Most mornings, I get up and make my husband’s coffee and breakfast before he leaves for work. I realize this makes me sound like the perfect 1950s housewife, but I assure you that our marriage is far from Leave it to Beaver territory. Jon moved out of his parents’ house when he was 17; he’s a very self-sufficient person. There aren’t many areas where I feel like I can take care of him, so fixing him a hot breakfast before work has become my routine. There’s almost always a fried egg sandwich wrapped in a paper towel and a travel mug of coffee perched on the edge of the counter for him by 6:45 a.m., and on frosty mornings I frequently dart outside, wrapping my robe tightly against the biting cold, to start his car and allow the windshield to defrost.
The Morning After, I don't make his breakfast. Instead, I pretend to still be asleep as he leaves our bedroom, shutting the door softly behind him. I wonder if maybe he is pretending I am asleep, too. I stay there, cocooned in the blankets, until our children get up. I make breakfasts, brush teeth, pack lunches and drop them off at school, then come home and crawl right back in bed. I curl up in the darkness and lie motionless. The tears don’t come—I spent them all the night before. But a dull ache settles in the pit of my belly as I stare at the wall. One question pounds in my head:
What do we do now?
The night before
My hands worry the edge of the soft blue throw covering my legs. I bite my lip and tuck my hair behind one ear—a dead giveaway of my churning anxiety. I raise my green eyes to hold his brown ones. My breath catches in my throat.
“I really want a third baby,” I whisper.
This is it. After months of dancing around this conversation with jokes-that-aren’t-quite-jokes, I’m finally brave enough to name what it is I want. My heart beats a staccato rhythm to fill the silence as I wait for my husband’s response.
Jon always keeps his emotions tightly reined in. It’s nearly impossible to read his face and know what he’s feeling, even for me, after 14 years of practice. But when I see the slight tightening of his jaw and how his brow pulls together just a bit, his wounded look, I know.
“I really don’t.”
It’s the answer I expect. For all of my hint-dropping about a third child, Jon has been equally clear that he considers our family complete in its current state. His words do not surprise me, and yet they still suck the air from my lungs. My face crumples. I duck my head and let my hair curtain my tears from his view. Jon says nothing as he lets me cry, but one hand hesitantly smoothes the hair back from my face. He needs to see me.
“I’m sorry, Love,” he murmurs. He gives me his reasons: he’s happy with our family as it is; we have two healthy children and I’ve had two healthy pregnancies—why tempt fate trying for another? He talks about the bond our son and daughter share, and his fear of how adding a third would alter the dynamic. I don’t object to his concerns, and none of them catch me off guard. Each one resides in the “Cons” column of the list I’ve made in my head, not the least of which is the guilt I feel over this deep longing for a third child. It sounds so … indulgent, when there are many, many women aching for their first.
But I want more faces around my table at Thanksgiving years from now. I want more hugs, more laughter, and yes, more mayhem. I want another baby. My husband does not.
We continue to talk (or really, I bargain and he patiently deflects) until past midnight. I am emotionally spent, and when I glance in the bathroom mirror as I wash my face with ice-cold water, I register my bloodshot eyes and red, puffy cheeks. I'm going to look like hell tomorrow, I note. Somehow, it fits.
I cross our room and help Jon fold back the covers in silence. We crawl into bed and, right before I flip onto my side, he speaks into the darkness between us.
“I can’t say I’ll never want another one,” he says, I assume in an effort to comfort me. “Who knows how I’ll feel in 10 years.”
“Ten years?” I wince. I’ll be in my mid-40s then. We’ll have two teenagers. He may not know how he’ll feel, but I know for damn sure how I will.
It’s now or never.
He says it can’t be now.
I don’t want it to be never.
Rock, meet hard place.
Jon and I have spent most of our relationship on the same page. We are both rational, logical decision-makers, so even when we disagree, we keep working until we find a compromise. Psychologists call it win-win problem solving, and they hold it up as the gold standard of conflict resolution. We excel at it, which has fed our arrogance. Even as we enter a season of life when some of our friends’ marriages are falling apart, we didn’t worry. That won’t be us. We are too good at this.
Or we were, until now that someone has to lose. Now there are only questions where there was once certainty and we both see how a marriage can be eaten alive, not by a difference of opinions but by how that difference is handled.
How do you decide who wins and who loses? And how does the loser avoid sinking into anger and sadness that breed resentment and permanently fracture the relationship? I don’t know the answers to these questions and I desperately, achingly need them.
You see, there’s something else I excel at: holding grudges. God may remove our transgressions from us as far as the east is from the west, but I keep them much closer than that. I let my hurts and disappointments and perceived slights nestle deep within me. The problem is, that’s where my love for Jon lives, too.
How do pain and love coexist? Is it even possible, or does one eventually crowd the other out? And what happens if the pain is stronger than the love?
By the time Jon comes home from work on the Day After, I am out of bed but still just as miserable. Unlike that morning, I don’t hide from him though. I wrap my arms around his waist and lean my head against his chest in the middle of our kitchen. He holds me tightly and rests his chin on top of my head.
“How was your day?” I murmur.
“Terrible,” he says softly. I look up at him, surprised. Jon’s day is always “fine,” or “okay.” Sometimes “good,” if something really incredible happens, like a raise.
“I’ve been sad all day.”
Oh. It shouldn’t catch me off guard, but it does. Jon, my even-keel husband. The one I tease about having no emotions because his reactions are always so guarded. The man I’ve never seen cry in all of our 14 years together, has said that he’s sad. Sad, like me.
As we stand there in silence, holding onto each other’s grief, I feel lighter for the first time all day. A tiny flicker of hope sparks in the air around us. I can’t see the way forward yet, but I can feel what direction it will take us in.
We didn’t feel better until we turned our attention from ourselves to each other.
The next morning, I get up and make his breakfast. And four days later, I sit on the end of a couch in a therapist’s office, my legs tucked beneath me and my sadness spread out between us. How do I get over this, I want to know. How do I make sure I don’t resent him the rest of my life?
It began with just us two, and regardless of the number of children we have, it’ll be just us again someday. Preserving us is my biggest concern. Not winning the argument or having another child. I’m okay with losing, as long as I get to keep my husband. Some days are bad days. Some nights I retreat to our bed and cry alone. I vacillate between talking to Jon (because I tell him everything) and hiding my pain from him because I know it hurts him, too.
Last night was one of those nights. But this morning, I got up and made his breakfast. The cars were frosty, so I went out and started his to let it warm and melt the ice off the windshield. We said little to each other and our embrace was tentative, but I didn’t hide.
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