Love After Being Parents: Cuban Magical Realism

Foto: Rachel Pereda

By Rachel Pereda  (El Toque)

HAVANA TIMES – It’s Sunday. It’s raining. The perfect day to cuddle up with your partner, watch a film and rest. The typical “lechoneo”, as a friend would say. Sleeping, eating pizza and not doing anything. Recharging your batteries for the rest of the week.

But when we become parents, this all drastically changes. It’s Sunday. It’s raining. I’ve been awake since 6 AM, after an exhausting night with Emma. I go to the window with her in my arms, as I walk her around the entire room. Daniel also wakes up early and has already thrown his first tantrum by 8 AM.

I get the coffee ready, change the children’s clothes, and I try to wake myself up by splashing some water on my face. I brush my teeth in haste. “It doesn’t seem like a Sunday,” I tell myself. My husband makes breakfast. I’m holding a cup of coffee in one hand and Emma in the other. Daniel is sitting at the table, helping his dad in the kitchen. Now, he’s saying he’s going to be a chef. Yesterday, he said he was going to be a pilot and we’ll see what he wants to be tomorrow.

I look at my husband and start thinking about how much we’ve changed now that we are parents. We’d win a competition of who has the biggest bags under their eyes, I joke to myself. I smile and finish my coffee. He looks at me and also smiles with this complicity that only we understand. He comes towards me and gives me a good morning kiss. We didn’t get time to do anything with the frantic wake-up.

Little Daniel pulls faces and tries to separate us, he doesn’t want papa to give mama kisses. “Beautiful mama is mine,” he says. He grabs my face. We laugh again, this time wholeheartedly. It doesn’t seem like a Sunday, but it doesn’t need to either. I get the table ready for them to draw and put on a collection of children songs. That’s how our Sunday begins. Intense, like every day since we’ve become parents.

Daniel’s arrival: the one thousand and one nights without sleeping. The Changes…

When we know a baby is coming, we start a period in our lives of great happiness, preparations and intense nerves. It was a complete change of plans, in our case. My pregnancy wasn’t planned, even though it was very much wanted. We slowly got our heads around the idea. I fell in love with my pregnant belly. My husband did too. We had to reinvent ourselves and that made us stronger, not only as a couple, but as a family too.

There were only two of us for a very short time, because Daniel came into our lives immediately. Then, Emma came. Everybody knows that when a baby comes, there are important changes to dynamics in the house, to routines, priorities, and even in the relationship between the new parents.

The new family member becomes the center of attention. Roles change, we change, it’s inevitable. Concerns that were once linked to shared activities and household chores, multiply a great deal.

Amidst the chaos, the couple seems to lose itself in the role of “mommy and daddy”. Stress, physical exhaustion, nights of poor sleep might lead to arguments over the simplest of things. In order to endure the situation, keeping really strong communication, dividing chores and working as a team has really worked for us.

I remember when Daniel was a newborn, my husband would take him out of the bedroom into the living room every morning for a little bit, so I could get some rest after neverending nights of colic, crying and the rocking chair. Nights which he also didn’t sleep properly, and he’d have to sit down at the computer the next day to work, but he knew I needed it.

He was the one who changed the baby’s diaper when we were at the hospital, he changed the clothes, he walked him around in the early morning. Ever since the moment he held him for the first time in his arms, he has taken fatherhood in his stride, which is surprising for a first-time father who wouldn’t even dare to hold a baby before.

I was burnt out and at my limit pretty much all the time those first months, with so many emotions that I didn’t know how to control most of the time, and trying to be patient with myself and my husband who was also going through his own process.

Anxiety and pressure because we didn’t know what to do and wanted to do everything right all the time sometimes got the better of us, but we had a little tsunami called Daniel who depended on our care.

Amidst all of that, I suffered facial paralysis on more than one occasion, and I had some personal situations that were very stressful. That brought us together, to the point that I don’t think anyone in this world knows me better than he does.

When a new baby comes into the house, all of the attention goes to them and the mother. But the father is also going through important changes in his life. When I was admitted into the hospital with contractions, my husband stayed by my side the entire time. He slept on the hospital floor, he spent New Year’s cuddled up with me on that small bed and that’s how we saw the new year in.

He lost a lot of weight and you could see he was worried even though he hid it so I wouldn’t feel worse.  Those were grueling days, and then Daniel came to demand even more of our energy.

When I had a C-section with Emma, my husband couldn’t be with us at the hospital. My mother was with me that time, because he had to stay at home and look after Daniel. While working, he took care of the housework and would take anything we needed at visiting hours.

That has been one of our strengths: always supporting one another. We are a team that works together, and now a family that shares chores and responsibilities, but we’ve never forgotten that we are a couple.

Complicity in insomnia: shared bags under our eyes

The crisis that a new baby can cause has been an opportunity for us to reinvent our connection and seek out new spaces to strengthen our love as a couple.

Every night when we can, we stay up a little and talk to each other once the kids fall asleep. We hug each other, watch five minutes of a movie and are the two young people that met one Friday in February again.

Sometimes, when we go out to buy things for the house – diapers or milk – we take advantage and go for a coffee, talk about our dreams and future plans. Or in the middle of this franctic Sunday, we open up a bottle of wine and toast together.

We also spend quality time together as a family. We dress up, play with the kids, celebrate every “month birthday”, even if it’s just with something sweet and we blow out the candles with them, knowing that we made our main wish come true.

It’s normal for some things to break in the middle of routine and everyday responsibilities. But personally-speaking, we have built a solid space based on communication, trust and love, to deal with any challenge being a parent throws our way.

We don’t always agree about the way we should raise the children, and other general subjects. We’ve argued, we’ve got on each other’s nerves and then we’ve made up like any couple does. But we wait to be alone to voice these disagreements, in more intimate spaces so the children don’t ever watch us fight.

But we talk a lot and we’ve learned to solve our problems using honest and clear communication.

Our litmus test as a couple came with the extremely difficult decision to emigrate and to embark on a journey crossing borders with two small children to reach the United States. We had to support each other even more in those weeks, more than ever, and hold each other up with this complicity needed to try and be OK even in the most adverse of situations.

The journey proved everything we are capable of doing together and that our children have been our most powerful driving force. They have forced us to evolve, to grow and to make our own private pacts to develop the new roles we’ve taken on.

Intimacy in the couple: beyond being parents

A couple’s intimacy and sexual life changes when a child comes along. They don’t have the same time they used to have to be alone. Tiredness, routine, stress are some of the factors that can hurt a relationship.

Also, you’ll be sleeping with a little person in your bed most nights, two little people in our case, who need looking after even in the early morning and this can stand in the way of that passionate embrace or sleeping in “spoon” mode like you did before.

However, relationships can change for the better too. It has for us. Amidst the chaos we live every day, there are still all of those little details, the affectionate messages on WhatsApp, the funny notes passed under the bathroom door, flowers, happiness.

Sometimes, it’s like we’re teenagers, trying to sneak in a moment alone, giving each other fleeting and secret kisses, inventing surprises amid our routine and fighting against Time, which is hellbent on not being enough. This has also helped to keep the spark alive somewhat, like it was the beginning.

As well as sharing the affection we have for one another, we now have this profound and intense love for our children. Sharing this love has also been a strength.

The best thing we can do for our children is look after our relationship as a couple. Happy parents, happy children. For them to grow in a happy environment. Like all energy, love transforms when a baby comes into the picture. When you add a second child, it not only reinvents itself, it multiplies.

The couple and children occupy different places in our lives. One doesn’t fill the void of another, they compliment each other. Given day-to-day dynamics – work, children, the house -, a couple can’t spend all of their time together, and I don’t think that’s the healthiest thing either.

They each have their space, they build a common space to look after their children, while also taking care of other responsibilities. Relationships aren’t about spending a certain amount of time together, but about the quality of the time spent.

That’s how “mapaternity” is built in a healthy way, when mothers and fathers find themselves in harmony, and dialogue, agreement, and new routines are based on respect, emotional bonds and shared dreams.

It’s Sunday. It’s raining. We can’t stay all day in bed doing nothing. We have two little hurricanes in the house that force us to enjoy the rain in a different way. When they’re a little older, I hope we can go out and get drenched in a downpour and watch a movie all cuddled up in bed.

After becoming parents, we aren’t the same, and Sundays seem like Mondays a lot of the time. But love renews itself in a wonderful way if we know how to hold onto it with the best of its fruits, our children.

Read more from Cuba here on Havana Times