A post by Daniel
I’m writing this in a dark room while I stare at the baby monitor. James is sleeping a few feet away and requires swift intervention if he wakes. If you miss that ten-second window, you could be in for hours of soothing, feeding, swaying, and rocking. I watch every sigh, shift, and fidget with intense anxiety. I legitimately think I have PTSD from the night shift and just a glance at the monitor sends a shiver down my spine. I spend over a third of my day watching another person sleep. And somehow, I’ve never been happier.
I know that might sound like a phony parenting platitude and I guess it is. It isn’t exactly happiness I feel. It’s more like there is more substance to my life. It has more meaning. Adding a child to a couple makes it feel like a family. There are moments of happiness like when I wake up and beeline to find him to get my morning smile. Or when he can’t fall asleep because he can’t stop smiling and cooing at me in the dark as I rock him. Or when I hear Andrea in the other room singing him some ridiculous song about changing diapers.
Caring for an infant isn’t especially difficult. What you need to do is pretty straightforward. The difficult part is thinking about how you have to do it all the time, every day, for as far as you can imagine into the future. Dealing with the loss of your old child-free life makes transitioning so hard. Even harder for me, someone who avoided obligations for most of my life.
The transition was rough. I spent most of life seeking the path of least resistance. I picked my college class schedule mostly on the basis of having four-day weekends. I sought a career where I would never have to wake up with an alarm clock. For the past 10 years, I have slept eight or more hours probably 95% of the time. And now I find myself with a permanent alarm clock that is bio-engineered to induce intense stress in human ears and goes off at randomized intervals throughout the night.
The first few weeks were especially challenging. James wasn’t getting enough to eat and would cry constantly. I was getting little sleep and Andrea was getting almost none. Once we switched to formula things got better, but it was still difficult. When Andrea was breastfeeding, I felt useless. I’d change diapers and try to soothe him so she could sleep a little but honestly he just constantly wanted to eat. So I’d just stare at this crying infant who was rooting and I would apologize to him for not being able to give him what he needed. When we began bottle feeding, I had to step up and be a full partner in childcare.
The first month after that was still pretty tough for me. I loved him right away in the sense that he was this sweet little baby who I wanted to make happy. But I didn’t feel completely bonded to him (even though he initially looked like a 1/20th scale version of me). I think it’s because a newborn is a completely one way street. You pour all of your love, time, and attention into him and he can’t give you anything back. But once he started smiling and cooing at me, I fell completely in love. As frustrating as it can be carrying a crying baby over to the changing table at 4am, that little smile in the dark after he hears my voice makes all of the frustration instantly melt away.
We got incredibly lucky. James is the happiest, sweetest, smiliest little guy. He rarely cries and is never inconsolable. Our only major issue is sleep. He will go to sleep fairly easily but once he wakes after a sleep cycle, he usually needs someone there. We take turns holding him for naps to make sure he gets enough and at night I just stand by on call. He is starting to string together some 3-4 hour stretches so hopefully we can keep improving on that as he gets older. I think we will start looking into sleep training at 4+ months if he is still having a lot of difficulty. If anyone has experience with sleep training methods that worked feel free to share in the comments.
For a while we had a loose schedule but it wasn’t quite working. Andrea was jumping in and doing everything to spare me and then was resentful later. It wasn’t until we drilled down a really specific and clearly defined schedule that things got better.
We have figured out a system that works for us. Writing it out seems a little convoluted but it’s been going really well. We each do about 8 hours a day where we are solely responsible for him. I am a night owl so I take the night shift 830p-430a and she takes over before dawn as I go to bed. I do a few hours in the afternoon so she can get a break 4 days a week and she gives me an entire day off once a week. We do the evening routine together. He sits in his swing as we cook and eat dinner. He loves just staring at Andrea as she eats. Then we give him a bath, swaddle him, feed him, and read him a story. He falls asleep really easily but has trouble staying asleep, so I stand guard most of the night to slip the pacifier back in, rock him, or give him his night feeds.
I find the day-to-day existence of caring for a newborn incredibly exhausting but I’m getting more used to it every day. I am so looking forward to the future, even the short term future when he can just play and interact with us more, but especially the long term, when I can talk and play with him, we can do things as a family, and help guide him through childhood. For now though, I’m just so happy to be his dad.