I've spent four months not writing this post.
Thinking about writing this post, planning to write this post, feeling guilty for not writing this post, but not actually writing it.
Four months ago, my husband came home and I just didn't know what to tell all of you, yet. All of my prayers had been answered, so why wasn't I happier?
Part of why this took so long was I did not know what to say. Part of why this took so long was I did not know how to say it.
I did not want to be misunderstood and misinterpreted. So, let me start by saying: I was so grateful that he was home safe and sound. I was relieved. I was excited. My husband is my hero, the love of my life, and the one who completes me.
Our marriage was never in danger, I continued to function, DH continued to function. There was no big crisis, no major problem. I just wasn't as "happy" as I thought I was "supposed" to be, which put more pressure on me, which added to the unhappiness.
We did not have a "typical" homecoming, but then again, who does?
My husband came home on emergency leave for our 3 month-old baby's open heart surgery. His unit was still over there for a few more weeks, so he did not get the big welcome in the gym, instead I picked him up at the curb of Killeen's very small airport. He did not even get the big party at home. Between Lilah's surgery and his men still in harm's way for a few more missions, neither of us felt much like celebrating.
Iraq and deployment had not fundamentally changed DH--but leaving, even just a few weeks, before his men hit him very hard. So, he was perhaps a little distant, but he was still patient and loving.
As I think is so often the case, it is not other people who are the problem. I was not having difficulty with my husband, I was having an issue with myself.
Everyone would have understood if I had broken down when he deployed, or when we found out about Lilah's heart defect, or when he returned to Iraq after R&R, leaving me alone with a colicky baby who might turn blue if she got too upset. But I didn't.
During the deployment I only cried twice, I was cheerful when I spoke with DH, I was positive when I chatted with friends and family. I maintained communications with everyone, I traveled to New York and Italy while five months' pregnant, I won volunteer of the year awards for military and civilian organizations. I took Lilah to her appointments, learned how to keep her calm, and kept her away from germs.
It was the stress, I suppose, that had been keeping me together. Then DH returned. Now I had my heart's desire and I felt like I was coming apart at the seams.
I pushed too hard. I wanted him to get to know Lilah before the surgery and I tried to force three months of a new baby into less than a week. I was emotionally and physically exhausted from worry and from being sole caretaker of a colicky baby for whom crying was a matter of life or death. I was being pulled in too many different directions. I did not leave enough in reserve for him.
The baby's surgery was successful. I now had everything I wanted--my wonderful husband home safe and sound and my amazing daughter healed--and yet I was feeling worse than I did during the deployment.
To catch up on work, I put in almost full-time hours, while being a full-time mother with no child care.
DH seemed reluctant to become involved with the baby's care. At the time I was hurt by what I interpreted to be indifference. Now, I believe that he just wasn't sure where he fit into our well-established and time-tested routines.
So, DH helped around the house instead--but that made me feel guilty that I could not do everything I had done before for us.
I loved him and Lilah with all my heart, but I was not taking pride in my tasks and recognizing the joy in my life. I say recognizing, because there were moments, hours, and even days when I was having fun and taking enjoyment in my precious baby and loving husband. But there was something else preventing me from fully appreciating how lucky and happy I really was.
With time, and lots of patience on DH's part, my state of mind improved. There wasn't really a single epiphany and I did not even notice it at first. Rather, the journey was a gradual evolution over the last four months. Along the way, there were a series of blessings that helped me along.
DH's outstanding platoon sergeant ensured that those final missions went smoothly and by the end of November, all of DH's men had returned home, bringing with them DH's missing pieces.
We learned to do things for each other again--small investments of time and effort that truly made the other feel loved. DH likes when the bed is made every day. I like it when DH lights candles and turns off the computers and tells me about his day.
We each learned to live with another person again after so much solitary time.
Gradually, DH found his role in our newly expanded family and I learned to make room for him--during Baby's walks, bath time, and bedtime.
More importantly, he and Lilah bonded. Now she smiles and giggles when Daddy comes home.
I realized that although he was very helpful, I actually somehow had less time than when I was doing everything myself. Now I needed time for him as well as time for the baby and cooking and housework and my writing.
I reduced the hours I worked, I scaled back on my volunteer efforts, and I eliminated some time wasters from my day.
I don't know if you can pass lessons along from experiences like these. Everyone is different. Besides, this (redeployment, marriage, life) is not something you can study for, like a test. We all grow at our own pace. If I was writing a note to myself, however, this is what I would say:
Give time a chance. In the end, everything unfolded naturally. In the moment, it seemed as if things needed to be fixed immediately. But trying to force things back to normal too quickly placed more stress on DH and me. Marriage isn't a broken toilet, flooding everything until you call in the plumber. Marriage is more like a plant, a living creature that needs to be loved and nurtured, yes, but also allowed time to grow in an organic way. To be patient, you need to trust. Trust that even if you do not fix everything that second, your spouse and your marriage will still be there tomorrow.
Let go of excessive pride. Do not hold on to little perceived "wrongs." They don't keep you warm at night.
Be generous. Do things that you know your spouse likes. Do not expect this to be a one for one exchange at this time. Give, not things but of your time and your love, without expecting anything in return. The account does not need to balance every week or every month or even every year, especially following a deployment. In the end, if you have chosen your partner well, it will balance. I think this is what helped me celebrate again--giving to one you love is not only a more effective marriage-builder, it also feels better.
Make room in your life. Gently invite him in every day in a variety of ways. Even if he does not rush in to fill the room, leave it open and try again tomorrow.