There are a few inalienable facts when it comes to men and women. First, men always claim that getting a knock to the balls is the most painful thing on this earth and that a woman could never understand. Second, is that once a woman has given birth, she is liable to pull rank and use the ‘labour card’ to trump practically any situation at will. For the most part, these are things said in jest and to illicit a good belly laugh, but there was a time when I was guilty of playing the labour card to the extreme…
Me to my husband – ‘I spent 10 hours in labour, pushing your son out of my body and you’re complaining about having to unload the dishwasher?’
Or when my husband had been on duty with baby all weekend and complained his back was sore after all the carrying, playing, pushing, pulling and leaning over that entails.
‘Try giving birth with your feet in stirrups in a room full of strangers, and then tell me how your back is!’
Or when the baby barfed all over my husband and he complained, to which I replied –
‘Yeah, way worse than having your waters break and the gunk that follows labour!’
Or when he does a bit of DIY and ends up maybe whacking his thumb with the hammer, my reply would have been –
‘Talk to me when you had a second degree tear, stitches and then infected stitches post labour!’
You get the picture right? I sounded like a complete bitch!
Now let me explain that most of this was in those first few weeks after I had given birth. I was tired, unprepared, terrified and overwhelmed, and I found myself ‘playing the labour card’ time and again.
Each time I did it, I was reminded of that scene in SATC when a recently converted Charlotte has spent all day making a traditional Jewish meal for her fiance Harry, who is more interested in watching the baseball game than appreciating her hard work. She asks him to turn off the TV while they eat, to which he refuses.
‘I gave up Christ for you and you can’t turn off the TV?’ she complains.
To which he replies; ‘It’ll be a long life if you keep that up!’
This was me in a nutshell. And each time I did it, I knew it was unfair. Having a baby is hard on your marriage, and I don’t think I really knew how hard it would be before I became pregnant. When you get that awesome, life changing news that you’re going to have a baby, it brings you and your partner together in a way that’s hard to quantify. We were on this journey together. My husband came to every scan and was as excited and enthusiastic as I could ever have wanted.
And of course I thought, that when the baby arrived, this renewed unity would just continue.
And I’m not saying it hasn’t, but what I wasn’t prepared for was the strain it brought to our relationship. In the early days, it’s as if you’re both under an unrelenting fog of tiredness. It’s the broken sleep, the baby in your bedroom, the worry you’re doing it right and the momentous change to your lives. It’s learning to deal with endless hours of crying, disagreeing about the way one of you winds the baby or changes a nappy. It’s the frayed nerves and out of whack hormones. It’s the never-ending treadmill of change that will test you like never before. In short, a new-born will put your relationship under the microscope like nothing else and slowly pull at the frayed edges every relationship has, but are easier to hide when it’s just the two of you.
So of course, me playing the labour card was not helpful and indeed was just fuel to the fire. In truth, I know my husband would have given birth if he could have. Throughout my pregnancy and especially during the labour, he was my rock. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without him.
I had no reason to keep throwing the trauma of my labour back at him, yet I did. I think we often hurt those closest to us at times of stress, and this was true for me. Ultimately, it was a prickly defense to hide the fact that I was traumatised after giving birth and to conceal that I was beginning to suffer with post-natal depression. I was trying to deflect from the fact that I was feeling completely overwhelmed and felt like I could not cope with motherhood at all.
Thankfully, things improved slowly. I found light at the end of the tunnel and today I adore my little baby boy more than anything in this world and would happily walk face first into a bus for him. There were lots of things that aided my recovery, but part of that light came about when I started letting my defenses down and began putting effort back into my marriage. Giving a kind word instead of a sarky comeback. Appreciating that while it’s hard for me to be a SAHM who also works from home, it’s equally hard for my husband to commute, work long hours and come home only to spend a short while with an often tired, cranky baby who has to then go off to bed.
Today, 8 months on, I ‘play the labour card’ a lot less than I used to. Anytime it gets lobbed into a conversation now, it’s all in complete jest. But I still keep it in reserve for those times when my husband makes heavy weather of being taken down in his prime with a bout of man flu…!