It was a little past 4 p.m. and I had been laboring for a while. Despite the magnitude of the moment, the room felt calm.

I was the only pregnant mother admitted on a slow day on the labor and delivery floor. The lights were dim and there were moments that only the meditative sound of the beeping monitor could be heard. My sister and husband brought a familiar comfort to the air with their presence, and my nurse was a pillar of steadiness as she perfectly cared for me and my soon-to-be-born baby girl.

I was comfortable physically thanks to whoever invented the epidural, and even felt centered mentally and spiritually despite being on the brink of one of the biggest moments of my life.

Eventually, the doctor entered the room, and her words, “It’s time to push” suddenly sprang a leak in my haven of peacefulness, and the chaos of emotions came flooding in.

Fear. Nervousness. Uncertainty. Discomfort. Dizziness.

Sensing my anxiety, my husband immediately put his hand on my arm. I turned up to look at him, and in an instant, the emotion-tornado that had just entered the room left as quick as it came in.

As a nurse and doctor routinely moved things around and prepped the room for a new little life to enter it, he and I just kept looking at each other.

Tears in our eyes, we knew this was the last time we’d look at each other as “just” husband and wife. We were about to be parents. I saw the love in his eyes, and the calm in my heart told me that whatever was to come, I was going to be OK knowing he was at my side. 

I cry every time I see the image my sister captured of that moment. 

I fell in love with him the first time I saw him because he looked at me with this same kind of compassion, and I’ve stayed in love with him for all of the times he’s looked at me like that ever since.

His eyes are home to me.

Today, we are seven years and three kids away from that moment . . . and frankly, these look-in-the-eye-and-love-each-other moments aren’t as frequent as they should be.

Because while we’ve fallen deeper in love, we’ve also had to fight to get to know each other again. While we’ve celebrated each other’s greatest achievements, we’ve also struggled through each other’s low moments. While we’ve gone dancing for hours, we’ve also looked across the date night dinner table and wondered where the passion has gone. While we’ve exchanged “we’re so lucky” glances across a king bed with three little bodies snuggled between us, we’ve also fallen asleep with our backs to each other. While we’ve danced in the kitchen, we’ve also leaned against the counters in that room for hours sorting out an argument.

When we are at the core of who we are—looking at each other in the eyes and reminding the other one that we’ve got them—there’s a calm in the room.

When we let the flood gates to open and allow stress, work, exhaustion, distrust seep in—we allow chaos to overcome the steadiness of who we are.

And we simply forget that sometimes all it takes is to stop and SEE each other in order to keep those things at bay.

This week, we had a spat over the morning routine with the kids. We each gave our view of the situation, we got defensive and we got angry. When neither of us knew what else to say, we stared at each other in silence.

And I saw his eyes.

The same ones that looked over me right before I became a mom, and the same ones that I have neglected to connect with enough in the weeks prior. 

It was all I needed in that moment to remind me of who we are at our core, which is not a couple who fights over a schedule, but a couple who acts as a team and gives each other grace.

I think he felt it, too. His shoulders relaxed as my mood softened. We agreed to communicate better. We each shared what was “really” going on in our minds that caused this to become a more stressful situation than it needed to be.

Marriage is hard.

Even when you know you couldn’t be with someone more perfect than the one who wears your ring, there are so many moments when the dam breaks and your connection is rocked.

It’s why it’s so important to identify what stops the flood.

For us, it’s simply seeing each other. It’s not putting our head down as we pass in the hallway, or barely seeing each other’s faces as we go through the motions of taking care of the kids. 

It’s about looking each other in the eyes. It’s letting the other one see the compassion. It’s reminding each other that no matter what chaos is in the room, we are steady if we are both in it together.

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Brea Schmidt

Brea Schmidt is a writer, photographer and speaker who aims to generate authentic conversation about motherhood and daily life on her blog, The Thinking Branch. She also owns newborn, children and family photography business Photography by Brea. She and her husband raise their three young children in Pittsburgh, PA.