Your baby is here! Time to throw all expectations out of the window.
As a father of 6 wonderful human beings, I would say that the easiest thing about adding another family member has been adjusting to the feeling of being a father – or being a father again.
I can’t say much that most dads would relate to when it comes to my wife’s pregnancy. She has a condition that may or may not be my fault (verdict is out on that one), called HG, or Hyperemesis Gravidarum for those who like medical Latin, and what this means is that she gets to look amazing at the end of each pregnancy – if you can overlook her sunken eyes and deep dark under-eye circles. She loses her momma belly, her baby fat, in zero days, because she never gained any. Pregnancy for us has been a slow dance with death, because HG means her body prefers to process all food and liquids by violently spewing them out through her mouth. Every blessed pregnant hour of every blessed pregnant day. But hey, she gets to be reminded of this every time someone jealously comments on how amazing she looks after it’s over. “Yay! I look amazing! And it only came at the cost of my internal organs threatening to shut down! Lucky me!”
Clearly when it comes to pregnancy, the word delivery has a whole different meaning for me: it’s not about a cute blubby baby finally set free from its prison womb. It’s about delivering my wife from the clutches of death’s pregnancy minion: HG. When the day arrives for our baby to be born, I not only become a dad, I get to shed my sexy vomit-stained nurse costume and be a husband again. I get a baby and a wife at the same time!
So much for excited expecting.
But my wife’s recovery after expelling the sick-inducing baby parasite bundle of joy is remarkably fast, and from that point on is a lot like anyone else’s arrival into father-land.
Having done the transition 6 times now, I have a little bit of advice to offer first-timers. And it’s yours at the low cost of The Time It Takes You To Read Through This Well-Intentioned Word-Storm.
If I could summarize my advice, it would look like this: Expect Everything To Change.
Those of us who have decided to partner up with someone for the long-haul surely remember that there was/is an adjustment period to going from the single life to the double life. Going from one person to two people living in a space is a huge change! In how many ways does it change? In all the conceivable ways, and then some. Some of us make the transition more-or-less gracefully, while others stumble into each other for a while in the dark, seemingly refusing to turn the lightbulb on in their heads signaling that they understand that the other person is there to stay and maybe some flexibility would be good in working out how to share space, how to share life, effectively, equally, with deference to each person’s personalities, needs, wants, quirks, etc. Sometimes one person doesn’t figure it out. No light bulb. That makes for a fun-like-playing-toss-with-a-sea-urchin relationship.
Somehow we have the notion that it will be different if the person we add to the mix is a baby. We know, of course, that having a baby is a big responsibility, and that we may have to grow up a bit to make sure we keep the little tike healthy, but overall it won’t change our life – much. Babies are flexible by nature. I mean, they bounce when you drop them, don’t they? They can adapt to whatever we have going on. We’ll lug them along wherever we need to go, they’ll sleep angelic all-night unicorn-dreaming sleeps, and sprout teeth with the discomfort of biting into a warm chocolate chip cookie. Heck, their poop will probably look of rainbows and smell of rose-water. Or at least, it won’t do that weird exploding wall-painting and face-speckling myth that we see a meme about on Facebook from time to time. So funny, but we don’t get it because it’s just silly nonsense.
But here’s the truth: basically, that expectation of the perfect baby that adapts to your world is total baloney. It’s poop. The kind of nonsense poop I just mentioned that actually does exist. For real.
But here’s the confusing bit: sometimes parents get that perfect baby. I know, it’s impossible. I just said so. It’s baloney. But it happens. It happened to us. It happens quite a bit actually, which makes it sound like I’m full of baloney because I just said that that scenario doesn’t exist. Ok, so it does happen, but in our case it only happened one time out of 6. And for most parents, if it does happen, it is only once. And the crappy part is that when it does, it’s almost always with the first baby. I mean, it’s great for those parents in that moment, but it’s really not great overall.
First of all, those parents become total jerks. But they don’t mean to. It’s not really their fault. They just can’t understand why everyone else is having a hard time adjusting to having a baby in their lives when their baby adjusted just fine to theirs. They simply assume that all the parents having a difficult time are stupid parents who would do the world a favor if they would just be more like the model parents of the perfect angel-breath baby. These well-intentioned jerks are impossible to be around, because they make all the other bleary-eyed, sleep-deprived, can’t remember when they took a shower last, parents, feel jealous of these peppy, loud, caffeinated, obnoxious, parents of the humble halo-wearing all-night sleeper. I can say all this, because I was one such perfect jerk.
The second reason it’s really a curse to have a life-accomodating little one is that the fall from the top of the know-it-all why-can’t-all-parents-be-more-like-me illusion leaves you in a broken, crying over the injustice of the world, how did I screw up and become a terrible parent, this can’t be my baby please take it back, I only make perfect babies, state. And all the judgment you’ve been heaping on all your friends and complete strangers until you had your second baby comes crashing down on you like a ton of bricks.
Then, broken, bruised, with a smashed ego, we don’t Pass Go, and end up in Jail with the rest of the loser parents.
Actually the smashed ego is what it takes to get out of the gleaming, glorious jail we created for ourselves when we thought we were better than everyone else. Now we get to join them in the real world, as broken equals.
But broken is good. Broken is what you need in order to rebuild.
Remember when I suggested to Expect Everything to Change?
Change is required but it doesn’t have to be a miserable swamp of an experience. Approach the change with the level of excitement you had when you expected everything to change with the person you couldn’t imagine living without. Your love. Your romantic interest. Change can be exciting. Even when you’re exhausted, unshowered, and under-caffeinated.
Embrace the change as a new beginning.
You are changed. The mother of your child is changed. The new baby is constantly changing.
Routines have to change. Time management has to change. Your activity landscape has to change. Quality time with your partner has to change, to adapt. Sex has to change. Your sleep changes too, obviously. Every little thing in your life has to change, to adapt to this new beginning.
You can resent it all and pull away.
Or you can embrace it with tired excitement and draw nearer.
Throw all expectations out the window.
Sex again after 6 weeks? Garbage.
Baby sleeping through the night in 8 weeks? Drivel.
Watching movies in silence? Kiss it goodbye.
Silence? A sweet and rare treat.
Not sharing a sweet treat? You selfish jerk.
You don’t actually want to go back to the way it was, to the way it used to be before the baby. Isn’t that the whole idea? If you wanted to have a baby and it change nothing about your life, you should have purchased a doll. And hey, no judgment here! You can play with dolls if you want. Or just have one sitting around the house.
But if you wanted a baby, then you wanted change. You may not have known it at first, but what you wanted was for everything to change. A new beginning.
And if you don’t fight it, your world will quickly get bigger, brighter, and your life richer, and full of beautiful colors you didn’t know existed, and wouldn’t trade in for the world.
Jeremy Martin-Weber is the proud father of 6 inspiring girls, and is 19 years into a love story with his partner, Jessica Martin-Weber.