Cup of Jo has been running for 13 years (!) so we’ve decided that every week, we’ll be highlighting one of the most popular posts from the past. Here’s one of our favorites, originally published on June 27, 2011…
Today I’d love to talk about new fatherhood. On the three-hour drive home from the beach this weekend, Alex and I started talking about parenthood, and he revealed a few funny and surprising thoughts on our first year with a baby. Here were his eight confessions, in his own words, below…
1. “I didn’t bond with the baby right away.”
The experience of fatherhood is thrilling, but so hard at the same time. I loved Toby from the second I saw him. But the first few months, to be honest, were pure adjustment. The baby is so helpless, and you’re so clueless, and you don’t have that strong chemical, hormonal and emotional bond with the child, in the same way the mother might.
You spend the first six months of your baby’s life cramming this giant rule book. You have to learn everything — how to hold the baby, how to swaddle, how to change a diaper. I had never played with dolls or even babysat, so it was totally, totally new.
I did enjoy it — it was a fascinating odyssey and deeply satisfying — but, secretly, at the same time, if Joanna had walked in and said, “My mom’s going to take over for the next month,” I would have been thrilled.
2. “Time alone with the baby was surprisingly profound.”
Even though I felt so lost overall, I was surprised by how spending time alone with Toby felt natural and surprisingly not scary. I remember the very first night we had Toby at home. Joanna was in bed, and I had four hours alone with him. He was sleeping in the bassinet next to me, and started to stir. I realized that he had never heard music before and that I got to pick out the first song he’d ever hear. I felt like I had a hand in shaping his destiny. Choosing a song on iTunes suddenly felt profound! I decided on “Penny Lane” by The Beatles. It was bright and optimistic, like the first day of spring. It was a magical moment.
3. “My wife acted like she was on drugs.”
Up until you have a baby, whatever happens, you and your wife pretty much respond the same way. You’re on the same wavelength. But once the baby arrives, every thing that happens, your wife has a 90-degree different take.
Joanna’s highs were higher, and her lows were lower. Her general joyfulness was so high; she was starry-eyed and blissed out. On the flip side, she was more anxious. She was more inclined to take any negative thing to heart—such as Toby fussing while we changed his diaper. I figured his fussing was a small, unfortunate but inevitable thing, but it felt incredibly urgent to Joanna. She got really upset by his crying — for her, it was like an alarm clock was going off inside her. She had an extreme surge of anxiety at any possible sign of disturbance to Toby, whereas I would address his crying but it wouldn’t bother me on an emotional level. I just thought, Oh, all babies cry, he’ll be ok.
It’s like being with someone on drugs. You’re on a different plane. You look at your wife, and you have to imagine, ‘What exactly are you feeling? How does the world look to you right now?’ Then you have to figure out how to respond the way she would want.
Everything does come back down to earth again. Joanna no longer felt those extreme surges at both ends of the emotional spectrum and became more like her old self (which is a relief to her, too), and I got more acclimated and felt like my old self. By about month nine, we found ourselves settling back into our old rhythms and feeling like ourselves again (see below:).
4. “I was nervous that my wife would like the baby better.”
Maybe it sounds crazy, but a great fear I always had about having children was that my future wife might like them better. In many of my friends’ families growing up, the husband was basically replaced by the kids. There’s nothing more primal than the love between mother and infant. I was absolutely worried about being dropped a notch.
Once Joanna was putting Toby to bed and I heard her tell him, “You’re my favorite person in the whole world, do you know that?” and I was thinking, ‘Really? What about me?’ It sounds ridiculous, but it was an adjustment not to be the only man in her life. But in the end, I saw that our marriage could never be replaced by a baby — it’s such a different thing. That realization was a huge relief.
5. “Children’s books are boring.”
I love spending time with Toby, especially when we go on walks or play the guitar. But some baby activities are s-l-o-w. Joanna seems to have a capacity to step outside herself and see things through the baby’s eyes, like reading children’s books. But to me, children’s books are fundamentally boring. Like, mind-numbing. The Very Hungry Caterpillar is tough sledding.
6. “Everything turned a corner at nine months.”
I once heard a theory that babies are inside the womb for nine months, but that they remain in the gestational period outside the womb for the next nine months.
Everything changed when Toby was nine months old. One day, Toby didn’t seem to know who I was (or care!). But the next evening, I got home from work, and Toby was eating dinner in the high chair, and he looked up at me and smiled and shrieked and did jazz hands. He recognized me! It was amazing. I felt like we had truly connected. Honestly, for the first time, he didn’t only feel like my baby, but like my son.
7. “I daydream about the future with Toby.”
I often daydream about Toby growing up: listening to music, taking him on boats, teaching him how to cook a great omelet, telling stories about “the old days.” I always picture us on hikes for some reason — even though I don’t really go on many hikes. My father and I used to sit around for hours some nights and plan my future, and I love the idea of being on the other side of that conversation. I also look forward to imparting lessons that my dad didn’t give me — like how to ask people out.
8. “I’m ready for another.”
With your first baby, it’s really tough. Every day is a surprise. But now I know that I can do it. Raising a child for the first 12 months of their life is a skill I now have. Having a second baby? Believe it or not, I can’t wait. :)
Thank you, Alex!