When There’s Enough Love for the Three of Us

When There’s Enough Love for the Three of Us

By Jessica Rosen


I just don’t know where or how to find enough love for my husband when I give all I can muster to our son every moment of the day and night.


I come from a long line of divorce: My great-grandmother, my grandmother, my mother twice, my father twice. He married a third a time, but their relationship hasn’t been easy. His wife refused to give into divorce when they grew disgruntled and distant. She signed them up for sailing lessons on Lake Michigan, bought season tickets to the opera, stopped working into the night and accompanied him to bed. Now they have settled into a silent comfort that I long to have one day.

But these divorces haunt me.

December marked my 10th wedding anniversary. Our four-year-old son came down with strep throat—we called off the babysitter. I spent the night crammed into his single bed, ready to sooth his pains upon every whimper. My husband slept alone. Perhaps on our 11th anniversary my husband and I will spend time together. Since the birth of our son, time for each other has escaped. There is only time to move through the day, complete tasks, sleep, start again. There is no time for marriage. No time to care for each other. As this lack of care divides us, divorce seeps in like dirty water through a cracked ceiling.

Driving in the car recently, my husband pointed to a small travel-trailer in a lot as we passed. “If you ever divorce me, I’m gonna buy one of those trailers, save up all my money, and get out of here as fast as I can.” His tone was not mean or angry, but matter-of-fact. I assured him he does not need an escape plan. He refused to give it up. I guess I have a plan, too. My dad has a very large basement, my mom has an extra bedroom. Still, this announcement was hurtful.

I wish we could live our lives without a disaster plan, without any sort of doubt. But those dim days when we don’t talk and aren’t reading each other’s minds, when I have spent each minute of my day washing, cleaning, caring, tending to my son’s every need, when I have nothing left to give to my husband upon his arrival home from work, when we are both so exhausted with life, I know our instinct is to plan. No one wants to be blindsided.

Before our son, we were inundated with time for each other. We took care of each other. From the very beginning, we savored the endless company of each other.

Our meeting in graduate school was nothing out of the ordinary. The first time he invited me to his apartment, we sat on the tattered second-hand couch and held hands. We didn’t talk. We sat. We breathed. We drifted far away into the future where we would still be sitting, holding hands, listening to the silence of each other.  

After graduation, I dragged him home with me to Chicago where we landed teaching jobs at one of the many junior colleges downtown and a second floor apartment in a bad neighborhood. When I told him he had to marry me, he didn’t flinch. That was that. We both knew it was right.

We flew to Vegas a few months later. I wore a red velvet jumper. He wore a cheap western suit he bought on Chicago Avenue (not the fancy downtown part of the Avenue).The wedding party consisted of only us and the two strangers who conducted the ceremony. Neither of us wanted a crowd.  We honeymooned two nights in Vegas and then drove in our rental car through the snowy mountains to Eastern Idaho where I met his family for the first time. Sisters, an older brother, so many nieces and nephews that I stopped trying to remember names. They all hugged me. His siblings gave us cards with small amounts of cash.  We ate pancakes with whipped cream and sugared strawberries. I had nothing in common with any of these people, but their kindness engulfed me. The same kindness my husband has always bestowed upon me.

Back at home, we continued our mundane life in Chicago. Marriage made not much difference. We settled into the comfort of each other like soothing bathwater. It flooded our bodies with warmth. Like many married couples, we read each other’s minds and had no need for conversation. He’d say what he wanted for dinner. It would be exactly what I had been thinking. He’d say we should go camping for the weekend. I had been dreaming of trees.

But for the past four years, our son has drained us of love and care for each other. Because of this addition to our family, marriage is no longer easy. All of the love and endless attention we used to bestow upon each other is now given to our son. Date night seems so silly we can’t bring ourselves to pay a babysitter, nor can we afford it anyway. Instead, we put our son to bed and sit side-by-side in our lounge chairs, watching TV and making witty comments during the commercials. I head to bed early. As our son gets older and his demands more demanding, I am exhausted by the time my husband gets home from work. I have no energy to care for him, too. He losses his passion for caring for me because my love is short and elusive.

I yell at him to wash the dishes because I cannot take the responsibility anymore. I ignore him for three days because he forgets to take out the garbage. My husband begins to hate me. I can feel it. “I need to know,” he says to me one night as I lie in bed reading. He means he needs to know if I’m done with our marriage. I wish I could explain to him that, right now, I just don’t know where or how to find enough love for him when I give all I can muster to our son every moment of the day and night. But, I am not done. I will never be done.

Someday, soon, our son will want nothing to do with either of us. He’ll get dressed on his own, bathe without my help, hide in his room. My husband and I will be left alone. We’ll figure out how to love each other again and take care of each other again. There will be room for all three of us in this marriage. I long for the room to move around in, to feel loved in, to give love the way we all need. One day, we might have to take sailing lessons together or buy season tickets to something. And I will. I will know that we can survive the moments of non-love. The moments we are too tired to give. I will know that the love is there somewhere and if I try, we will find it together.

Jessica Rosen is a Chicago native who now lives in the middle of nowhere on the Oregon Coast. Between grading papers, preparing snacks, playing superheroes, and washing dishes, she scribble in notebooks she has stashed around the house.  

Photo: Melissa Askew | Unsplash



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Something about that quiet companionship in the dark was a comfort to us as children, and again as mothers, too.


When you stop sleeping, really stop sleeping except for forty-five minutes or an hour at a time, your eyes have to work harder to focus. Your muscles feel like gelatin. Your hands shake. And when you haven’t slept, and the small vulnerable thing that is your few-weeks-old child settles on your chest, radiating warmth into your sore muscles, whispering tiny warm breaths onto your tired skin, it is really, really hard to stay awake.

Night after night, for Liddy’s first months, my husband and I took shifts holding her up straight and still, to minimize her reflux and let her digest the calories she so desperately needed. When my turn came, I would sit on the couch with my knees pulled to my chest and cradle her there against me, keeping her body, and mine, upright, trying to stay awake, praying she wouldn’t slide off onto the floor or press her tiny nose and mouth into me and stop breathing.

My sister Megan had diagnosed Liddy’s reflux before the doctors, hearing her pained gulps and grunts through the phone. Megan’s own daughter, Corinne, was born just ten weeks before Liddy; Corinne’s reflux was confirmed when she stopped breathing in her car seat and went to the hospital in an ambulance. So the girls shared the same illness, the same long nights. And Megan and I were on similar schedules, up every hour or two to feed, hold, and soothe. We held them for thirty minutes, an hour, or sometimes, for the rest of the night.

This was in the time before texting and smartphones, so first Megan and I tried keeping each other company through email. But it was difficult to keep Liddy upright and still while I typed, and the keyboard’s clicking and the blue glow of the screen made her restless. The murmurs of my voice relaxed her, though, so Megan and I developed a system. We set our cell phones to vibrate and kept them beside us through the night. We could call each other without the risk of disrupting our rare opportunities for sleep.

Our late-night phone calls came to resemble our childhood sharing a bedroom, whispering to pass the time when we should have been asleep. Even after our older siblings moved out, leaving us with our own bedrooms, Megan continued to stay in my room at night. Something about that quiet companionship in the dark was a comfort to us as children, and again as mothers, too.

When Liddy did sleep, I’d sometimes wake to a missed call message, then check my email to find a hastily written message right in the subject line: “HELP. Up all night no sleep.” Or, “To Liddy from Corinne. You up?” OR, “WAIT WAIT do not call. Cannot find cell phone and ringer is on.”

“Daylight savings time is going to screw us,” Megan said once. “We’re not frigging farmers.”

I burst out laughing.

“Stop!” she said. “You are going to shake her.”

We talked about the girls’ health, about our toddler boys’ antics, but mostly we spoke about mundane, silly things. But often, we just relaxed into silence punctuated by the girls’ shallow breathing as they relaxed into sleep.

“Is she asleep?” One of us would say, eventually.

“Yeah. I think I’ll try to lay her down.”

“Bye,” we’d whisper, and hang up. We’d release our finally-settled babies from our tired arms, and fall into our own brief sleep before it was time to start again.

Karen Dempsey is a Brain, Child contributing blogger. She has written for the New York Times Motherlode blog, Babble, and Brain, Child. She lives in Massachusetts. Read her work at www.kdempseycreative.com. or follow her on Twitter.

Photo: Megan Dempsey