By Jancee Dunn
Two months into our daughter’s existence, my husband, Tom, and I nearly came to blows over whose turn it was to empty the Diaper Genie, whose plastic entrails had become bloated and coiled like a postprandial Burmese python. Normally we’re peaceable types, so the volcanic ferocity of our anger surprised us both. I remember glancing down at my hands, clutching the Genie sack, and envisioning them around Tom’s neck. When he yelled that he did it “last time,” I hollered back that I had carried and delivered the baby “the last time.” This was a tired, if effective, retort.
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On this upcoming day of celebrating mothers, here’s a cautionary note, something many mothers-to-be don’t expect when they’re expecting: If you have a husband, you will hate him when your kid is born. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Don’t be fooled by the pictures on your social media feed of your friends serenely beaming with their infants. When they’re not letting you know they’re #SoBlessed, they’re probably fighting.
Perhaps the single most widely cited piece of research on marriage and children comes from couples’ therapists John and Julie Gottman, who found that 67 percent of couples are less satisfied with their marriages after having a baby. A 2009 study of first-time parents in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that a scant 7 percent of mothers reported feeling more satisfied with their marriage, compared with 15 percent of fathers. (As of now, the available research is much more robust for heterosexual couples.) Many factors conspire to shorten a new parent’s fuse: hallucinatory fatigue, zigzagging hormones, a fraught learning curve, and, as one paper I read noted succinctly, “increased interactions with medical professionals.”
All the advice for new parents about sleep schedules and burping techniques would be much more helpful if the belligerence of the early days of parenthood was more openly addressed—as well as how gendered that unhappiness often is. Take the contested terrain of sleep deprivation. Researchers from the U.K.’s Mindlab International found that while a baby’s cry was the No. 1 sound most likely to wake a woman, it didn’t even figure into the male top ten, lagging behind car alarms and strong wind. They theorized that these differing sensitivities may have an evolutionary basis: Women are more attuned to threats to their offspring while men are more responsive to threats to the clan (e.g., the Toyota being jacked in the night).