It was exactly one year ago today when Jeni (39 weeks pregnant) and I finished an exciting-but-romantic dinner at our favorite DC restaurant in a most ceremonious celebration of many events: First, we started dating 5 years ago (on the 15th of February), due to months of many insistent phone conversations from my end. I knew I had met the woman of my dreams, and she had swept me off my feet. I wanted to start the rest of my life, but there was some disbelief on the other side. Secondly, and most obvious, was that it was Valentine’s day, and we always made a point to share a lavish dinner together and reflect on where we’ve come and what lies ahead. Third, as my wife was “with child” as they say, we were tipping our caps to the lives we had put together as boyfriend and girlfriend, and husband and wife. We had to say goodbye consciously, because the birth of a child changes everything.
We had scheduled an induction (due to “pre-eclampsia” watch) late on the 14th of February, 2014 for these three reasons as well. (That and my having my my hand in the baby shower pool for a 15th of February due date, too. Bragging rights, no prize)
A Little About Me
I want to stop here for a second and describe a little bit about myself. I think it will help place the stories and comments. I’ve always been a studier of people and things. I was a boy scout and always try to be prepared for various situations. Ever since I could remember, I’ve always subconsciously liked the idea of having children. I was one of the few boys I knew who willingly babysat. I wasn’t shy to help out with changing diapers and entertaining the little ones. Additionally, I think at an early age, I found the concept of child development fascinating. As I grew older, I began tutoring as well as babysitting, and found it both rewarding and humbling to watch a child grasp a concept that you are illustrating. To influence thought is a very powerful action.
I knew at that point, how utterly important parenting was. I knew that parenting would be this great adventure in which this tiny human develops right in front of your eyes.
In the Beginning…
Back to Washington, D.C. in mid-February.
As we drove to Virginia Hospital Center (as Jeni says, “the best hospital in this entire area”), we kept thinking about how once we left the hospital, we would be three and not two. I forgot to mention, the idea of a scheduled induction was great, because the bag was already packed and in the car, and there was no need to rush to the hospital, as the cliched situation normally goes.
So, we arrive at the hospital and get into our room, and I immediately start unpacking and organizing. Soon-to-be New Dads, this is key. If there is any down time in the hospital, get the room fixed up, and get your sleeping area situated. It helps to know where everything is and have it ready when the chaos hits. I was close to having everything ready, but I can tell you now, once the big contractions hit, you better STAY at her side.
The first waves of contractions with the Pitocin “weren’t bad,” she tells me. This changes after they start increasing the dose. From then on it was the usual trying to breathe through the pain. (ed note from Jeni: I was banging the side rails in so much pain. “Wait til baby is at zero-station before you get an epidural” they say. Well, not on pitocin!!! Get that sucker when it is hard to hold back a scream!) Boy, did I feel useless. There’s nothing like trying to coach someone to do something that there’s no literal way you can do yourself. It’s like telling someone how to shoot a free throw in basketball when you have no arms. My wife gave a valiant effort, and Jia was forcing her way though, but she wasn’t engaged and she was coming in sideways. We were quickly moved into the OR for a C-section and Jia was born at 12:44 am on February 16, 2014. I remember when we first heard her cry, we had this look of surprise, like children realizing it’s Christmas Day. Jia had this little cone head from trying to push her way into the world.
The nurse handed her to me and she grasped my hand with her little newborn fingers and I remember just saying, “She’s perfect.”
Into the Fray
There was a blissful period in the beginning. Jeni was working through the surgery, healing, resting, and above all, nursing Jia. With my previous research on Dr. Harvey Karp’s Happiest Baby on the Block tips to keeping the baby happy, I would swaddle, shush, jiggle Jia, and run all of the errands like refilling the water pitcher, get more ice, new blankets, baby hats, when Jia cried I was the first to check on her, changed every single diaper, reswaddle, shush, etc. I was the first responder in our little Mother-Baby unit world. I knew I was helpful, we were all bonded. It also worked out great because Jia would sleep frequently, so we got some sleep. Not a lot, but some.
But, as Jeni began to move around, I still wanted to be as helpful as possible, but the tides began to change. Once home, Jeni wanted to take more charge (changing diapers, jumping up as soon as Jia cried) as this was our first child. (ed note: I really thought I was doing him a favor by giving him a break from poopy diapers!) While the roles were reversing, I felt like there was little for me to do. I felt less connected to the entire family because all I was doing was non-interactive with my wife and child (chores, groceries, dog duty). The diaper-changing was a real chance for me to interact with Jia and really help out. Once that was taken away, I felt really lost. I felt like I was helping a friend out with her newborn. I learned later from that early time that dads have a special place in the process, and that is really to support the entire family unit. I realized that we dads are the universal puzzle piece to the new family. I feel that we are there to be whatever we need to be for that specific moment in time.
The Chaotic, Glorious, Stressful, Unbelievably Hectic Bliss
From then on, life as a dad has been a breeze. Let me correct that. Being a dad is probably hard, but when you see the little smile or hear the word “Da-Da”, it doesn’t really matter. I used to collect Jordans, but as soon as she came, I started looking at tiny Jordans. Now I collect little girly clothes for my little princess. You really start to put everything into perspective. It’s not as jarring as you would think. You really seem to fit into the mold once you are ready to accept that there is new focus for all your time and energy to make your little sprout grow up well-adjusted.
Getting to that Family Nuclear Bond
What I’d like to say to all the dads out there is that the transition into dad-ness is not really how you would imagine it. The advice I wished I received was that the job of the dad is to serve the family. I wish I bonded more with Jia in the hospital while Jeni was recovering.
I assumed everything was going to stay the same once we returned home.
It’s important to respect the mother-child bond, because mom is going through a severe period of self-doubt, but truthfully, this affects both of you. We work really hard to paint a perfect picture of this utterly turbulent time. In reality, there’s passive aggression, angst, depression, isolation, and helplessness. All while feeling chained in a household with your spouse. Even worse in a 1-bedroom condo. It’s not all wine and roses. Definitely not. Sometimes you feel like screaming — but you wouldn’t dare wake the baby. So you whisper-yell, glare at the back of the other’s head from across the room, or use headphones and sit in silence.
I know it sounds a bit shocking. But the bright side is that you come out of it. It took us about 3.5 months, and over that time there was – thankfully – a breakthough in all of the nonsense. Jeni and I did make this perfect little angel. She was beautiful and sweet (she still is) and her poop didn’t smell yet (definitely does now). It takes time, but you will settle into the groove.
I think there are few things that can help through the process. For the dads out there: Tell your spouse or significant other how beautiful she is, and also, how great of a mother she is and will be raising your child. Support is our game until mom gets more comfortable with the routine of feeding and sleeping. Additionally, try to help claim a part of the day for you to be with your child. I chose to go to work a bit later so I could play with her in the morning, as part of my morning routine. For Moms, I know it’s more crazy for you in this time, but look at your husband and tell him he’s doing an important job to support the family. It can be hard time, but it’s hard for everybody. Even the baby. But we had to learn to try and be there for each other. As we found, your child will appreciate this as the weeks and months go by and they learn to express themselves in hilarious and heart melting ways.
Looking back over the past year, nostalgia softens all of the edges and the glasses become more rosy. The heartwarming giggles, reciprocated hugs, open-mouthed kisses, little chatters, and adorable gestures annihilate those now smaller and less-significant negative feelings of the past.