1. Before we were parents, we figured that parenting a newborn was something like Desmond Hume pushing the button in the hatch every 108 minutes. You are bound to a few straightforward tasks — breastfeeding, changing dirty diapers, etc. — that must be completed, day or night, with steady regularity. The trick to being a good parent, we supposed, was disciplining yourself around completing these tasks and not going insane.
This turns out to be a flawed analogy. Speaking from six days’ experience, parenting is not like pushing a button every 108 minutes. It is partly about button-pushing — those diapers do need to be changed, and he does need that breast milk to keep chugging along — but we assumed that in between pushing the button we would be free to do other things, like eat or sleep or read for pleasure or pay the bills and water the flowers.
You can do those things, it turns out. But you don’t get to do them when you planned to do them. The day we came home from the hospital (Thursday), Sam pulled a brutal one-two punch on us: He stopped feeding, and he wouldn’t sleep. Take those two activities off the table, and all that’s left in a baby’s repertoire is “Cry His Little Lungs Out.” We didn’t sleep Thursday night, and we wondered if we’d ever sleep again. That’s not hyperbole. We were up to our chins in exhausted, exasperated misery for twenty-four to thirty-six hours there.
Things got better. Eventually Sam started feeding, and eventually he started pooping, and after six days our m.o. is something like push-the-button-every-108-minutes (the exact time length being flexible as it is controlled almost entirely by the baffling whims of a seven pound, six ounce creature who still has a gross nub where his belly button should be).
But the real flaw with the push-the-button analogy is that it misses the scope of parenting. It implies your job is task-oriented. What we’ve discovered after six days is that parenting is (to borrow from Eugene Peterson’s The Message) your sleeping, eating, walking-around life. Everything you do is parenting. Your thinking starts to change. (Erin: “I do not think I can watch ‘Law & Order: SVU’ ever again.”) Your habits start to change. (We overhauled our budget in June.) You see how the totality of bringing a new person into the world shifts everything a few degrees this way or that way — sometimes not the way you expected.
This is, we’re discovering, thrilling. Even with the sleep deprivation. But it’s also overwhelming. When we look up from what we’re doing, Sam is there. He’s not going anywhere. He’s the button that always needs pushing, and he’s the button we can’t stop thinking about or fussing over or taking pictures of in between.
2. Words of wisdom from friends: “The first three to six months is just surviving. Your job is simply to keep your baby alive.” And, “Patience and resilience. Babies make us better people.” Words of caution too: “Ben, are you going to raise him to be a Bucs fan or are you going to be nice to the kid?”
3. We’ve been tracking every wet diaper and bowel movement of young Sam’s life. During those twenty-four hours last week when we had only two wets and no stools, we asked ourselves every question that harried first-time parents in a similar situation could ask. What’s wrong? Are we not doing something right? Is he constipated? Is our milk bad? Is it even coming out? Is he only pretending to feed? WHY WON’T HE POOP???
Our lactation consultant — her name is Charla, and she is nothing less than a saint — told us that we might need to supplement his regular feedings until his “output” increased. This is a step we would’ve certainly taken for Sam’s benefit, but with the genetic disposition of parents such as ourselves, how long could he really go, honestly, without his number one friend number two? She gave us a deadline: If Sam doesn’t poop by such-and-such a time, we need to supplement. We missed the deadline. She gave us a second one; we missed that as well, but won a small reprieve with a wet diaper. Please, we thought, just give us a little more time. It’s got to happen any moment!
When it did, it was a dam bursting open. Poopy waters breached the levees. Fecal floodgates saturated Pamper after Pamper. The heavens opened and liquidy, mustard-colored rains poured from the skies. Never in our lives had we been so happy to see so much shit.
4. Charla was just one of many remarkable nurses at Christ who ministered to us. A good nurse makes a world of difference. We had only one bad experience. She was a nurse on the night shift with a brusque bedside manner. It was the last night in the hospital, and the first time Sam got fussy about feeding. After trying unsuccessfully for most of an hour, Erin, tears streaming down her face, called the night nurse. “Oh, you’re just getting the blues,” she said right off the bat before launching into a definition of postpartum depression. No, Erin thought, I’m not getting the blues — I just can’t feed my poor baby. The nurse did help with the latch, but left behind an assumption — almost an accusation — that we didn’t want.
5. Baseball fans are notorious stat geeks. So, it turns out, are parents. “Height and weight?” a friend asked on Facebook. “I never knew why people asked this until I had a kid, now I MUST KNOW.”
Why, then, has no one invented baby baseball cards yet? Parents would trade these things like nuts. On the back you could also list things like Interests (“pooping”) or Hobbies (“tummy time,” “pooping”). And if and when your kid one day became famous, imagine the value! A ’61 Obama, say, or a ’64 Cage Rated Rookie — that’d be worth both McCovey and Mays, with Don Schwartz thrown in there for good measure.
6. Your relationship with your parents changes once you become a parent. It’s almost like you can start speaking a new language with them.
Our parents have been amazing helping us through week one. We can’t imagine doing this without them. The Beers have rescued us with meals and caffeine, as well as cleaned our dishes, laundered our clothes and spelled us to take naps. (Never in Erin’s life did she think she’d talk about her boobs with her dad. Or that her mom would help her breast feed her baby. It seems a little normal now. Sort of.) The Vores have provided long distance support via steady encouragement and medical expertise. (Ben’s dad is a pediatrician and his mom is a nurse.) This is the first grandchild on both sides. He is going to be one stinkin’ spoiled kid.
7. Your relationship with your spouse changes as well. Though we always knew we’d one day be parents, it’s something else entirely to see your wife breast feed your son, or your husband burp him at four in the morning. It’s like your spouse’s secret identity has suddenly been activated when baby appears on the scene; your husband or wife surprises you with superhero powers of milk production or unrivaled reservoirs of patience and compassion. It’s a little like falling in love all over again.
8. Scooter Thomas has greeted Sam with a mixture of curiosity and mild disapproval. He sits in the doorway during crying spells with a look that says, What exactly is all the fuss about? Sam’s Pack n Play is a couple feet from our bed; when he’s inside it, Scooter Thomas sits on the edge of the bed watching, calculating. (Or is that a look of maternal concern?) He is certainly not pleased with the baby gate restricting him from moving freely about the house. We suspect he knows he’s not king of the castle anymore.
9. We have been blessed with an incredible community of support. From day one, Sam had a fan club waiting to cheer him on into the world. Besides Sam’s very excited extended families, Crossroads’ friends and Erin’s Bible study stopped by to ooh and ahh at him. We received droves of texts, calls, emails, and Facebook and blog comments. Before, when friends had babies and we sent a quick text of congratulations, we were genuinely excited but had no idea how each tiny relay of communication would be a source of encouragement and excitement. We’ve got a Luddite streak in us (this Gary Shteyngart essay is marvelous), but one benefit of technology is that it can communicate love in a big way when you’re holding something so small.
10. The rhetorical question every parent since the beginning of time has asked: Who couldn’t love a face like this?