set my priorities in my adult life, and I had committed even before becoming a mother to not let children get in the way of my relationship with my husband. But it’s inevitable. Motherhood changes marriage, in both good ways and frustrating ways. Here’s how four months as a mom has impacted my marriage so far.
Our Idea of Family Is More Concrete
Before our son came, when Jonathan and I talked about family, we often meant either one of our immediate families – his mom and sister, or my parents and brothers. There were a few times we’d talked about ourselves as a family unit of two, but it always felt weird. Now that TKB is here, when we talk about family, we talk about the three of us. It’s a small change, but it sets our priorities straight because the baby now grounds all our decisions from the standard of whether its right for our family.
We’ve Become Better Partners
I’m a pretty independent person, and I often prefer to do things myself rather than to ask for help, usually because I think that I can do it faster or better by myself. That went out the window as soon as our son came into our lives. Soon I was asking for help checking on the kid when he woke up in the middle of the night, for help in the kitchen (which was particularly sad because I genuinely love to cook and like my food better than Jonathan’s lol), and even for help treating my postpartum hemorrhoids (whew talk about intimacy).
Jonathan and I are constantly talking about how we can support one another, swapping tips and tricks for diaper changes or getting the kid to go down for a nap, or managing childcare with our respective work. I feel like before the baby we were two married people who worked together because we loved and respected each other, and now we work together because it’s the only way we can successfully in raising this child.
We Spend More Time Together
Since 7am-7pm (thank God the kid is on a schedule) is focused on keeping our child alive, fed, and not crying – while also fitting in a bit of work here and there – after 7pm, Jonathan and I spend a lot more time together than we did before the baby arrived. Pre-TKB, we’d often eat dinner together, but then one or both of us would head back to the office to do a bit more of something – send a few more emails, finish up some editing, write some code, do more research.
Now, our evenings are sacred couple time, and aside from the odd scheduled phone call, we are usually found cuddling on the couch watching Netflix after dinner and reminding each other of something cute that the baby did earlier in the day. I cherish those moments way more than I thought I would.
Intimacy Looks Different
Our intimacy is a lot more emotional now than it was before the baby (ie. daily couch snuggling), for a number of reasons. For one, being a parent of a newborn is EXHAUSTING. When we both know we’ll have to wake up a few times a night, sometimes spending up to an hour rocking the baby to sleep, sex is not exactly appealing once we lay our heads down for a few winks.
On top of that, I experienced postpartum vaginal dryness that made sex painful once it was cleared by the doctor (contrary to the often shared idea that childbirth makes things loose, my vagina seemed like it was under lock & key after giving birth). And my postpartum body is rounder and softer, making me feel less attractive and less sexy. That body doesn’t even feel like it belongs to me sometimes, since a good chunk of the day is spent having another person attached to me, pawing at me and milking me dry.
Now that our son is older and sleeping better through the night, we’ve been feeling a lot more rested. This translates to more time during the day to workout, which helps me feel better about my body and builds endorphins so I feel happier in general. It also means we’re less snippy at one another during the day – which is a mood killer for me, as I’m too petty for angry/hate sex lol – so we’re often happier by bedtime. We’ve also realized that nighttime might not be the most ideal time for intimacy, a revelation that came about only because we were open and communicative about both our needs, wants, and expectations around physical and emotional intimacy.
My Notion of Gender Equality was Subverted
I remember one day, about 6 or so weeks into motherhood, feeling like it was all very unfair. No matter how much we tried to be equals, no matter how much Jonathan was an involved father and supportive partner, this whole parenting thing was mostly on me. I had to feed the kid – we’d decided to exclusively breastfeed – and pumping just so Jonathan could bottle feed seemed like a waste of time if I had to spend the time pumping anyway (this was before I got a hands-free pump!).
Even if we decided to formula feed such that either of us could feed the baby, I still would have had less time to myself and to my work than Jonathan. Part of that was biology – my body was healing and I was emotionally attached to our son in a way that Jonathan wasn’t because he had literally been inside my womb for almost 10 months.
But I also played a part in placing the burden of parenting on myself. Even with a part-time nanny, I found myself hovering or stepping in for playtime and naptime, while Jonathan continued working, being able to endure the baby’s cries having faith that he would ultimately be ok. After a serious heart to heart, I came to the realization that we were never going to be able to equally share the burden of parenting, at least in the first few months when I chose to be the life source for our child. But that doesn’t mean that I had to suffer in silence, and it didn’t mean that Jonathan couldn’t step up in other ways.
There are two ways that Jonathan – of his own volition – challenges gender norms in our parenting journey, and I have to shout him out for them both. First, he does bath time every single night. I think I’ve bathed our kid less than 10 times in his life, so little that I actually panic a bit if Jonathan has a work call during bath time and I have to take over, because I genuinely forget the steps. It’s their time to play and bond, and though I used to spend that time preparing dinner, I now just sit in the room with them and rest until it’s time for the pre-bedtime feed. Secondly, when we’re out, especially while spending time with his family, he is the default caregiver if we know the baby doesn’t need to eat. There have been several times when TKB has cried while with extended family, and the default African thinking is that the mother should take the child and feed and soothe him. Jonathan has spoken up for me – for us – by affirming during those moments that the baby does not need to eat, and that Jonathan can also parent and soothe him without needing to get me involved.
In retrospect, I think it was naive of me to think that we could have a baby and everything in our marriage would remain on the same playing field. Women for hundreds of years have been explaining how bringing a child into the world impacts women differently than men. There is research that shows that men with children do better in the workplace, while working women with children can sometimes get left behind as their productivity wanes with the additional responsibility of parenting.
Even though our own gender dynamics in parenting aren’t balanced, they are evening out as the kid gets older, and I’m proud of how Jonathan and I have navigated and subverted the traditional gender roles, redefining them for ourselves in a way that makes the most sense for our little family and strengthens our marriage overall.