When you have a baby, you set off an explosion in your marriage, and when the dust settles, your marriage is different from what it was. Not better, necessarily; not worse, necessarily; but different.Nora Ephron, 'Heartburn'
Before I had my daughter people were pretty vocal about the fact that my life was about to change and that I'd experience the best and worst of times. I'd be tired and grumpy but ultimately it'd all be worthwhile. And parenting has been all those things. Everything has changed. I have been the most tired, the most grumpy, the most disorientated but I've also been the happiest.
So yes it's been worthwhile.
And once I had my daughter there was literally bucketloads of advice on how to bring her up to be a physically and psychologically robust individual - help her sleep, eat, play, interact with other kids, be social, friendly, creative, an Olympian, a feminist... the list went on. In fact the sheer amount of information available was appalling. But nobody seemed to talk much about Mum and Dad. Or more importantly what happens to your relationship when you have a child. There was some super-romantic stuff about how having a child 'brings you together'. And I'd also heard stuff about the physical side of things and how you'd never want to have sex again. But aside from that nada.
So what happens to Mum and Dad when they become Mum and Dad?
Well I can't tell you what happens to everyone but I can tell you what happened to me. And I can offer some reassurances too. It does bring you together. Probably in the same way as two people being held hostage are brought together. But that wasn't how it worked from the start.
I'm going to try and set it out in stages so you can see how it went for us anyway.
Stage One: We Have An Emergency On Our Hands!
After the birth I basically became a patient and my partner a doctor. Except he wasn't a qualified doctor and had to guess what was wrong from the long list of ailments I'd read out every morning. He was actually more of a nurse as he was doing all of the practical stuff - helping me walk to the bathroom, fetching things from downstairs - the breast pillow, iron tablets, creams to make my body assume a regular shape after the traumas of childbirth. He was also a nurse (well basically a parent) to our daughter as I was incapable of doing anything aside from listing ailments and stumbling about waiting to feel normal.
Stage Two: This Is All Your Fault
The next stage was disturbing. I'm not sure whether it was down to lack of sleep or a bad hormonal reaction but I started to feel a lot of negative feelings towards my partner. I blamed him for everything. A friend said to me 'Well you can't blame your baby for the way you feel so you're taking it out on him instead,' and it was true. At this point 'Dad' was behaving in a normal way. He was supportive. He was getting up at night. He was driving to the supermarket twice a day. He was being a good person. But there were nights when I fantasised about pushing him in a canal. I called him an 'arsehole' many times. You may go through this stage. You may think 'what the hell is happening to me?' And I hate to say it but it got worse. Whilst eating dinner one night I cried so hard gravy came out my nose. It felt like I was tethered to a sinking ship. I was a psychopath. I contemplated single-parenthood. But it passed.
Stage Three: The Road to Normal
I started to act like a regular person about eight-nine months in. Our daughter was sleeping more. You don't appreciate the value of sleep until it's gone. We started to chat about how things had been going. We began to appreciate one another. I saw all the effort he was making. And it was amazing what a good father he was. The small things made life feel worthwhile again. I became aware of birdsong. The smell of just mowed grass. This is how I imagine people feel after serious illness. We had conversations over dinner. Rediscovered what we liked about one another. We talked about things that weren't baby related. There was some laughter. We even contemplated sex.
Stage Four: Who Are We?
So now we're like a year and a bit in and I'd like to say things are back to normal. But everything is still shifting and evolving. Our lives have changed. We aren't the same people. But it has bought us together. So maybe that wasn't just romantic rubbish. And it's made me look at my partner in a new way. But that may change. We have to evolve. We have to make an effort. We can't take one another for granted. And it's never good to swear at your partner.
Not first thing in the morning anyway.