I never once doubted my desire to have children. The husband, on the other hand, I wasn’t so sure about. For some reason, I always imagined being a mom but not being a wife. I was a feminist. I minored in women’s studies, and I wanted an equal partnership with a man. Actually, if I’m really honest with myself, I wanted to be the one with all the power. So, I resigned myself to the fact that I would stay single. Then, I went to college and went through having crushes of the week and a few flirtations. I never dated anyone, however. I guess you could say the power hungry me won out, until I vacationed in Italy and met my now husband in 2004.
He was so forward, so Italian, so hot, and so unlike any other man. He asked me when we’d get engaged the first night we met – at dinner with my cousin. I realized then that there are fewer things sexier than a man who is genuinely into you. After I left Italy, he sent me the most romantic texts, and we’d chat online into the wee hours of the morning. Not a day went by that we didn’t connect. Then, he sent me roses in my favorite shade of pink for my name day and announced he’d be coming to America with my cousin to visit me for Thanksgiving. He asked me to date him exclusively over gnocchi on our first date in New York’s Little Italy.
Suddenly, the idea of marriage seemed like Heaven, and I didn’t even think about the power struggle. I would get to keep this man all to myself in my heart and in my arms. And it didn’t hurt that my lifelong dream of having a baby of my own would be much easier to achieve. Plus, I’d have someone to share it all – the good, the bad, and the ugly. Before I got pregnant for the first time (a pregnancy that resulted in miscarriage), my husband expressed his concern that I would start ignoring him when a baby came along.
The discussion got me wondering about who should come first. Children or spouse? And I feared that if I chose children, then my marriage would suffer. After all, my husband was already feeling pangs of jealousy and we hadn’t even had kids yet. The answer to this epic dilemma came naturally and unexpectedly. In fact, my husband and I didn’t even realize it had come to us until we reflected on the early days of pregnancy and parenthood.
During that first pregnancy, I became ill almost immediately. I was bleeding from the start, and we knew the baby only had a 50/50 chance of survival. In the eight weeks of pregnancy, I basically confined myself to bed and gave up just about everything but work (which I was already doing from home anyway) in the hopes our baby would live. My husband supported that decision and prayed with me for the best outcome. Our baby didn’t make it. But during that time, we had chosen together to put our child before us. We didn’t do it consciously, but that is what we did. When we did our best to put the tragedy behind us, we rediscovered each other, took a vacation, and threw ourselves into each other’s arms. It was all about our love again.
Then, we were blessed in January of the following year, when we learned I was pregnant again. This time, things went significantly better. Still, we both put my health and the health of our child above all else. When our son was born, our whole world became about him. We changed our lives to help him when we recognized he had delayed speech. We stopped speaking Italian and turned to my native English, began spending hours each week on therapy, sometimes on our own and sometimes with a therapist. We went through all the necessary testing and had him placed in special education pre-school, where he is now thriving.
When these challenges present themselves, you just take charge and start doing whatever needs to be done to problem solve. You don’t even think about whether this is going to hurt your relationship. While my husband and I experienced some big lows during that time and our marriage nearly fell apart, we never completely forgot about each other. Standing on the other side right now, I can say we became stronger as a result of the difficulties. Even the arguing we did back then aided in strengthening our bond and uniting us. I’m certain more challenges will come. They always do.
In the end, I don’t think there’s a clear-cut answer to the question, “Should your kids come before your spouse?” The fact is that circumstance decides for you. Each moment, the answer might be different. That said, you both have to be willing to make sacrifices for your kids and be patient. When you do get the chance to dote on each other – whether it be a make-out session on the couch after the kids go to bed or a date night thanks to the grandparents – take advantage.
My husband and I often say that food and sex have kept us together through those times when our kid had to come first. Even when we were most at odds, we always broke bread together, and we always had sex, even if it was angry sex. We can’t resist good food or each other, and that’s the glue keeping us intact. Someday, well into the future, we’re going to have the time and capacity to get back to putting each other first. But for right now, we only get to do that once in a long while, and that’s perfectly all right with the both of us.