Originally posted May 12, 2013.
Guest Post Today! Elly Taylor!
Today I have the honor of hosting Elly Taylor’s deeply felt and informative work. Elly discusses the slow emotional changes in her internal and marital emotional landscapes as she and her husband navigated the transition to parenthood, maturing together as individuals and as a couple. Elly Taylor is an Aussie! She is a relationship counsellor and the author of Becoming Us: Loving, Learning and Growing Together.
Please join me in welcoming Elly’s contribution to the Postpartum Support International’s 2013 Blog Hop! Speak Up When You’re Down!
The course of a marriage is often turned, sharply, by incidents that might pass in a moment but can define them for years, until another incident becomes another corner. Looking back on my marriage, there are three of them that I now realise shaped our new family.
The first was during late pregnancy with our first born. My husband had just joined the Fire Brigade. Part of the job culture was pranking and good natured provocation. He started bringing it home, laying a few harmless ‘traps’, one that startled me as I came through the door one day. He was also adopting an attitude of “it’s all good fun, don’t let things bother you”.
But this was at the same time I was experiencing changes inside myself. I felt vulnerable in my body and in my self-image. I wasn’t feeling attractive, happy in, or sure of myself. Anxious. Like I was becoming someone I hadn’t met yet. I remember talking to a girlfriend about us and saying “I’m not even sure if he loves me anymore, he’s treating me more like one of his mates than a wife”. What I needed from him at that time was to be gentler, more loving and to reassure me. To hold me while I was changing. But I couldn’t put that into words.
The second incident was around three weeks after giving birth. The labour was harder than expected but had gone relatively well. Our son was born with his cord wrapped three times around his neck and an APGAR that scared the heck out of our midwife, but her ability to manage the situation saved us from what could have been a traumatic birth.
But by three weeks we were both exhausted and sleep deprived, my self-esteem had dropped further and he was becoming increasingly stressed. Tensions were high; it was just a matter of time before sparks would fly. I can’t remember the issue, but I will never forget the sneer on his face as he made an unfair remark. I was holding our son at the time. I was so angry I shoved our son into his arms, enough to rouse him from sleep, and stormed off. I ran a bath, horrified at myself and feeling like the bottom was dropping out of our marriage. And for the first time, I immersed myself in the warm water and wondered how l could disappear.
I had Postnatal Depression for nine months. I’m not saying my husband was responsible for it – that would be unfair to him and far too simplistic. Looking back I think he was depressed too, now that I know the symptoms for men: moodiness, irritability and withdrawal. We weren’t good for each other.
And then our third was born with a rare genetic condition which I had, unknowingly, passed on to her. Nobody knew what it was at first; we were quarantined while specialists clucked over us. Someone mentioned the word ‘fatal’. A diagnosis finally came through and my husband rang to share what he had found on the internet. “It’s OK”, he say “she’s going to be OK, there’s a list of things, but they’re not too bad.” I relax.
I tell him I haven’t slept for three days and I don’t want to hear them now, I’m too exhausted to take in any information, but he talks over the top of me. Blindness. Deafness. Learning difficulties. I begged him to stop but he didn’t, wouldn’t, hear me and kept going. I shut down to keep him out for a long time afterwards.
But, despite it all, I…we…got through that and more. I educated myself. I found that 92% of couples reported conflict in the first year after baby and 67% a decline in relationship satisfaction. It seemed we were, at least, normal. I became a relationship counsellor and learned that most relationship problems were not about the issues but about how we managed them and that we have more power to shape our relationship than we think.
Thanks to my male clients, I began to see things through my husband’s eyes. I began to wonder what his experience of being a father was, how it shaped and changed him and if he struggled to find the words for it too. I wondered where I might have made corners for him.
I gained a broader and deeper perspective on parenthood and an appreciation of the issues we were having and stopped taking them personally. I realised there were so many aspects of parenthood we were completely unprepared for – and wondered how things would have been different between us if we had been.
I stopped blaming him. I learned its common for people to blame others when things go wrong, it’s a way of coping, but it just makes things worse. I became compassionate towards him, for myself, for us and for others in the same boat. I became more assertive. I reached down into myself to find the words for my thoughts and feelings and I developed the self-control to deliver them in a way that he could hear me, most of the time.
I found that challenges aren’t bad for a relationship. Especially when we anticipate them and know how to deal with them, challenges actually make relationships stronger. Realistic expectations play a big part.
Knowing that pregnancy, birth and early parenting are a time of vulnerability and heightened emotions does too. Sharing our feelings with our partner and being open, inviting them to share in return, bonds us at a deeper, stronger level. It feels like my husband and I have walked through the fire together. Sometimes it was at a distance but more increasingly it’s hand in hand.
We are all thriving now. My youngest has only mild symptoms; just as I do. They don’t bother her, just as they don’t bother me. We compare our small scars in the bath.
Postpartum Support International reminds us:
If you need immediate help, please call the
National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
If you are looking for pregnancy or postpartum support and local resources,