BABY BOMB

A commentary for WNYC Radio in New York, 2000.
By Jennifer Bingham Hull

Nobody talks about it. And you won't find many books on the subject in the parenting section at Barnes & Noble. But commentator Jennifer Bingham Hull says having a baby is a bomb on your marriage.  Her comments are part of our on-going work and family series, "The Juggling Act."
 
My once happy marriage was rocky for at least a year after the birth of our daughter, Isabelle. How could it be otherwise? Take two adults who are used to getting eight hours of sleep, going out to dinner, and even having regular sex - deprive them of all of those things overnight and you get a relationship that's a bit ragged around the edges.
 
Previously equals, you and your husband suddenly operate from completely different frames of reference. He doesn't worry about whether he's spending enough time with baby. He's changing so many more diapers than his Dad did that he can't help but feel superior, even if he isn't changing nearly as many as you are. And everybody else is complimenting him too.
 
You, however, can't win. You may take time off work but you'll never put in as many hours with Baby as your own mother did. Then there's your career. Once an efficient piece of machinery you could rely on, your brain is suddenly clogged with tiny baby needs - things your husband doesn't even seem to notice. He taps away on his computer with that same old single-minded focus. You start to write a client and think: "buy Desitin."
 
He packs his bag for vacation and brings a novel for the plane. You pack two bags and put Cheerios, wipes and Winnie the Pooh in your purse for the flight. And when your spouse finally does change that diaper and says, "Honey we're out of Pampers," you explode.
 
He's right. You have become a shrew.
 
It occurred to me after I followed my husband, Bill, down the block, giving him instructions for his walk with Isabelle, that maybe, just maybe, I was being a bit too controlling. And I realized that by being controlling, I was teaching my husband incompetence.
 
So I backed off. Asked whether to put on her red or blue dress, I answered: "you decide." I let Bill feed Isabelle all the "wrong" food and go around in wet diapers on his shift. And I asked him to get her in the morning. Soon, Isabelle began calling for Daddy upon waking. And suddenly, Bill offered to get Isabelle every morning.
 
Look, therapy is expensive. The only way to really have it all is to share parenting. It's not easy. He has to learn to multi-task beyond the confines of his car. You have to give up control. Which is to say, women have to change more.
 
But when you finally arrive in that foxhole together, he as tired as you, baby wailing at 2 AM, again. . . and when he rises and grumbles "I'll get her" - and you let him - you realize, that's commitment, that's love.

 


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