Having a baby: Before and after

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Evan is four months old.

What’s it like having a baby? Is it like I thought it would be? Better? Worse? Different? What did I think about babies before he was born, and what do I think about them afterward?

Let’s break it down.

Before:

A crying baby is one of the most annoying sounds in the universe.

After:

Surprisingly, my brain has learned to tune out the crying, for the most part. Obviously I still hear it, and still respond if needed, but it doesn’t bother me like it used to. I think it’s partly because I know how to respond, and I can usually get him to stop, so there’s more of a feeling of control. But partly, you just get used to things.

Before:

Parents who talk about nothing but babies are the worst.

After:

I still think so, but I have a different perspective on it now.

Having a baby is like moving to Mars — permanently. You still have all your old plans and goals and interests, but they all take a bit of a back seat to the fact that you’re on Mars now.

If you’re talking to friends who think Mars is boring, you should respect that, and not let it dominate the conversation. On the other hand, if your friends aren’t willing to at least ask “How’s life in that Martian colony?” and devote, say, 20%-30% of the conversation to the answer, they’re kinda being dicks.

Before:

You change his diaper when it’s wet or dirty.

After:

You change his diaper when it’s dirty, or if it’s been a while since the last change. The diaper is always wet.

Before:

Changing a diaper is gross.

After:

Eh. I mean, it’s not the greatest thing in the world, but it’s quick and easy and you get used to it in a matter of days. Of all the baby-related chores, diaper changing is probably the one I mind least. Feeding is actually a lot worse, in terms of inconvenience, because it takes ten times as long.

Before:

Babies need some help going to sleep sometimes.

After:

Babies are utterly incapable of going to sleep, ever, without a parent’s help. Betsy and I actually call it “the sleep dragon” because he seems so afraid it’s going to get him. Even thought it gets him half a dozen times per day.

Before:

Babies are helpless. If we quantify it, a baby’s ability to take care of himself is a flat zero.

After:

A baby’s ability to take care of himself is a negative number. Why? Because not only can a baby not care for itself, it will actively fight your attempts on every front. Rocking him to sleep? No, we must scream bloody murder to scare off the sleep dragon. Changing his diaper? We must flail and wiggle through the whole procedure. Feeding? We must turn away, block the bottle with our hands, and spit up everything we drank. Choking hazard in a ten-mile radius? Into the mouth it goes.

There aren’t many times when I side with the Book of Genesis over scientific theory. But the theory of evolution says babies were designed for survival, and Genesis says babies are a punishment for adults, and I can tell you right now which one makes more sense.

Before:

I have no opinion about baby sneezes or baby hiccups. Kind of cute, I guess?

After:

Baby sneezes are kind of cute. Baby hiccups are an affliction devised by Beelzebub in the Eighth Circle of Torment as penance for some transgression in a former life. Why? Because a hiccuping baby is a baby that will not go to sleep, no matter how tired he (or you) may be. So you’re in limbo, holding this child who is too cranky to do anything but receive constant soothing, just waiting for either the end of the hiccups or the sweet release of death.

Maybe they’re over. *hic* Maybe that was the last one. (pause) I think that was the last — *hic* Dammit. Okay, it’s been ten minutes, maybe now — *hic* AAAHHHHHHHHHHHH

Before:

I’ll feel bad for him when he gets hurt.

After:

I’ve been amazed at how strongly I feel pain when he’s hurting. Whether he’s going through physical pain (from needles, for instance), or fear, or loneliness, it isn’t just that I feel sympathy — it actually hurts me.

Before:

Toys that light up or make loud noises or sing chirpy, obnoxious songs are the absolute worst.

After:

This is still 100% true.

The biggest mystery, to me, is why parents sing or play chirpy, obnoxious songs for their kids when the kids are too young to pick their own music (or care much either way). When kids are older, and have preferences of their own, it might make more sense. But when they’re really little, they’ll listen to (and enjoy) pretty much any kind of music. So at that point, it’s really just you — the adult — that’s actively choosing this crap.

Before:

Childbirth is awful.

After:

This is true.

Yes, you have a baby at the end of it, and yes, that’s wonderful. But wonderful and horrific aren’t like acid and alkaline, where they cancel out. They’re separate. They’re both there, despite each other.

The pain of childbirth makes me really, really angry, because of the way people act like it’s fine, that’s just how life is. Because apparently, if something just happens often enough, it must be okay, right? See, I have this weird idea that if something utterly horrible and agonizingly painful happens more often, that’s not better, it’s worse. Crazy, I know.

The thing is, Betsy had a very easy delivery, relatively speaking. The pain medications worked relatively well. Labor wasn’t extremely long. There were no major complications. And even so, it was horrific and agonizing. So many people have gone through so much worse, and I can’t even imagine.

Guys (or girls, anyone who’s going to be a birth partner), listen to me. Labor and birth are very complicated and very difficult, no matter how often you may hear things like “Her body will naturally know what to do.” It is your job, your responsibility, your duty, your requirement, to learn everything you can about this process and be as prepared as possible. She needs you. The doctors and nurses may be great (they were for us), but she needs you.

Before:

Taking care of a baby is really hard work.

After:

Yes and no.

Yes, the first six weeks or so are truly exhausting. The lack of sleep isn’t like in college, where you pull an all-nighter and you’re dragging the next day — it’s more like you’re pulling ten consecutive all-nighters with some naps sprinkled in, and oh by the way, the baby’s hungry again because it’s been like two hours since the last feeding. And I’m the father — I had the easy job.

On the other hand, once you get past the initial Wall of Insanity, it’s really not that bad. Once nice thing about baby care is that it’s impossible to procrastinate. If the baby’s hungry, you’re feeding him right now. If his diaper is dirty, it’s time to change it. Baby care is mostly reactive. There’s not a whole lot of strategic planning, and frankly, you don’t have to be all that smart to do it. You just have to be willing to get up and do whatever’s needed — over, and over, and over, and over.

Of course, I’m very lucky in the sense that Betsy’s working and I can devote most of my time to taking care of Evan. If I were trying to work part-time and take care of him full-time, things would be much crazier.

Before:

It’ll be great when he can learn how to smile at me.

After:

I completely underestimated just how great this development would be. Not just because I like seeing him smile (which I do) or because I like to know he’s happy (which I also do), but because it’s the first time he can really give something back.

In the very early days, parenting is especially selfless because, as a parent, you don’t get much in return for the endless hours of care, aside from the satisfaction that you’re taking care of your child. But when he learns how to smile, it’s this wonderful reward, and it means you get a little something in return. It means you get to be a little bit selfish. And that’s nice, sometimes.

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3 responses to “Having a baby: Before and after

  1. Good description. It gets infinitely more rewarding when you can make them laugh. Best thing ever.

  2. “A crying baby is one of the most annoying sounds in the universe.” lol…I still think this is true before and after…

    great relatable post…funny too…

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