Tuesday, May 30, 2006

meltdown

Suddenly I'm crying, then sobbing as if my heart is being pulled out of my chest. "But I want YOU," I say, clutching his arm, feeling like Anne Shirley at the end of one of those Green Gables stories, except infinitely more pathetic.

I'm sitting in my favorite living room chair, the one that looks vaguely Arts-and-Craftsy with its wooden arms and mission-style slats, except it's a recliner, and at the moment, I am reclined. Just one lamp is on. It's late, and we normally would be reading in bed, except it's harder for me to read in bed now that I'm "big with child." The book in my lap is face down, open to the page I've just read — the one that's been telling me how hard my life is about to become: How maternity leave is going to reduce me to a 24-hour caregiver and maid. How I'm going to resent watching him walk out of the house every morning because I can't. How 84 percent of couples report that having a child causes detriment to their marriage. I should know better than to read these scary books, just like I know better than to watch scary movies. They tend to send me into an emotional tailspin before I have time to think it through clearly. I react before I think. I get overwhelmed.

On the outside, all he hears is a sigh. On the inside, I am melting into a heap of helplessness, like a child. "That's a big sigh," he says, looking up from the couch, where he is reading something technical.

"Listen to this," I say, and I start to read it to him. "It's so scary. I'm just so afraid I won't be competent at this. What if I really do resent you every morning when you leave for work?"

"I'll be there for the first two weeks," he says.

"Yes, and that leaves me alone for five and a half months," I say. "I'm a writer. I'm an editor. I'm not trained in childcare. I never wanted to be a maid. And yet this is going to be my life for six months, if not more. How will I get through this on my own?"

That's when the tears puddle into my eyes, and he sees, and he comes over and sits on the edge of the chair. We've talked about this before, how parenthood will affect our careers, how nice it would be to split parenting roles more evenly, yet how improbable, given the nature of his work. "I wish I could do more to help you," he says. "You know you have friends you can call for support."

But girlfriends don't measure up to my best friend. He's my partner, and suddenly I can't imagine going through this without him every day. He's the one I want changing the nasty diapers with me, thinking up games to play with the baby, figuring out how to soothe the cries. The thought of doing this alone, day after day, petrifies me. That's what I'm feeling in the moment, anyway. It's you I want, I tell him, and I hold onto his arm as if it will keep him from flying away.

I know I'm being clingy, and it makes me feel weak, needy, like one of those helpless housewives who are afraid to drive, incapable of handling anything on my own, even though in reality I've been handling things for years. I remember clingy from the days of bad relationships, when I mixed need up with love, when I thought I could make him want to be with me if I tried hard enough. But this relationship has always been different. I've never had to be afraid of him walking away. I've always stood on both feet with him, felt strong and equal. But I can't stop bawling, and my eyes are blurry with tears, and I reach for his old T-shirt so I can wipe my tears off on it. He takes it off and gives it to me, and he sits there on the arm of the chair, shirtless, an arm wrapped awkwardly around the top of my head. "I hear you," he says. It's all he can say for the moment.

This doesn't happen to me very much, these meltdowns, and when they do, I always feel slightly embarrassed afterward. Childish, insecure. And yes, I judge myself, too. It's to his credit that he treats me with dignity and doesn't make fun of me. He wants to protect me, and sometimes I let him. I think he protects me from the scariest parts of myself, the ones that make me want to curl up into a ball and disappear.

And then he starts to talk, reminding me of how good I am with babies, how I used to take care of my younger brothers and sister, how when we babysat for Maria for the first time, it was me who figured out how to get her to stop crying. And think about how wonderful it's going to be to meet our son. To watch him smile, to see him wave his arms and legs around and laugh, to be there when he first rolls over. It's going to be a miracle. And I know he is right, and he's not going anywhere. Maybe to work, but he'll be home for dinner, and there will be plenty of diapers waiting for him, plenty of bottles to feed, plenty of time for him to bond with his baby boy. Plenty of time for us to have time for each other. Our marriage isn't going to slip away from us.

Pretty soon we go to bed. Before I turn out the light, I open the book again and read a few more pages. I'm hoping the scary parts are over.

"Are you still reading that?" he says from his side of the bed. "Maybe it's not the best thing for you to be reading right now."

He wants to protect me, and sometimes I let him. And sometimes he does.

15 comments:

Monkeymama said...

You really captured what I've felt so many times. For me, it isn't that I want Greg to do more of the work, it is that I want to feel like I'm better at doing it myself. I wonder if Beck would be better in daycare - I don't have any sort of experience with toddlers. I just hope that I can figure it out as we go. I love spending time with her, but some mornings I dread the day of non-stop baby time. That's one reason I got the part time job.

I hope your husband is smart enough not to treat you like a maid or a nanny. I hope he realizes that a day with a newborn might be more difficult than whatever he was doing. And that even if his job is more difficult, he never makes you feel like he is "done for the day" when he gets home. Dads can make all the difference. :)

Emilie said...

Thanks, Sarah. It's nice to know I'm not the only one! Steve, fortunately, is incredibly understanding of what it's going to be like. He would, in fact, like to be able to stay home more, and he's even talked about trying to find a flexible job where he can do that. (He LOVES kids!) But it would mean not pursuing jobs for which he worked so hard to get his MBA, so even I have mixed feelings about him doing that, even as I am incredibly grateful that he would consider it. I want him to be fulfilled in his work, just as he wants me to be, as well. I think it's going to be OK, though. We'll make things work, no matter what happens.

liz said...

I don't really have anything illuminating to say about this, but I just wanted you to know that you're not alone. I think about this problem ALL the time and I'm not even pregnant, so I can imagine the urgency with which a pregnant mom approaches it. Try not to worry. Steve is remarkably supportive and I know you'll work out a solution together.

On a side note, you said you took care of your younger brothers and sister... ? I thought you had 2 sisters? :)

Emilie said...

Liz, I actually have three sisters! Two are close to my age. My two brothers and the youngest sister were born when I was old enough to feed them and change their diapers. So they are the ones I helped "take care of" — and I still feel a little motherly toward them. (I know Ellen doesn't always like it when I mother her — right, Ellen?) ;-)

liz said...

Oh, wait, I knew you had three sisters. That was just a typo - but all this time I had no idea you had brothers! Wow. :)

Emilie said...

Liz, my brothers (Joseph and Stephen) both have Down syndrome, pretty severely, and are blind. They live at home with our parents, who are amazing in all they've done to care for them. So ... there are six of us!

barbara said...

{{{{{{hugs}}}}}

Cynthia said...

Emilie.
You wrote that with such passion and such emotions that I was near tears while reading it.
I am a single mother by choice and it is hard. I truly look forward to the day when I will have a husband and a father for my son who will "take his shirt off just so I can wipe away my tears."
I envy the love that you and Stephen have. That is so wonderful. He is such a wonderful man and you and your son are lucky to have him as a part of your lives. He allows you to be you and he accepts you for you.
He supports you - emotionally... Man that is wonderful.
He gets you Emilie.
Wow.

By the way, burn that book!!!!

Emilie said...

Cynthia, you knew me back in the day, so you remember what I was like with Billy - how unhappy and anxious I was in that relationship. (And remember how much we admired Lew's marriage?!) So you are right: I do feel very lucky.

I also know how hard single motherhood can be, hearing you and my older sister talking about it. From what you write about Dion, I think you are a superb mom, and such a strong woman. I admire you so much! But I realize that doesn't make it less hard. You have a set of challenges that I don't. I just wish I lived closer to you so that I could do something real to make it easier for you, more than just pay lip service to your awesomeness!

Liz p. said...

I think those type of meltdowns can be very natural. I've thought about that sort of stuff before, a lot actually, and it is stressful without being pregnant and knowing that the reality will soon change.

And just so you know...I know that girlfriends aren't the same but I'm always up for coffee or even to come over and give you a break or a shower. You can call anytime!

Cynthia said...

Yes, Emilie, I do remember those Billy days, though i couldn't remember his name when wrote the earlier post. He crossed my mind when I wrote, "he gets you."
Billy never did. You were unhappy while dating him. Can you imagine what your life would have been like if it had matured into something else? You would have been walking on egg shells, sitting at home alone reading a book, while he went boating with his friends.
He was selfish then and I assume he is still selfish.
Stephen sounds like a wonderful man. And based on the pictures I've seen, not too bad to look at either. (smile)
I am so happy for you, Emilie.
I was also sad to hear that Lew and Salina (sp??) were getting a divorce. Anytime a marriage ends it's sad.

Emilie said...

Lew and Selina are getting a divorce???? All right, I'm taking this to e-mail.

Emilie said...

And Liz, I really do appreciate that! And I will probably take you up on your offer. :)

Ellen said...

Much love from the third sister!! Em, I love it when you mother me. And I'll be there for you when you need it, always. You will make a WONDERFUL mother!
I agree with Cynthia...BURN that book!! It sounds horrible. Look at how our parents have survived 41 years, four girls, two disabled boys, and mom was home the whole time without many friends around. And they are still as in love as the day they married.
Em, you will NOT be reduced to a caregiver and maid (oooh, BURN that book!). Being a "housewife" is underrated as an administrative occupation and Steve will respect and admire that because it's for the better of both your son and for the healthy home environment he's being brought up in. It's his son too, and he needs to know it's being nurtured and his home is being tended to by his awesome, smart wife that he adores, while he is providing financial support.
The love between you and Steve created this child, and as you both grow closer to holiness through the daily grind of raising a child, your marriage will grow in ways that are different than they have been where it was just the two of you. You and Steve have a strong foundation called your marriage vows that you took before God. I believe the lack of that in our society is probably why split-ups are more common.
There will be hard times, that's to be expected. But out of necessity, you will develop relationships with other women in the same boat as you. Read the Bible...there are countless scenarios where the women of the village and their children are together working and supporting each other and the men are working. Going to the well together every day is not as fun as being with their husbands, but that's life and women instinctually establish these social networks because that's how we stay strong and keep ourselves out of ruts, and yes, even our husbands can be ruts. I think mom, for example, gets out of her rut when Pam visits each summer from Hawaii and they hit all the antique stores in Portland, without dad! Women are programmed to do this...just look at those cliques of girls we used to despise in high school....
Em, your career is not over, because you can work when the son goes back to school. Or work part-time, but I am glad you are choosing to stay home in the beginning.
You will always be a writer and an editor, but maybe not as a career in the upcoming months. If you don't work for while, you can use your writing skills to make kick-ass newsletters for your child's school, for example. You will NOT become a helpless, ditzy housewife who is afraid to drive because that's not who you are. And you won't become that way because you are in a marriage where you don't have to compromise your great qualities (like you probably would have if you were with Billy). Instead, you will be an awesome, strong mom and teacher. Steve will understand how you feel at the end of the day because he's a GREAT guy who wants to make you happy. Perhaps you could reestablish your Wednesday night date nights to give you a mid-week break from your chores at home :-)
Now that I've gone all Dr. Laura on all yo' asses....

Christina said...

If only more adults took parenting as seriously as you do (sigh!)....

Thanks for sharing so openly, Emily. That was really poignant.

I was just wondering: Have you thought about freelancing from home? I think you'd be wonderful; you're always generating ideas and exploring curiosities.