Kristen had dreamed of having children since she was herself a child and had always thought that she would love motherhood as much as she would love her babies. “I know that being a mom will be demanding,” she told me once. “But I don’t think it will change me much. I’ll still have my life, and our baby will be part of it.” She envisioned long walks through the neighborhood with Emily. She envisioned herself mastering the endlessly repeating three-hour cycle of playing, feeding, sleeping, and diaper changing. Most of all, she envisioned a full parenting partnership, in which I’d help whenever I was home—morning, nighttime, and weekends. Of course, I didn’t know any of this until she told me, which she did after Emily was born. At first, the newness of parenthood made it seem as though everything was going according to our expectations. We’ll be up all day and all night for a few weeks, but then we’ll hit our stride and our lives will go back to normal, plus one baby. Kristen took a few months off from work to focus all of her attention on Emily, knowing that it would be hard to juggle the contradicting demands of an infant and a career. She was determined to own motherhood. “We’re still in that tough transition,” Kristen would tell me, trying to console Emily at four A.M. “Pretty soon, we’ll find our routine. I hope.” But things didn’t go as we had planned. There were complications with breast-feeding. Emily wasn’t gaining weight; she wouldn’t eat, wouldn’t sleep, wouldn’t play. She was born in December, when it was far too cold to go for walks outdoors. While I was at work, Kristen would sit on the floor with Emily in the dark—all the lights off, all the shades closed—and cry. She’d think about her friends, all of whom had made motherhood look so easy with their own babies. “Mary had no problem breast-feeding,” she’d tell me. “Jenny said that these first few months had been her favorite. Why can’t I get the hang of this?” I didn’t have any answers, but still I offered solutions, none of which she wanted to hear: “Talk to a lactation consultant about the feeding issues.” “Establish a routine and stick to it.” Eventually, she stopped talking altogether. While Kristen struggled, I watched from the sidelines, unaware that she needed help. I excused myself from the nighttime and morning responsibilities, as the interruptions to my daily schedule became too much for me to handle. We didn’t know this was because of a developmental disorder; I just looked incredibly selfish. I contributed, but not fully. I’d return from work, and Kristen would go upstairs to sleep for a few hours while I’d carry Emily from room to room, gently bouncing her as I walked, trying to keep her from crying. But eventually eleven o’clock would roll around and I’d go to bed, and Kristen would be awake the rest of the night with her. The next morning, I would wake up and leave for work, while Kristen stared down the barrel of another day alone. To my surprise, I grew increasingly disappointed in her: She wanted to have children. Why is she miserable all the time? What’s her problem? I also resented what I had come to recognize as our failing marriage. I’d expected our marriage to be happy, fulfilling, overflowing with constant affection. My wife was supposed to be able to handle things like motherhood with aplomb. Kristen loved me, and she loved Emily, but that wasn’t enough for me. In my version of a happy marriage, my wife would also love the difficulties of being my wife and being a mom. It hadn’t occurred to me that I’d have to earn the happiness, the fulfillment, the affection. Nor had it occurred to me that she might have her own perspective on marriage and motherhood.
David Finch (The Journal of Best Practices: A Memoir of Marriage, Asperger Syndrome, and One Man's Quest to Be a Better Husband)