I stood on the corner after the dinner with the academic high-flyers. “I’ll finish out the year,” I said, “but I’m not going back. I want to stay home with the baby, anyway.”
My husband Bear nodded and there it was: I would quit my PhD program to stay home with a small child. Our plans to adopt didn’t pan out, but I did get myself pregnant the last month of my last semester. I was ecstatic. Then I was terrified. I had a threatened miscarriage, and when the baby showed on the ultrasound screen, I wept—because I was still knocked up. I had to be treated for prenatal depression. Bear tried to be supportive, but he was confused and overwhelmed. We didn’t make a functional team.
I stayed home sick all through that pregnancy. It felt strange not to go back to work and school, to have the academic world roll on without me. Bear went back to teach. Suddenly, he had a class. I didn’t. I had nothing to do, nothing to contribute. I felt useless, which baffled him. He was teaching. I was gestating. Though he said I wasn’t a burden, that I needed my rest (I was quite sick, and due at the end of December), I didn’t buy it. I felt like a drag on the family. I had nothing to add but a uterus.
The next year was easier. I certainly had something to add then: child care. My husband traipsed off to school, leaving me alone with a larval creature who would perish if left in the middle of the floor for too long. This terrified me. I didn’t know what to do with him. I wore him in a Moby wrap and rattled around the house. I ironed, and that felt like something. Bear didn’t get it. He thought it was no big deal. “You just take care of him,” he said, baffled. “What’s so terrifying about that?” I resented that he didn’t understand my fear of being alone with this thing. I kept that resentment for years, that he didn’t understand how much psychic energy it cost to be alone with the kids.
I calmed down, as I made mom friends, as I became more confident as a mother. I missed the rhythm of academic life, certainly, but I got to live it through him. He worried more. Things like money and wills were suddenly, desperately important. I didn’t get it. He had to push me to do basic things, like endorse checks or sign documents. Bear lost his patience many times, telling me I had to do this or that financial thing, and I pushed back: Why did this have to be such a big deal? We had our kid’s whole life to do this! We both sulked at the other. Any mention of finances would provoke panic in me and paternalism in him. It wasn’t his fault; I was deeply unhelpful.
I got pregnant again, and again. I’d been sick both times before, but I’d managed to deal. With baby number two, I had needed medication for vomiting, but both Bear and I were ready for it; we weren’t rattled like we were last time, but happy to have a new baby coming. But baby number three was another story altogether. I was on anti-nausea meds by five weeks. These meds made me sleep for 16 hours a day and kept me weak the rest of the time, so I couldn’t take care of the kids. Bear had to find people to watch them. I was a SAHM without the mom part. I was mortified. I felt like a burden to Bear, like an unequal partner and a lazy one. When I watched him take the kids’ Easter pictures through the window, all seersucker suits and plastic eggs, I wept. I felt lost and unwanted—dead weight. Bear knew I was sick; he didn’t understand why I felt so bad about it, though he sympathized with my missing life.
He assured me I was adding plenty to the family. But from my bed, where I’d read up to book five in the Dune series, it was hard to believe him. I couldn’t read to the kids without barfing. He had to cook, clean, take care of the kids. Basically, Bear was a single dad with the ball-and-chain of a sick wife to care for. I was despondent. He was desperate to help me. We lived in plenty of misery.
The baby was born, as babies usually are. I resented how quickly he went back to work. I had just given birth. He was leaving me alone with a 3-year-old, a 2-year-old, and a newborn. I was weak from being sick, and overweight from gestational diabetes—the kind of overweight that puffs going up the stairs. I felt like he could have taken more time. He resented that I didn’t understand he couldn’t take more time, that while his job technically allowed it, things couldn’t function without him that long. This mutual resentment contributed to the difficult time we had after the baby. Things like cooking dinner seemed monumental. Laundry was out of the question. We didn’t function as a couple and a family for a long time.
But it got easier. We fell into a rhythm. I feel like just a SAHM, dragging the kids to home school co-ops and babywearing meetings for social interaction. He admires my writing. “You do so much,” he always says. I make a face that involves some cocked eyebrows. We don’t agree on my role in the household. I think I don’t do enough. He says I do too much. I think the house is a wreck. He says he doesn’t care. Our marriage works with these different perceptions. They cause some friction when we divvy up household chores, but that’s about it. We love each other, and we manage. That’s all I can ask for.
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