After you give birth but before you leave the hospital with your sweet, squishy little cherub, they will make you watch a video about how shaking your baby is bad and you shouldn’t do it. Duh, you will think, what do I look like, one of those women on the Maury Povich show trying to figure out which of four possible meth dealers is her baby’s daddy? And then three weeks later as you stand alone in your kitchen after midnight, bouncing to the sound of the vent-hood fan while your tiny Beelzebub hisses and thrashes in your arms, you will think, Oh, I get it now.
In theory, newborn babies are pretty special—you have this sparkling, untarnished soul infused into a bag of cells that somehow over the course of 40-ish weeks divided and morphed into a perfect miniature person. You stare deep into the dark pools of their eyes and see physics and philosophy, evolution and creation, the yin and the yang of the universe, all swaddled in your arms and looking like a burrito with a hat. In reality, a human infant is a vacuum of continuous need that, if not addressed with punctuality and precision, will result in an eruption of screaming rage that will make you wish you were drowning in molten lava because then at least you would be allowed to close your eyes for a second.
Nobody prepares you for how difficult the first few weeks with your baby can be. Or, as in my case, your friend Alice tries to prepare you, but you kind of tune her out because you’re 37 weeks pregnant and you really miss wine. Not only do they not prepare you, but throughout your third trimester many people will deliberately mislead you with exclamations of “Enjoy every minute of it!” and “It goes by so fast!” When you’re finally on the other side and holding your newborn in your arms, you will remember their words and realize that either they are sadistic assholes or their memories are clouded by all of the sleep and personal hygiene they get to enjoy. Yes, you will love your new baby because millions of years of evolution will produce the proper hormones to make it so, but you won’t necessarily be in love with your baby, and there’s a decent chance you won’t really like him all that much. He’s the reason your life—and your body—are no longer your own, and yet you barely even know the guy, and he never says thank you or apologizes for pooping on your lap.
One night when our son was about two weeks old, my husband and I lay awake for a few minutes after one of the 47 late night feedings, and we started whispering back and forth our tentative admissions.
“It’s not like what I expected.”
“Sometimes I really miss our old life.”
“Did we make a huge mistake having a baby?”
“I mean I love him, but if both of you were drowning, I’m pretty sure I’d save you.”
“Why didn’t anyone tell us it was going to be like this?”
“I think Alice tried to tell us at that party a few weeks ago—”
“Oh right. I just figured there was just something wrong with her.”
My revelation is not universally true, of course. Some parents—and some babies—are better suited for the newborn stage than others. If you find yourself reveling in a state of bliss for the fourth trimester, go ahead and enjoy every minute of it, but for the love of Satan please don’t post that shit to Facebook. If it isn’t love at first sight, if you find you are incapable of enjoying every or even any minutes of it, know that you are not alone.
People with children over the age of 12 will tell you that the day their babies were born was the best day of their lives, but I think that is only true in memory. In truth, the day your first child is born is the most transformative day of your life. You can’t be expected to recover from that with a two-night stay in the hospital and a bottle of Percocet. You can’t be expected to recover from that at all. You will adapt, and soon you will fall so deeply in love that you will actually feel your heart splitting apart and reforming to accommodate the feeling. And in ten years or so you will be that ass-hat at the water cooler telling some swollen pregnant lady to enjoy every minute of it, because it really does go by so fast.
Written by: Kathleen