One night, while six months pregnant, I woke to the sound of something crashing down the stairs. That something, I discovered, was my husband Jason, who lay sprawled on the floor like a limp marionette. At first, I was worried. Had he broken his neck? Was the father of my unborn child alive? But my next thought might strike some people as mean, although I can explain. It was: Good—serves him right.
Jason had been out drinking that night. His alcohol intake had ballooned, in fact, at about the same rate as my belly. The reason for this was simple: With a baby about to eclipse life as we knew it, his days of freewheeling debauchery were numbered. In order to settle contentedly into his new role as a responsible parent, the solution was to party as much as possible now—“to get it out of my system,” as he put it.
From then on, Jason’s once-weekly bar outings ramped up to three times a week. Instead of coming home before midnight, he stumbled in near dawn. Over time, I came to resent all the fun he was having while I sat at home plowing through What To Expect, preparing for parenthood sober and solo. I was growing up; Jason had regressed to the level of a “Jersey Shore” star. This was not how I’d hoped a man on the brink of fatherhood would behave.
I lamented to Jason that I was lonely. His solution was to drag me out to watch him drink. I found myself in the unfortunate role of babysitter, herding Jason through the New York subway turnstiles as he lurched around like an ornery bull, helping him down stairs so he wouldn’t face-plant on the train platform below. Given I was the one who was pregnant, I wondered indignantly, shouldn’t he be offering his arm at stairwells and helping me?
So, in a way, I felt oddly justified the night my bumbling, beer-guzzling husband fell down the stairs in our apartment. Provided he hadn’t seriously injured himself—and as he staggered to his feet, he clearly hadn’t—I secretly hoped that this was his way of literally and figuratively hitting bottom. As he dusted himself off with a sheepish grin, he seemed to agree.
“I am such a loser,” Jason said. “We’re having a baby, and look at me. I’m pathetic.”
X-rays revealed that he had shattered some bones in his left hand, which was encased in a cast. I hoped this piece of plaster would serve as a reminder to curb his carousing. Yet within a week, he arrived home drunk near dawn again, his cast covered in scrawled signatures from his bar buddies. That’s when I started wondering: While Jason had sworn his antics would end the instant the baby arrived, that was like trusting that a car hurdling forward at a hundred miles per hour would brake before a cliff. What if he couldn’t stop? Was this “getting it out of his system” a finite phase, or the beginning stages of a permanent problem?
I commiserated with my friends. Many men, I learned, treated pregnancy like a nine-month pass to party. Jason’s drunken tumble down the stairs wasn’t even the worst I’d heard. One pregnant woman I know opened her front door one morning to find her husband lying there, pants around his ankles, in a puddle of urine. His wife chewed him out, but largely put up with it. Why? Because when you’re pregnant, you can’t just up and leave, and when you can’t leave, you’ve lost your leverage. Hoping I might have more luck than leagues of women before me, I tried to sit Jason down for a talk.
“Don’t you think you’re going out a little too much?” I asked.
Jason scoffed and said I was overreacting. In an attempt to add a dash of objectivity to our dispute, I responded that “all my friends” were horrified by how often he was out on the town.
“All your friends are women,” Jason pointed out. “My friends say I’m doing exactly what I should be doing before a baby arrives.”
All his pals were guys, of course.
Maybe this was one of those issues where men and women would never see eye to eye. Still, I wasn’t willing to give up on bridging this gender divide just yet. Next, I tried to appeal to Jason’s sense of fairness. Jason was a crime writer, so I tried to describe our diverging lifestyles in terms he could understand.
“By getting pregnant, it’s as if we’ve committed a crime together,” I explained. “We both get caught, but only I go to jail. Meanwhile you’re free, out there having fun, and never visit me.”
My analogy hit home. Jason nodded, and promised to nest more and party less. But as my due date drew near, the pull of nearby bars became even stronger, reeling him in like a bug to a light. Every trip to the grocer, drugstore or deli became an opportunity to “stop by” some bar down the block. (His most outrageous alibi: “I’m going to walk the dog. Mind if I take the dog out for a drink?”) If I forced him to stay home, Jason harrumphed around the apartment like a four-year-old denied a trip to the zoo.
During one such night when Jason was home against his will, I fell asleep, only to wake a few hours later to discover that he had snuck out, undoubtedly to a bar, behind my back. Like an angry parent with a wayward teenager, I waited up for him. Once the front door creaked open and Jason saw my sour expression, he knew he’d been caught.
“It was just one drink!” Jason said, as if this made it okay, adding that he hadn’t planned on drinking when he’d slipped out the door.
He had merely “gone to the deli” and “glanced” at his local watering hole when, lo and behold, one of his buddies waved him in. It would have been rude to refuse, right? Rather than answer this question, I decided to tell him something I’d been mulling over saying for a very long time.
“I think you’re becoming an alcoholic,” I said.
“And I think you’re hormonal,” Jason shot back. “You know why I go out so much? Because ever since you got pregnant you’ve become a total nag.”
This hit me hard. In our 10 years together, Jason had never called me a nag. He’d never had a reason to. Ten years earlier when we first met, I admired Jason’s knack for being the life of the party. I also took pride in being the type of woman who didn’t keep her man on a leash. Once when Jason and I were out at a bar with a male friend, we witnessed his pregnant wife storm in and drag him home. Jason and I giggled.
“That will never be me,” I’d said.
Only pregnancy had changed the picture. My relationship could no longer remain so laissez-faire. “Once you have kids, you have to be a nag,” stressed one mother of two who worked hard to keep her husband in line. It was time I joined her. If Jason called it nagging, then so be it.
“Sleep on the couch tonight,” I told Jason.
A few hours later, Jason apologized.
“Maybe I have been drinking too much,” he said.
Still, he pointed out, while he may have been partying too hard, I’d also been hard on him.
“You always focus on the bad things I do,” Jason said. “And none of the good.”
He had a point. Jason may have treated my pregnancy like his last rites to live it up, but that’s not all he’d been doing. For one, he had quit smoking, which I had been harping on him to do for years. He had also scoured Craigslist and scored us a crib, car seat, and stroller, and carried them home himself. He’d spent countless hours researching baby names and foisting them on his bar buddies for a second opinion. Had I applauded his efforts? A little, but not enough.
There was a point, not too long ago, when I adored Jason’s joie de vivre. He in turn admired my no-nonsense knack for getting stuff done. Pregnancy had polarized these differences, but when we weren’t at each other’s throats, we were perfect for each other. Jason made me laugh at life when he wasn’t driving me nuts.
And so during the final weeks of my pregnancy, I tried to take Jason’s fratboyish behavior in context with his better moments. Jason, in turn, agreed to stay home during the week before my due date just in case I went into labor early. But a few days into his fatherly vigil, his old urges returned with a vengeance when he tried to angle for one last night on the town.
“The doctor says you’re not very dilated so there’s no way you’d deliver tonight, right?”
Hearing this, I wanted to strangle him. Or pack my bags and leave. Still, when you’re nine months pregnant with a man’s child, what choice do you really have but to wait it out and pray for the best?
I did have one last hope: Jason hadn’t always been this much of a party animal. Maybe his behavior really was some weird side effect to my pregnancy that would miraculously dissipate once I gave birth. Although it had become clear to me that no amount of nagging on my part could mold Jason into a model father, perhaps the sight of our child would wake him up. I would find out soon enough.
Five days later at 4 a.m., Jason was as sober as I was, sitting in the hospital, petting my sweat-soaked hair and telling me everything would be fine. And for once, he was right. Jason cried the night our daughter was born, reminding me that in spite of his flaws, he was a softie at heart. When I arrived home from the hospital, he had a bottle of wine waiting for me, which tasted magnificent.
In the days and weeks that followed, I braced myself for one of Jason’s wild alibis to make a break for the bars. To my surprise and utter relief, that alibi never came. Like a hurricane that had finally passed, Jason’s booze-a-thon ended as abruptly as it began. He still goes out occasionally, but now he’s back before midnight, happy to take the late shift and give our daughter a bottle. Perhaps our newborn has left him too pooped for hard-core, hangover-inducing hedonism. Or, maybe he truly has “gotten it out of his system.” Only time would tell for sure.
Two months after giving birth, I had my first girl’s night out. I was reluctant to leave the baby, but Jason all but pushed me out the door.
“You need this,” he said.
As I set foot in a bar up the block, the bartender’s eyebrows rose when he saw me, as if to say: Fancy seeing you here instead of your husband. When I returned home, my daughter was safe and asleep. Jason was beaming with a look that implied See? She’s still alive. Stop worrying so much.
These days, Jason’s drunken tumble down the stairs seems a little less ominous. Sometimes I even joke about it. We all fall at some point. Some of us fall quietly, others with flair. We’d all lead lonely lives if we didn’t stick around and trust that people will eventually get back on their feet.
Judy Dutton is the author of Secrets from the Sex Lab and the upcoming Science Fair Season: Twelve Kids, a Robot Named Scorch… And What It Takes To Win, published by Hyperion on April 19, 2011.