Three weeks ago today, my wife Liz did an amazing thing: she somehow managed to produce a baby while lying in a tub of water, with nothing more to dull her pain than some gritted teeth and the distractions provided by a willing-but-helpless husband—that would be me. After nine months of watching her growing in Liz’s belly, Clemence took only three hours to make her appearance, gray-smeared and screaming, into the world, and things changed. In between the dirty diapers and late-night wake ups, this is what I’ve learned.
No one can tell you what it feels like to hold your baby for the first time.
That isn’t to say they won’t try—a dozen or more people, all quaver-voiced and well-meaning, told me that when baby Clem was placed in my arms, my heart would explode with love like an overfilled water balloon and the residue from this explosion would cascade over all my internal organs, filling me enough compassion and adoration for this little person. When she popped out, I felt… surprised and relieved. It turns out that I wasn’t broken after all—as time has passed, I’ve grown to love my little girl more and more. I’ve yet to experience the heart explosion and that’s ok.
You can never know everything…
Upon finding out that we were having a baby, Liz and I (but especially Liz—sorry, honey) began doing heavy duty research on child-rearing. Sleep schedules, feeding plans, diaper-free training, and baby-led weaning became part of our everyday vocabulary. We talked about them until we knew them inside and out, which, of course, led to a very smooth and easy three weeks, during which we hardly even realized we had a baby. And that sentence is a lie. For all the reading and talking we did, the first few weeks of parenthood have been full of exhausting, stressful, confusing times. We’ve frequently felt disconnected, irritable, worried—these last three weeks have been among the most challenging of our marriage. Learning to balance work, wife and baby has been tough, and there’s still so much to learn.
…but that doesn’t mean you should go into it blind.
I’d like to preface this section by saying that everyone prepares for children in their own way, and I don’t intend in any way to disparage parents who handled things differently than we have thus far. With that said, if we hadn’t done our homework, things would be way harder. When we shared our parenting (and birthing) ideas pre-birth, it was amazing how many people told us not worry about it, to just do our best and things would all work out. Being unwilling to do less preparation for a baby than we would for a job interview, we did our homework anyway. Guess what? Reading all those books and having all those talks really helped. They alerted us to issues that could (and sometimes do) arise, and assured us that we weren’t bad parents just because we didn’t know why our baby was crying or how to keep her awake to feed. The time spent reading and discussing was time well-spent. Without it, I’d probably be dictating this post from a padded cell.
Having a baby has shown me what an amazing woman I married.
Obviously, I think my wife is fantastic. I wouldn’t have married her otherwise. But this whole baby thing has helped me to realize that she’s actually some sort of superhuman. First, after discussion, she decided to do a natural childbirth at a birthing center with no epidural, something I was not even 100% sure was possible anymore, and, of course, she kicked labor’s butt. After the birth, theoretically the most intense experience of her life, I was the one who collapsed on the bed while she nursed the baby and greeted our visitors. After we got home, her ability to nurse every few hours day and night made me wonder if she was an elf of some sort. She’s frequently tired, but apparently no longer actually needs sleep—it’s a luxury she’s willing to do without if it’s time for a feeding, or if Clem is just feeling a little sad. She cleans the house, makes meals, says crazy things to our baby, and essentially holds things together while her innards are, medically speaking, being completely restructured. She pulls energy from reserves I’m pretty sure she doesn’t actually have. Every day, I’m literally in awe.
Babies throw schedules off…
I thought I’d be back at peak productivity the Monday after Clem was born. I was wrong.
…but it’s a fair trade.
Having a child is amazing. Sometimes it’s exhausting, sometimes confusing, sometimes even mundane, but when I look at her and she’s smiling—she has beautiful gums—I smile too. When I see her make an expression I recognize, I inwardly (and sometimes outwardly) rejoice. I tell Liz about everything novel thing I see, and she graciously pretends she hasn’t seen it all while putting in her several hours a day of nursing. Clem has crazy hair, loves to pucker, sometimes tosses her head back like a snob, rarely cries, makes noises like a velociraptor, sleeps well sometimes, is capable shooting feces several feet, has no idea what’s going on but sometimes gives me a grumpy look anyway, knows nothing about the world and I wish I could keep it that way. There’s just no way to express it. Having a baby isn’t an explosion—it’s a series of incremental but permanent shifts that never stop and never slow down, every one of which shapes this little human who will someday be an adult. And it’s only been three weeks.