I walked into that operating room a wife, and was wheeled out a mother.

In those early moments of motherhood, I clutched my 6-pound baby boy, stared into his solemn eyes, and promised him I would do my best.

Our first night together I couldn’t sleep. The nurses came and went and glanced at me wordlessly; I sat on my hospital bed, listening to the rhythmic vibration of the hospital, and staring at the little bundle of baby boy on my lap. I couldn’t believe he was ours. You, my sweet husband, couldn’t sleep that first night either; you were on the hard plastic couch in the corner, tossing and turning, feeling anew the weight of supporting your little family.

We were both bewildered by the sharp newness of parenthood. You carried the car seat as I walked sideways up the stairs into our apartment, and rubbed my back as I howled in pain as I tried to figure out how to breastfeed my baby. You used the hair dryer to dry my C-section scar after a shower, and you made the meals, changed the diapers, and brought me cup after cup of water. But in the evenings, as you drifted off to sleep, you wondered where your wife had gone.

I sat there, alone, in the middle of the night, Hawaii 5-O autoplaying episode after episode while you slept, and then you went and worked all day at the truck wash—your muscles aching as you used the power hoses to scrub truck after truck while I tried to catch up on sleep. For the first time in our five-year relationship, we weren’t working side-by-side. We were no longer college students, carefree, holding hands while our backpacks bobbed on our backs, comparing test scores and chatting about what the caf would serve for supper. We were no longer both in the workforce—both bringing home paychecks, and going on long bike rides in the evenings: swapping stories in the evening hours as we made lazy circles around town.

Parenthood had neatly divided us—you to the role as breadwinner, working six days a week, and collapsing with exhaustion in the evenings, and me as primary parent—struggling with healing, fears, and loneliness. You didn’t know what it was like to be a mother for the first time, and I didn’t know what it was like to carry the load of provider.

Before we became parents, people cautioned us that having kids was hard on a marriage. We listened to the advice, but whispered that it wouldn’t be hard for us—we were best friends. But that was before the surgery, the six months of sleep deprivation, the job worries, the long winter, and one day we woke up and it was hard, and we were parents first, husband and wife second.

You knew I was in there somewhere, underneath the sunken eyes, the rat’s nest hair, and the sharp tongue. I knew you were there, too, behind the 12-hour workdays, the exhaustion, the worry. But we couldn’t quite get in step—the sleep deprivation, and overwhelm stood between us.

A year went by, the baby turned into a toddler, and I started getting more sleep. You quit your miserable job, and started your own company, which was better but just as hard. Suddenly you were rushing to build a business, and spending your days knocking on doors and marketing. You were excited, relieved to be working for yourself, but still putting in long hours. I was pushing the stroller for mile after mile in zigzags across our little town, whiling away the hours, finding companionship in podcasts, and counting down the minutes until I heard your keys jingle at the front door.

We just began our second year of parenthood. I hope that this year we can make more eye contact, even if it is over the head of a curly-haired busy little boy. I hope this year we go on our first post-baby date, nervously leaving the baby boy to find each other again at the local theater—snarfing down popcorn, sipping Sprite, and whispering throughout the entire film like middle schoolers. I hope we remember who we were before having a baby. I hope your hand finds mine again.

Because we are a family of three—of one warrior man, one bright-eyed woman, and one warrior baby. We need a strong papa with a loud laugh, and a smiling mama with a cup of coffee in her hands, and a curly-haired baby boy with the stars in his eyes.

I’m sorry for the things I said when I was postpartum, when I was going insane with sleep deprivation, when I felt desperate for normalcy. I’m sorry for when I lashed out at you in pain, for the nights when I was desperate for sleep, for not thanking you all those days when you were carrying our family on your back, simultaneously balancing your job and our home. 

Let’s make this year the best one yet. Let’s promise to sit together, even if it makes the 1-year-old jealous. Let’s grab him up and kiss him until he laughs, and then hold hands after he goes to sleep.

Because you are my first, and my last. My favorite until the end of days, and I am so glad that I married you.

Bethany Lotulelei

Bethany Lotulelei is a virtual assistant, blogger, and creative living in rural Nebraska. She spends her days going on long stroller walks, hanging out with her hubby and baby boy, and drinking entirely too much coffee.