Photo Credit: Lynda Churilla
In her blog for the iVillage series CelebVillage, Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Jewel, who recently released the children’s book and CD That’s What I’d Do, writes about what she and husband Ty Murray had to do when they realized a “subtle drift begin to take place” in their marriage after having their 15-month-old son Kase.
"Oh my gosh, having a baby brought me and my husband so much closer!" "There is nothing like the way your husband will look at you once you have his child!"
Have you heard that a lot? Well, its bologna. At it least it was for Ty and me.
I know, shocking thing to say. Probably even more shocking for a celebrity to say it out loud. We are supposed to be perfect in the media, impervious to everyday problems as far as the public is concerned. But if you have been in a long-term relationship, I don’t have to tell you, love is messy.
Storybooks do us no favors by making love seem so constantly and effortlessly romantic and perfect with nothing but roses and sunsets once each leading character realizes that "all that matters in life is love.”
Don’t get me wrong -- love does rule. Love is our greatest gift and our highest calling, but not romantic love alone. It has to be balanced with self-love, love for our careers, love for our children and love for our friends.
Like so many, as a kid I was taught in books and movies that my mission in life was to find my One Great Love, and then to throw myself at the feet of that love and never let go. But what happens when they kiss and the movie ends? What happens when the song is through playing? Real love extends beyond the silver screen rolling of the credits.
Understandably, our parents rarely lift the veil in their own relationship in a meaningful way, to show us the true inner-workings of a healthy long-term relationship. So where do we get our information about love? As children we see idealized love in movies. At home we either see happy parents who protect us from the work that goes into a long-term relationship, which makes us think there must be nothing to it, or we see fighting and divorce. But nowhere do we see a realistic picture of what real love in the real world is: everything you hoped, all the laughter and respect and friendship and lust and love, but also more. It is a crazy balancing act that comes complete with enough tension to make the wire tight, and it’s not always pretty or comfortable -- and that’s okay.
Love in today’s world is, after all, a tall order: We have a whole host of personal needs, a whole host of chores, duties and obligations, and on top of that, there are two separate individuals who will grow over time -- and not always in the same direction. Yes, real-life long-term love is a tall order, and it should be talked about. It does us no favors to fill our young heads with ideas of how effortless it will all be when we just meet Mr. or Mrs. Right. Then once we cross the threshold of our new homes, we face the realities and complications involved, seemingly cut off from all meaningful information, left to fend for ourselves and fumble in the emotional dark until we either figure it out or end up in a therapist’s office when it’s all too late -- especially when a little honest conversation to help us get real about our expectations could go a long way in helping.
Ty and I had hit a great stride during the 12 years we had been together prior to having our son, so we headed into childbirth with all the hubris of the damned. I mean we were full-grown adults. We had been around the world, were successful, and we knew each other down to the ground. I can tell what mood Ty is in before he wakes up, and he can tell when I’m hungry before a grumble ever actualized itself in my tummy. Why shouldn’t we have been confident? We were organized, we had read books, we felt we were a good team, we recognized that skills I lacked he had, and skills my husband lacked I had. I had our birth plan all worked out, complete with typed copies for the nurses. Yay for us.
If it had been a book I was writing, it would have worked out perfectly in the end. But in real life, I did not get to give my natural birthing plan along with the cookies I had baked, administering them to the nurses with my rehearsed firm-but-not-pushy face. My doula did not get to come and coach my birth with our meditation exercises, while my husband applied cool cloths to my forehead while encouraging me every step of the way.
In reality I was taken from a routine doctor’s visit, straight to the emergency room for a C-section within the hour, when it was discovered my baby’s heart rate was dropping dramatically with just minor Braxton Hicks contractions. In real life, I showed up to the hospital with no purse much less a hospital bag. No cookies. No doula. Just a team of doctors who were talking in comically calm voices so as not to upset me, and a husband who was weaving from leg to leg the way he did behind the chutes before he rode a bull. In real life, Ty was filled with adrenaline and visibly nervous. In real life, I felt like I was dreaming, being rolled in on a gurney before I could even fully digest what was happening. I was being very calm to make sure my husband stayed calm and feeling numb from the waist down as a sheet was raised so I could not witness the surgery.
But I could hear everything: the monitor checking my heart rate and the doctors talking at first about trivial matters, like a vacation just went on, then they grew silent with concentration, then the odd tugging and pressure and wet noises coming from digging around inside my belly, all with an absence of pain. The tone then changes. My husband watching, brave and stoic, but visibly uncomfortable I can tell. I hear them say the baby is out. But I do not hear a cry. I ask if he is okay. “He is. He is. He is perfect!” my husband stammers finally, emotion suddenly rising in his throat, as he brings our baby close to my face so I can see him. Our baby looks healthy and his mouth is pursed and making little sucking sounds. “He is ready to eat,” the nurse says. I want to hold him, but I am told the doctor is still sewing me back up. Uterus, muscle, skin, all getting stitched back together, after its brief exposure to the outside world. From air and light it is returned to the dark and quiet universe of my insides.
In real life, I did not get to bond and snuggle with my baby. I sat in a recovery room where I stared a hole into the nurse who insisted I must recover post-op by myself for an hour. In real life, some of my first thoughts as a new mother were criminal, because I remember thinking I sincerely wished this nurse would die for keeping me from my baby so long. Real life had me a little dopey from the morphine the first night with my new baby. I did not sleep because he cried and I did not know how to soothe him. He slept only when on my chest, and I stayed awake afraid if I moved or blinked he would disappear.
The first few days as new parents were actually a fairy tale for Ty and me. He was happy and proud of me, and we were both so proud of the baby. But slowly it dawned on me that I had no clue what I was doing, and I think Ty had his own fears too. My first blog for iVillage detailed this awkward phase of our trying to hyper-control every single aspect of our lives as parents as a result of our fears and how this made it difficult for us. We were both so busy trying to be perfect that we got robbed of enjoying each other, or more importantly accepting each other as we were: imperfect.
But there is another aspect to love after a child that no one ever told me about. It goes beyond that bit of glib advice I’m sure you have all heard: “You need to keep dating."
When you have a child, I believe we redefine ourselves as human beings. It felt like who I was before disappeared in a way, and I began to redefine myself, not as a musician, not as a wife, but now as a mom. All priorities shift like a tide rushing out so fast you get vertigo. For 37 years I had defined myself according to certain standards: I am successful when I ___tour and sell records____. I feel beautiful when ___I weigh 'X' and have time to care for myself____. Now I found myself redefining all those things. Don’t get me wrong, It’s a good thing to do, in fact, it's one of the best things I've done, but it’s a heck of a process that no one really talks about.
My husband went through a similar process. Ty began to redefine himself as a human being. Everything he was before, everything he cared about before, all of it began to shift like the night sky on fast-forward as we looked into the fixed stars of our child’s eyes. We became so consumed in redefining ourselves as individuals that we forgot to redefine ourselves as a couple, and as a consequence we did not notice a subtle drift begin to take place.
We became two continents that began to migrate…a continental drift... so slow, so subtle. We were together in the same house, in the same bed, we spoke all day long, we cared for the baby together, we were happy, but we couldn’t be further apart. We failed to redefine ourselves as a couple who were now parents as well. It was like a force greater than us was working itself out, and we were helpless but to be pushed until we stopped and redefined, renamed ourselves as a couple. We were no longer the land of Jewel and Ty anymore -- we were a new country entirely, a new and exciting continent.
Before having my son, I expected I would be a new mom who wore a tidy outfit, exercising, eating like a fawn, nursing my baby and losing all the weight while I kept up with house chores. I expected my husband to be fully confident in his parenting skills, and in mine, and that he would be supportive of any weakness, should one arise.
But in real life, I don't think I got out of sweatpants and oversized pajamas for the first six months (besides, even if I did I would have had baby fluids of some sort all over them), the weight did not melt off, I was starving all the time because of my breastfeeding and so I ate like a horse. In real life there were many nights of sleeplessness, and days of foggy weariness as we walked like zombies through a dreamlike haze of not knowing what the heck we were doing. It was a great time in our lives, one of the best, but did the times of stress cause us to fall back on habits and ways of dealing with that stress that were less than ideal? You bet ya!
For non-parents, I can liken it to when you travel with a partner for the first time, and things don't go as planned (or insert any stressful event like moving or whatever). It’s those moments as a couple that reveal to you how each other handles stress -- be it yelling, clamming up, being controlling, whatever it is you do. Well, multiply that stress times 10 when you have a baby because of the fact that you feel this is the single most important thing you will ever do, so you better not mess it up.
When my husband and my insecurities, expectations, fears and then physical fatigue all intersected, it was like a recipe for relationship voodoo. When we weren't looking at each other like the soul source of all our problems, I think we both sequestered ourselves in our own worlds as we wrestled with the distance between how we thought things would be as partners, and how they were; the gap between how we thought we would be as parents, and how we actually were.
I think my husband had a very specific version of how I should behave as a new mom, I had my own version of what kind of mom I should be, and then there was a third version of what kind of mom I actually was. The same was true for Ty: There was the version of himself he thought he would be, the version I thought he would be, and then the version that emerged to be true. It’s like we were living in a house trying to relate with six versions of ourselves -- ha! Will the real Slim Shady please stand up? The funny thing is that the real mom and dad that Ty and I were were great -- it just took us a year to realize it.
Getting real. It’s always painful when you have to leave the cloud-filled world of the unreal and face reality. But the pain does not lie in reality: The truth has in no way been a disappointment. The only pain is in trying to resist seeing reality. That’s so important to know. Reality is not disappointing -- the rub only comes from truth forcing you to wake you up and make you embrace it.
The lucky thing is the reality I woke up to is good. It’s not what I thought it would be like, but once I got the celluloid out of my eyes, I was able to see what I had. My husband has redefined himself beautifully. He does not have to be what I thought he would be, he just has to be authentic and involved in being honest about who he is as that grows and changes. And it’s my job not to compare myself to other moms. I can’t hold myself up to some standard of who I thought I should be, I just have to get to know who I am and how I want to do things -- and know it will most likely change over time.
I am not fully defined. I am a continent who has not landed yet. I am art in progress, at once the painter and the painted. I may redefine myself every day. I may never be like June Cleaver, or those professional moms who seem to do it all. But I do hope to have something in common with all of them -- the ability to give ourselves permission to be whatever kind of a parent we need to be, and that’s right for us. There is no one right way.
Perhaps there are couples reading this and thinking, “Those poor Murrays. We were so much luckier than them, as our little one made us instantly so much closer.” To you I say congrats! And I am so happy for you, truly. I hope it’s this way for every couple. But maybe there are a few couples out there that had or will have a similar experience as my husband and I. To you all I can say is, this has led us to being closer, and in a more profound way than we ever were before. That’s something I'm so grateful for. We just had to get rid of the fantasies that were coming between us first.
We don’t always see eye to eye, we don't have to, because the important thing is that we are learning to meet each other’s needs in a more profound way than we ever did when we didn't need to know how. That's huge. Our son gave us this opportunity, another amazing gift he has given.
Singer-songwriter Jewel recently released the children’s book and CD That’s What I’d Do -- click here for more information. Check out her official website, Facebook page and follow her on Twitter at @jeweljk. And click here to read more exclusive posts in the CelebVillage series.