Parenthood: There are three of us in this relationship now
All the stuff that greases the wheels of romance gets shelved once a little one comes along
Baby Isola. ‘Our third prong is adorable, and there is no shortage of love in this house, even if there is a niggling sense that she is now the love of our respective lives,’ writes her mother. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
How are relationships meant to survive the first few months of parenthood? Asking for friend.
Just kidding, of course. No friend of mine would ever openly tell me, or anyone, about this. But I can’t be the only one thinking that having a baby is tantamount to taking a golf club and whacking your relationship on the shins with it. I have no idea where the concept of a “Band Aid baby” comes from, because far from healing issues, new parenthood pushes a relationship right to the edge.
You may think that co-parenting will breathe new life into your marriage or relationship. And there is something adorable and slightly thrilling about seeing the man you love become an Athena poster made flesh. Yet my suspicions about raising children being akin to running an unglamorous non-profit together have been well and truly confirmed. It’s not just unglamorous, but deeply unsexy. We’re talking Save the Pond Fungus levels of unsexiness here.
It stands to reason that parenthood takes it toll on romance. Before children come along, my relationship with B was scaffolded by lots of lovely different elements. There was sharing popcorn in the cinema. Cuddles on the sofa in front of Gogglebox. A spontaneous night out. Long, languorous lie-ins. Often, with benefits. A mutual love of music, art and culture. Talks about nothing and everything. We knew we’d get to the laundry or the dusting some day. No big deal.
Well, goodbye and good luck to all of that. All the stuff that greases the wheels of romance gets shelved once a little one comes along. Or rather, the sense of partnership shapeshifts. You become different people post-babies, and it’s really the luck of the draw whether the two new yous are as compatible as before.
There are three of us in this relationship now. Our third prong is adorable, and there is no shortage of love in this house, even if there is a niggling sense that she is now the love of our respective lives.
We take turns being the gaffer and the deputy, although for the most part I am piloting the whole sorry mess
No one told me about how stress and exhaustion would change the dynamic between us. We panic and take it out on each other if we can’t get the baby to stop crying. I am hard on myself, and hard on him. We snap at each other when we slip up or are uncertain about how to proceed, the way you might in a toxic, stressful workplace where you are petrified of being found out. And in new parenthood, there are slip-ups and uncertainty all the time. It can be wearying.
We take turns being the gaffer and the deputy, although for the most part I am piloting the whole sorry mess. I am chief “put to sleep” person (no jokes, please) and B has assumed the driving seat for weaning. Many of our conversations start with “I read somewhere that we should be doing this now” – putting the viewpoints of an unknown, third-party entity before each other’s. We don’t even need to preface conversations with Isola’s name. When we talk about “her” or what “she” wants, we just know who it is. We are so glad of and so grateful for our new life, but I can’t remember the last time we looked deep into each other’s eyes and felt that towards each other.
We take to the sofa at the end of the day like two people washed ashore after a shipwreck. “Me time” now means catching our breath, like a plane refuelling before its next load of passengers.
Sometimes we stand arm-in-arm over our daughter as she sleeps, and I know we will be fine
I’m told that I’m one of the “lucky” ones, simply because B does his fair share. B takes on night feeds every second night (I wish I could photograph the faces of couples when we tell other parents this. Mums swivel towards their partners in theatrical admonishment, while dads at least have the wherewithal to look a bit sheepish about getting a full night’s sleep, night after night). B is practical, enthusiastic and genuinely interested in finding out who is daughter is, and what type of person she will be. Sometimes we stand arm-in-arm over our daughter as she sleeps, and I know we will be fine. Better than fine, even. But it’s worth reminding ourselves that while having a baby is one thing, sharing it is a completely different matter entirely. The scraps, the microresentments, the moments of insanity and the emotional fatigue are all integral to this mad, new experience.
Besides, they’re only temporary. I hope.