Tag Archives: Child birth

It Doesn’t Jive Because We’d Just Assume Do Things the Wrong Way

Ptolemy's geocentric model of the solar system

Everything revolves around Earth. We can actually “prove” that. Right? (Image/Khan Academy)

Donkey wrote: “Matt has a post about leaving his crying wife in the hospital after giving birth/having a C-section. Lisa said her husband did something similar (he now can’t believe how he could do that, so credit to him and Matt both for having realized the extreme shittiness of that. Grrrr. Honestly, thinking about it just makes me feel some kind of immense primal rage).
“Do you have any idea as to the thought process of a shitty husband (who isn’t a Dick who gets off on abusing his wife) who makes that ok in his mind? That after 9 months (usually) of pregnancy and the woman, really, risking her life during childbirth/ C-section often suffering through a lot of pain, and then is also left alone with their newborn, it’s ok for him to go to get a good night sleep and leave his crying wife who’s begging him to stay alone?
“I can understand that some people wouldn’t be hurt by a dish by the sink and all of that (and we’ve already had the conversation about accepting influence even if you don’t understand), and I remember Matt saying it was hard for him to empathize with people’s physical discomfort that ha couldn’t relate to. I understand that men can’t really get how pregnancy/birth feels like. But still, isn’t childbirth very much accepted as a VERY Big Deal, a painful and stressful and high risk deal in our society, and that the role of the modern man is to support his wife however she needs? I would think leaving your wife alone after childbirth when she’s crying and begging you to stay would be just as obvious a faux pas as cheating (again, for me, I believe I’d rather have the father of my child cheat on me with 10 prostitutes than leave me crying alone in the hospital after having our baby).
“Matt, if you have any more explanations of your thought process you want to share, I would appreciate that too of course. I’m really just trying to understand the (faulty and frankly, like Lisa said, narcissistic) thought process, because I just don’t get it.”

I left my crying wife alone in the hospital like an asshole just hours after she delivered our son via emergency C-section.

It was a long and difficult labor for her. The doctor induced labor 26 hours and 24 minutes prior to the time of delivery, give or take a few minutes or a false memory.

The anxiety, fear, stress and physical discomfort my wife felt after nine months of pregnancy, followed by a long, painful, vulnerably exposed and at times terrifying delivery ending in emergency surgery, is something only a mother could possibly know.

I won’t pretend to.

But I can understand today in a way I did not eight years ago, what a betrayal and moment of abandonment that was for my ex-wife. She was in pain, frightened, and needed someone simply to BE PRESENT with her. To feel loved and supported. And she asked me to stay. Begged, even.

And I made a different choice.

After years of reflection and additional wisdom earned only by living longer, I can see and understand how much that moment damaged my relationship in a way I couldn’t at the time. I think it’s probably the worst thing I’ve ever done.

Not only did I not recognize that moment for what it was, when my wife would bring it up later as an instance in which I hurt her, I’d actually get mad at her for holding grudges and using the past against me. I’d treat her like she was the problem because she had anger issues she needed to work out. Like there was something wrong with her, because clearly there is nothing wrong with me!

After all, everyone else liked me and thought I was a great guy. She must be wrong since she’s the only one saying it!

I didn’t do all of those things as part of some meticulously planned and conspiratorial attempt to inflict maximum emotional damage on my newborn son’s mother—the woman I vowed to love forever—nor did I defend myself in later disagreements as part of a thoughtful strategy to make her feel shitty, push her away and ultimately destroy my marriage, leaving my little boy with divorced parents and a broken home.

What was the thought process? 

There kind of wasn’t one.

I thought my choices were, if not “best,” at least reasonable every step of the way, and at any point in which there was disagreement, I believed I was correct, and that she was incorrect.

I Make Mistakes Like Every Known Human, Ever

For 1,500 years, early astronomers used Ptolemy’s geocentric model of the solar system to create astronomical charts. “Geocentric” means Earth is the center of the universe, and everything in the night sky is orbiting around it.

Today, we know this isn’t true. Nicolaus Copernicus got suspicious and theorized we were actually the ones moving around the sun. Later, Italian genius Galileo Galilei proved it.

But for 1,500 years prior, every educated person in the world believed the sun revolved around Earth. And it wasn’t because everyone was a bunch of stupid morons. Given the mathematical parameters and limited technology of that time, you can PROVE Ptolemy’s model.

For 1,500 years, every scientist, navigator, educator and thought leader in the world knew how the sun, moon and stars would move in the sky. They could “prove” it convincingly by accurately predicting what would happen next, even though EVERYTHING about their prediction model was based on something completely untrue.

(Note: The following is NOT directed at you, Donkey. I genuinely appreciate your question, and it’s my pleasure to write more about it, because it’s important. I’m simply trying to illustrate my point further.)

You’d just assume your husband or boyfriend cheat on you with 10 prostitutes as opposed to leaving you alone at the hospital after giving birth?

No.

You’d just as soon have that happen.

That doesn’t jive with your expectations of a husband and new father?

No.

It doesn’t jibe with your expectations.

Because I’ve had some wonderful editors through the years who have taught me things, I no longer make the common mistake of saying or writing “assume” when I mean “as soon,” nor do I make the even more-common mistake of saying or writing “jive” when I really mean “jibe.”

I learned the “assume” one in my early twenties when I was the editor of a semi-large university newspaper and working as a summer intern for a daily newspaper. I learned the “jive” one in my late twenties after more than 10 years of being paid to write things.

I didn’t use the two phrases incorrectly on purpose. I remember feeling quite a bit of embarrassment when I realized how many times I must have used each phrase incorrectly up to that point, and how some of the people who heard or read that from me knew I was an ignorant dumbass.

Until I was in a very specific, focused moment in which someone with more knowledge and experience than me corrected my mistake and helped me learn from it, I never even had reason to question the legitimacy of my word usage.

I KNEW I was correct. You know? Even though I was actually incorrect?

You Are Biased and Selfish Without Realizing It

That’s the first of eight reasons Why You Can’t Trust Yourself, according to one of my favorite writers, Mark Manson.

He writes:

“There’s a thing in psychology called the Actor-Observer Bias and it basically says that we’re all assholes.

“For example, if you’re at an intersection and somebody else runs a red light, you will probably think they’re a selfish, inconsiderate scumbag putting the rest of the drivers in danger just to shave a couple seconds off their drive.

“On the other hand, if you are the one who runs the red light, you’ll come to all sorts of conclusions about how it’s an innocent mistake, how the tree was blocking your view, and how running a red light never really hurt anybody.

“Same action, but when someone else does it they’re a horrible person; when you do it, it’s an honest mistake.

“We all do this. And we especially do it in situations of conflict. When people talk about someone who pissed them off for one reason or another, they invariably describe the other person’s actions as senseless, reprehensible, and motivated by a malicious intent to inflict suffering.

“However, when people talk about times when they inflicted harm on someone else, as you might suspect, they can come up with all sorts of reasons about how their actions were reasonable and justified. The way they see it, they had no choice to do what they did. They see the harm experienced by the other person as minor and they think that being blamed for causing it is unjust and unreasonable.

“Both views can’t be right. In fact, both views are wrong. Follow-up studies by psychologists found that both perpetrators and the victims distort the facts of a situation to fit their respective narratives.

“Steven Pinker refers to this as the ‘Moralization Gap.’ It means that whenever a conflict is present, we overestimate our own good intentions and underestimate the intentions of others. This then creates a downward spiral where we believe others deserve more severe punishment and we deserve less severe punishment.

“This is all unconscious, of course. People, while doing this, think they’re being completely reasonable and objective. But they’re not.”

What if We Assumed the Best About One Another?

I don’t pose the question as any sort of defense of the behavior I now believe to have been emotionally abusive.

But the validity of the question remains: How much better might our relationships be if, when something happens and we’re missing too much information to KNOW why it happened, we tell ourselves the most generous, best-possible story to explain it rather than the most cynical, or worst-possible explanation?

One of the most famous and important scenes in the Harry Potter saga takes place near the end of the sixth (second-to-last) book. You either know the story and what I’m talking about, or you should start reading the Harry Potter books right now. Yes, adults. Even you.

Seconds before death, a beloved character faces his killer and says “Please.”

It seems like a man begging for his life to be spared. But his life isn’t spared. Other characters in the book are horrified, as are the emotionally invested readers.

In the absence of information we later learn, the killing seems like the malicious work of an evil murderer. But once the story is told fully, we realize the killer was actually GOOD, and the dying man’s “please” wasn’t a mercy plea, but rather a request for his secret ally to kill him in order to protect a confused teenager from becoming a murderer or from suffering punishment for refusing to.

Not unlike the scientific community during the Ptolemaic period of astronomy versus the scientific community today, we believed one thing under one set of facts, and as more information was gathered, we came to believe something else, which turned out to be the truth.

I left my wife alone in that hospital because I didn’t know better.

It wasn’t my fault. It was simply my responsibility.

We don’t know what we don’t know.

We make choices, learning things along the way. Stuff happens, and we are all constantly interpreting the things happening around us with limited information. Sometimes we’re right. Much of the time, we’re wrong.

In this case, I was wrong, and am deeply sorry for the damage I caused. There are millions of guys out there doing these exact same things. Hurting their spouses accidentally, even when they are told their actions are hurtful. They STILL don’t know. It’s the Secret About Men Most Women Don’t Know.

But I can’t do anything about yesterday. I can only do something about tomorrow.

Life’s too short. I want to live it well.

That jibes with who I want to be. Because I’d just as soon be part of the solution.

By actually doing things the right way.

…..

Like this post? Hate it? You can subscribe to this blog by scrolling annoyingly far to the bottom of this page and inserting your email address under “Follow Blog via Email.” You can also follow MBTTTR on Twitter and Facebook.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

The Worst Thing I’ve Ever Done

face-in-hands

Between acting like my wife should hurry up and get over the unexpected death of her father because it was damaging our marriage, and my nonchalant denial of her postpartum depression following our son’s birth, I can’t decide which is my greatest failure on my journey toward divorce.

I wake up every day believing I’m a good person, but maybe I’m not.

My failure to adequately support my wife after losing a parent was largely a function of a million previous tiny failures culminating in her breaking point in the midst of grief. When everything hurts, you need someone you can trust to help take some of the pain away. I’d stopped being that a long time ago. I just didn’t know it yet.

I thought she had been nitpicky, overly emotional and occasionally unfair for the previous seven years. Like most guys, I was selfish and clueless.

So, here’s a secret I’ve never told anyone: I have a sociopathic trait. I lack the ability to empathize with the physical pain of others.

When I read books, or hear someone describe something I’ve never seen, my brain dials up images, but what I visually imagine is almost never what reality looks like when I get to see whatever the thing is. And maybe that’s why I struggle with relating to the physical pain of others. Because I can’t properly imagine it.

I am quite sensitive to emotional pain—especially if I’ve been through something similar to a hurting person, or can adequately imagine what it would be like to.

That matters for two reasons: I wasn’t appreciating how much physical discomfort my wife was experiencing during pregnancy, and because I was an ignorant mook, I also failed to grasp the fear, stress and anxiety she might have been feeling worrying about both child delivery, first, then the following 18 years of being responsible for the safety and wellbeing of an actual person.

I was texting friends from the chair next to her bed while she was in labor. I was updating them on her and the baby’s status, so I thought I was doing something important. My wife expressed displeasure with my choice. She wanted me to be fully present and engaged with her, demonstrating my commitment to her, and reinforcing in her mind and heart that I would always be at her side through life’s difficult moments.

These are things I understand today. They make perfect sense, because today I am less of an ignorant mook. But on that day seven and a half years ago, none of that made sense.

The mere act of marrying her demonstrates my commitment to her forever, I thought.

OF COURSE she knows based on thousands of conversations how much I value being a good father.

OF COURSE she knows she’s loved.

OF COURSE she knows she can count on me.

She knows me well enough. She knows I’m a good person.

I wasn’t illogical for assuming and believing that. I was just profoundly ignorant. I think most guys are because no one ever explains it to us in a way that ever computes and resonates.

I would never consider something more important than the birth of my son. But texting friends while my wife was in labor—no matter how uneventful or undramatic it seemed to me—felt to her precisely like I cared more about doing what I wanted than being there for her in her most-vulnerable moments.

I would never physically abandon my crying wife. But that’s exactly what I did. She cried. She asked me not to go. But I’m stubborn and moronic and had it in my head that I needed to be well rested for the days ahead per the advice of other fathers.

I left my crying wife alone in a hospital room just hours removed from an emergency C-section where she struggled to breastfeed a screaming child who didn’t want to with nurses who made her feel like she just wasn’t trying hard enough.

Why?

So I could sleep, shower, send photos to family and friends, and revel in the amazing feeling of being a father to a newborn son.

I hope you believe me when I tell you how reasonable it seemed at the time.

In the context of my nine-year marriage? It’s the single worst thing I’ve ever done.

Then I Made it Worse By Suggesting Postpartum Depression Wasn’t Real 

My wife developed postpartum depression.

My lack of education about hormone loss and the psychological impact of childbirth on a new mother, combined with my lack of respect for mental and emotional health issues across the board, were just the ingredients needed to make me a profoundly negligent asshole in the early months of our son’s life.

I thought postpartum depression amounted to mental weakness.

I thought it was something “crazy” people feel, like Andrea Yates who drowned five of her children in the family bathtub.

I thought it was tantamount to my wife not loving our infant son.

This is just a phase she’ll get over, I thought.

She’s emotional sometimes, but I know she isn’t crazy!

I know she loves our baby.

Instead of reading books, talking to other parents, researching PPD or even just actively seeking ways to help my wife in whatever way I could make the difficult adjustment to parenthood, I played a lot of online poker and watched football and convinced myself I was a good husband and father because I have a kind heart.

I hope when she thinks back on those days, she remembers at least something positive about me, but I can’t say with certainty that she can, or that she should.

She tried to talk to me about it later. About the PPD. About how sad and afraid and alone she felt in the hospital when I’d left her there. About how she wanted me to actively participate in the planning and organization of our new life as parents.

But instead of apologizing with heartfelt sincerity for hurting my wife so badly, I’d get angry with her and accuse her of looking for yet another reason to complain about me even though I was such a good guy. Good guys are well liked and get told what good guys they are all the time, so when their wives point out their shortcomings in a relationship, all the “good guys” resort to the old: “How is it that the person I married is the one always bitching about me?” Because if no one else is bitching about you, they must all be right, and your crazy emo wife must be wrong.

Postpartum depression, according to the Mayo Clinic, typically requires professional treatment, including therapy sessions and, when applicable, anti-depressant medication.

The Mayo Clinic lists the following things mothers suffering from PPD can do to speed up recovery:

Make healthy lifestyle choices. Include physical activity, such as a walk with your baby, in your daily routine. Try to get adequate rest. Eat healthy foods and avoid alcohol.

Only a mother with a thoughtful and attentive husband can realistically expect to get the sleep, healthy food preparation, and time (not to mention energy) for physical activity to achieve a healthy lifestyle and overcome PPD.

Set realistic expectations. Don’t pressure yourself to do everything. Scale back your expectations for the perfect household. Do what you can and leave the rest.

A new mother only feels like she has to do everything when her partner doesn’t have her back.

Make time for yourself. If you feel like the world is coming down around you, take some time for yourself. Get dressed, leave the house, and visit a friend or run an errand. Or schedule some time alone with your partner.

There are only enough hours in the day when all of a household’s responsibilities are tended to. Time alone with a partner only works when the partner makes himself available for such things.

Avoid isolation. Talk with your partner, family and friends about how you’re feeling. Ask other mothers about their experiences. Breaking the isolation may help you feel human again.

When my wife tried to talk to me about it, I basically invalidated her condition and dismissed it as a figment of her imagination. “You’re a great mother,” I kept saying, as if you can’t be a great mother AND feel uncontrollably depressed due to a variety of hormonal and psychological conditions I was largely responsible for creating in the first place.

Ask for help. Try to open up to the people close to you and let them know you need help. If someone offers to baby-sit so you can take a break, take them up on it. If you can sleep, take a nap, or maybe you can catch a movie or meet for coffee with friends.

She tried to talk to me. Several times. She asked me for help. And I denied her my help by suggesting there was nothing to worry about. Instead of trying to understand how she felt and working diligently to figure out what more I could do to help, I pretended everything was fine and left her to fend for herself.

Maybe I did that because it was easier than working hard.

Maybe I let my wife run the show because I didn’t want the responsibility or the hassle.

Maybe every single thing about our lives would be different had I made the right choices.

There were countless little moments where I failed my wife. Where I didn’t work harder to understand her or speak to her in ways that conveyed my sincere desire to be a good partner.

But until I ditched my crying wife at the hospital to catch a few winks, left all the new-parenting heavy lifting to her, and never once apologized or took responsibility for it, I hadn’t actually destroyed my family.

There’s no such thing as time travel. And there’s not enough Christmas magic to rewind clocks and unflip calendars.

But if anyone’s wondering what I’m most sorry for in my entire life, now you know.

…..

Like this post? Hate it? You can subscribe to this blog by scrolling annoyingly far to the bottom of this page and inserting your email address under “Follow Blog via Email.” You can also follow MBTTTR on Twitter and Facebook.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Unfit for Fatherhood

Image courtesy of The Huffington Post.

Image courtesy of The Huffington Post.

The baby wouldn’t come.

Push.

My wife was in pain. There was a large audience of doctors and nurses. I don’t remember how many. It must have been the most vulnerable she had ever felt.

I was 29. And clueless. And worthless. And helpless.

Just standing there with my mouth half open. I’d squeeze her hand. I’d mutter “C’mon, baby,” more to my wife than the baby.

But, no baby.

The labor had been a long one.

Push.

Our child was not coming. The doctors were monitoring heart rates and blood pressures and all those things we normally take for granted that can turn a typically happy occasion into a tragic one.

“Okay. No more. We’ve got to take her to surgery,” the doctor said.

I just looked at her.

She told me it would be okay. Someone handed me scrubs to wear.

Surrealism had taken hold as I was shuffled into the operating room where everyone was preparing for emergency surgery.

My wife was exhausted. I’d never seen her like that. The anesthesiologist was going to work.

Because I had never experienced anything like what was happening, fear took over as I watched her eyes roll into the back of her head—almost a total loss of consciousness.

I didn’t know what was happening. Just that a bunch of strangers were cutting my wife open and that I didn’t want her to die.

Everything was happening so fast. At 8:24 p.m., I heard crying.

Our baby.

A nurse carried a messy little bundle of human toward me.

“Can you tell the gender?” she said with a smile.

A boy.

I have a son.

To my left, nurses were cleaning and poking and prodding a flailing, crying little boy that I was now responsible for turning into a functional human being.

To my right, doctors were stitching up that baby’s exhausted mother.

I would look left. My son.

Then right. My wife.

They were going to be okay.

Once cleaned and swaddled and outfitted with a teeny tiny baby hat, they put our son in my arms. Mom had done all the work, times a million, and I got to hold him first. It seemed unfair. She just smiled at him. Mission accomplished.

He was okay.

She was okay.

My wife had just spent 158 years (in labor time) trying to deliver a baby and getting cut open. She was starving. The hospital gave her cold, shitty chicken fingers. I don’t remember how much she ate.

Eventually, the baby was given to mom. He needed fed.

The breastfeeding wasn’t going particularly well. Our stubborn little son wasn’t cooperating. The brand new mother must have been terrified and feeling extraordinarily helpless.

It was late and I was getting tired. I had some people tell me that I should really try hard to get sleep because between the two parents, it would be good to have one mentally sharp for sound decision making. I somehow got it in my head I was going to go home and get sleep and come back in the morning.

My wife. Exhausted from the past two days. Frightened. We have a newborn! And the only people there to help are strangers.

And she asked me to stay. She needed me to stay with her. I remember her crying.

“It’s going to be okay,” I tried to tell her. “I can’t help you, and the nurses can. I’ll be back first thing in the morning.”

My wife—this brand-new mother—was feeling as frightened and vulnerable and exhausted as she had ever felt before.

She didn’t want me there to “help.” She wanted me there because she needed to feel safe. To know I had her back. To feel loved. To feel the security of knowing this new little person she had just brought into the world had a father who could be counted on. To feel the security of knowing she and that little boy would never be abandoned.

I didn’t know. I wasn’t smart enough. I thought she was being needy, overly dramatic and emotional.

You know. Like a girl.

And on her very first night of motherhood, I left her.

Scared and alone.

The First Year

Everything changes when you bring a baby home for the first time. Everything.

You either know EXACTLY what this feels like, or you don’t.

The dynamics of the house and the rhythm of life get turned upside down.

In the beginning, everything’s an emergency. Everything’s a challenge. That’s why parents of newborns rent U-Haul trucks just to travel with all the stuff you need to accommodate a miniature human only capable of performing three tasks, four if you count sleeping.

A million little decisions need made throughout a child’s first year of life. A million little things need coordinated.

Where do you put things in the house?

What’s the sleep and feeding schedule?

Who will take care of the baby once we go back to work?

Holy shit, holy shit, holy shit.

I’ve known A LOT of people in my life. A lot of mothers. And to be sure, many of them are amazing women.

But, purely as someone to handle the logistics of baby nurturing? To manage the tasks? My wife was unbelievable. The best I’ve ever seen, bar none.

She was so good, in fact, that I didn’t matter much at all. I did what I could and was always there to assist. But assertiveness? I didn’t display any. If there was a decision to be made or a task to be managed? It always fell to her.

The resentment started to build. She became angrier. I became more defensive.

Who are you? Andrea Yates?

My wife told me she wasn’t feeling well. She even spelled it out for me: Postpartum depression.

I thought that was code for “I’m a shitty, unstable person who doesn’t love this innocent baby as much as you.”

All I could think of was the Andrea Yates story—the mother in Texas who drowned five of her own children in the bathtub in 2001.

There is no way my wife is crazy like Yates! Postpartum depression! What!? She doesn’t love our kid!?

I completely blew her off.

We used to argue about apologies, my wife and I.

She thinks you’re supposed to apologize when you hurt people, no matter what. (You are.)

And I often argued that when things are done accidentally, they perhaps should be treated differently than something done maliciously. Like the difference between accidentally killing a pedestrian with your car versus premeditated murder.

She thought I was ridiculous.

“Why can’t you just say you’re sorry?” she’d ask.

But being right was more important to me than helping my wife feel better, I guess. Instead of hugging her and telling her how sorry I was, and demonstrating respect for her feelings, I essentially told her that her feelings were bullshit and I had done nothing wrong, or that she was blowing the situation out of proportion.

I was so ashamed that I could upset my wife this much. I was so defensive because I was a nice guy who everyone liked and no one ever got upset with. And I was too much of a stubborn child to swallow my pride and say and do what needed to be said and done.

I was too much of a child to act like a man.

I heard the words she was saying. I heard them, but didn’t hear them.

She was reaching out for help. “I think I’m experiencing some postpartum depression.”

But I didn’t respect her, or the physical and mental impact that our bodies’ naturally produced chemicals (or a lack thereof) can have on us.

Depression is something crazy people feel.

Depression is something unhappy people feel.

Depression is something people not like us feel.

After a mother gives birth, she will often experience a sudden drop in the hormones estrogen and progesterone. Her chemical makeup will completely change. Plus, her entire lifestyle just changed overnight. Plus, she is sleep deprived and overwhelmed by… everything.

And all she wants is the support of her loved ones. The support of her son’s father. The support of her husband.

But I shrugged her off. I probably had something much more important going on.

“You’re fine, babe,” I told her. “Everything’s going to be okay.”

Just like the doctor had told me.

We were both wrong.

Tagged , , , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: