Becoming a father unlocked a newfound sense of purpose that is almost indescribable. In this post, I will do my very best to put it into words. As with all great adventures, there are months and months of planning, preparing, learning and most of all, anticipation. The waiting feels never-ending.
Labor & Delivery
But then, when that wonderful moment finally arrives and the cord is ceremoniously cut – after all of the eager encouraging, consoling and cheering we do as very-soon-to-be-dads during the labor and delivery process – you hear the sound of your new one’s cry, look into those beautiful eyes and hold the weight of your child (and seemingly the world) in your arms for the first time. Three simple words come to mind: 1) love, 2) pride and 3) purpose.
The love is a new brand of the feeling altogether. An all-consuming, deep and euphoric brand of love at very first sight. Adrenaline pumping, those moments are a blur, and not in hindsight, but as they unfold with nurses and doctors milling about, measuring, assessing, monitoring, consulting – a flurry of activity as every box is checked – a healthy baby! Our beautiful baby girl, Eleanor Clare.
Note: we did have a few follow-up items (meconium in the lungs, a small dimple at the base of her spine) that caused the doctors to conduct a further evaluation and follow-up testing. That certainly caused a lot of hand-wringing, but ultimately both turned out to be non-issues. Hearing others' stories, we were truly blessed that our experience was so seamless in the grand scheme of things. You always assume birth is quick and uncomplicated, which is often not the case, and honestly, not something I ever considered prior to becoming a parent.
Bailey Meets Eleanor
Love gives way to pride – and again, a new brand of pride; not pride in oneself but in your partner for growing a WHOLE PERSON inside her body. With perfect little finger nails and eyelashes, every minute detail miniaturized! And if growing Eleanor alone weren’t enough, enduring twelve hours of labor capped by two and a half hours of pushing to bring her into this world. A truly remarkable feat.
And finally, love and pride let flow happy tears at the sight of Bailey holding baby Eleanor for the first time, smiling triumphantly on the other side of the “finish line.”
Becoming a Father: Calm After Chaos
Then in a blink, the frenzy of activity stops, the doctors and nurses leave, and the room is quiet. Eleanor is placed on my bare chest for the first time, and an unfathomable sense of purpose descends upon me – she is my daughter to protect and serve, to have and hold, to love and cherish each day so long as I shall live – unlike wedding vows no words are spoken, but a silent and eternal bond is agreed instantly at first embrace.
You think in those moments that this is the best day of my life, I will never be happier, love more deeply, feel prouder, nor could my heart be more certain of life’s purpose. And you are right. Yes, your head is spinning - life is changing with mind-blowing speed like nothing you have ever experienced before. It is this surreal split between feeling the happiest and yet most overwhelmed you ever have all at once. Ultimately, the happiness wins out - that pure joy is my lasting memory of those moments.
Happiness > Hardship
Now is the part where I am supposed to talk about all the hardships. Misery loves company and does not offend! As a society, we are woefully shy about expressing the positive and avoid romanticizing our experiences as new parents lest we appear braggy or deaf to others’ challenges. I acknowledge that our experience is uniquely fortunate. That said, positive comments are too often met with “just wait until she…” or “the first may be easy but the second…” as though you are out-of-bounds or naïve for embracing that joy too openly.
Sure, those first days in the hospital were utterly exhausting. Sleep becomes a series of too-short naps stitched together endless until, when exactly? Those first days feature intense sleep deprivation, lingering stress awaiting the all-clear on follow-up testing, consoling Bailey as she navigates early challenges surrounding nursing/latch, and the inescapable feelings that you have absolutely no idea what the heck you are doing nor comprehend how society expects you to possibly take care of this child!
But none of those experiences defined those first days. At least they didn’t for us, despite their universality. “Enjoy your sleep now…” and “just you wait…” miss the mark entirely. Being a parent is not a zero-sum-game.
Honestly, our biggest surprise as new parents? Just how wonderful and fulfilling we have found the experience thus far, especially after being endlessly barraged by fear mongering comments, however well-intentioned. Very, very, exceedingly few people told us how wonderful parenting and becoming a father would be, so much so that texts like this one from my cousin stand apart:
Attitude is Everything, Enjoy It!
Positivity is often self-fulfilling. This was epitomized the other night. Eleanor has been finding her voice lately, which features yelping and squealing to herself in her bassinet at 4AM. Let me be clear, she is not hungry, no diaper change needed, she is just happily exploring her newfound voice.
With a defeatist outlook, I might have lamented the lost sleep or wished her into the nursery for some peace and quiet. Nope! “Thirty more seconds and I will give her the pacifier. I just want to lay here and listen to her a little longer.” Well, that was the first night, haha! Now we refer to her pacifier as her "mouth plug" and I drag myself out of bed immediately to restore peace and quiet. But there is no begrudging or resentment, she is a baby and it is perfectly developmentally normal for her to wake in the night!
Generally, Eleanor is a solid sleeper and by all accounts has been an "easy" baby; however, I will say that keeping expectations (and pressure) low has certainly helped us a lot with the psychological adjustment to life as new parents. It is a HUGE adjustment, sleep being among a laundry list of changes. Oh, and speaking of laundry, we do it endlessly these days.
My advice to new and soon-to-be parents, allow yourself to ENJOY IT. There is small joy to be found in every new phase. It is going to be hard, often, but hard does not equal bad. Whatever challenges in the moment prove fleeting in the bigger picture, whereas these memories are forever. Family is forever. How you remember this time can be transformed by a positive attitude towards parenting.
And lastly, please try to resist fixating on the next (whether it be a positive milestone or the dreaded sleep regression). Instead, embrace life in the present. We are confined to the here and now, no matter how much we fight it. As the saying goes, "Man plans, and God laughs." Stressing about what lies ahead steals time and energy away from the now - precious time you will never get back. We cannot predict what tomorrow holds, and ultimately, where we end up in the future is little more than the culmination of a million small actions today after today after today.