The demands of new parenthood are bringing out the worst in us: the grumpiness, the impatience, the anger. But it’s also bringing out the best—in surprising ways.
You have always been great at showing me you love me, with words, gestures, affection. But before her, before our daughter came, I didn't know the depths of it. In fact, I never knew love like this even existed.
Now I know love is you sitting up for hours while I breastfeed our baby in the middle of the night. Even though there's nothing you can do to help. Even though you are as nauseatingly tired as me. Even though you leave for work in two hours. Because you know I'm scared to be left alone with the responsibility of this new baby whose power to keep us from sleep is terrifying.
Now I know love is you watching reality TV with me. Without sound. Because I have the one functioning earphone. So you can spend time with me but give me time for my guilty pleasure, because time is what we have least of these days. Now I know love is when you have so very little and yet give some of it away.
Now I know a love that is you bringing me tea, in the cup I like (washed first), brewed just so, with the right amount of milk. And stirred. Bringing me tea after tea, after tea, all day and throughout the night—an endless stream of hot, tannin-y 'I love you'.
I used to equate being in love with having lots of great sex. The type we used to have, all the time. Movie sex. Two hot bodies writhing in noisy ecstasy.
Now I know that there is another way to make love: someone talking through what feels good and what feels strange, and taking every care not to hurt you after the birth of your child, and somehow all of that talking being tender and sexy and funny all at the same time.
There is a deep ache in my chest. It is the heaviness of gratitude that cannot be fully expressed. It aches when you walk the short five meters of our balcony with her squirming wildly and crying in your arms, singing the same song over and over and over, for hours, so that I don’t have to do it. It aches when you take her driving for three hours, from the southernmost to the northernmost points of Auckland, so that she and I can sleep. It aches because you have never made me justify how terrible I feel sometimes.
One evening, when she is a few weeks old, I am holding her and sobbing because I didn't know it would be like this. The words on the tip of my tongue are: I made a mistake. You kneel in front of me and hear me say all the words we're both afraid of. That this is hell. That I wish we hadn't done it. That I don't know how I'm going to carry on. That I feel trapped and bursting with rage. I spill out the scariest words that have ever lived inside me, expecting to see on your face that barely perceptible flinch of you loving me just a little bit less. Instead you say: “I know. I feel exactly the same.”
And I feel so terrible for feeling this way. And you lay your head on my knee. Now I know that love is you reaching across and placing your warm, dry hand over my forehead and eyes so I can rest in the dark.
We're arguing. Not about anything, but because we're tired, tired, flat out exhausted. Not really arguing either because neither of us have the energy, the brain power, the memory to be clever. We give up because the baby needs to be put to sleep. She's an amazing argument ender. Later, you call me in and lean over her sleeping body, flopped soft and inert in your arms, and whisper: “if we look at her, there’s no way we can stay mad at each other.” We look down at her little body, the perfect personification of true, clean love. We smile and kiss. “I'm sorry,” you mouth, “me too.”
You make us chicken parma for dinner, lighting a single short, fat candle. We sit together at the table—what luxury—and have our entire dinner conversation in whispers. When we've eaten, I look at you over the flickering solo flame and thank you for the dinner and the romantic candle but… I'm too full and tired to have sex. You look back at me in mock horror, pause and then with one swift puff, blow out the candle.
We fall about laughing—silently. Becoming parents has brought out the worst in both of us, but it has also brought out the best.
The strain of being a parent for the first time, all disappears in a puff when she, our baby, lifts her head and looks right into you with her dark, violet-blue eyes a-twinkle, then throws her head back, laughing out loud at a joke that only the three of us can ever share. A joke that is something about love; mess, yes, and pain, tears, tantrums (mine) and exhaustion, but mostly, by far, love.