After the baby

This entry was posted by on Tuesday, 6 December, 2005 at

A lot of folks have asked me, “so, has being a parent changed your life?” I’m always a little surprised by this question. It’s sort of like being asked if marriage has changed your life. On the one hand, nothing is different at all, especially if you’ve been dating for years or even living together. Your brain has already accepted the reality of partnership long before it became “official”. On the other hand, things feel different because the whole situation is official. It lends a warm cozy aura to the whole arrangement. With parenting, the same sort of thing applies. I had more than nine months to get used to the idea of being a parent, so when the kid actually showed up, I had no sudden traumatic realizations. It felt more like, “well, it’s about time, we’ve been ready and waiting for you for quite a while now.”

If you look at my eariler posts, you can see my anxiety about parenting. I was so focused on all the scary, bad things I had heard about parenthood. At one point, I think I irritated my mother with my negativity. She ended up asking me something like, “how can you be so down when this bundle of joy is about to appear?” I didn’t understand at all, but now I do.

I think that as a society, we’re really focused on the Negative. When a bunch of folks stand around a water cooler, it’s always considered perfectly fine to whine, complain, or commisserate about how awful situations are. We’re constantly looking for pity, looking to share horror stories. It’s not nearly so accepted to talk about joyful things. If you were to start spouting off about how great your job is, how great your vacation was, or how insanely happy your family makes you, it comes off sounding like braggery. Or maybe it would just be dull; it wouldn’t be nearly as dramatic as negative stories.

So before the baby came, all I’d ever heard about were parenting complaints: “oh god, the diaper changing is a nightmare”; “oh god, they’re so expensive”; “oh god, you’ll never have a moment to yourself ever again”; “oh god, your house will be destroyed”. What I didn’t hear were the tales of joy. Nobody ever talks about how sheerly intense the joy is — maybe there are simply no good words to describe an experience so intimate, so powerful, so elating. The whole scenario is so positive, that it turns out that all the annoyances are just background noise. They don’t even matter. I knew there had to be a reason why people decide to repeat the whole baby experience over and over, despite the negative public portrayal.

3 Comments to After the baby

  1. Karl Fogel says:

    December 7th, 2005 at 7:39 pm


  2. Jim Blandy says:

    February 15th, 2006 at 9:07 pm

    One thing I didn’t really believe before Madoka was born, but that I believe now, is that children do vary. I think you’re fortunate to have a baby that is comfortable with its life, but I think it’s wrong to generalize your experience to everyone else’s. I love Madoka very much, but I’d be lying if I agreed that ‘the annoyances are just background noise.” Aspects of it were a royal pain in the neck. It’s not just water-cooler negativity; it’s stuff I used to need to take a walk to settle down about.

    I don’t really mind not being able to go to movies. (It isn’t worth a baby-sitter to go out on a date where you both stare at a screen.) I sneak out at night and watch one by myself from time to time, but only once a year or so; I don’t really care. My daughters’ dinner company has always been a pleasure; I mean, sure, sometimes they fuss and need to be held when I’d really like to have two hands free, and afternoon tea is less relaxing than it used to be, but that’s definitely background noise. Meals are my favorite time of day.

    But the nightly sobbing and screaming as I dress Mika after her bath — her sheer rage, there’s no mistaking it — is, to be honest, a burden. She quiets down once she’s all dressed, and then everything’s perfectly normal, so I know the clothes don’t bother her. I’m as gentle as I can see how to be, so I don’t think I’m hurting her. But each night, the 90-second process escalates to fury and ends with uncontrolled sobbing — the kind with those involuntary, sharp intakes of breath — every single night. You don’t have to be looking for things to complain about to have that wear on you.

    And I know others who have had it worse.

    As Madoka has grown up, though, things have improved steadily. The ability to communicate is a huge relief as it arrives: each new word helps; each new conceptual twist mastered starts to make a difference that day. And knowing what to expect at different stages makes some of the more shocking behavior more tolerable; you don’t worry that there’s some problem you need to fix. You can see the aspects you enjoy getting stronger and the rough spots smoothing — much of it without any active effort on our parts, just from the normal process of growing up. It was a huge load off my mind to see how useless advice and criticism are, and how much more effective it is simply to treat Madoka and her mother with kindness and respect. That sounds like hokey wishful thinking, but I’d be perfectly comfortable being brutal and draconian if that worked — thank god it doesn’t.

    So I think the decision to go ahead and have Mika wasn’t based on what I’d experienced thus far; it came from faith in what I recognized was in progress.

  3. Ben Collins-Sussman says:

    February 15th, 2006 at 9:37 pm

    Thanks for the interesting comment, Jim. Maybe you’re right — Emmett is probably just a really unusually easy-going kid. He started sleeping through the night at 4 weeks. Rarely fusses at all, unless he’s tired.

    I know that cmpilato’s first kid was the same way, and that his 2nd kid was a colic-y nightmare. I guess I should keep my guard up for kid #2!