Two Months and Counting February 22, 2014 | 04:10 pm

It’s been two months since my baby was born, three since I posted “Congratulations! She's Pregnant! You're Screwed!“. I thought it might be time for a bit of retrospection.

There are a few things that I want to say right away.

First of all, I was hugely helped by idea that becoming a father is a crucible (see the comment by Avdi on the previous post), and that you have to fight for whatever time you need. Anything that is fat in your schedule needs to be eliminated. It’s just that simple. Once the baby comes, your schedule is cutthroat, and it’s all about just pushing through.

Second, I have become an idiot. And, by all reports, this is never going to get better. I cannot remember things as well as I did before the baby, and I’m making stupid mistakes that I wouldn’t have made before. Creativity is harder to come by.

Third, I’ve gotten fat. Deprived of sleep, my body is looking to calories for energy, and my willpower to keep myself from eating is way down. Of course, I could work on adjusting my diet and improving my exercise, but other things are getting my willpower and attention right now.

That aside, let’s begin the retrospective.

I still believe everything that I said in the original post, and dads-to-be are coming out of the woodwork to tell me they feel the same way. Aside from spreading on Avdi’s advice, my only other advice is to keep repeating this mantra: “It gets better.” The first two weeks were exhilarating: between the constant demands from the baby and the excitement of learning how to manage a baby (Protip: look up Harvey Carp’s “Happiest Baby on the Block” video), it was satisfying in that too-busy-to-be-bored kind of way. After that, things got much more routine, and it became a slog. Each week is better than the last, though, in the sense that the baby is easier to deal with. My baby girl is just starting to smile for reasons other than gas, mostly as a muscle reflex from tapping her nose. She’s also sleeping through the night, although that’s apparently uncommon.

At eight weeks, being a father doesn’t seem terribly enjoyable. But this doesn’t surprise me: this part of having a kid wasn’t what I was looking forward to. I’m looking forward to having a kid a few years from now, and then having an adult offspring. A few parents with older kids tell me that they want to be back at this phase, and I don’t get it. My running theory is that they have suffered brain damage, suppressed the trauma, or otherwise forgot just how much this time sucks.

And this time does suck. Breastfeeding is extremely hard, and the mother will need a lot of support. This is especially true in the beginning, when breastfeeding took four hands to really work. Now that we are past that stage, my job has become entertaining my wife for the six hours or so that she is stuck in the chair doing the breastfeeding. That’s a lot easier and more fun than the previous job, so it’s getting better.

Outside of breastfeeding, there’s the ever-popular game of “Why the Hell is the baby crying this time?” Initially, there was just one setting to the crying: “END OF THE WORLD”. Now, she’s just now starting to have distinct cries for “END OF THE WORLD”, “pain”, and “anything else”, which at least offers a clue. But since “pain” could be anything from being scratched to an arm being stuck in an awkward position to gas, it’s hard to debug. And “anything else” requires running through the whole list, which is roughly this (in order): diaper, hungry, uncomfortable, bored, tired, WTF?

Meanwhile, people keep encouraging me to spend time with the baby, but I don’t know what to do. She screams at me most of the time when I tried to do babywearing: the one notable exception was when I wore her to Durham Friends Meeting (the Quaker Meeting that I attend). I consider her staying quiet for forty-five minutes while being worn to be a miracle on par with Hanukkah. Outside of that, she mostly just sits there, which doesn’t give me a whole lot to work with. I was going to read to her every night, but she doesn’t tolerate that well with me. (Other people seem to have better luck for some reason, which is disheartening to say the least.) Occasionally, I’ve got enough energy and excitement to be able to entertain myself with her, but that’s just for extremely limited windows.

I tried to have some things that were my schtick: some ways that I was going to be special for her. At first, it was the fact that I could quiet her down better than anyone else. I thought that I had some special knack, but it turned out that I was simply less stressed than Mom and more familiar than everyone else. So that didn’t last long, and pride went before the fall. I was the diaper guy and handled all of them (my wife literally did not a change a single diaper for the first six days), but other people were simply going to have to change her diapers sooner or later. Baths were just her screaming at me in a room with reverb, which is hardly the special experience people sold me. So I’ve mostly just given up and I’m biding my time until she’s more engaging.

While all this struggling is going in within the context of the nuclear family, I’ve found the treatment outside the nuclear family is largely continued dismissal. Dads are very much second-class citizens when it comes to childrearing and any kind of parenting consideration, which basically disengages me right away. The stuff that is dad-centric seems poseur-ish and hyper-macho. I don’t want something for dads or moms: I want something for parents. All of this has at least given me appreciation form the Women’s Liberation movement: if I was treated like this in all aspects of my life, I’d be rebelling, too.

The one thing that has changed since the birth of the child is that I am getting a lot more positive feedback from my wife, so at least I’ve got that going for me. I’m not sure if this is something a guy can just expect from his wife, or if it’s a consequence of her reading the previous post. Just to be sure, if you’re a guy, I’d happen to leave the previous post up on your laptop and sitting out for your wife to find. Having your wife be supportive is huge, because you’re not going to get much support from anywhere else.

Being who I am, I tried for book reading. Every book I’ve read on being a father has made me feel worse, so I’ve just stopped doing that. First of all, all the books contradict each other, which is worse than useless. Second, the books make a big deal about how meaningful fatherhood is and how warm and fuzzy you feel and how that can be spiritual, and I’m feeling little of that, which is leaving me feeling like a broken sociopath again. One of the books said, “Lay with your daughter on your chest. This is when the world begins to make sense.” I did that, and didn’t feel anything more than a weight on my chest and anxiety about whether she was about to burst out crying. Another book I read spent the first half the book talking about “Mindful Parenting” and how great it was and how it would transform everything without actually ever defining what it was or talking about how to accomplish it. So, yeah, forget books.

When I reached out to others, I quickly also discovered that “Mommy Wars” (because it’s not Parent Wars, right?) are vicious. I will take blogging flamewars any day over these kinds if issues. Anyone who thinks that women are somehow innately more cooperative or friendly or whatever haven’t had a conversation with new moms about vaccines or breastfeeding. And everyone is freaking offended by everything, and it’s all hugely important OR YOU WILL SCREW UP YOUR CHILD FOREVER YOU BASTARD. I have literally been told that I am abusing my child (their terminology) by having her get vaccines and using formula to supplement breastfeeding. In return for putting up with this kind of vitriol, I still get conflicting and largely unhelpful advice. This has put me off soliciting advice from anyone beyond my family and some very select friends. This has mostly worked, although I do feel pretty isolated.

Now, to be fair, we’ve had an incredible amount of support. My parents, my cousin, and a friend of mine all came and spent the night, which was huge for allowing my wife and I to catch up on sleep (and each other). People have regularly come and spent a lot of time just holding the baby and being all excited about her, which takes a lot of pressure off my wife and me. So that sense of isolation isn’t from a lack of attention from family and friends: it’s more from a fact that I feel like my wife and I are having to figure this all out (mostly) on our own, and I’ve still got a kind of distance from the baby that she doesn’t.

Between that sense of isolation, the day-to-day demands, and the way it has wrecked my mind, body, and soul, I just wouldn’t do this again. Doing it once has been really good for me, but I don’t have any interest in repeating the experience. From where I’m sitting at this moment, I just can’t understand people who are onto babies three, four, or five. Having a second kid in order to give your child a sibling makes some sense to me, but doing it over and over again seems bizarre. That makes as much sense to me as running your car into a streetlight three, four, or five times. But ask me again in a year or two.

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