August 22, 2005

Lessons From Dadhood: Episode One

A couple days ago, Beth posted the full story behind Mia's birth. Don't worry - I'm not going to come up with my own. Beth's version was much more eloquent than mine could have ever been. And since I was trying not to pass out a lot of the time, I'm guessing that her version is a tad more reliable than mine.

It has, however, been a little over a month since Mia was born and I've been doing a lot of thinking about the event. I've come to realize that there are a lot of things that no one ever managed to tell me about.

Lesson One: You're Probably Not Going To Pass Out
I spent a good long time worrying about my state of consciousness. There were lots of scenarios playing out in my head, scenarios of how things would go in the operating or delivery room. The most frequent one went something like this. I'm in the delivery room and the baby is on the way. I pass out. In doing so, on my quick trip from vertical to horizontal, I crack my head on a gurney or some miscellaneous medical equipment. Beth, the baby and I spend the next three days in the same hospital room, one of us recovering from birth, the other concussed.

Needless to say, this didn't happen. Sure, while I was sitting in that stool up by Beth's head, I looked around and scoped all the possible trajectories in which I might be able to fall without hurting myself too badly. For a second, I thought I might have talked myself into it. But I didn't. All was well. I, happily, never lost consciousness.

Lesson Two: Epiphanies Aren't For Everyone
Lots of people - hell, everyone - told me that, as soon as I saw the baby, my entire life would change and I'd be filled with a feeling of such delight, glee, and good-natured confusion that I'd be convinced my stomach was filled with rainbows and dancing puppies. The heavens would open up and the beams of Truth and Happiness would shine down from above while angels played a mix of classics and today's hits on their harps. Joy would radiate from my pores and my heart would be filled with a singular love that might cause me to pull a Jennifer Beals and break into a flashdance right here in the OR. So, naturally, when that didn't happen I started thinking something along the lines of what the fuck is wrong with you, you heartless bastard? You'll never connect with this child and she will learn to hate your coldness...or something. The truth is, when Mia was plucked from Beth and plopped down on the warming table, I looked over and said something incredibly profound like "Oh wow." There's nothing like that moment - the moment in which your eyes meet your baby's. But there was no chorus of hallelujahs, no marching band, no rainbows, no puppies. Sure, I was happy but hey, it was a baby. This wasn't a surprise. As a matter of fact, we'd been expecting it for, oh, around 9 months. We'd even prepared a whole room and everything. How's that for foresight?

My point is this. Everyone deals with highly-charged emotional situations differently. And while what others told me was true to a certain extent, I felt a little self-conscious that I wasn't having this tear-filled, fall on your knees emotional reaction I'd been led to believe was par for the course. Instead I sad "oh wow." And, because I hadn't had this reaction, I felt a little inadequate. I felt like I'd missed something or, more accurately, like I was missing something. Of course, I know this is not true. But only after a lot of soul-searching and more than a little feeling of inadequacy on my part.

Lesson Three: It's Natural To Feel Selfish
Selfishness gets a bad rap. No one bothers to tell you that, in almost all courses of life, it's pretty darn natural to wonder about yourself and how whatever it is is going to effect you. Babies are no different.

Beth, Mia and I were in the hospital four days and three nights. During the days, I took advantage of the newly crowned grandparents and drove the 10 minutes home to get a shower and change clothes. This was a wonderful break but it also created something of a dilemma. I essentially had two separate worlds going on - one in the hospital where Beth and by brand-spankin' new daughter were hanging out and another that really represented our life before. There was a house uncluttered by baby things. There were cats. There were CDs and books and guitars. There were photographs of two people, of Beth and I, our own little family unit. I liked both of these concepts but I wondered how combining them was going to impact us and, more selfishly, impact me.

The first day I came home, Saturday, I felt like hell. I tried to eat and couldn't. I had a splitting headache and felt like death. I realize now it was the stress of the future combined with relief of the past. Beth was fine. Mia was fine. The thing we'd been focused on most for the past nine months was accomplished. What the hell did we do now? So, I posted to the site. And almost immediately I started receiving comments of congratulations. It was, in a word, completely and utterly heartwarming. This, this outside opinion, made me feel better and helped me reach some internal bottom line.

Selfishness is natural. Don't get fooled into thinking its not okay to think of yourself, especially in light of life changing events.

Lesson Four: No Rest For the Weary...Even In The Hospital
There are many professions I respect because of the fine and thankless work they do. Teachers, garbage men, cops and nurses, are just a few. For the most part, the nurses in the hospital were great but the whole system could really use an overhaul. See, I mistakenly thought that patients in the hospital were supposed to have a chance to recover and recuperate. In retrospect, that seems silly. I guess I was naive.

When you're in the hospital with a newborn baby, you have several factors competing for your attention that must all align perfectly should you receive the opportunity to rest. First, the baby must cooperate. This isn't easy. She's new to the world and its a change from what she's used to. Take a goldfish out of an aquarium and see what happens. The only advantage the baby has is that she can breathe. Second, you have the nurses. They're trying to be helpful yet they have some bizarre sixth-sense that alerts them whenever one of their patients is just on the verge of actually resting. Sensing this, they swoop in to take the patient's blood pressure or force pills down her throat. Whatever the reason, by the time they've left, the ability to rest and relax is gone.

The sum total of this is one tired patient and, in some cases, a very worn out significant other who prays for a quick and timely discharge so that all parties can get the hell out of the hospital and actually rest. The ability to get rest in the hospital is a great urban myth that I can tell you, first hand, is completely and utterly false.

Lesson Five: There Is An Untold Amount of Kindness In An Often Scary, Cruel World
Two days after Mia was born, that Sunday, I came home again to catch a shower, feed the cats and get something to eat. I thought more about the impending collision of worlds and it scared me. When would I get to read? When would I get to listen to all this music? When would Beth and I get to be our old selves? And why am I only thinking about me? Why am I such a selfish bastard? I posted again and then started reading through the comments from the previous post. It was then that all the tension, all the anxiety and doubt, came loose. I cried, appropriately enough, like a baby. I can't stress to you the magnitude of the crying. The cats were staring at me, having never seen me do this. They looked poised to run away quickly in case my head exploded (it didn't but I could see where they'd get that idea). I cried because of the fear. I cried because of the selfishness and because, while I was excited about the life ahead, I was also mourning the life Beth and I had that was now forever changed. Perhaps most poignant, I cried because of the kindness of others. Here were literally hundreds of people expressing excitement and love for some little person they'd never met. As cliche as it may sound, my faith in humanity and my personal belief that I could raise a child, increased a hundred-fold.

There's an untold amount of kindness in the world that you can never understand until you have the chance to witness it for yourself.

Posted by Chris at August 22, 2005 09:21 AM
Comments

Two things:

Nobody goes to the hospital for a good rest.
Kindness is as kindness does.

Posted by: Susan at August 22, 2005 09:29 AM

That was lovely. Mo witty remark to follow.

Posted by: shannon at August 22, 2005 09:45 AM

The entire Cactus Fish family is very loved!!

And I do mean that in the Southern sense that if you guys were here, you would SO be getting hugged, very tightly. And then we would eat, and HOW.

Posted by: samantha at August 22, 2005 10:04 AM

I love this post. When my friends had their baby last year, I fell for the myth that this life-changing event would change them as people. I was half expecting my friend to have a halo over her head as the clouds open up and a chorus of cherubs sing. But in the end, they were them. Funny, bitchy, warm, caring, tired them. And when I visited them in the hospital I didn't see the baby because it wasn't visiting hours but I got to spend an hour with my friends hearing about the birth. I think it meant something to them that I wanted to see them first.

Posted by: verucaamish at August 22, 2005 10:06 AM

man, now i'm going to cry. that was very sweet.

if you got too much rest in the hospital, and combined that with the access to drugs, you'd never leave. they want you to leave. see the evil genius now?

Posted by: jodi at August 22, 2005 10:07 AM

Reading about you coping with those unexpected (and, I imagine) scary emotions is somehow very comforting.

Posted by: Fraulein N at August 22, 2005 10:16 AM

What a beautiful post. You really brought me to tears. I stumbled upon your(and your wife's)website through several blogrolls and have really appreciated the insite to having a baby. My husband and I are trying to get pregnant and reading about it from your perspective really has me thinking about things I haven't. (Especially in regards to my husbands thoughts and feelings) Thank you so much for sharing your world with strangers. Congratulations!

Posted by: Jensen at August 22, 2005 10:24 AM

Ya know as I read through most of the comments on most of your last posts I have had the same reaction. Ive cried due to the beautiful posts written about your beautiful daughter and I ve cried due to the outpouring of kind thoughts, wishes and words people I can only assume are mostly strangers to you have left.

I also totaly understand the selfish thing and your right its okay. I hope you get to combine your before and after lives and turn them into one big beautiful life filled with all the things you loved before and things you never dreamed you would learn to love so much!

Posted by: Kelly M. at August 22, 2005 10:30 AM

There was no moment of epiphany for me, either. And like you, I figured I was just the only one, even though that doesn't really make sense now. There was just so much stress and pressure with my labor and delivery, which ended in an emergency C-section and then the baby was just gone (with my husband) while the stitched me back up. Anticlimactic and not at all what I'd envisioned. Thanks for putting this out there -- it will help others realize this is a possibility and that experiencing it does not mean that you won't bond with the baby and have great time with him/her later on.

Posted by: Laura GF at August 22, 2005 10:45 AM

Well said. And it's people like you who write truth like this who make people like me who have never gone through it, understand it better. Thanks.

Posted by: Karen at August 22, 2005 11:14 AM

When you are a good friend, you have good friends. Funny how life balances things like that out. :-)

Also, this is one of the best post-parenthood deconstructions I've read--really honest and also emotional. Mia has herself some kick ass parents.

Posted by: Polichick at August 22, 2005 11:25 AM

It amazes me how many parents are afraid to talk about the selfishness. While having a child is pretty damn amazing, they bring on such overwhelming changes and emotions that there are times when we think about (and sometimes miss - gasp!) the life we had before. Thanks for the honesty.

Posted by: trb at August 22, 2005 11:39 AM

Once again, a very moving and honest post from the Cactus Fish family. Thanks for sharing.

Posted by: catbird at August 22, 2005 11:45 AM

1. People should be so kind to their friends as to tell them to expect ALL of those feelings. My girlfriend just had her first baby (about 2 weeks after Mia) and while she was pregnant, I secretly emailed her the 'inside info'. The things you just mentioned. Sometimes being a parent to a newborn is not all rainbows and dancing puppies, as you said. It can be sad. It can be frustrating. Expect those feelings too and life is a little easier to deal with. I just ended that with a preposition. How horrible.

2. When we were first married, I associated my husband and myself with the tv show "Mad About You". Even though we lived far from NYC, it still seemed to mirror out life. When we got pregnant the first time, I was sad that my husband and I weren't THAT couple any longer. It was weird. But it passed.

3. "more than a little feeling of inadequacy on my part"
Welcome to parenting. It kind of only gets worse. And I don't even have a teenager yet.

Posted by: angela marie at August 22, 2005 11:51 AM

that kindness is what i try so desperately to hold on to in this crazy world. i have great fait in that kindness and believe that most things in this world can be fixed by it (yeah, i'm an idealist...). but anyway, i'm glad we were able to make you feel better. :)

Posted by: Judy at August 22, 2005 11:59 AM

Awesome post. Your birth story is every bit as good as beths.. Hers was about Mia, yours is about becoming a father.

Posted by: Angelia at August 22, 2005 12:43 PM

Weep.

Between your blog, Beth's blog, and my best friend's blog (she has two sons, almost 3yrs and almost 1yr), my ovaries are about to implode. ;)

But in all seriousness, thanks for the post. It made me teary-eyed and took my mind off the big scary things in my world right now, albeit briefly.

Posted by: Rhonda at August 22, 2005 12:55 PM

I have no kids, and yet I can relate to this post in so many ways. I read and re-read lesson your lesson three and five, and I can't think of a better way to have spent this 20 minutes of my day.
PS. Yes, of course there is kindness, there is more kindness in us and in other people than we often realize. It's the world's best surprise.

Posted by: ava at August 22, 2005 01:11 PM

Chris, *wipes tears away* you're really testing this pregnant girl. I have hormones remember *wipes tears away*. Beautiful post. *wipes tears away* Thanks for sharing *wipes tears away*.

I understand what you write, and I think a lot of new parents can relate to it. You're not selfish, you're human.

Posted by: Sweety at August 22, 2005 01:18 PM

There was no epiphany for me either (at least not at first). I was young (20) and I was scared and I wasn't really a fan of kids.

One day I was watching him sleep, he was maybe three months old, and his little fingers were curled under his chin and there it was. I could not imagine my life without him.

I will also tell you that becoming a parent has not given me that magical mother goose connection to other people's kids either. They are still strange little alien creatures (all except for Mia ;) ).

Posted by: wendy at August 22, 2005 01:24 PM

Beautifully said, Chris.

(I have this visual of you crowd surfing above a mosh-pit of people who love you. Odd, but funny.)

Posted by: Jenny at August 22, 2005 01:39 PM

Freaky ain't it? You've got it down babe, I have no worries for your family. Sorry about the hospital being so unrestful- they are busy, busy, busy getting everyone healthy and out the door. No lingering! No loitering!

Posted by: Nic at August 22, 2005 03:32 PM

Hey, I haven't commented in a while, but I'm still loving the posts. This one was awesome.

Posted by: susannah at August 22, 2005 04:11 PM

Wow.

See, THAT is why I come here...
You are so honest, not just with us, but with yourself. I find that refreshing. Most people try to bullshit themselves and in turn others as well, and that gets old.

That was such a great post. You did not have the earth shattering reaction at that first moment, but one would never know that by viewing the photos of you and Mia.

I hear angels and feel puppies dancing in my tummy when I see the love you have for her. I know that love well as my Daddy had that same love for me. I saw it in his eyes every single time he ever looked at me. My Dad recently passed, sort of unepectedly, and I tell you this, I would give ANYTHING to be able to see that look from him just ONE MORE TIME.

Mia is a very lucky girl.

Posted by: Jen at August 22, 2005 04:28 PM

Not...going...to cry...

Beautiful.

Posted by: bhd at August 22, 2005 05:08 PM

That was lovely. Thank you for sharing, once again.

Posted by: Alison at August 22, 2005 05:49 PM

These bloggy people are something aren't they?

THIS weekend btw, we'll be in.

Also, glad you know your not required to stop being human when you become a parent. I had wondered. :)

Posted by: autumn at August 22, 2005 05:51 PM

AHAHA!! figured out my intended comment:

There's one place you can rest. Here it's the 5th floor, and the dr talk to you a lot more then they poke you. I've been 1/2 contemplating going back just for the rest.

Posted by: autumn at August 22, 2005 05:52 PM

Just thought you should know that I am totally living vicariously through you, Beth and Mia. I started reading you guys 2 months before Mia's birth and I'm hooked. Until I find my prince charming and have my own bubelah, know how much I love reading about yours.

Posted by: Sari Olsen at August 22, 2005 06:03 PM

Wow.. this totally made me teary eyed!!!!

I wasn't reading your blog when Mia came along so I'll say Congrats now.


----

Ok.. so I was gonna put a smart ass comment on here about another 18 yrs or something, but I dont want to ruin the moment. *laughing*

Seriously... Congrats!!!

Posted by: Char at August 22, 2005 06:19 PM

People are good, I know at times I fail to see this myself. With all that happens around us, hatecrimes, wars, BTK killers etc and even some closer in our backyards. But there are those moments, there are those days when you know that you're in awe of the love out there that people can share and show with a complete stranger.

How can you not express love and joy at the birth of a child. Any person who doesn't believe in god and is a parent, bewilders me.

wonderful post!

p.s. thank you for linking, I repaid the favor.

Posted by: Michele at August 22, 2005 06:31 PM

Wow! What a post! Makes me want to hurry up and be a dad!

Posted by: Bill at August 22, 2005 06:33 PM

I'm extremely selfish. When I think of having a baby the same ideas run through my head...when will I write? when will I read? watch movies? it freaks me out!!

Posted by: Dawn (webmiztris) at August 22, 2005 06:54 PM

Lesson 6 you're not going to have any peace and quiet for the next.... well, at least 4 yrs. I have a 4 yr old boy and let me tell you since the day he graced the planet there has not been even one moment of peace and quiet. ITs not a bad thing, but it is what it is, NOISY. 2 wasnt bad, but 3 was a horror show of epic proportions, thankfully I video'd him throwing his tantrums, and I occasionally play them for him. HE laughs at it, which is very funny. But yeah DUDE you have some interesting times coming at you. Like shopping in a mall, then whammo out of the blue your lovely well behaved child FREAKS out about what only god knows. Or walking into there room and finding crap on the floor. Then when prompted why they crap on the floor you get I was too lazy to go to the bathroom, hahahahahaha, Kids gotta love'm

Posted by: shaners at August 22, 2005 08:03 PM

I really enjoyed hearing a guys view of childbirth - thank you.
I know babies are supposed to be wonderful, I found mine to be sweet and I loved them dearly always, but everything seemed so hard when they were little. Many days I had to remind myself to look for the joys instead of giving in to the tiredness and monotony. Between 4 and 10 years old, I had the most fun with them. No diaper bags, you could go to the zoo and stuff and really interact with them. Then, the teenage years. My son behaved as though possessed from 15-18. He is now 19, just began his second year at University of Houston and is quite near a civilized human again. My daughter is a lovely 17 year old senior - she has her moments, but is a good kid. I consider having raised them to be the greatest (but most difficult) accomplishment of my life. It is an adventure. Please remember that you are a couple before being parents...

Posted by: Theresa at August 22, 2005 10:27 PM

The selfish cry is completely normal. I totally did it ... a lot!

The answer to when you'll have your old life back? The sugar-coated answer is that you most likely won't, but you know what? You'll be having such a blast with Mia that you won't even notice it.

Posted by: indigo at August 22, 2005 10:51 PM

I'm glad that you cried. I don't think my husband ever did when our first son was born and he carried those same feelings you were/are having around with him until he nearly-literally exploded. Our marriage went through a really hard time and I think a lot of it had to do with nobody (especially other men) telling him he might feel like having a breakdown or running away or crying or anything but having a baby. Those feelings come and go a lot in the beginning, but I think even more so for men. Thanks for writing this. Maybe other men will read it and accept the fact that while there is that joy and love, there is also fear and jealousy and lots of TIREDNESS!!! You're doing great!! Keep at it!!

Posted by: Amy at August 23, 2005 12:23 AM

I've missed your blog.

So happy you didn't pass out in the delivery room. So happy you and Beth have a beautiful baby girl :)

Posted by: sara at August 23, 2005 03:50 AM

That was a very eloquent and touching entry. The recognision is immense. I read your blogs daily and am always amazed at how life (experiences) can be so similar on two different continents.

Enjoy parenthood

Nynke

"May the best days of your past be the worst of your future"

Posted by: Nynke at August 23, 2005 07:11 AM

You know, you won't get your old life back, you never will. But you have a new life that you will come to realize is actually the life you live for and you'll figure out that this 'Me and Moma Fish' life wasn't totally complete. It was and will always be the best thing about your lives together, but this hole that you didn't even know was there, because you weren't lacking anything, has been filled with Mia, and maybe even more Mia's. And one day, she'll run off to college or get married or move to another state and it'll be back to just you and moma fish again and it'll be the same thing over again in reverse. You'll be sad that chapter of your life is over and how, my God, just how will you be able to enter this lonely house, look around and not hear ghost echos of every memory that little thing put into the walls, the floor, the shaft of sunlight with the dust motes floating in it, even that old chair you and her napped in, and then the times she would look to you, "You Daddy, fix it." (cause every little girl knows, Daddies fix anything) And you're gonna wonder how your gonna make it, it'll be so lonely and different. Maybe then you and Beth will draw closer together (again) (not because you drifted apart, but because when you're scared and not sure, that's who you turn to, each other, and it strengthens you more.) Then, delight of all delights, the best of all of it, the sweetest, bestest thing in the whole wide world, your new grand baby... The circle of life, if you really contemplate it. I loved your post, as you can see, it made me think. You have a remarkable ability to give us a glimpse of your personal feelings and paint us a picture we can all relate to one way or another.

Posted by: wlfldy at August 23, 2005 08:50 AM

Yeah, it seems amazing to still be human AFTER the baby's born, doesn't it? It's almost like you expect to suddenly you morph into your vision of adulthood or parenthood or whatever, and when that doesn't happen, it seems a bit anticlimactic.

Posted by: Queen of Ass at August 23, 2005 10:11 AM

Again, dude, you rock.

Posted by: Sue at August 23, 2005 01:02 PM

I really liked your "Lessons From Fatherhood, Part One," and since you termed it "Part One" I hope there will be many more of these musings to come.

I liked what you said -- it's unrealistic to think that everybody will have this sudden, a-ha, heaven-like moment when they give birth (or become a father). It's expectations like these that lead some women into post-partum depression (like Brooke Shield's recent book and media tour proved). I think it's more likely that those "fuzzy feelings" will arrive once a person has actually had a chance to bond with their child, and find out that although things have changed, maybe they'll just happen to like those changes better than what they had before. (Am I making sense?)

I can only imagine the feeling of having hundreds of people (most of whom you've never met in person) express their support like that. It's incredibly awesome. :)

Posted by: Zandria at August 23, 2005 06:02 PM

Yes, I agree with all. I don;t even feel pregnant yet. Yesterday my husband and I were thinking about taking another vacation after the one in Sept, and it was like, oh wait, I am pg, they may not let me on the plane and I have to get a doctor's notice. My husband wailed, "why did you have to get pg! How selfish!" I too, also was disappointed and wonder how did I get myself into this predicament!!

Oh I am already mourning now..

Posted by: mrsmogul at August 23, 2005 06:42 PM

Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid....
a line i stole from Almost Famous.

okay dad, life is what it is. Selfish or not. And that is what friends and grandparents are for, to let you and your wife have those precious moments of solitude and companionship back for a brief moment.

you are gonna love being with your kid mostly. and miss her when you are away from her.

;-)

Posted by: melanie at August 24, 2005 05:34 AM

Thanks for sharing this - especially the no rest in the hospital thing.
That's what's so great about having quite a few bloggers going through pregnancy (or seeing someone experience it) at the same time. What one doesn't tell you, the other 4 will. And it all gets logged away in my brain for when I'm ready to have a baby. 'Course with "Baby Brain" I may forget everything... :)

Posted by: Kitty at August 24, 2005 03:38 PM

Hello!
First time visitor/commentor to your blog. Congrats on the baby! I am with you 100% on all of your observations on this amazing event. My wife and I went through this a mere 6 months ago - for the first time. I'm going to be 43 this Saturday and still can't believe I have this little boy sleeping in the next room.

Take lots of pictures. Document the big and small events. A blog is a great way to create a verbal/visual time capsule for everthing that is unfolding around you. Judging by some of the comments and my own response, it can help folks going through the same life changing process.

Blog on!
Sam
Nice web site, BTW.

Posted by: Sam at August 25, 2005 12:10 PM

I could not wait to get out of the hospital so I could get some rest. Everyone that came into our room said, "Now get some rest." Apparently they were unaware that in 10 minutes someone else in the queue outside would be coming in, poking someone, and then saying the exact same thing.

Congratulations on your baby!

Posted by: Matthew at August 30, 2005 10:24 AM