A member of our Lake Osiris Homeowners Association sent me an email indicating that a certain home by our lake was “not surprisingly” up for sale. Intrigued, given the slowness of the current retail market, I asked why it was not surprising. He responded that the couple, whether married or unmarried I know not, had broken up shortly after the birth last year of their first child. A pity, but not rare.
The 1920”s song “My Blue Heaven” had a refrain that went:
Just Molly and me
And baby makes three.
We’re happy in my blue heaven.
Unfortunately, too often “and baby makes two,” considering the numerous out-of-wedlock births and post-partum break-ups that occur.
The once-a-couple selling their house in our community had been together for years. It is doubtful that the baby was unplanned, an accident. Mom has moved out, so it does not seem to have been a ploy to get the house and child support, and their long-standing relationship argues against that, too. She has gone, with the baby. He’s in the house and may have the dog. Who knows what goes on in someone else’s marriage?
To discuss “and baby makes two” I convened an informal Brain Trust of a couple of my bedridden wife’s nurses and our home health aide / home manager. I asked why do many couples break up soon after the first child?
“I didn’t sign up for this” was an immediate response. Making a baby is fun, but taking care of a baby is work, smelly, noisy, tiring, inconvenient work. Sleep deprivation makes it all harder. Money worries arise. Changes preceding the baby’s birth cause problems, too. Not all men find the pregnant woman alluring. Not all pregnant women are as interested in sex as they were a few months before. Childbirth is traumatic, even when the outcome is a blessing. There’s no great response to your wife’s suffering while giving birth. Next can come post-partum depression, due to a mix of hormonal changes and increased responsibility, tempered with a parental joy in having this child of one’s own. Women tend to feel that joy more than do men.
Another cause of “and baby makes two” is having a child “to save the marriage.” If the union is shaky, the addition of a baby is not likely to strengthen it. Just the opposite is true. You need to have chosen wisely the person you marry and chosen wisely within the marriage.
My first marriage was childless, by mutual agreement. My second marriage brought with it a three-year-old son, whom I have loved these past twenty-seven years. Admittedly, the messy parts of the child-creating, child-bearing, child-rearing process were mostly over by the time I “acquired” Phil. Tina and I discussed having a “child of our own” but decided against it, for reasons medical and psychological. As told in my book, Ting and I, my love for Phil’s mother has been so deep that this marriage will not fail, but Tina’s increasing disability due to multiple sclerosis made having another child impractical.
Mother and child without father are more likely to be poor. That child is more likely to get into trouble. A subsequent marriage produces a stepfather-stepchild relationship often hazardous to the male or female child.
Couples considering conception ought to read beforehand the 1997 book by marriage counselors and psychologists John M. Gottman, Ph.D, and Julie Schwartz Gottman, Ph.D., And Baby Makes Three: The Six-Step Plan for Preserving Marital Intimacy and Rekindling Romance after the Baby Arrives. Much of it is uncommon “common sense.” For the sake of parents and child, it is crucial to create a culture of mutual appreciation to replace a culture of criticism too often present. Sound financial planning is needed. Sleep must have high priority. Communicate with each other.
Commitment involves promise keeping. Each partner needs to keep the promises made and have faith that the other partner will do the same. Religious faith or philosophical conviction can help one to keep those promises during the most difficult periods.
Be careful. Be realistic. Be prepared. Be committed. “Two is company; three is a crowd” was not meant to apply to having a child. We don’t need another tragic story, another broken family, another house for sale.
Douglas Winslow Cooper, Ph.D., is a freelance writer and a retired physicist, author of Ting and I: A Memoir of Love, Courage, and Devotion. Their web site is tingandi.com, and his email address is firstname.lastname@example.org .