After learning I was pregnant in December of last year I immediately embraced the idea of being a radical young mom. I was thrilled about planning a water birth at home, about babywearing, sleep sharing, cloth diapering, maintaining a vegetarian diet, questioning vaccines, etc. Excited about the baby but suddenly thrust into a whole new world of pressure, my partner was much more skeptical than enthusiastic about many of my parenting ideals.
The pregnancy was a total surprise for both of us — we’d only been together a few months and didn’t know each other all that well. Probably, if I’d had any idea about how different our personal beliefs and priorities really were, I never would have imagined raising a child with this man. But here we were, both committed to a baby and, almost by default, to each other.
The reality of having a baby brought our differences to light. I began to think of myself as a warrior, fighting hard for the pregnancy, birth, and parenting experience that I wanted passionately and saw as spiritually and psychologically necessary for the well-being of my baby and myself. I began to assume that Peter would disagree or make fun of my ideas even before he had a chance to do either. But I was complacent about our disagreements. I felt my convictions were justified, and, most of the time, I was confident that I could do it all by myself if I had to, because it was that important for everything to happen the “right” way.
As soon as we met our midwife, Marcia, Peter was on board with homebirth. She had the charm and authority I lacked to convince him of its spirituality and safety. Our visits went very well and Peter easily made friends with Marcia and her husband. Meanwhile, I collected cloth diapers, a Moby wrap, and the Dr. Sears library, and neglected to get a crib. Peter consented to natural birth classes and learned all about how to help me have a baby. Things were going according to plan.
Convinced I would go to 42 weeks with a nine pound baby like my mother and grandmother before me, I was shocked by a tiny gush of water early one morning, just shy of 39 weeks. I called Marcia and our roommates helped us get the house ready for the big event. We waited 36 immeasurably frustrating hours for contractions to begin, and begin they did! But most of the night passed in a haze, probably because I had a fever. I didn’t really register Marcia’s concern, I was only vaguely aware of Peter hovering, massaging me often and becoming increasingly distracting.
After two Tylenol, the fever broke, and I’d had enough of being touched. I slapped Peter’s hands away, and the hurt I felt radiating from him then was even more powerful than the contractions. I sensed him slump down on the couch across the room, utterly dejected. I was reminded of the day I met him and how profoundly he struck me then. I finally realized, “Hey! I love this guy,” and, “We are having a baby.” I went back over to him and asked for his hands again.
We got into the tub together, and the overwhelming relief of the warm water was nothing so sweet as the joy on Peter’s face when he first saw the baby’s head.
At first it was an added discomfort, but I wanted badly to include him in labor. I felt, a bit grudgingly, that I had to accept his presence as an aspect of bringing Baby into the world, just as I’d had to accept contractions, and I began to redirect some of my effort into letting him help me. Very soon we were standing, me clinging to him as I started to push. We got into the tub together, and the overwhelming relief of the warm water was nothing so sweet as the joy on Peter’s face when he first saw the baby’s head. Then, transcending even the beauty of that expression, his hands were the first to touch our little girl, and he placed her on my chest.
Whatever our differences they are superficial in the wake of the feeling Peter and I shared in the moments of our daughter’s birth. The reward of her in my arms that day, and every day since, erases the struggle over what she’s wearing and where she sleeps. I’m learning to emphasize the motivations for my preferences as I try to compromise with a less-than-readily-off-beat co-parent. Actually, the dialogue has really helped me to fully consider and examine my parenting choices much more thoroughly than I probably would have ever done with a more like-minded partner. It’s still challenging and will likely stay that way, but cutting him out was a destructive solution. The best thing has been to try to be understanding toward someone who is just as new to this as I am, and to accept his contribution and perspective with gratitude.