On Fatherhood, and Being in the Presence of New Life

This morning, I finally found the time to write on what triggered this blog in the first place: fatherhood. Our newborn arrived six weeks ago. The addition of new life to our house has been one of the most exhilarating experiences I have ever had. Every time I look at her, I am amazed at the miracle of life, and am filled with joy. The two weeks I took off to bond with her were the most meaningful days of the past year, and overall it has been a process of discovery, becoming grounded in life, and partnership with my wife in our family’s recovery and growth.

The first six weeks is a significant time in a child’s development. Many cultures talk about the first 40 days of a newborn’s life as being a critical time required to build basic immunity. The sixth week is also usually the time when newborns start having their first major growth spurt, and when they are likely to smile for the first time. In our baby’s case, the main developments are that her newborn size clothes are already small for her, and that she can lift her head and keep it up while I burp her on my shoulder.

It is too early to write about the meaning of a child or the secrets of fatherhood. The overall feeling is that some days go by in essence objectifying: worrying, looking for resemblance, and taking pictures of ‘our child’; whereas others are spent feeding, playing, and observing: just ‘being with her’.

The reality of effective parenting in the first few weeks also seems to have more to do with pragmatism than ideology. New parents are literally thrown into taking care of a newborn who completely relies on them for development and survival. Don’t get me wrong, every day there are subtle signs of growth and undercurrents of change. However far too many parents seem to be focused on finding magical recipes to follow (maybe with the objective of getting more sleep or perhaps to feel like a good parent), which brings me to the topic of parenting advice, a curious phenomena in our culture.

It is customary in the U.S. for existing parents to give unsolicited advice of all kinds to new parents. The one that I kept hearing the most was “get as much sleep as you can before the baby arrives”. Curiously when I asked these parents which books they found most helpful, the choices were mostly one of the bestsellers on parenting, followed by the disheartening statement that “to be honest even that book did not help much”. One explanation is that we forget and thus do not remember what helped us when our child was a newborn (aka a child under three months). Most books also try to be ‘complete’ instead of providing a system of care, and thus end up being an information dump of what the author could collect in terms of typical changes in the child usually between the 1st week and 1-3 years of age.

To be fair, a colleague did tell me about Harvey Karp’s DVD which has been quite useful. A friend also helped me see the importance of Paternity Leave and bonding with a newborn.

A baby’s body is more an organic system than a mechanical one, and so caring for a baby is more of an art than science. For example babies breastfeed differently and whether or not you supplement with formula, a baby’s eating and sleep is interrupted by burps, wet diapers, gassy tummy etc. which do not lend themselves well to strict formulas or schedules. Thus like finding the perfect diet for an adult, parents looking for the perfect feeding schedule for their baby never arrive at an immovable destination, and even though at times it may feel like you have found the perfect balance — because of the changing conditions — you may in fact be constantly underfeeding or overfeeding (in adults this is called the Unit Bias) your baby.

That said, to honor the tradition of giving unsolicited advice, here are my four, based on my first six week’s of experience:

(1) Get into shape before the baby comes (especially around your core and shoulders), (2) Sleep when your baby sleeps, (3) Your baby makes loud noises in her/his sleep, and that is ok, and (4) Get this book for your wife.

We had friends over last night, and I suddenly noticed that my daughter was looking at me from far away. I got up and went closer to make sure. Indeed! She was able to distinguish me among a crowd of strangers. It made me smile, I felt like her father.

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