In the middle of the pain-induced delirium of my first labor, I turned to my husband and said, “How can something that is so much fun lead to so much pain?” We laughed: at the absurdity of the situation; at the fact that I could still joke in between contractions; at the ultimate truth of the statement.
And little did I know that as we pressed forward into parenthood, that statement would stretch and morph to encompass so much more.
When we returned home with our infant, my husband and I camped out on the couch passing the baby between us. They fell into dreamland while I fell into the throes of a fever, my milk coming in with a vengeance. I didn’t know why I had the chills, why I couldn’t lift my arms higher than my shoulders without hurting, why my baby wouldn’t latch on . . . I just watched my husband sleeping peacefully, the baby nestled on his chest, and shook with wracking sobs, realizing that the one I needed most couldn’t comfort me because some other little thing needed him even more than I did.
When we added a second child to the mix, the house was never quiet enough, the baby never had uninterrupted sleep, our nearly-three year-old never caught a break. The pained look on her face when one of my tirades went a little too long and a little too loud broke my heart – because I was afraid I had broken hers.
Baby Number Three ushered in a matrix of physical and emotional pain unimaginable. It took me months to figure out what the hell was going on and years to fix it (or work on it – I’ll let you know when I’m done).
Then there’s the toll parenthood takes on the bond between husband and wife, or ‘Mom and Dad,’ as it seems you will now forever be known as. In the beginning, doing the act that landed you in this predicament in the first place does not seem appealing at all; never mind the doctor’s estimation that you will be back to ‘normal’ in six weeks, ludicrous.
In fact, I used my pregnancies as warnings to others. When I overheard two of my twelve year-old students discussing sex, I piped up, “I hope you’re not thinking of becoming sexually active,” at which their pretty little jaws hit the floor. I went on, from my perpetual position behind my desk because I was too tired to stand, “Because you don’t want to end up like me. I’m married and it’s hard enough.” At a wedding shower about a month before the due date of my second-born, I told the bride not to break any of the ribbons from her presents. Circling my belly with a pointed finger, I said, “This is what happens when you break a ribbon.”
But that weird mind-blanking trick that humankind’s desire to procreate does to our memories soon kicks in, allowing you to forget the (seriously) gut-wrenching pain and remember the joy of intimacy again. That is, when time and circumstance allow. When you’re alone. When the kids are sleeping in their own beds. When you’re not so exhausted you fall asleep before your head hits the pillow. When you can think like man and woman and not Mom and Dad.
Just last week, as my husband reached for me, brushing my arm in the process, I cried out, “Ow, watch out for my boo-boo!” Nothing like the mention of a decidedly kid-term to ruin the moment. Even when they’re not there, they’re there. But, all parents somehow find a way around such dilemmas. You lock the door. You find a way to connect without hurting the various wounds you’re nursing. And you learn to have fun.
When we were invited to a party at our newlywed friends’ place, we decided to bring whoopee pies for dessert. We thought they fit well with the southern menu of pulled BBQ, cole slaw, and corn bread, but also that they were somehow apropos for newlyweds. Wink, wink. Then the girls, who love anything sweet, wanted to help prepare them. I couldn’t help but see the irony as I watched them. Here, in living color, devouring what was left of the frosting, were the literal fruits of my labor.
That’s what you get when you make whoopee. Three gorgeous girls.
It’s been a long road since the first pangs of labor, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. And I wouldn’t do it with anyone other than my husband. (Wink, wink).