All good changes have a honeymoon phase – a new marriage, a new job, a new culture, a new baby. The duration of the honeymoon phase varies widely from one change to the next, and from one person to the next. When I came home from the hospital with Nati, the parenting honeymoon lasted for about four whole hours. That was the amount of time it took for my home-with-a-new-baby adrenaline to wear off and for the exhaustion of bringing another human into the world to kick in.
I looked down at my little “bundle of joy”, writhing in his bassinet and screaming at the top of his lungs, and I wished for something different. I didn’t wish he would be different: I was still in awe of every part of his perfect little body. But I did wish that the situation was different. Specifically, I wished that I had a pause button and a nanny.
I looked around the room, desperate for anything that might calm him, and found the ridiculous-looking blue rubber pacifier that had been sent home from the hospital. When I eased it into his mouth, he stopped crying immediately. The silence was utter bliss.
Unfortunately, that bliss was short lived. I mentioned to Yohannes that I had given Nati the pacifier. In response, he mentioned to me that we had never agreed about whether or not to give Nati a pacifier. So we dutifully sprang into a vibrant debate about the pros and cons of pacifier use as if the future of the human race depended on our decision. Yohannes threw around phrases like, “Statistically speaking,” and I threw around phrases like, “I HAVE BEEN NURSING HIM FOR FOUR HOURS STRAIGHT! I CAN’T DO IT ANYMORE! I NEED SLEEP!”
We might have put the time to better use and gone straight to bed if we had known that Nati would never accept a pacifier again.
The end of the honeymoon sparked the beginning of the transition phase. Since Nati would generally refuse to sleep unless he was also nursing, the transition phase meant learning to do everything one-handed. And since doing things one-handed took about ten times longer than doing them two-handed, I generally decided that it would be more prudent to wait until Nati went to sleep before doing anything. And since, as I said, Nati only slept while he was nursing, I just ended up never doing anything.
I would situate myself on the couch, fortified by a pile of diapers and wipes, and watch Netflix while I nursed Nati to sleep. And then watch more Netflix, while I nursed Nati to keep him asleep. Yohannes would come home at the end of the day to find the house much as it had been when he left: me on the couch nursing Nati and watching Netflix. My pile of clean diapers would be somewhat diminished, and a new pile of dirty diapers was nearby, waiting for Nati to stop nursing so I could get up and put them in the trash.
And thus, after about one and a half years, the honeymoon phase of our marriage ended. Yohannes felt that I wasn’t pulling my weight around the house while he was at work all day. I felt that Yohannes didn’t appreciate the fact that nursing our child was working, and that I hadn’t slept more than two hours in a row since Nati was born.
For about a year we waded through the uncomfortable transition phases of marriage and parenting. Little by little, we adjusted to our new situation and to each other. I learned that I really could throw the diapers in the trash without too much trouble, and that even if Nati cried a little while I was switching the laundry, he would be okay. Yohannes learned to accept a new household paradigm in which laundry was washed, but never put away.
The honeymoon is meant to be temporary. This give-and-take is real marriage – real parenting. It’s messy, and it’s beautiful. I know Yohannes still wishes that he didn’t have to search for matching socks in the dryer. But then, I still wish I had a pause button and a nanny.
This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, click here. And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, click here.