The blonde sitting on my husband’s lap has the kind of lithe, long-limbed body no amount of low-carb dieting will ever hope to achieve. It’s graceful and perfectly proportioned, and it moves like a dancer. They’re absorbed in a movie, their fingers entwined, and as I sit beside them on the couch, a familiar hollowness opens in my chest. If I got up and left the room, neither he nor my daughter would notice, and the fact that this bothers me is testimony to my own pathetic neediness.
But, the fact remains, as long as she’s sitting on his lap there isn’t room for me. When I was pregnant, everyone assured me how fulfilling the role of mothering is; how deeply I would fall in love, and how irrelevant my relationship with my husband would feel by comparison. So when, after an agonizing, drug-free natural birth, I looked at this long, thin, red-faced creature and felt no rush of love but instead shock coupled with numbness, I felt like a failure. Then, instead of sleeping blissfully like newborns are supposed to, she screamed. All the time. And nothing I did would make her stop.
Did I wish my husband would go away so that I could be ensconced in a sweet cocoon of bliss with my perfect baby daughter? Hell, no. I wanted her to go away. And not to have all my time with him stolen by a tiny, merciless tyrant who kept us so exhausted and miserable that we bickered pretty much all the time. If I tried to express my feelings of frustration, I was gently, but firmly reprimanded (mothers don’t complain, see). So I stopped. Now, a little over eight years on, I realise I was suffering from post-natal depression, and I love my beautiful, sweet-natured daughters (we had a second one two years later) with a feral fierceness. But this doesn’t mean I don’t need my husband, nor sometimes still wish they would go away so that I could have him all to myself.
He is an astonishingly wonderful dad, and I don’t begrudge them this relationship. Possibly, over all things, I wanted this for my girls because having a father who couldn’t be assed to hang out with me changed the way I related to men. But, being little, they require a lot of him, and I miss him. He travels for work, which means he’s gone a lot of the time. And as we stand at the airport arrivals lounge, every second month, scanning the sliding glass door for a glimpse of his fair head and familiar gait, sometimes I’m so excited I can hardly breathe.