The Transformation from Person to Parent
August 11, 2016 will forever be a day I remember. It’s the day my son was born. His name is Nima.
You’ve probably read a thousand times that nothing can prepare you for kids, and I believe this is true. It’s a life-changing experience in a way that is difficult to describe. The best description I’ve heard is this:
when your child is born, you are also born.
It’s a simplistic koan that captures the essence of what happens to your life after the birth of your first child.
Why am I writing this?
While nobody can truly prepare for this event, you should still make an attempt to mentally prepare. The first few months are really tough, and I was caught off guard many times. This post is my attempt to relay useful information to upcoming first-time parents, as they prepare for their lives being upended by a tiny human.
If this is the first grandchild in the family, you should prepare for an excitable crowd of family who want to visit. This may sound appealing, but I feel the need to set the stage for you:
- You will be exhausted beyond anything you’ve ever experienced (unless you’ve gone through bootcamp, or investment banking)
- You will be extremely protective of who interacts with this tiny person who just entered your life
- You will want to spend as much time as possible getting to know your new baby
- The family will want to spend as much time as possible getting to know your new baby
- The baby will sleep much of the day
Perhaps you can see the makings of a Shakespearean drama in the setup I’ve outlined. There will be a push and pull for the baby while he or she is awake, a negotiation on who can and can’t come over to see the baby with your limited time, and a patience that diminishes with each passing sleepless night. Forging the new boundaries of what’s ok and not ok with your family will be stressful.
Know this: you, as a person, are not important anymore to the family. This is not an attempt to belittle you, but the baby is now the primary reason that your family wants to visit. Whatever relationship you previously had with your family will change, perhaps dramatically. You are no longer a person to them: you are merely the caretaker of a tiny human that the family wants to love and cherish. The faster you come to accept this, the less anger you’ll experience at seeing the relationship alter.
Some friendly advice for soon-to-be fathers (or general non-carrying partners): during those early days, your partner wants their mother visiting, not your mother. I know your mother wants to see the baby too: and she will, eventually. The early days are the hardest, and if your partner only wants their mother around to help, you need to accommodate. I repeat: you should do anything you can to make life easier on yourself in the beginning, and a happy partner will make life easier. If you have to choose between a happy partner and a happy mother, I hope you make the right choice. I’m sure there are exceptions to this rule, as there are for every rule, but take this as a piece of hard-earned wisdom.
Perhaps you’ve read this somewhere already, but I think it’s important to emphasize: your relationship with your partner will become strained (even very strained) in the short-term as you figure out your new life together as a family. Extreme stress, sleep deprivation, imposter syndrome about being a parent, visiting family, new patterns, and potential medical issues with your newborn all contribute heavily to this strain. I don’t know that there’s much you can do about it: just know that it’s coming, and be patient with each other.
It’s helpful to remember the stress is rooted in the situation, and not the person. It’s exhaustion and hormones talking most of the time, and not you or your partners personality.
Daily Life Patterns
I assume that you have well-established patterns you follow for work, meals, sex, the gym, socializing, etc. For example, maybe your morning routine is something like: wake up at 8am, go for a run, shower, make oatmeal, and get into the office by 9:30. That sounds like a nice morning.
All of these patterns will be broken, and need to be re-established. It can be difficult to watch a pattern break, especially one you enjoy, knowing that putting it back together requires work and effort. The new pattern will not look similar to the old one, and will likely require more effort to execute. I used to work out 4–5 times a week, going at all hours of the day. A workout now requires a small amount of sacrifice. It means I’m late to work, not spending quality time with my partner, or coming home late and subsequently not seeing my baby as much.
If you decide to breastfeed your baby, just know that it can be difficult. After talking to many new parents, my wife and I both found a common pre-birth belief that breastfeeding would be natural and easy; a belief we used to share. This turned out to be false for us, and for many of our friends. I recommend searching for a lactation consultant if you have issues breastfeeding. They can help enormously.
Time and Energy
As a baseline for anything you do, or plan to do, you should expect to have very little free time, and much less energy than before. I had lots of books and projects lined up for my paternity leave.
Newborns sleep up to 16 hours a day, right? I should have plenty of time for other things.
False. All of this, false.
The mother’s body spends nine months flowing with high levels of hormones and new chemicals. As soon as the baby is born, the body stops producing those hormones. The tap turns off, quite suddenly.
I’m not a physician, but this is what I’ve pieced together from reading and talking: it’s the chemical equivalent to being on a drug high, and coming down suddenly. It’s hard on the mother, for understandable reasons. Not every mother goes through it, but many, many do.
As a partner, there’s not much you can do about it. Just know that it can happen, and provide support if it does.
Final Tidbits and Random Thoughts
- The 4th Trimester: there is a theory that humans aren’t gestated long enough, and are born too early due to the large circumference of the head. The first three months of life are spent finishing gestation. I found this to be an interesting way to think about those first months with a newborn. In a simplistic way, you can more easily anticipate what a baby might want by thinking, “what would he or she be doing in the womb right now?”.
- The things you buy are for your comfort, not the baby’s comfort. This was advice given to us that we’ve found immensely truthful. The baby could care less if you have a glider vs a rocking chair, or use a boba wrap vs a baby k’tan. Make choices based on whatever makes you the most comfortable.
- Remember that everyone giving you advice is drawing from an experience where the sample size is extremely small (including me). If I raised 100 babies and then gave you advice, you should listen to me, but right now I’m a one-baby shill who can barely stay up until midnight anymore. Every baby is different, and just because car rides always put one baby to sleep for someone you know, that will not work on all babies. Take all advice as potential strategies, not as truth.
Congratulations on being the caretaker of a brand new tiny human. The amount of love in your life will increase tremendously, in proportion to your cortisol levels. One day you will feel like a person again, but only after your life has gone through a dramatic transformation. Good luck!