New Parents

An entire flashback scene that was cut because I decided the story wouldn’t suffer without it. This gives you a glimpse of Paige and Logan as new parents, with the challenges and strain that can put on a relationship.

A baby’s cry can reach the same decibel level as a military jet taking off. That’s louder than a lawn mower. Louder than a chain saw. Even louder than thunder.

I have no idea how long I’ve been pacing the nursery’s carpet-padded floor in the soft light of the little pink lamp with butterflies all over it, my three-month-old daughter a screaming, red-faced bundle of anger and distress in my arms. It feels like hours within hours, each minute an eternity in itself. An infinite succession of never-ending moments that stretch and expand into a vacuum where time itself is frozen, a purgatory without beginning or end.

Freya’s plump, little body is rigid where I hold her against me, her head cradled in the crook of my neck while she cries. Nothing helps. No amount of bouncing, swinging, stroking, or singing comes close to soothing her. Whether I’m lying down, sitting, or walking, it makes no difference. She won’t sleep. She won’t eat. She won’t settle. Her misery is complete, and I can’t help her.

I’ve done everything I can think of to help her. So many doctor’s appointments. So much Googling for remedies, chatting with other parents on Internet message boards, reading articles and books and…the list goes on.

That’s the worst part, this hopelessly tangled knot of despair at my own uselessness. The threads of emotion are all tied together—raw, acute empathy for her pain and helplessness, worry about the cause of it, and disgust and shame at my inability to protect and comfort her. I’m her mom. Taking care of her is my one job right now, the only one that matters. Night in and night out, her frantic and ceaseless crying leaves me shackled to her agony and to my own failure.

Colic, they call it. Which really just means your baby cries for hours on end every single day, and no one knows why or how to fix it. At one of my pre-natal yoga classes, I overheard a group of experienced mothers discussing and commiserating over colicky babies. It sounded awful, but it had nothing to do with me, of course. Stuff like that doesn’t happen to valedictorians of motherhood.

I keep putting one foot in front of the other. My precious baby feels much heavier than her measly twelve pounds, and the wails erupting from her throat are louder than anything her tiny lungs should be able to produce.

Sometimes I’ll silently recite facts and statistics to stay sane, but tonight there’s only a numb emptiness. Tonight I can feel myself sinking into the depths of my mind, where there’s nothing but shadows and demons—where, around every corner, lurks bitterness and regret.

I’m startled by a hand settling on the small of my back, and with a gasp, I whirl around.

It’s Logan. Of course. Who else?

“Let me take over,” he says, raising his voice over the racket.

With the baby’s warm and fine-haired head pressed against my cheek, I regard my husband dumbly. Hair mussed, he’s wearing nothing but black boxer briefs.

“You have to get up early for work,” I say automatically, like I always do.

He rolls his eyes. “I’d have to be deaf to sleep through this. Come on.”

It should be easy to hand her over to him. I don’t know why I don’t, why I just stand there gently bouncing the baby. We have this discussion several times a week, whenever he gets to the point where he can’t stand listening and doing nothing anymore.

Rarely do I take him up on the offer. Sometimes I suspect I’m doing penance. For screwing up my birth control, for not going straight back to work and keeping my career on track, for letting all my carefully laid plans go down the drain—whatever, or all of the above.

“For fuck’s sake,” Logan snaps as I fail to react. “Would you stop playing the martyr already?”

The words zap through me like a shock. Thickness swells in my throat, and I try to blink away burning and stinging in my eyes.

He sees it, of course. His beautiful eyes soften. “You need a break, baby. Let me help.”

My resolve starts to crack. He sees that, too, and immediately reaches for the small, blanket-wrapped body in my arms. I let her go, watching him lift her, supporting her head as he cradles her against his chest.

“Go get some rest,” he says as he begins to stroke his daughter’s back, her desperate screaming not abating for even a second.

In the doorway, I turn to look at him. From the moment the nurse at the hospital put Freya in his arms, he’s held her easily, showing no trace of awkwardness or inexperience. The same sensation washes over me now as it did then: a rush of love so fierce and absolute that it fills my chest with a full and pulsing ache.

As intoxicating as they are, his every word and gesture that shows his feelings for me, it’s how much he clearly adores her that slays me. They’re my whole world now, this man and the tiny human we made. These past months have been the hardest of my life, but sights like this one, of how he loves her every bit as much as I do, is the fuel that keeps me going.

On the way to master bedroom, I make a detour downstairs for a glass of water. Standing in the dark at the kitchen sink, my thoughts drift to Logan’s mom. Was she as enchanted by her baby son as he now is with her granddaughter? And if she were, how could she walk away just eight years later? I picture my child—her tiny hands, chubby cheeks, downy hair, and those sharp blue eyes—and I know only death could keep me apart from her.

I’m pretty sure Logan feels more troubled by his mom’s abandonment since he’s become a parent himself. I’ve suggested that he talk to his dad about it, but he’s been reluctant, claiming that Mike has said all there is to say about his runaway wife.

I don’t buy it. But they’re both grown men, and there’s only so much I can do.

The muffled sound of Freya’s keening cries welcomes me as I pad my way back up the stairs, and for a few wild moments I’m picturing myself throwing a pair of pants and a jacket on over my pajama bottoms and tank top and leaving the house until I’m reasonably sure she’ll have fallen asleep.

The fantasy remains just that. Once I’ve burrowed under the blankets in bed, burying myself in the silken fabric as if it can shield me from the mental anguish, the screaming and wailing carries through the walls as if they’re made of paper. No wonder Logan can’t sleep through it.

He has a work trip to Sacramento coming up in a couple of weeks. For two whole nights, he’ll get to sleep in a quiet hotel room. I can’t muster anything resembling resentment or envy, though, because I know him. Instead of resting peacefully, he’ll feel antsy and guilty that he’s not here with me.

Because he’s the shoulder to cry on that I didn’t know I wanted, the pillar I had no idea I needed, and the beacon that keeps me from wandering astray. Even after almost two years together, it’s a daily struggle to allow him to be all those things. To feel safe and not weakened by letting another person become such a crucial part of myself.

The sounds from the nursery has faded to background noise, and when I notice that it’s gone, I have no clue how long ago it stopped. The silence is always so sudden that it’s almost bewildering, happening well after I’ve become convinced I’ll never know quiet again.

Only a couple of minutes pass before I hear the click of the nursery door shutting, which means the baby calmed down and immediately fell asleep, like she usually does. Soon a faint light falls on my face as Logan steps into the bedroom. I don’t move when he sinks in next to me on the mattress, tugging on the blankets.

We don’t speak. We don’t move. Whenever the crying ends, there’s always this sagging sense of relief, but there’s a kind of stupor, too. Like we’re traumatized. Like we know we should relish the reprieve, but we’re too full of dread for the next round. Too shell-shocked to do anything but tensely await the return of that falsetto howl.

Then Logan scoots closer and reaches for me in one smooth motion, and without thinking, I slide into his arms. His chilled body draws the heat away from mine, and I shudder as he tightens the embrace, one hand on my back and the other twined in my hair. Our legs are entangled, my head on his shoulder, and my face buried in his neck. I inhale, drawing his scent inside, thinking this is what it must feel like when a sedative starts to kick in.

Calming. Comfortable. Perfect.

“It should stop soon,” he says, a gentle murmur.

“I know.” In fifty percent of cases, colic ends when the baby is three months. Ninety percent by nine months.

He slips his hand under the hem of my sleep tank top, his splayed palm warm on my skin. “I called your mom on my way home from work today and got her to agree to come stay with you when I’m in Sacramento.”

“What?” Stiffening, I pull back, inching away and leaving him with the barest grasp on me. “Why?”

“Because you won’t ask her yourself, and you need someone here for you.” My husband’s tone is sharp, exasperated. “Refusing to ask for help is not a healthy way to live, Paige.”

It’s on the tip of my tongue to tell him he’s wrong. When I need help, I ask. It just doesn’t happen very often. Is he really expecting to change something that goes to the core of who I am?

My mom coming for a visit sounds nice. Doesn’t mean I’m okay with Logan interfering and essentially treating me like a child that needs supervision, though.

But, since I have nothing left over tonight for an argument, the only answer I give him is a loud, belly-deep sigh. First lesson of being in a committed relationship: pick your battles.

Instead of returning to his arms, I roll over onto my back, bunching up my blankets and hugging them to my chest. There’s something else we need to discuss, and since most of our evenings are occupied trying to soothe our colicky little princess, we’re not spoiled for choices when it comes to having time and peace enough for conversation.

My mouth feels dry, and swallowing takes effort. I’ve agonized over this for weeks. Finally saying it out loud feels daunting. As if, once the thought leaves the privacy and security of my mind, it’ll become a reality I’m not ready to face yet.

Still, somehow, the words tumble out. “I don’t think I can go back to work next month.”

After a moment of utter silence and stillness, he asks, “I thought that’s what you wanted to do?”

“I want to work, but if I go back to the firm…” My mouth twists. “That’s ten-to-twelve hours a day she’s spending with someone else. All that time, being cared for by someone else. Bonding with someone else. Reaching milestones with someone else.”

Feeling my voice about to crack, I pinch my lips together. I hate breaking plans with a deep and all-encompassing passion. When I started my maternity leave two weeks before my due date, no one could’ve convinced me I wouldn’t be coming back after the four months of paid leave that Hammerness likes to brag about, as if it’s excessively generous.

No one could’ve explained to me how becoming a parent changes you, either. And it’s not that I prefer donning skirts and heels over yoga pants and loose nursing tops, or that I’d rather be doing doc review and filing briefs than taking stroller walks in the park and going to mommy-and-me yoga classes.

It’s that it’s not about my wants and needs anymore.

“I can’t do it,” I tell my husband with newfound firmness. “Not yet. Not while she’s so little.”

“Whatever you think is best, baby.” Finding my hand on top of the blankets, he threads his fingers with mine. “We don’t need you to work. Stay home with her as long as you want.”

I should feel reassured by his support, happy that we’re in a position where I’m able to put our child’s needs first. Instead my gut tightens with irritation, and it takes me a while to figure out why.

It’s because by leaving the choice up to me, he’s also putting one hundred percent of the burden on me. Even if the financial aspect were the same, or even if it were in my favor, there’d be no question of him being the one to stay home.

And the issue there is not even a sexist one. It’s that, however important working is for my mental wellbeing, it’s ten times that for him.

He’s not married to his job. Not exactly. It’s more like a mistress.

I know that if forced to, he’d put his family above everything else and not think twice. What I’m afraid of is that too often he won’t recognize that a choice even exists.

Moving up next to me, he skims his hand under the blanket, finding the spot where my tank top has ridden up, exposing my abdomen. Then his mouth is on my neck, his breath hot against my skin.

“Logan—” I protest weakly, even as arousal sparks, shooting through my veins. It’s past midnight. We need to sleep when the baby does.

“Shh,” he murmurs near my ear, slipping his large, warm, and determined hand under the waistband of my panties. “I’m gonna get you off. And then you can go to sleep.”

God, I love his hands on me. It’s as irresistible as gravity, more addictive than a narcotic. As his fingers slide between my thighs, a breathless moan escapes me, and I let my legs fall open.

Turning my head, I seek his lips. I don’t kiss him tenderly; I don’t know how. Much like how a starving person can’t eat slowly or a drowning person can’t help but eventually try to draw a breath, I’m compelled to make every touch, every kiss, every moment of intimacy a battle of wills.

“I love you,” I gasp, and I feel his mouth curve against mine.

As he dives under the blankets and slides down my body, I know he’s aiming to let his lips and tongue take over the job his fingers have been doing.

He says nothing, doesn’t answer my declaration in kind. He doesn’t need to.

He’s going to show me instead.

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