Sunday, June 29, 2008

On Being a New Dad

While my wife is pregnant with our third kid, I want to document the various stages of the pregnancy as it unfolds on this blog; how the pregnancy can effect dad and how dad can be constructive, helpful, and sensitive throughout.

But first I think it prudent to cover the most monumental change in my life so far and is sure to be until that big change at the end of my life: when my first child was born.

I liked to think that I was the kind of person who was prepared for this occasion; I was from a big family and had two younger sisters, my mom was a childbirth teacher, and I've always known that I wanted to have children. Nevertheless, when my first daughter was born I may as well have been struck by lightening while being eaten by a whale.

The Pregnancy

My wife didn't have a lot of sickness. I know that's easy for me to say. But she did have a downright magical aversion to chicken. She couldn't even see the word written without gagging. Besides this, I don't recall a lot of really tangible evidence that she was pregnant--excepting of course the gigantic test of abdominal elasticity.

When the nesting started, I was, to be perfectly honest, a little annoyed. We had to paint a bedroom and set up furniture for the baby that we weren't even planning on using since we were going to co-sleep. That said, she had a perfect vision for how the room should be (which I also found very perplexing) and all I had to do was go through the motions. The room was set up well before the baby arrived and for as long as we lived in that house, she never slept in that room.

I realize now that it wasn't unnecessary that we set up that room, though. I know now that it was something that she had to do--she felt baby inside her and she had to physically manifest a readiness for the arrival. On the other hand, despite my intellectual understanding of the situation, I had no idea what was going to happen. I had no idea we were really going to have a baby.

The Birth

I don't pay for enough bandwidth to talk fully about the birth. I could write for a month and not be half way through the experience. It was at once the most memorable day of my life and the most surreal. One memory that sticks out at me was walking down the halls at the hospital and hearing a baby cry from the room next to ours. I thought it was the most amazing thing I had ever heard--for the first time it occurred to me that we would be hearing a baby cry from our room. And still nothing was real to me. Still I had no idea.

We lost the battle of our birth from the beginning. My daughter was born in the same backwards hospital where I was born. We thought ourselves a well-prepared couple, but the hospital was infamous for it's greater than 60% cesarean rate which was symbolic of their love of medical intervention. Our birth was as natural as we could have hoped for with the nurses and doctor begging us to just get the epidural already.

When my wife actually pushed the baby out, a change washed over me instantly. It was like the floor fell out from under me but I was still standing. It was like I shed my skin and was a completely new creature underneath. It was like died and was reborn. I can talk in metaphors about it all day, but the simple truth of the matter is that no analogy could possibly capture the change that happened in me. I will never be the same person that I was the instant before the baby was born.

That night, in the hospital, my wife cried like I had never seen her cry before while looking at our daughter. She didn't feel deserving of having such a perfect child. I felt the same way and the three of us--our new family--cuddled up on the narrow hospital bed together and looked at each other, trying in some way to achieve an understanding.

The New Constant

I knew, intellectually, what my parents and all those silly sex-ed classes told me a million times, that having a baby was a 24-hour commitment. But those words were shadows on the wall, mere black and white two-dimensional representations of the full color, 3-D reality of what that means.

For the first week or so, we were both walking zombies. We oscillated between giddy and thrilled and tired and overwhelmed. I had the potential to fall asleep in the middle of a conversation while sitting upright in the middle of the day. Nursing was a huge challenge, one that I have documented to some extent here, and was the central focus of my life.

No one told me that babies don't really know how to breathe steadily right away. We spent hours discussing the varied length between breaths that our daughter would take. We worried almost as much as we marveled at the little thing.

Baby Blues

My wife had a terrible bought of postpartum depression. Really, it's still with us in many ways. there's enough material in our struggle for several entries and I'm sure they will come when I feel like I could get at the heart of things.

The New Dad

I don't complain when I say that I have never been put "first" in our family since then. Every decision, from my job to my free time to what I eat has something to do with my role as father. Every fiber of my being is wrapped up in that role. I don't really know how else to do it. As I have said before, I feel lucky that I had an involved father so I know half of what I should do.

As we approach our third birth, we want to really have the birthing experience we've always wanted. This means trying to find the money for a birthing center or home birth, being better prepared with exercises and techniques, and reading books upon books to focus our wills. Throughout the experience, I hope to document what it is like being a human who will soon have made another one.


Sharon said...

Congrats on pregnancy #3. Have you seen "The Business of Being Born?" It is an excellent, excellent documentary if you haven't seen it.

amy said...

i really enjoyed reading this and got teary-eyed more than once. i wish you luck in your birth-preparing. If you haven't already read them, i highly recommend THE THINKING WOMAN'S GUIDE TO A BETTER BIRTH by Henci Goer and BIRTHING FROM WITHIN. Those books helped me tremendously when i was preparing for the birth of my own third child.

octavialuna on LJ

JoAnn said...

Congrats on pregnancy #3. We are currently expecting #5 in a few weeks. I can't wait to share your blog with my husband I know he will enjoy reading it.

Christina said...

Congratulations on your third pregnancy! My husband and I just had our first baby, a daughter, two months ago and words can't do justice to the entire experience -- although you do a very good job of it yourself here on your blog. I was also one of those people who always heard the line about parenting being a 24/7 job but had no idea about the reality of it until about sleepless hour 72 in the hospital. Still, it's the most gratifying and purposeful thing I feel I can be doing at any given moment, caring for my baby girl. I love your blog and can't wait until I have another fifteen minutes to spare to read more entries...maybe sometime in June;-)