With my daughter just turning one yesterday, I had some time to reflect back on what a crazy first night it was when she came into this world. Behind this confident looking dad constantly posting Instagram photosof how wonderful being a dad is – lies a memory of a traumatic, life changing first night at the hospital. A night that has forever shaped this dad, and is now in the back of his mind whenever the inkling of having a second child comes into conversation.
You know when you buy Ikea furniture and before you build, you go through the instructions and feel a little overwhelmed? That’s kind of like becoming a parent. You know what the end product looks like, but the process of getting there is what’s confusing and intimidating.
You realize that the end goal is you becoming a competent and loving parent, but in order to become that, you need to go through so many confusing and trying steps.
That is what I realized that first night when she arrived.
I remember that the first night after she came out, when her mom was recovering and I was lying with her skin to skin on a makeshift couch bed, she was so tiny and so delicate.
I thought to myself:
“Oh sh*t, I have a daughter. Oh sh*t, I’m a dad now.”
That moment, I felt like everything that I had prepared myself for was useless.
I envisioned how I would be as a dad, and I envisioned how it would be like to have a baby. But when it finally happened, I never actually thought about process of become a dad.
Basically, for those first early moments, I just did stuff I saw on TV and movies.
Seriously, at one point in my hysterical mindset I thought, “Oh I must sing this song to her so that she’ll have an emotional attachment to it and be calm in the future whenever I sing”
I talked to her and told her how everything was going to be fine and life is going fantastic.
That was all a lie of course.
I mean can you imagine sleeping peacefully in a warm toasty bed only to be forced out to the cold winter streets – wet and naked?
I’d be pissed and freaked out.
For the rest of the night I remember her waking up and crying every one and a half hours. And I remember getting up each interval changing her diaper and bringing her to mom for feeding.
After the feeding I would put her in a loose swaddle and rock her so that she would fall asleep.
All that crying.
It sounded like they cross-bred one of those rubber chickens with a pterodactyl.
What a truly terrible sound.
I felt bad that she was crying and disturbing her mom, so I just started walking around the maternity ward shoeless with a tiny baby in circles.
At one point I even thought, maybe if I walk her over to the nurses desk, they’ll see how distraught I look and help me hold her for a bit.
They just politely smiled and gave me a “your-wife-just-went-through-labour-and-you-better-hold-on-to-that-newborn-look.”
Basically I was so tired and overwhelmed, and I thought:
“Shhhhhhh*t I have a daughter now, and thiiiis is how it’s going to be?
I really didn’t think it would be that hard.
But it was.
And it’s something that I’ll never forget.
Of course things got better little by little as each day passed. And when we finally were discharged from the hospital, we felt relatively confident that we were able to do this.
And we were right.
As the weeks turned into months, and the months now became a year life is pretty sweet.
As I write this, my daughter is quietly taking a morning nap, and last night I even slept for 7 hours!
Life is good right now.
Yes, there still are tough days and tough nights. But nothing can measure up to that first night.
I think the experience I gained on that first night was exactly what I needed to prepare me as a dad.
And that’s the thing about becoming a parent, you can read all the books, go to the pre-natal classes, or talk to seasoned parents about their experiences. But when the moment comes and a life is gifted to you, you forget everything just learn on the fly.
Last week was Charlie’s first month and what a whirlwind of a month it was! (Hurray for Christmas babies!!) Within the past month, I’ve been up some nights making a list of just things. I’m sure much of this has been brought up before from other dads who have nighttime epiphanies, but I need to have my point across, since it’s only once that I get a chance to be a dad to a first child.
But before I even begin, I just want to get something off my chest.
I think there’s something wrong with the physics of a newborn as I learned in high school that input equals output. Well based on the amount of poop that this child has produced, I’m pretty sure she’s been sneaking food other than the formula that we’ve been giving her.
I mean seriously the stuff comes out of her like your first time going to Menchie’s for frozen yogurt. And while I can go on about the wonders of a newborns’ bowel movement (the darkish meconium anyone?), here are some things that I learned this past month that I immediately would have brush off prior to the birth.
Sleep is Valuable
You will not sleep. Sleep as much as you can right now. Seriously, just sleep now while you can. They say that some of the greatest minds only slept 2-4 hours per night, well you’re likely not as great as Sir Isaac Newton so enjoy the sleep as much as you can before you become a sleep deprived zombie.
For the most part our babes’ sleep cycle is relatively tame compared to other babies that we hear about, but it’s still gruelling on the body. After the first two weeks, I was amazed how functional I was as a human being going on 3-4 hours of sleep a night. If there’s a sure-fire way to look like the walking dead, having a baby kind of does it for you. I am even more amazed with those parents who take on all of the nighttime responsibilities alone. Previously I thought: “How bad can it be? I mean I had some serious Netflix and Call of Duty binges. It can’t be that bad.” Sigh…If only I had a mailbox like in that Lakehouse movie to time-space-continuum-punch the pre-dad version of me.
Check Your Pride at the Door
Heading in to all of this baby stuff, the wife and I were adamant on roughing it out on our own. I mean it’s a good feeling to know that you can do it all without the help of family or friends. Admittedly I have a tendency to not want to trouble people with our lives. We envisioned it to be some badge of honour tell our kids in the future that we had absolutely everything under control, being parents with an us against the world mentality.
I learned first hand that sometimes life throws you a curve-ball and you simply need to reassess and rethink. During the first week, I was challenged with the decision to either take care of our newborn or stay and support my wife in the hospital. No amount of pre-planning could have prepared what our new family of three needed to face.
I thought long and hard about taking it on by myself, thinking that it might be possible to look after both baby and mom, but I quickly realized that this was not going to be a realistic option. When you realize that the end goal is going to suffer, that is when you need to graciously accept all the help you can get.
As great as it is to be independent, it is equally as important to know when you need to depend on others to help you.
Life isn’t a movie where an unlikely nanny like Vin Diesel or Jackie Chan will babysit your one week old child with inaudible action pack hilarious hijinks. Sometimes the best solution is one where your pride will take a hit, but it is the right choice for you and your family.
Have a 3:00am Sense of Humour
When it’s 3:00am and you’ve been up for two days at you limit and your baby is still crying even though you think she’s full, burped and clean, you need to have a sense of humour. I knew things would get tough. In fact, I specifically remembered a conversation my wife and I had, when we first went to the hospital, that our relationship and sanity will be tested to its limits. Those limits certainly were reached and there were times where I thought, “Man, what did we get ourselves into?”
But I learned that the best way to cope with a tiring and stressful situation is to try to make light of it. For the past 20 odd years of my life, I’ve been absorbing enough Simpson’s material to any daily situation, and the beauty of it is that my wife can understand most of the references. I’ve begun to shout random Simpsons reference (“HELL, DAMN, FART!”) depending on the situation and I personally feel that this helps keep both my wife and I from going insane.
I truly feel that these moments helped us bond as they allowed us to create a new batch of inside jokes that only we can understand. As a new dad, there were times where I felt deeply entrenched in the process of caring for a newborn and I would inadvertently shun out my wife. Being able to open up to her about this new situation allowed me to get a big picture of what was really happening and what the goal was. I can confidently say that simply letting out my feelings and experiences allowed me to de-stress what really is a life-changing moment.
Another de-stressor that I discovered is that while your newborn will give you the absolute hardest time at night, they can be an incredible source of humour and entertainment in the daytime. So poke fun at them, take a silly photo with them, or anything that can help you justify the terrible nights they give you.
Don’t forget what she went through
My wife is Wonder Woman.
I can honestly say that watching my wife go through labour was one of the craziest and most intense things I’ve witnessed in my life. Kudos to movies and TV shows – when our baby came out with all the fixings, it was exactly like how it was on TV! The tiny, slimy, purplish-blue thing that popped out of my wife was exactly as advertised on Grey’s Anatomy; never will I question what I see on TV. Ever.
More importantly, the pain that she went through leading up and following, I will never know or experience in my life. If they can somehow simulate the labour and birthing experience, I’m positive it could use it to interrogate the toughest criminals and get any answer needed. My wife is amazing for toughing it through and I made the mistake of making a Captain Phillips: “Look at me, I’m the Captain Now!” joke helping her focus on one of the contractions. Note to self: If you’re not funny when she’s not in labour, you’re definitely not funny when she is.
As the baby takes over our lives, I think it’s very easy to forget how much sacrifice my wife made to get this child out. For the past 10 months it was all about her, and it’s dangerously unfair to her if the attention suddenly shifts from her to the baby the moment the tiny, slimy, purplish-blue thing comes out of her you-know-where.
So just as a friendly reminder: Don’t ever forget what she went through. Period.
With all of that said, every day I am learning more about this world of being a dad to a newborn and a husband to a mom. The moment I think I have things figured out, things get turned upside down and you end up questioning everything.
I am sure there will be much more to learn in the days, months, years ahead, but if I can somehow tell my pre-dad self this (perhaps through a time-travelling mailbox), I’ll be at least a little bit ahead of the game.