We thought we were prepared for another baby. We were totally wrong.
It started with a difficult pregnancy. I had hyperemesis gravidarum, which basically means that, for several months, I barfed up everything, then barfed some more. I spent most of my first trimester in bed, with my husband left to solo parent our two small children.
Then, I got diabetic. I needed iron infusions for anemia. By the time my pregnancy ended, I was fielding at least three doctor appointments a week. Plus, I gained weight — a lot of weight. Nearly 100 pounds worth.
We brought our third son into the world on Halloween night. We took him home the next day to meet his older brothers, babies themselves at three and one. We had already had two kids two years apart, and we had managed just fine. We figured that adding a third wouldn't be that much more difficult. As my husband said, we already had the infrastructure.
We were wrong. A third child strained our relationship in ways we could never have predicted, in ways one and two kids didn't. Three was a challenge. Three was, for our marriage, a nightmare.
1. It was extremely difficult to recover while dealing with two other kids.
Then he went back to work. Work meant leaving at 6 AM and returning home, at best, around 4 PM. This left me caring for a newborn, a two-year-old, and a four-year-old for at least ten hours a day.
Our two-year-old was needy and upset at being supplanted. He acted out by screaming, running away from me, and trying to throw things at the baby. He'd wait until I sat down to nurse and demand to nurse himself. I'd end up with a kid on each boob, feeling like a milk cow, and still have a four-year-old to keep alive.
Days were stressful, to say the least. My body simply didn't have a chance to slow down and mend from childbirth and pregnancy.
Because of that, I slept a lot when my husband was home. He had the stress of working all day, and coming home to take care of three kids all by himself. We barely saw each other; when I woke up, it was time to put the big kids to bed, then time to put the baby to bed. This all left us so exhausted that our optimum level of interaction was binge-watching 30 Rock.
2. We couldn't do the things we loved.
We've always been a hiking family, so we went on a short walk a few days after the baby was born. I made it about fifty yards. My strength simply wasn't there yet, and I was carrying all that extra weight. You can't hike if you can't walk down the trail, so all our hiking plans went out the window.
We no longer had the woods to look forward to, not for any appreciable length of time. And even if I could work up to a good walk, my hiking clothes didn't fit. We'd have to move at a four-year-old pace, since we only had two adults to carry three kids. Hikes just didn't happen.
Our major bonding activity for weekends and afternoons had disappeared. Before this, we'd taken the little ones on "river night walks" by the water, the kids looking for bugs while we held hands. Now we put on the TV while I nurse the baby and he does another load of dishes. It's hard to hold hands and have a good conversation when you're in separate rooms.
3. I cared way too much about cleaning.
Since my husband worked so much, the bulk of the housework fell on me. I had to do all the laundry. I had to clean all the bathrooms and take out the trash. Worst of all, I had to pick up the toys, which regressed back to mess as soon as I turned my back. I can't deal with a dirty house, so I had to clean. And clean. And clean. I developed an almost post-traumatic-stress-level response to the sound of dumping Duplos.
My husband would come home to me apologizing. I cried over my kids' messy bedroom; I despaired of ever finishing the laundry. "You need a break," he'd say, and take the kids from me. I'd crash into bed. He'd start a marathon of dish washing and kitchen cleaning.
The kids watched TV, and trashed the living room. I inevitably woke to a clean kitchen and two rubber boxes of dinosaurs strewn over the floor. Plus books, stuffed animals, knights, and Star Wars figures. I'd sit down and cry, and my husband would feel guilty and ineffectual. Not a nice feeling for anyone.
Then I'd complain that I had to clean up, justifiably making him mad.
4. I worried about my kids watching too much television.
While my husband cleaned, my kids watched TV. This enraged me, because I wanted them to grow up as pure darlings who'd never interacted with American media. So when he presented me with a clean kitchen, I'd complain that the kids watched too many episodes of Yo Gabba Gabba!.
5. We never got a minute alone.
Most people would park the kids in front of the TV, put the baby in the swing, and take some couple time. I wouldn't allow the little ones to watch more than two episodes of pre-screened, innocuous television a day. That didn't leave much time for us to interact as adults. We were too busy caring for kids, playing with kids, or refereeing kid fights. Forget nurturing your marriage.
6. We were both exhausted beyond belief.
I was tired because I was nursing a newborn all night, chasing three kids all day, and recovering from a brutal pregnancy and birth. He slaved away at his job: up at 4 AM to do work, home at 4 PM to do more work (i.e. clean or take care of small people).
We both forgot to enjoy the kids. We didn't have time to enjoy each other. Something else always needed doing. We didn't make time to hang out with each other; the baby always needed to eat, or the older kids needed put to bed. The diapers needed washed. Weekends were just another slog of housework and childcare.
I didn't realize how strained our marriage had become until later, when the kids were a bit older and we had some time to breathe. It got better, of course. I got more fully medicated for depression; I made the kids help me clean, and learned to live with a little bit of mess.
The baby didn't need me so badly. My husband dragged me out on hikes. And piece by piece, life with three fell into place. But those first few months were a whirlwind of hell, radically different from life with one or two kids. They say three is the hardest. And damn, are they right.