Each time Edric and I have a child, it’s like starting a family all over again. The joy is unparalleled but so is the stress that comes with caring for a baby. It certainly affects the dynamic of our marriage but we put in the effort necessary to preserve our identity as a couple.
The baby-at-the-center-stage lasted only a few weeks with our previous births. After we got a routine going, Edric and I were able to go out on dates and revisit couple-hood.
With Catalina, it was different from the very beginning. Edric became second priority in my hierarchy of human relationships and I wasn’t as eager to make him first. He was a good sport about it for the first two weeks but after that, he began to say, “I miss you, hon.” I would hear this almost everyday. He said it with a measure of sadness and heartfelt longing.
I would look up from my catatonic breastfeeding position and reciprocate with, “I miss you, too.” I meant it but I expected Edric to understand that Catalina’s needs were more important than his, especially since she had been a hospitalized baby.
Before giving birth, Edric and I were enjoying a 12-year honeymoon. I felt like I was more in love with him than ever before and he felt the same way. Romance was in full bloom. We were eager to be with one another, always finding excuses to spend time together.
Catalina’s hospitalization changed me. The euphoria I felt when she first arrived was replaced by a gloom that was uncharacteristic of me to have. I had experienced fatigue from lack of sleep in the past. This part wasn’t new…the whole zombified feeling. But I withdrew from everyone – Edric, the kids, family, and friends.
My world became very small – just Catalina and I. I didn’t want to be visited at the hospital or at home, I ignored calls and messages on my phone and emails. I felt overwhelmed by the presence of my four other kids whenever they were around. I also found myself crying at random moments, and I had little inspiration to write.
Edric tried everything to cheer me up and help me recover the spunkiness he missed. There was nothing that he lacked as a husband. He was always there for me. In fact, he was 10 for 10 in terms of being sweet and loving. He abandoned work for many days so he could be by my side. Yet even if I appreciated his company, I felt alone in my struggle to be the mom Catalina needed me to be.
As the weeks went by, I found myself less and less able to share what was going on inside to Edric (partly due to my inability to articulate the state I was in or even recognize what was happening). Inevitably, both of us retreated to our preoccupations. Edric delved back into work and his TV hosting. I dedicated each and everyday to Catalina’s well-being. I entertained myself with online surfing and useless amazon shopping…putting items in my cart and taking them out, sometimes buying them, sometimes making endless wishlists.
It wasn’t until a few days ago that Edric finally sat me down so we could talk more seriously about our relationship and what was happening to it. He invited me to share my feelings and he helped me to process them. He was also honest about his own perspective as a husband. In his usual manner of problem-solving (which I really appreciate), he proposed solutions that would help us reconnect as a couple.
He said we needed to get rid of “Relationship Killers” or “RKs” for short. First, our gadgets. Being on a mobile device was very often my default activity while feeding Catalina…even when Edric was around. I hardly gave him attention. So he would do the equivalent and preoccupy himself with his own phone since I seemed busy and disinterested in talking to him.
The second RK was lack of communication. We stopped telling each other what was going on in our lives.
Edric and I normally communicate on many different levels. There is nothing that we can’t talk about. Whether it be our silliest, most idiotic thoughts, vulnerable feelings, frustrations, embarrassing confessions, mundane happenings, news and views, or deep spiritual insights, we discuss it all.
But lately, I felt like I didn’t have much to share that was exciting or interesting. Everything I did resembled the Groundhog Day movie experience – exactly the same predictable, round the clock breastfeeding and baby care. My mistake was I failed to disclose my emotions. I became introverted and silent, choosing to shut Edric out because I felt like he couldn’t relate to what it was like to be a mom to Catalina.
As for Edric, he realized he needed to keep me updated. I hardly knew what he did everyday and when I would ask him, it was a boring and tiring question for him to answer. So he committed to be more open to let me in on his daily realities. In the past, we were together so often, I knew about all the details, people, and events that filled up his calendar. Since I had become so home-bound, he now had to make the effort to tell me stories. Not a typical man thing to do but he decided he would try harder.
The third RK was the lack of physical intimacy. This went beyond sex, which wasn’t the issue. It was the spontaneous gestures of affection like holding hands, rubbing each other’s backs, hugging, and kissing. Edric missed this. I, on the other hand, had a little baby to cuddle with all the time. My need for physical touch was completely satisfied. Edric’s was depleted.
Of all the solutions we talked about, there was one thing which really got to me. It was the point when Edric looked at me very intently and made an appeal that I had never heard before. He said, “Don’t disappear on me, hon.”
Don’t disappear on me…That’s exactly what was happening and Edric knew it. He could sense that I was pulling away emotionally, retreating to a world of my own, also known as babyland – the world where women go to with all good intention when they become mothers. I was lingering too long and using the excuse that Catalina needed me, only me, to be her everything.
Well, it turned out that a yaya could be there for the other parts like holding Catalina and watching her in between breastfeeding and my own bonding moments with her. It was my pediatrician who first suggested that I get someone who could fill in the gaps for me so I my life didn’t have to revolve around Catalina. For the first month, it made sense for me to be so hands on. But afterwards, when Cataina was introduced to breastmilk in a bottle, I didn’t have to be with her all the time. I had four other kids who needed me and a husband who wanted his bestfriend, conversation-companion, exercise buddy, and lover back.
At first, Edric had not factored a yaya into our budget. But after he saw that he was losing me to motherhood duties he said, “Let’s get one. I will make a way! I will do whatever it takes!” Yay! I love that about my husband. He is committed to keeping us together physically, emotionally, spiritually.
But I need to be committed, too. I have to watch out for the RK’s that I am responsible for.
I’m happy to say that the relationship meter is now on the high side. Going through the adjustment of having another baby has made us closer once again. Thanks to my husband, who made sure this happened, and to the Lord, who brought us back to the right priorities, our connectedness is back.
By God’s grace, Catalina is doing just fine, too. She is developing a routine and likes her yaya. In fact, I enjoy Catalina even more because we have quality time together. I don’t feel like a hostage anymore! When I need a break, I call her yaya, and she takes over so I can homeschool, exercise, hang out with Edric, leave for errands and meetings, or write. Motherhood is more fun in the Philippines!
Edric and I also have a new term that we are starting to use. “Relationship builder” or “RB.” When we do something sweet for one another, we say, “Oh that was an RB!” We’ve sorted out the RK’s so we can focus on the RB’s. Making time to listen to one another, that’s an RB. Going for a walk together in the late afternoons or evenings when we can, that’s another RB. Serving food on to Edric’s plate and arranging it so it looks appetizing, his version of RB. Speaking to me in a positive tone, my version of RB. Affection and physical intimacy, RB! Escaping for a quick movie night, a fun RB. Complimenting and appreciating one another, RB highlighted in bold letters.
There are so many other ways to build our relationship while we work through the new baby stage. We need to remember that it is important to do so. After all the first family – the nucleus – is our marriage. For the rest of our family to be healthy, the marriage has to be a priority for Edric and I. We both have to be committed to guarding, nurturing, and rescuing it when necessary.
From sad hubby to happy hubby…