Phew. We made it. We survived another year of marriage.
And this year that really is how it’s felt for us: survival. We went into the last year of marriage with me four months pregnant and no idea how we would manage with two children under two years old. We were in a state of limbo where we were so close to the cusp of leaving the baby phase with Alice, only to fling ourselves right back into it again with our baby boy. We were excited, but we were nervous. Babies are tough work for marriages. They give them a good old battering to check how sturdy they are, and with Alice’s babyhood being quite tough on us we were so worried at how we would tackle those struggles again alongside raising a content toddler and maintaining our relationship.
And it was our relationship that suffered. Whoever thinks having a child will ‘save’ a marriage is wildly misguided. In fact, they’re almost definitely childless. But I don’t believe that there is any couple, no matter how Brady Bunch they appear, who don’t struggle in the early weeks or months of parenthood. Romance is the bottom of the priority list when you are heavily bleeding for six weeks having just birthed a child and said child is now surgically attached to your nipple. If I was fortunate enough to have five seconds without a baby on me or a toddler using me as a climbing frame, I did not want to spend it touching or cuddling someone else. To me, that time without the children on me was the only freedom I had, and Matt understood that.
Because I was seven weeks pregnant when we married, I have either been pregnant, breastfeeding or both for our entire marriage. I’m eternally grateful for the children we have, and so proud of what my body has been able to provide for them, but it has been mentally and physically very draining. My hormones have been all over the place and that in turn creates relationship difficulties. I am ready to have my body back as my own, and although it was so overwhelming in the middle of my pregnancy with Jack thinking of all this to come, I can now see the end of this challenging early baby stage. For our next anniversary, I will either be breastfeeding very minimally or not at all. Either way, we will be able to celebrate our fourth anniversary just the two of us, something we both can’t wait for. The fights and fall outs feel worth it now that we have pushed through and made it together. It has undoubtedly made us stronger and made our families think we are absolute lunatics.
Breastfeeding has undoubtedly made things more difficult for our marriage. As Alice and Jack have never taken a bottle, it has meant that we could never leave them for an extended period of time. For the most part I wouldn’t (and still wouldn’t now) want to, but it has meant that we couldn’t easily go for a meal just the two of us, or for drinks of an evening. It’s meant we couldn’t go for a day trip just the two of us. As well as the direct effect it has had on us as a couple, it also really affected how I felt towards Matt. I resented that he could see friends or go for drinks, or could just go for a run if he wanted to (not that he does!). He has never had to directly tie his actions in with when Jack may need feeding. In the early days with his redundant nipples he had full nights of sleep whilst I was up every hour. And of course that’s not his fault. We both agreed it was the right choice for our family to breastfeed the children, but the implications of that are immensely more than you anticipate. Even with Jack now being seven months old I still can’t leave him for more than a couple hours and even then it takes so much planning and effort that it’s not even worth it. Although it has been hard, the long term benefits for us have outweighed that. It’s such an intense period of selflessness, but it passes and in the grand scheme of life it’s no time at all.
We love our children with every fibre of our being and of course that has made the struggles of marriage much easier to bear, even though those very struggles have predominantly been a repercussion of having children. We can’t spend any time together, we’re always exhausted and you can’t very well take that out on them! Our relationship has always been volatile and passionate but adding a baby into the mix, stirring in a severe level of sleep deprivation and a dash of intolerance and you have a recipe for marital strife. It is so impossibly hard. Equally, we are fully aware that we are not normal! We fall out over everything, have never been through one life milestone without arguing, and are quite often horrible to one another just for the sake. But we are both fiercely loyal to one another and so stubborn that we will go the distance out of sheer determination not to give up! Luckily through it all we have always remembered the long game. We want to be together when the children have upped and left. We want to go on those responsibility free holidays together, go for a drink without having to pre plan it six months in advance. All of those glorious small things that you don’t think twice about before you have children are the things we want to be able to do together again in fifteen years time. And that has made such a difference to our year. In the meantime, we will continue loving our life as a family of four.
So happy anniversary Matt, here is my gift to you: a blog laying bare all of our marriage difficulties. You are welcome!