I knew my marriage would change after having a baby. I had heard rumors of sleep-deprived parents just passing each other like ships in the night and sexless couples who hadn’t been on a date in ages. Two people so consumed with parenthood that there is little energy or time to devote to one another. A wife and husband resembling roommates more than spouses.
I am happy to report that those things aren’t all that true for us, but Grant and I have still had our own fair share of challenges and did change in many ways after becoming parents to our sweet baby girl just six months ago. We’ve come a long way since coming home from the hospital, but we’re still finding our way back to each other. Regaining what was lost as we gained this precious new family member. Uncovering a slightly different version of ourselves and discovering how they fit together.
The first few months were an adjustment period filled with tears and screaming and laughing and bonding. My hormones did a lot of good when it came to my relationship with my baby. But my relationship with my husband? Not so much. Postpartum rage was very real for me, as is the prolactin coursing through my body from breastfeeding that has basically brought my desire for intimacy to an all-time low.
For a while I just didn’t care. My whole world had shifted from being about me and our marriage to being about her. It felt as though I had blissfully, freely given my whole being — my heart, body, mind, and soul — to my baby. My husband just got the leftovers.
I used to always want to serve him, to be his “helper.” I would make breakfast every morning and dinner every night, keeping the house clean and making sure everything was in proper order. I listened to all of his work stories and encouraged him daily, telling him how handsome and hardworking I thought he was. I would sit and think of ways I could ease his burdens and make him smile. I used to surprise him in the bedroom.
As soon as I had a baby, I no longer cared about serving my husband. All I wanted was to be served by him. I let him do all the cooking and all the cleaning. If I was sitting on the couch and there was something I needed, he’d get it for me. If there was something I wanted done, he’d do it for me. It wasn’t a big deal at first. I literally had just squeezed an eight pound baby out of my body and was now a twenty-four hour milk machine. It was time for me to put my feet up and let Grant run the house for a change. And he loved taking on those burdens in the early days. He’s always had a servant’s heart. If his body could produce milk, I know he’d take on the task of breastfeeding in a heartbeat just so he could share in that burden, as well.
But if there was an appropriate length of time that I was allowed to be a little selfish as a new mom, I had long past it. And if there was an appropriate amount of responsibilities I was allowed to shirk or amount of meanness I was allowed to dish out, I definitely crossed the line. Things got ugly when he would start talking to me about work and I’d simply tell him that I didn’t care. It became exceedingly difficult for him when he’d tell me I’m beautiful or try to make a move and I would just turn away. For months on end, it seemed as though I only cared about my needs and Tessa’s needs. And if Grant had his own needs, I certainly didn’t want to hear them.
Until I began to realize that I hadn’t touched a stove in five months and that almost all of my sentences began with “can you…” Until I scrolled through our text messages and saw that he never stopped sending me sweet words of encouragement whereas I never returned any back. Until he brought to my attention that it hurts him when I turn him away, that there were beginning to be emotional ramifications to the lack of touch and closeness between us. Physical touch is Grant’s top love language. Unfortunately, it is my lowest one. See the problem?
I told myself for a while that because so much of my behavior could be explained by my change in hormones, there was nothing wrong with me or with us. Things were just different and there was nothing I could do about it. But I know better and I’m choosing every day to do something about it now. What does this look like? A lot of asking for forgiveness. Self-reflection. Tons and tons of prayer. But most of all, it has looked like intentionality — intentional decisions to love and serve. Even when my heart’s just not in it. Especially when my heart’s not in it. And most of the time, it’s not. Almost nothing between Grant and I feels natural anymore. What once came naturally requires intentionality. There’s just no way around it.
I still ask Grant for a lot of help around the house, probably way more than I ought to ask a man who works full time on the night shift. But I’m trying to change this. Even though every part of me would rather be spaced out in front of the television by the end of the day, I’m force myself to put some effort into cooking again. To be the first to tend to the crying baby instead of the last. Instead of piling things onto Grant’s plate just because I’d like to see them done, I’m now intentionally mulling over each item on my to-do list, determining whether I can do it myself or if it even needs to be done at all. Usually it doesn’t.
We’re both relieved that I’m starting to crave intimacy a little more these days, but four out of five times that he pursues me, he still gets turned away. If I’m not careful, I can let weeks go by without so much as a passionate kiss. The problem is that I’m waiting to magically want to be close and physical the same way I did before, and it’s just not happening. So now I’m starting to have to make those small, intentional choices. To greet him with a hug and kiss instead of the usual distracted hello. To hold his hand or sit next to him even when I’d rather have my space. To respond to his pursuit despite my lack of desire. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received on this subject is to say yes first and let the desire come later. More often than not, the desire does come.
In order to spend quality time together, we often have to remove ourselves from the house. We go on day trips together, listen to podcasts in the car, and take walks around the park. We tow the baby along in the stroller, letting her be engaged with the sights and sounds as we attempt to reengage with one another again. We’re realizing it’s not the fancy date nights or the spending of money that nurtures our friendship. It’s the small, simple things — a sermon we both enjoyed, cooking or pulling weeds side by side, going through the one year Bible reading plan together, and eating breakfast at the kitchen table as a family every morning.
When life gets busy and distracting, it’s easy to let these small, simple things be the first to go. So we have to be intentional to hold onto them. Sometimes that means saying no to invitations from friends or limiting time with family. The things that once were a priority get put on the back burner for now. We don’t mean to be shut-ins or let people down, but this is how we fight for our marriage. Reclaiming the space, time, and effort we once tried to freely give to everyone and everything.
I think one of the best parts about our marriage after having a baby is getting to see each other shine in our new roles of mommy and daddy. Watching Grant laugh and play with Tessa makes my heart burst with gratitude that the same man who makes such an amazing husband is just as amazing of a father. I love my husband and the life we now have together. I don’t want to end this post without making that clear.
It’s not easy being parents and it’s not all that easy on our marriage. But the Lord knew when he brought us together that he would also bring us a baby girl and that she would change us, challenge us, and make us even better than we were before. I did enjoy the days when it was just Grant and I. But nothing can compare to the joy we have now. And these challenges we’re having to navigate are necessary and good, provided that we allow them to make us into the wife/mom and husband/dad we’re meant to be. This is our sanctification.
I’m sharing all of these things because I want to remind every struggling wife out there that she does have a say in the direction of her marriage. We get to choose to be the loving mom and the loving wife. And we do not, or rather we cannot, do this alone. God in his great mercy hears our prayers and our soul’s longing to be united with our husbands again, to have our marriage be all that it can be and even more. He picks us up in our weakness and carries us closer to the finish line. He takes our desperate “Lord, I need you” and runs with it, renewing the things we thought were long dead. Fixing the pieces of our hearts and marriages that we believed were broken. I know it to be true because I’ve seen it happen for me, my sisters.
I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power (1 Corinthians 2:3-5).
If nothing else, my prayer is that in sharing these things, God might use my weakness and brokenness to show off his great love and power. Looking back on these past six months, I feel all kinds of weak and broken. But if there is glory or praise to be given to him from what Grant and I have been experiencing, let it be. I will be the first to lift my hands and shout, “Hallelujah!”
Motherhood is a lonely thing.
It doesn’t matter how many times your family and friends promise to be there whenever you need a break or are reaching your wit’s end. When you are a new mom, you still end up feeling like you have no one to lean on, no one who truly understands.
When the baby isn’t going down for their nap and is crying from gas or when you’re nursing in the middle of the night for what feels like the twentieth time, there isn’t a loved one whispering “you’ve got this, mama” in your ear or an unread text from a girlfriend reminding you that this season will pass. There is no kind nanny just waiting to be tagged in or a therapist in your living room who is always available for a good vent. If you’re lucky, you have a friend or two who are also navigating the early months of motherhood. But even being surrounded by other new moms is no guarantee that you’ll find the immediate solace you need. Somehow you end up feeling utterly alone despite everyone’s supposed promises that you are aren’t.
If you’re in the early days of motherhood and are handling it anything like me, you try to keep busy. You involve yourself in church and Bible studies. You invite anyone and everyone to get coffee with you. You visit family. You spend a lot of time on social media and Netflix. You walk around the mall and try not to spend all of your money. You become a regular at the park, pushing that stroller around the track until you can’t feel your wrists anymore.
But maybe, like me, you have found that this “keeping busy” thing just isn’t enough. It can get you through a few days or even a few weeks, but the loneliness and purposelessness always return. Being a stay-at-home mom of a baby who can’t walk, can’t talk, basically can’t do diddly-squat besides shake a few toys and play peek-a-boo is rough, no matter how hard you try to sugarcoat it with a full schedule or how many friends you have.
The truth is that the loneliness of motherhood is not merely a matter of not being surrounded by enough people. No, it is lonely by design.
Only you are this baby’s mother. You offer them the special comfort that they can’t find anywhere else. You pay attention to the details of your baby’s development like nobody else. You alone know how to discern their different cries and the exact way they like to be rocked or held. You’re the only one who cares if they miss a nap or get hungry sooner than expected. You clock in the most hours with your little one and hardly ever get to clock out.
With this kind of around-the-clock care you are giving, it is no wonder that you start to feel a little neglected and taken for granted. That sleeping angel you just spent an hour nursing and coaxing to bed can’t express their gratitude. Your husband can only listen to your troubles and tend to your needs for so long before they have to get to work or get some sleep. Your friends don’t know that it hurts to wait for that text or invite that never comes. And those people giving you unwanted advice don’t understand that they are doing the opposite of helping.
Side note: this week I fell apart and cried in front of my five-month-old and she laughed. SHE LAUGHED. If that doesn’t make you feel taken for granted, then I don’t know what would.
If you’re a new mom and are tired of how lonely you’ve been feeling, maybe even embarrassed for not quite thriving as that mom you were so excited to become, I just want you to know that I do understand. I’ve been there and am still there. I don’t have any real solutions and I don’t think there are any. I think that when we became mothers, we unknowingly signed up for one of the loneliest of jobs. That’s just the nature of motherhood.
The one thing I want to say to encourage you, the thing that I wish someone would say to me, is that being lonely is okay. It doesn’t mean you’ve failed. It doesn’t mean you have to try harder (although you most certainly can try).
If you’re lonely, you’re doing something right. You’re allowing yourself to give fully and freely to that precious baby, even while knowing there is a cost. You’re learning how to bear hard times for the sake of your family, one of many sacrifices you’ll make for the rest of your life. You’re walking through the valley that can refine you and point you to the Most High Comforter.
One day your little one will be able to thank you for all you do. You’ll get more time to do things for yourself. Your day will consist of more conversations than coos and cries. But in the meantime, my lonely friends, I am right here with you. You are loved and not forgotten.
You’ve got this, mama.
I’ve been asked numerous times what has been the most difficult or challenging thing about being a new mother and my answer is always the same: Nothing in my life has ever required so much selflessness.
I feel as though I am continually being refined, having the selfish, lazy parts of me brought to the surface so they can finally be dealt with and put to death. This sanctification process is so wonderful, but it does not occur without pain. Worse than labor and birth pains, it’s a cold slap to the face day after day as you realize you are nothing, have nothing, and can do nothing — NOTHING — without the grace of God.
And I’m only five months in.
Although I am helplessly wrapped around this little baby’s finger, I still find that I get wrapped up in my own life and resort back to my old ways. I try to figure out how to fit Tessa into the mold of what my life once was and I fight the process of necessary growth and change.
Being a mother is challenging because it all comes down to letting go of control. In order to be the mother that God designed me to be, I have to surrender. I have to give up and give in. Let him take over. Let grace carry me through the day.
She’s not the one who needs to change; I am.
She’s not the one who needs to change when she wakes up from her nap as I attempt to lay her down in her crib. I am the one who is in a hurry, wanting to “put her away” so I can keep my routine and resume my life. I forget to give her time to soak in her mama, basking in warm arms.
She’s not the one who needs to change when she’s waking up every other hour throughout the night because she’s a hungry, growing girl or has a little gas to let out. I am. I am the one who needs to remember that this season of constant night feedings won’t last forever. There will come a day when she will sleep soundly in her crib by herself instead of share a warm space with me in bed, and I will yearn for co-sleeping again.
She’s not the one who needs to change when she’s crying the whole ride home because I knew she was hungry but told myself she could wait ten minutes. I am. I am expecting her to be rational and understand that milk will fill her belly soon if she would only wait.
She’s not the one who needs to change when she’s squirming at the breast and not enjoying her feeding because of gas or teething. I am. I am the one who is embarrassed in public by her fussiness, wanting to make breastfeeding look like a beautiful, peaceful moment instead of the tricky game it sometimes is.
Looking back, I realize that my best days with Tessa have been the days when I let go of my agenda and just embraced each moment as it came. On those days, I was willing to hold her longer, able to comfort her better, and found myself loving motherhood even more.
But days like that do not come easily, especially when you have a lot going on besides the baby and you’re still battling that “me, me, me” mentality from the days before you were called mama. It’s even harder when you’re in the early days of motherhood and you WISH you could have more going on besides the baby, but she’s practically dominating every minute of every hour.
So if you’re like me and are struggling to remember that it is YOU who needs to seek a better way and change rather than expect your little one to do the changing, here are some things that have helped and are still helping me to this day. Through A LOT of trial and error, I’ve found some new ways to do things that make both of our lives a little better and keep that mother-baby connection strong.
Ask the Lord each day to increase your love for your baby and show you something new through your baby each day.
Every morning as I nurse and rock Tessa back to sleep for her morning nap, I take some time to pray over my day. I used to put her down first and THEN go downstairs to pray, but sometimes she’d wake up sooner than expected and my prayer time would be interrupted. This led to a lot of frustration, but this is yet another example of how it is up to ME to do the changing, not her. So now I don’t wait until I can get away to pray; I make it part of our time together.
One of the first things I pray for is an increased love for my daughter. A mother’s love is naturally strong, but even a strong bond like that can be made stronger. I remember telling my husband when she was about a month old that I’m not sure if I would be willing to die for her. I liked to think I would, but I just wasn’t sure if I was there yet because being a mom was so new and so were my feelings for her. In fact, about a month later there was a day when I thought our house was being broken into and instead of grabbing the baby to bring her upstairs with me, I headed to the stairs without her and had to turn back around to get her!
Not every mother has a delay in these sort of instincts, but I certainly did and probably still do in some regard, so when I pray, I ask God to increase the measure of love I have for her in my heart. I think about 1 Corinthians 13 and say, “Lord, I want to be more patient and kind towards my baby. I don’t want to be self-seeking or easily angered. Give me the kind of love that always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres.” I also ask God to show me something new through her each day, whether that means I discover a new exciting ability she has, something about my attitude towards her that needs a correction, or something about the Lord himself and his great love for us. Even though most days are not smooth sailing as a result of these prayers, I have felt a difference in my heart over time. Praying these prayers aligns my heart with God’s and helps me be open to any challenges or growth I may face as I care for Tessa that day.
When something just isn’t working for you or your baby, be creative in finding a solution and get excited when you do find one.
Motherhood requires an immense amount of creativity. I realize that now as I have faced many dilemmas that I have needed to think and talk through. One of my new favorite things to do when I am feeling overwhelmed and am beginning to lash out at either my child or husband is make a list of stressors or problems I have faced in the past week and then come up with a few solutions to them, no matter how crazy those solutions may seem. Sometimes the solutions I come up with are not really things I WANT to do, but I realize would help me A TON if I would just be willing to compromise and try it out. And other times some of my solutions end up being some of my best decisions! A perfect example of this is my decision to bed-share with Tessa.
Right after Tessa came home from the hospital, we hardly slept (no surprise there). After a late night feeding, I would attempt to put her down in the bassinet, but she would instantly wake up. This was fine for the first two weeks, but the sleepless nights eventually wore on me to the point of screaming — yes, SCREAMING — at my sweet, innocent newborn. It didn’t help that my husband had to go back to work on the night shift. I was seriously losing my mind. Finally I threw up my hands, said “screw the AAP standards!”, pulled that baby into the bed with me, and nursed her to sleep as we laid side by side. For the first time, we slept through the night (with quick, quiet feedings every few hours), and we have slept soundly ever since. Being willing to change my position on bed sharing was a game changer for me, and I still believe to this day that it saved my relationship with my baby.
It is up to us to be willing to admit when something just isn’t working for you or the baby. I have had to make plenty of changes I haven’t wanted to make, such as delegating ALL of the cooking to my husband (five months in and I can still only count on one hand how many times I have made dinner), but in the end, it’s always turned out alright. We have to save our sanity and protect our relationship with our little one, even if the things we choose don’t make sense to others or it involves a compromise on our end.
Recreate a sacred moment for you and your baby.
When I feel as though I’ve been losing touch with my baby or getting annoyed at the fact that being a mom isn’t a 9-to-5 job, I find that what helps restore my joy in motherhood is recreating a sacred moment between her and I.
Usually this means I dim the lights, sit in the rocking chair or climb into bed with her, put the phone away, and offer to nurse. Even if she isn’t all that hungry, she usually accepts the milk for a time, allowing me to enjoy this special moment that only her and I get to share. I play with her hands and stroke her hair as I watch her nurse. Sometimes we even lock eyes and she’ll give me the sweetest smile if I talk to her during her meal. I like to tell her about how much I enjoy being her mom and getting to provide her with the comfort and milk she needs. I’m telling you, there is a renewal that takes place as I do this. Even if I feel like I failed as a mother that day because I was on Instagram too much or made her wait for a feeding until she cried or selfishly set her in front of the TV because I just wanted to be left alone, I feel my guilt being replaced with peace as I cherish the sweet gift of motherhood once again.
Being selfless and able to change really comes down to one simple thing — slow down every once in a while. The season you’re in will soon be over, for better or for worse. Nursing won’t always be painful or inconvenient and you’ll get a full night of sleep once again. Teething doesn’t last forever and there will come a day when you will change that baby’s diaper for the very last time. So slow down. The dishes can wait, half of your to-do list can be tossed to the side, and there’s nothing interesting on Facebook anyway. If you need an attitude change or change of heart, stop fighting it and let it come. Slow down long enough and it’ll catch up to you. That is the beauty of grace. Sitting at Jesus’ feet to receive all he has to offer.
Becoming a selfless, die-to-self mother does not happen overnight. It is a process that looks like battle, hurts like hell, but is rewarded with the most honorable medal at the end. Knowing this, I suppose I’d have to say that the most difficult part of being a mother is also one of the best ones, too. It’s bittersweet and so worth it. The Lord entrusted this baby girl to me and I know that “he who began a good work in [me] will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6). So be it. Amen.