My wife and I are now the proud parents of a five-day-old baby, and as we expected, he’s already drastically changing our lives. Here’s what I’ve learned so far.
1. Babies = Time Travel
If you want a time machine, forget Doc Brown and his Delorean: instead, have a baby. Except, this time machine is no express train; it won’t whisk you away to 2015 or send you traipsing back to 1955 and the days of “I Like Ike.”
No, this time machine is entirely random. When your kid won’t stop crying, time essentially stops. That might sound obvious, but experiencing your kid doing it is another thing altogether. It’s excruciating. (This happened to our little guy on our second night.)
And really, little guys and gals have lots to cry about—being hungry, dirty diapers, and of course, the shocking realization that eating one’s own hand is not very tasty.
Of course, more often than not, time seems to accelerate, so one day your little guy/gal is five days old, then suddenly they are five, fifteen, twenty five.
Now I know I’m only five days in, so I’m extrapolating a bit here, but I’ve experienced this vicariously with my niece (already nearly two!), and I’m assuming this effect will only get more pronounced.
Taken all together, the experience is pretty mystifying. I mean, imagine if this were a movie: Most of the action would be shown in fast forward, except for the excruciating portions, which are in slow-motion. And there’s no predicting any of it, minor disasters (goldfish funeral #732; the infamous ice cream accident of June 1, a.k.a. ice cream down! ice cream down!) happen all the time, and there are no smooth transitions from shot to shot. In other words, life with a baby is something like an avant-garde film.
2. I really need to start working out again.
I used to work out quite a bit, especially in high school and college, and I stayed in reasonably good shape until a year or so after grad school (about three years back). Then, when I started working a 9-5 for the first time, I started to let things slide a bit.
Now I don’t look like the Hindenberg or anything like that (THE HUMANITY!) but I know I don’t have the strength or endurance I once did. Not even close.
Having a baby made this quite clear. Our baby boy was large—nearly 10 pounds—and while 10 pounds doesn’t sound particularly heavy, carrying a ten pound baby isn’t as easy as it sounds.
First of all, it’s a wiggly ten pounds, so it’s hard to keep a grip. Plus, there are only so many ways to hold a baby, as you have to support their neck and their bums. So you’re constantly using the same muscle groups. All of this adorable weightlifting occurs in tight spaces, so you have to get pretty Cirque du Soleil with things; in our hospital room there was a breast pump, a table for meals, the fold-out bed, the giant hospital bed, the IV, the vitals monitors and all of our accumulated stuff (diaper bags, presents, paperwork).
And then there are the reps. If your baby is somewhat fussy, like ours, you end up picking him/her up, walking them around and putting them back down quite often. This adds up to some serious lifting. My advice: Buy Epsom Salts in advance.
There’s another reason to work out. If you’re like me, you’ll notice your papa-bear instincts kicking it—that whole must-protect-baby-and-mama-bear thing. While I think I could do OK in a scrap, I’d like to get in better shape for that, too. (To be fair: at 5’6, I wouldn’t make much of a proper “papa bear.” More like a Papa Ewok.)
3. Your pre-baby definition of tired and your post-baby definition of tired will, how shall we say, differ.
I know, I know, you’re expecting this, but there’s no real way to prepare for it. I think part of it is when you’re up with your little one, you’re exerting mental effort as well as physical effort. So it’s doubly tiring, and if the kid is sick or fussy, there isn’t always a reprieve, and your fatigue compounds itself.
4. Babies really like to scream.
Pretty self-explanatory, yeah?
5. Even when they are screaming, babies are pretty darn cute.
Oliver likes to scream. (He gets this from his mother, I think.) But even when he’s going at full volume—and this kid’s got lungs—it’s still cute. Oliver’s cries tend to sound something like, “Wh-wh-wha-whyyyyy?” as if he has been grievously wronged.
6. I really need to buy my parents a beer.
See #3, #4 and #5.
7. My preconceptions about parenting were often wrong.
I thought I knew what I was getting into, but I was wrong. I had the broad strokes right (changing diapers! feeding baby! toys!), but I got the day-to-day details all wrong.
I figured there would be a reasonably set feeding and changing schedule and that his behavior would be mostly predictable, even at first. Nope and nope.
While I know I’m only five days in, I feel safe in saying this: If you don’t have kids, you don’t know what it’s like to parent. In other words, no amount of anticipation and preparation equate to experience. That’s like thinking you know what it’s like to experience skydiving without, you know, actually doing it.
To extend that metaphor a bit more, unlike when you’re jumping out of a plane, in parenting there isn’t a real back-up chute. I mean, there’s family and friends, and their support is essential, but when it all comes down to it, you’ve got a tiny person who needs food and shelter and toys and most importantly, your constant love and attention, and they’re relying solely on you.
8. No one should ever make fun of mothers, (or women generally).
I’ve never really understood the word “pussy” as a byword for weakness. If you’ve never seen a woman endure the less pleasant day-to-day aspects of pregnancy, you really have no idea what you’re talking about. (It’s not surprising, then, that the world is primarily used by high schoolers and other young men who have little to no contact/respect for actual pregnant women.)
And of course, all of that pain is merely the previews to the feature film: when a woman goes into labor it’s the “pussy’s” big day, and it was goddamn awful, even for me.
It was like watching my wife being tortured; all that was missing were the guys in fedoras and a flickering fluorescent bulb overhead. Somehow, my wife endured it, and even more than that—she was cracking jokes when her contractions were about a minute apart. She is far tougher than I am: I would have been yowling like a kitten in a blender.
Biological nuances aside, I think that having folks witness a woman actually giving birth could go a long way toward helping us ditch some of our shoddy societal preconceptions about women (and perhaps the use of the word “pussy”). Plus, if teenage girls and boys were to actually witness a birth (they could do so in one of those observation hospital rooms with the one-way glass) they may then realize what bringing a child into the world actually entails. If they did, there might be a subsequent “scared straight” effect, and perhaps they would make better choices in their nascent sex lives. (Plus, this would be a great way to augment a health class or a biology class.)
Of course, I’m aware that this would probably never happen, for a myriad of reasons. Not least that we’re a nation of hypocritical prudes: some of the most famous women in our culture are actresses, many of whom have had topless roles, and nearly all jaunt down the red carpet in plunging, showy gowns. But showing the actual biological machinery at work (breastfeeding) is practically anathema.
9. No one should ever make fun of single mothers.
See #7 and #8. Doing this with two people is hard enough. Doing it alone is almost unfathomable.
10. Changing diapers isn’t the hard part.
The hardest part has been those moments when I’ve been unable to settle our little guy down, despite having fed him, changed him, and having done all I could to account for his well-being. It’s unfair that the most innocent should have to suffer.
11. When you go to the hospital, bring your own pillow.
Hospital pillows are often covered in this weird plastic, and it feels like one is sleeping on a jellyfish. The pillows don’t just feel weird, either. They squeak when you reposition your head. Pillows shouldn’t sound like birds; I consider that a self-evident truth.
12. Baby swings are worth more than gold.
Worried about the collapse of the dollar? Don’t invest in gold. Invest in baby swings. These things are seriously undervalued. Once the baby is here, it’s often pretty fussy, at least for us. Our little guy likes to be rocked, but unless you can crush a beer can with your biceps, your arms will be shot pretty quick. Baby swings solve this problem; Oliver likes them so much, we’ve got two (thanks to our fine friends and family).
13. Doomsday preppers are probably nuts. But baby prepping makes complete sense.
I’m not a doomsday prepper, but my wife and I were baby preppers. Let me put it this way: We practically own stock in the Pedialyte company, we’ve got more diapers than the Octomom, and we have cornered the market on baby outfits featuring cute cartoony crabs and lobsters. (There is perhaps nothing cuter than a pissed-off infant looking all Mr. Angrypants while wearing a shirt that features a large smiling crab.)
14. Modern Medicine Probably Saved My Wife and Child
While my wife and I wanted our child to be born the traditional route, we eventually had to opt for a C-section. I’m glad we did, because it probably saved both of their lives. After they ganked Ollie out, they measured his head; it was 14.5 centimeters in circumference; when the female reproductive system is ready to deliver, the opening is 10 centimeters. The doctor said it herself, “There was no way that baby was coming out that way.” To put it another way, if this birth had taken place 150 years ago, there probably wouldn’t have been a happy ending.
15. You’ve probably wasted a lot of your life.
I’m 29. I’ve spent considerable amounts of my life playing Nintendo systems of one sort or another, drinking a rather staggering amount of beer, and generally not being productive.
As I’m a writer, this is clearly problematic, and I’ve always had a vague of idea of how much time I’ve been wasting. But now that Ollie’s here, it’s quite clear. I suppose you never know exactly how much time you’ve wasted until you don’t have time to waste anymore. As they say in Star Wars: we shall redouble our efforts!