The Long View: A journey through the ups and downs of long-term love
In the first of a fortnightly column, Deirdre McArdle shares a bit of what she’s learned about romance that lasts, having run the relationship gamut of fertility treatment, pregnancy and parenting and come out the other side.
Nothing quite shines a light on your relationship like sharing a cramped space with your partner and young child. Throw in the typical Irish weather and you’ve got yourself a trifecta of relationship testers, which I learned on a camping trip around Ireland last year. But we got through it largely unscathed (well, except for WrongTurnGate: a tense, hour-long stand-off that’s probably best forgotten).
After 24 years together, myself and my husband know each other well. We can sense incoming turbulence a mile away, much like a highly tuned barometer. But it wasn’t always like that. Our early relationship is littered with epic battles that neither of us was mature enough to resolve (we were only 23 sure, what did we know). In those heady days our arguments were your classic mountains-from-molehills type.
Over time, we learned to navigate around each other. When fate dealt us the ‘unexplained infertility’ hand, we had to figure out how to manage those petty disagreements. We were going to be dealing with a lot of unknowns, so we needed to be sure of each other.
On the one hand, it was a relief to be told there were no clear reasons why I couldn’t get pregnant. It meant we were swinging in the wind, doing the same thing – in our case, IVF – over and over again expecting a different result. (What was it Albert Einstein allegedly said about that?)
At this point, 15 years into our marriage, we’d been through a few milestones. We’d changed jobs and moved from Dublin to Cork. My husband had started his own business and I’d started knitting. But we were still in a holding pattern on starting a family.
I’d like to say we were fine, but that’s not true. We were both feeling the strain. My confidence was shattered. My moods were all over the place, mainly due to the regular hormonal injections. I would frequently break down in tears in random places (I’ve abandoned many a trolley in my local SuperValu). I used to say to my husband whenever he asked how I was: “I’m broadcasting live from the depths of despair.”
Communication and humour were our two pillars. And hugs, loads of hugs. As our hope dwindled, we made sure we were checking in on each other. We both knew where this was going, but reaching the decision to stop trying was more difficult for me to accept. I got there, eventually. Our entire marriage to that point had been trying to have a baby. Enough.
Then the impossible happened. At the age of 42, I got pregnant naturally. It made no sense. And yet it made all the sense in the world. Here we are now, both 47 and me on the cusp of menopause, with a young daughter just starting primary school. We lived a life before she came into it. We’d matured together, supported each other through change and hardship – we could raise a child, right?
They weren’t lying when they said parenting is the hardest job in the world. It’s so difficult. Between the ages of two and four we felt like we were at the mercy of a tiny, unpredictable dictator. But we love this little dictator with all our heart. And so we adapted our relationship again.
One day soon, I look forward to figuring out who we are as a couple, without all the extra layers of life that heaps on top of you. I’d love it if you came along on the journey with me.