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Challenge: Keeping Love Alive

A Valentine for the Father of Our Child: What We Didn't Know

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My husband didn’t know exactly what he was getting into when he married me.

He knew that I was bent but not broken when we met, and in the process of disentangling myself from a 10-year relationship that was ending in a painful divorce. I was skittish and mistrusting, at first. He told me later that he figured I would break his heart, but he fell in love with me anyway.

When we were dating, I asked him why he could possibly want someone like me in his life; I was a mess. Certain songs made me cry and he had to bear the burden of my emotional baggage because I wanted to lay all of the cards out on the table.

He said, “I know you can’t see it, but I can’t wait until you realize what you can be. I can’t wait for you to really see yourself the way I see you.”

Eventually, I did. It took a lot of time and love and patience on his part, and faith and trust and hope on mine. A year after we started dating cross country from Phoenix to Atlanta, he moved to Atlanta to be with me. Less than a year after that, we married on a hill overlooking Lake Travis in his hometown of Austin, Texas.

On New Year’s Eve, 2008, I took a pregnancy test and emerged from the bathroom brandishing the stick, then handing it to him.

“We’re pregnant!” I said to my husband, and he wrapped his arms around me in an enveloping hug that spoke every word in the world.

He kissed me on top of my head and said, “Why am I holding your pee stick?”

Having my husband’s support throughout my pregnancy made me feel as though we were already starting this parenthood gig as a team. He flew through the first part of my pregnancy with flying colors as I leaned on him for sustenance and moral support. Severe all-day “morning” sickness kept me on the couch for many weeks and he waited on me hand and foot, without a complaint.

It’s possible that he kept quiet out of fear of a pregnancy-induced hormonal outburst, but it was much appreciated, all the same.

Every day for weeks, he asked me what kind of smoothie I wanted when he went out to get his coffee, until I started feeling better and never wanted to see a smoothie or a package of crackers again.

One day, I called out to him from the couch with a weak voice, battered by nausea. We both worked from home, he at a makeshift desk facing a never-ending barrage of CNBC; me at a foldout card table. As of late, however, I had spent more time working from the couch, where I could curl up or lie down as needed.

“Babe, I feel useless. I am useless,” I cried. Exhausted and queasy, I felt that I was contributing nothing to our union and doing our baby a disservice by eating only foods I could tolerate, none of which were particularly healthful.

He gathered me in his arms gently, unfazed. “You are not useless,” he said. “You're growing our baby and that is a big job.”

Unconvinced, I sobbed on his dress shirt and then fell asleep.

Over and over, my husband proved himself to be the partner I had hoped for in the father of our child. He attended most of the OB appointments, remaining in the waiting room next to me for long periods of time; he complained mildly, but kept it light, for my sake. He drank his beloved Starbucks outdoors so I wouldn’t be overwhelmed with the acrid burnt-bean smell. He did the grocery shopping, because the overpowering aromas of the store nearly brought me to my knees.

And after our son was born and I fought my way through severe postpartum anxiety, he took the night feedings at 4 AM, sleeping on the couch next to our baby in the swing while I desperately tried to rest in the bedroom. He changed diapers, and enjoyed giving our son a bottle of hard-won breast milk I kept in the refrigerator, and he sanitized equipment. He never called watching our son “babysitting”.

This big bear of a man, a former high school football player in Friday Night Lights country in Texas, was as gentle as a mother bird with our baby boy. Watching him with our son opened an expressway from my eyes to my heart; I feel exponential love when I see them together now, seven years later.

I didn't know when I married him what kind of father he would be. Seeing it unfold is like watching the most beautiful flower in the world in the process of blooming.

I didn't know that having a child would be the most difficult and most wonderful experience of our lives.

I didn't know when we had a baby that it meant we would restructure our lives in a way that makes so much sense, and it's the unspoken shifts in sync with each other that made all the difference in the process.

I didn't know that he would start to be a fantastic father before our son was even the size of an ice chip. I'll want our son to know that, forever.

I didn't know that having him in my life means that I can view myself through his eyes. I didn't know that love is an act of choosing, every day. Now, I see.

Kristin Vanderhey Shaw blogs at kristinvshaw.com and has been featured regularly by Today Parents, The Washington Post, and The Huffington Post. Find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


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