After having kids, I did a ton of chores. A herniated disc changed that and my marriage is more balanced now.

Family walking down a road
From left to right, Crandall with her daughters, Emilia and Francesca, and husband, Javier.Courtesy of Luis Francisco Pérez
  • My husband and I thought we had a pretty equal relationship.

  • When my sciatic nerve was compressed by a herniated disc he had to take over my parenting tasks.

  • My husband changed from being the provider in our family to being the caretaker.

My husband Javi and I had what we thought was a pretty equal relationship. We split expenses, had separate bank accounts and laundry bins, and took turns cooking and doing groceries.

Of course, there were several household chores, usually those related to cleaning, that I seemed to do by default. I told myself that making the bed every day or scrubbing the shower once a month wasn't that big a burden, being just the two of us.

When we had children, all the kid-related tasks fell on me

Once we added children to the equation, any idea of balance, we thought we had went out the window. From newborns to pre-teens, our girls' needs changed constantly, opening up new dimensions of parenting responsibilities at every turn. Between breastfeeding and my flexible doctoral student schedule, I ended up taking on the majority of the childrearing. Midnight feedings, emotional meltdowns, kids' social calendars: I kept allowing tons of tiny tasks to pile up on my plate because I thought it was my job as a mom and in the best interest of our family.

From the outside, the scale appeared balanced: Javi had a full-time job and salary, he still assisted with groceries and cooking, and he helped out with the kids after work and on weekends. But at some point, I had gone from just starting my career in academia to watching it slowly disappear in the rear-view mirror, as my side of the scale was consumed with unpaid activities that didn't contribute to my résumé or retirement fund.

Left and right, we were seeing other couples separate for similar reasons: having kids had hindered mothers' professional and personal growth, and splitting up not only provided an official division of parental duties but allowed women to focus on themselves — a luxury most fathers didn't have to fight for.

A compressed sciatic nerve changed everything for us

I contemplated what separation might look like and wondered if it would take such extreme measures in order to find some equity in our marriage. That was at least until one of the herniated discs I'd been living with for two years decided to compress my sciatic nerve in a new way.

Just as I'd bottled up my own needs, I swallowed the pain and hoped the issue would go away. Usually, the symptoms of sciatica healed on their own, but with each passing week, the problem only progressed, and once putting pants on became three-minute torture trials, I realized I needed to ask my partner for help.

After various trips to the ER and appointments with neurosurgeons, I was told to wait it out and was prescribed 15 pills a day, including opioids and anti-seizure medication, which tricked my brain and put me at risk for permanent nerve damage. But the symptoms only got worse, and with numbness, limited mobility, and pain all too similar to active labor radiating up and down my leg, I was sequestered to the sofa, barely able to walk, let alone properly mother my own children.

My husband had to take over my parenting duties

Limited in how I could parent from the couch, I focused on homework and cuddles, and without as much as a whimper, Javi took on the mother-load. He finally began to see how much time went into taking care of the kids and the house — time that took away from other activities like work or self-care, time that wasn't compensated and often under-appreciated.

Between work, home, and working from home, it wasn't long before he was overwhelmed and forced to take a leave of absence in order to care for our family.

From my semi-supine position, I watched my husband morph from provider to caretaker. He made us three nutritional home-cooked meals a day, always delivering mine with meds on the side to my new spot on the sofa. He dealt with pick-ups and drop-offs, bedtime and morning routines, helped all three of us shower, and even took on the household cleaning, not without getting the children involved, of course.

My immobility left me with plenty of time to reflect, but instead of worrying about how clean the house was or how my career had taken a backseat, I was wondering if I'd ever be able to walk normally again. It also gave me a newfound gratitude for the simple things I had in my life, like laughter and crochet, and I realized that watching "Squid Games" with my husband was way more fun than maintaining a pristine house. Most importantly, I was grateful to have a partner who could handle the scale tilting so heavily to his side.

I ended up needing a lumbar discectomy, which helped me to take my first pain-free steps in months. Not only did my husband clean my incision and help me walk, but he has become more dedicated since prioritizing family and health over work and making sure I have time for myself.

Nearly two years later, although our house is not as clean as it once was, our marriage has never been more balanced.

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