Becoming a parent thrusts you into an unfamiliar, joyous and terrifying role. Here’s the story of my wife’s pregnancy, my son’s birthday, and everything I’ve learned along the way.
Getting the word out
“These people have no idea,” my wife giggled at a restaurant. The doctor had just confirmed what she (and a half-dozen pregnancy tests) already knew. “They think I just like hot tea!” The first couple of months of our pregnancy definitely had a rapscallion-esque feeling to them, like we were doing something a little bit wrong and totally getting away with it. Hiding in plain sight, smiling smugly, outdoing one another with ridiculous baby names.
But shouting the news from the rooftops, we weren’t. Per our doctor’s recommendation to keep the impending baby bliss to ourselves during the first trimester, we waited 14 weeks to let others in on our secret. Now this was pretty much the equivalent of asking an elephant to tiptoe or an ice cream cone to stop melting. You almost have to tell someone, and it takes incredible self-discipline not to do so. My wife and I went back and forth, but ultimately decided to spill to one person each at around 10 weeks. Of course, we then made our new cohorts pinky swear they’d keep our confidential confession to themselves for the last month of the trimester.
Choosing two trustworthy confidants, as it turns out, was the easy part. The hard part came when we finally got the green light. Who do we tell? In what order? What about Facebook? And what about the office? We found it worked well to start with immediate family and close friends, and then umbrella our way out. As for the “how,” technology now affords many options. In person is always best, but not always practical. Skype is a good alternative; nothing says family bonding like crying into a webcam. And then there’s the phone. Over 90 percent of households have at least one cellphone, yet people spend less and less time actually talking on them. Once you get past the “Why are you calling me? Is everything OK?” ditty, however, I found it was quite enjoyable.
The workplace is tricky and largely depends on your circumstances, relationship with your boss, etc., but as a guide, anywhere between 12 and 20 weeks is a good time to drop the news. The argument for waiting versus instant notification is that once baby-baking is well on its way, a mom-to-be can point out, “I’ve already been working while pregnant for weeks!” and quell any fears about job performance. My wife clued in her work at 16 weeks; they were very happy for us and totally supportive. Facebook, love it or hate it, is not going anywhere, and we’ve all seen the telling postings and the bazillion comments that follow. Social media proclamations should come last to avoid any overlap with work associates or a six-degrees-of-separation kind of spoilsport. There are any number of ways to have fun with the announcement visually or verbally. My personal favorite? A picture of an actual bun in an actual oven. Just be sure to avoid being too cryptic, like my friend who opened up a completely different discussion by posting, “It came back positive!”
Invasion of the body snatcher
If there was one constant refrain through-out pregnancy, other than the occasional —yet surprisingly forceful—plea for peanut butter pie, it was this: “These are not my boobs!” My wife’s words, not mine. And though I offered to claim those free agents off of waivers, there seemed to be a league-wide lockout still in effect. Personally, I think her breasts took an undue amount of criticism during the entire ordeal. Sure, they could be divas at times; there were blockages and shortages and engorgings and leakings. But they were a symptom of a bigger problem.
When people think pregnant, they think of morning sickness, pickle juice frappes and raging hormones. Maybe swollen ankles. Not to downplay these very real side effects, but they all dock on the shared wharf of this truism: My wife’s body was being held hostage. There’s not much to do about it, unfortunately; it’s just part of the deal.
“Normal” weight gain for a healthy woman during pregnancy is 25 to 35 pounds. As one of those rare types who attends the gym for “fun,” my wife had a hard time accepting this. She ate fairly well and did not put on an excessive amount of weight. And yet, her body still changed, morphed. Weight was gerrymandered to new districts and loitered in places it hadn’t before, and she didn’t like it.
Despite her health-consciousness, her pregnancy cravings were very real, and regularly put me in the unenviable position of attempting to assess the emergency level. Often, “Family-size Ruffles!” meant my wife was craving salt and could be satisfied with a healthier alternative. (If I had gotten my wife even half the amount of potato chips she demanded, Idaho would be retired by now, laying on a beach in Thailand.) Then again, sometimes “Ruffles!” means Ruffles.
What worked for us was portion control. The more junk food was around, the faster it disappeared—a phenomenon to which I was, admittedly, an equal contributor. I actually bought the family-size bag once, and only once. The blissful gluttony quickly turned to “I feel gross” groans and “Why did you do this to me?” accusations. Thankfully, soda water was a lifesaver. My wife swore it kept her hydrated, refreshed, reduced her appetite a bit, and helped keep the nausea at bay.
After the first trimester, everything got a little brighter. There was less nausea, less worry. Letting the world in on news of the baby-to-be, combined with the transition to maternity clothes, made an incredible difference. For us, it was like a switch flipped. My wife went from stuffing herself miserably into her clothes every day to proudly rocking a baby belly. She started getting upset when people didn’t ask if she was pregnant. We began to feel the baby move; we began to feel like a mom- and dad-to-be. We were totally ready for parenthood—or so we thought.
Expecting the unexpected
People always say the day their kid was born was the happiest of their lives. I’d argue they have highly selective memories. Our son’s birth wouldn’t even crack my top 20, honestly; it was a stress-mess from the very beginning, and certainly nowhere near the stereotypical ’80s movie “It’s a boy!” scene I had envisioned. Prior to the big day, my wife had been adamant about having a natural delivery. No pain meds, no excuses and no funny stuff from the doctors. Our baby, it turned out, had other ideas. He thought it would be much more fun to surprise us at 32 weeks —and he was breech. C-section it was! No debates, no options, no choice.
The fact is that C-sections are major surgeries. My wife couldn’t walk the first day post-op, couldn’t go to the neonatal intensive care unit to see our son. Most people spend two or three nights in the hospital afterward; we spent four. But all’s well that ends well, of course. Our little guy was tiny (4 pounds, 9 ounces) but healthy. The wait was over, and with it our former lives. We would now, forever and always be parents.
Here’s a little secret you might not know: Newborns are extremely boring. They can’t sit up, they don’t know any good jokes, and they almost never say “please” or “thank you.” Given the choice, you probably wouldn’t opt to hang out with them. Luckily for them though, you don’t have that choice.In their defense, it’s not really their fault, they just can’t do a whole lot. Becoming a dad has given me serious pause to marvel at human evolution. What other species has been able to thrive while being born so utterly helpless? Cows stand the day they are born; this feat took my son a solid eight months.
Now obviously, your baby is the most interesting thing in the world, but that is only your world. You get to see the daily discoveries and advancements and sparks of genius that boggle the mind. Your mind. To everybody else, though, your pumpkin is just that thing asleep in the bassinet that squeaks every so often.
On our first day home from the hospital, I gave our latest family member the grand tour of his new digs, then snapped him into his newly assembled swing, nice and snug. He sat there, rocking rhythmically, contentedly sucking away on a pacifier. My wife and I sat on the couch, ogled over him for a few minutes, took some pictures, ogled over those, then looked at one another with the same thought: OK, now what?
The constant weight and breadth of responsibility cannot possibly be understated, and, condescending as it sounds, cannot be understood until it is experienced firsthand. All my lofty parental ideals of instilling moral values and nurturing self-esteem were quickly replaced by the bleary-eyed reality of survival parenting.The National Sleep Foundation reports that newborns sleep an average of 14 hours a day, give or take four hours, which hardly seems fair, considering that the cumulative sleep deprivation parents face is enough to make a grown man cry. Or at least rant at co-workers, friends, strangers on the bus … anyone sans newborn, really, who might complain of being “tired.” You will need a game plan.
The most effective strategy we implemented involved splitting things up and maximizing sleeping windows. My wife fed the baby at 9 o’clock every night and then went to bed. More of a night owl anyway, I stayed up until midnight, fed him, then went to bed. She did the 3:00 a.m., and the 6:00 a.m. was largely by committee, which is to say one of us would usually feign sleep while the other cursed and put on his or her slippers.
We ruled preemptively that anything hurtful said, mumbled, blurted out or shouted between the hours of 9 p.m. and 9 a.m. was to be immediately stricken from the relationship record. Though outside of those hours, communication is paramount, because in adherence to Murphy’s Law, it is seemingly impossible for both parents to get a restful night’s sleep on the same night.
The silver lining
For most families, the first few months with a newborn are endured. But then, before you know it, a shift happens. After a very successful sleep training campaign around six months, we began to get some rest. Our son slept through most of the night, my wife pumped less, and the whole gang was getting some color back, some wind in our familial sails. We found ourselves smiling more than yawning, laughing more than fretting, living more than surviving. We were starting to get some family mojo.
The day our son was born, as I mentioned, was not a particularly wonderful day. The best day actually came a month later, when I carried him out of the hospital into a warm autumn afternoon. For him, a first taste of sunshine; for me, a first real taste of fatherhood.
Since that day, it’s taken a lot of time and trial and error to break in these Daddy shoes. I know they’re barely scuffed, but they’re getting more comfortable. And I can’t wait to see where they take me next.