Afton has asked me to reflect on her pregnancy from my perspective. Let me apologize in advance for the third blog entry not being as funny or well written. I tried to tell her to move me further back but she insisted. No pressure, Barry.
As Afton and I reflect on our lives together during her pregnancy, an event we have dubbed “the bagel incident” resonates with both of us as the tipping point in our relationship at that time.
On this particular morning, I made the grave mistake of eating the last bagel in our house. I was unaware that this was one of the only foods she could keep down and she had indeed been surviving on nothing but bagels for the last few days. When she opened the pantry and saw the travesty I had committed, she confronted me. Not like an “Oh dang, I was going to have one of those,” type of confrontation. I would liken it more to a “you’ve sold my sister into slavery, and now I’m going to kill you and your whole family” type of confrontation. The fury and despair in her tone was as confusing as it was hurtful. I could feel my own anger spilling over. I lashed back at her, something sarcastic and cutting.
“I’m going to walk Sadie,” I said as I angrily put on my shoes and grabbed her bedazzled collar and hot pink leash. I had gotten into the habit of walking our toy poodle in this fashion – alone – every day for the last week or so. Obviously my desire to maintain a masculine persona with the neighbors was greatly outweighed by an intense need to escape my terrifying pregnant wife. Today was different because it was my second walk. I could feel myself getting hot with anger.
“You’re walking again? You walked like an hour ago.”
“Yes, I’m going again.”
“Can I come with you?” Her tone softening suddenly.
“No, I think I would like to go by myself.”
A few minutes later as I rounded the first corner (three houses down) Afton pulled up next to me in our car. With tears in her eyes she said, “Well at least go to Braums with me. I need a cheeseburger!” (It was 10 a.m.)
After a painfully silent car ride and with cheeseburgers in hand we both broke down and talked about everything that was going on. Up to this point the story must seem so silly, and it is, but at the time it seemed like such a big deal. Afton remembers truly feeling like her world was falling apart at the sight of not having any bagels that day. I remember my own totally irrational thoughts- blistering, hateful thoughts and feelings that had been building up over the previous weeks and spilling over finally. We had so completely de-railed. Over, what? A bagel??? These negative feelings and interactions were unfamiliar territory for our marriage. Watching Afton cry into her (breakfast) cheeseburger in the Braums parking lot for 30 minutes was a huge wake up call for me. It was in that moment that several important revelations dawned on me.
The first was that being married to my pregnant wife sometimes felt like being married to a drunk, bipolar cousin- wildly unpredictable mood swings and a complete lack of sexual contact. And also vomiting. Lots of vomiting. (Don’t worry the next two are serious. And I don’t actually have a drunk bipolar cousin)
The second was the realization of all that Afton was going through. It dawned on me that I had not shifted my own concept of our marriage to accommodate this new phase. Why was it reasonable for me to expect her to fulfill the same roles and needs in our lives as she had before taking on this huge additional burden? I had grown too comfortable with the dynamic of our previous existence and had subconsciously refused to adjust.
In my mind, I played the role of the All-American husband: always selflessly putting my wife first, being a good provider for our family, having an unshakable positive attitude and good mood; the very image of masculine strength, no vulnerabilities or weaknesses of my own. No need to thank or repay me- all this is unconditional, free of charge. But, of course, it wasn’t. It has always come with a pricetag- a laundry list of my own needs that rest squarely on Afton’s shoulders. I need intimacy, affection, constant reassurance that I’m handsome, funny, being a good husband etc. I even have a need for her to be happy and content. No joke- I get frustrated at her if she’s upset or unhappy for too long. Talk about unnecessary pressure during a first trimester. As Afton stopped meeting those needs in the way I had grown used to, I started to resent her. I became bitter. I withdrew.
The final revelation was a recognition of my own fragility. When your wife is pregnant the world reminds you nearly constantly that you matter the least. She’s the one doing all the work so suck it up, be a good husband, do everything she says, etc. And let me say I agree with all of the above. But it’s impossible to just grit your teeth, smile, and turn off your humanity. At least for me. Eventually the changes, the unmet needs, the inevitable tension that results from her discomfort, wear you down. I grew up listening to stories about my mom’s pregnancies- about dad spoon feeding my mom baked potatoes while she closed her eyes and nose because she was so nauseous, her physical and emotional symptoms, the classes they went to, the doctors visits. I never once discussed with dad how he felt; if he had moments of despair or selfish resentment that his life was so different or what he did when he was upset or felt lonely.
I think more than anything what I lacked during that initial phase and what a lot of husbands probably lack is a strategy for dealing with their own psyche. For me, the thing that really helped improve our relationship during the rest of Afton’s pregnancy (aside from Sonic ice- I think Afton went through 30 bags and just as many tubs of Nutella) was our conversation in that Braum’s parking lot where I talked openly about how I was feeling and tried to work through why. We agreed on a strategy for me to intentionally spend a small amount of time to myself each day to decompress and channel my anxiety. This was mostly in the form of working out and meditating. (I was a meditation skeptic too, but trust me on this one.)
I write all of this to say, if you are a husband reading this and your wife is pregnant…
1.) be prepared for changes in the dynamic of your relationship. Things aren’t going to be the same.
2.) Come up with a strategy for working through your own emotional struggles. Meditate, workout, take up a new hobby.
3.) Vent to someone… but not your pregnant wife. Someone else, like another husband whose gone through this.
4.) And for the love of God, DON’T eat the last bagel.