Having A Baby Destroyed My Marriage — And It Might Ruin Yours, Too
It looks as if I won’t have another baby. Not for medical reasons (though I’m on the downward slope of my fertility) and not for lack of a loving partner.
Indeed, it’s due to the ongoing excellence of my relationship with my boyfriend that I’m hesitant to press the baby issue—even though I count the days when I was pregnant with my daughter, as among the happiest of my life.
I hold the unpopular opinion that having kids doesn’t necessarily bind a couple together in the way our romantic notion of family claims. The upheaval in a couple’s life is seismic, and the notorious lack of a sound night’s sleep is the least of it.
I don’t mean to be curmudgeonly; I love babies as much as the next person. But their sheer existence doesn’t necessarily spell bliss.
When my daughter was two, her father and I decided that our marriage had come to an end. This isn’t uncommon. While many toddlers are patting the bunny, the relationship that created them is disintegrating.
The husband-now-father and wife-now-mother are so busy peering into the bassinet that they’ve forgotten to look at each other—and when they finally do, they’ve lost interest.
My daughter’s father and I met in film school. We’d been together more than a decade, yoked not unhappily to one another, compatriots in forging our careers. We were companions who split everything 50/50.
It was all good if lacking passion. After our girl was born, the inevitable gender differences came—and yes, I’m sorry to report, they are inevitable. Like many fathers, my husband was sidelined until he could relate to our daughter as something more than a miraculous contraption specializing in moving milk through her tiny alimentary canal.
Meanwhile, I submitted to my hardwiring and became her devoted servant. She was an exemplary baby: a champion sleeper, a straightforward eater, and so healthy that the first time she threw up she was old enough to say, “Mom! The Cocoa Puffs were on the inside and now they’re on the outside!” She was—and remains—perfect.
Her father was more involved than many men. He took her for hours at a time, could feed her, and change her without needing an audience. (I have a handful of friends whose husbands are happy to do the dirty work of parenting, as long as their contributions are noted and rewarded.)
Soon, he had a relationship with her, and I had a relationship with her, but he and I no longer had a relationship with each other.
We limped along, hired babysitters so we could go on proper dates, and spent money we didn’t have on so-called romantic getaways. These were agonizing occasions because they underscored what we’d never really had: a passionate attachment. In the end, all of our buried passions were directed toward our magnificent daughter.
Our divorce—which I couldn’t help thinking was related to having become a mother—was an incomprehensible life development. It was particularly difficult to grasp in light of my parents’ intact marriage and the dearth of divorced couples in the Southern California suburb in which I grew up.
Back then, “stay-at-home mom” was a classification that didn’t exist. The mothers I knew didn’t work, and if they were dealing with postpartum depression, exhaustion, boredom, lack of interest in sex, or their husbands, they kept it to themselves.
For a time, I wondered if I wasn’t a modern-day Demeter—one of those women who, upon having a child, find their men to be superfluous. Rather than focusing on their husbands and affectionately tolerating children underfoot, they adore their children and value men for the security they provide, but little else.
The opportunity to have another child after my divorce arose when I became involved with a man who would turn out to be one of the worst romantic choices of my life.
Because I already had my perfect girl, I was in no hurry to have a new baby.
But to this day, I occasionally throw myself down upon my non-churchgoing Episcopalian knees and thank the Good Lord in His infinite mercy that I never had a child with this lunatic. It would have ruined my life, and one of the tough but crucial lessons I learned from our liaison was the degree to which physical attraction is absolutely no indicator of procreation. It’s the tyranny of biology at work, pure and simple.
How can I be so certain? Because while we didn’t share a child, we did share a dog, a chocolate lab named Winston, which the lunatic turned into a pawn for encouraging contact. He pressed for doggy visitation. He demanded to be included in vet visits. He became enraged when I took Winston to the beach without consulting him.
Can you imagine if Winston had been a 3-year-old boy? It quickly became clear: If there’d been a baby, and not a walleyed labrador, in the bathwater, I would have been stuck with the lunatic forever.
The only thing that man shall never put asunder is the commingling of DNA. I marvel at acquaintances—and characters on TV shows—who are forever sharing a margarita-fueled one-night stand and deciding, “Hey! I always wanted to be a mother!”
They’re failing to take the long view: They’ll be dragging a person they hardly know to parent conferences for decades to come. That one-night stand might turn out to be a decent fellow. But what are the odds?
Admitting that bringing a child into a relationship might ruin said relationship verges on the unpatriotic.
Like most of us, I expect romance to survive marriage and committed cohabitation. I’m more dubious that it can survive raising a child.
A young friend, pregnant for the first time, is adorable, consumed with whether to paint the nursery yellow or mint green. She and her husband dutifully attend birthing classes. They treat these classes as if they’re taking an Italian cooking course, with birth as the final exam, after which they’ll go back to their lives.
We are all like this, of course, until we leave the hospital. Then the nurse drops the baby into our arms and waves us off and it hits us: They’re letting us walk out the door with a human being.
What does this responsibility do to a couple? Obviously, having children affects different people in different ways. But here’s the great equalizer: According to the US Department of Agriculture, raising a child born in 2004 from birth until the age of 17 may cost more than a quarter of a million dollars.
Since couples tend to fight about money, one can only imagine the plethora of opportunities that having a kid—ka-ching!—provides. I know we’re talking about the miracle of life here. But still, a few years of dropping thousands to equip your kid for grade school can have a sobering effect on a household.
It may sound like a no-brainer, but remember that at any given time you may or may not be a girlfriend, lover, or wife. But once that baby is born, you’re a mother until the end of your days.
There is no getting around it, no going back. Becoming a parent is not like dropping out of college, where you can always return as an older, motivated adult and complete your degree.
For the good of the species, it’s probably better not to think too much about the staggering amount of money, the rejiggering of identities, and the sheer endlessness of the enterprise. Why dwell on the many ways a baby can cramp your style? As a friend put it, “Gone are the days of sex on the kitchen table, know what I mean?”
I do. This is how I find myself where I am today, happy with the perfect girl I’ve got and happy with my relationship. My boyfriend does not have a perfect son or daughter, and I’m concerned that he may want one.
He is, however, the oldest brother of a passel of siblings that he helped raise. He saw firsthand the toll all those children took on his parents’ marriage (they, too, are now divorced, though I’m not sure the kids were the sole reason) and he well understands my reluctance to upset the balance of our life together.
We enjoy being able to spend long swatches of time together without interruption. We love sleeping in, catching a matinee, springing for a new saddle for our horse, going to Mexico on the spur of the moment, sitting together for hours, and reading. Would our relationship perish without these things?
I don’t know, and I don’t want to find out.
A friend suggested that our unwillingness to go ahead and do the baby dance was selfish.
I don’t know what she’s talking about. Doesn’t she realize we’re not cave people? Doesn’t she get that at the end of the day the world simply does not need another human? Sure, it’s comforting to imagine that our purpose on this planet is to make more of us. But at this time in human history, it’s pure fantasy.
In the meantime, my perfect girl is enjoying life in a serene household where the adults are happy and, assuming all goes well, will be able to send her to college. Is a good life, for her and for us, worth sacrificing the wonder—and joy—of having yet another child?
I would have to say yes.