Monday, January 15th, 2007
A Letter from — and Advice to — Very, Very Unexpected Parents
An anonymous Thinga-dad writes:
My wife and I are expecting a girl in April. When we found ourselves suddenly and unexpectedly pregnant in late October (we had planned a child-free life), we felt turned upside down. Reorienting ourselves has been a challenge because we’ve spent our lives avoiding all things baby. The amount of catch-up we feel we have to do seems daunting.
We are parents by medical miracle who never intended to have children. My wife had a Mirena IUD implanted about a month before she became pregnant. The IUD (whose published fail rate is less than 0.001 percent) was implanted in lieu of a hysterectomy to treat endometrial hyperplasia and cystic ovaries, conditions that should have prevented pregnancy even without the aid of the IUD. Oh, and she’s 39-years-old.
We’re feeling a mix of emotions:
- excitement (especially in the last few weeks),
- apprehension (what will happen to my wife’s business when her doctor makes her stop working in a few weeks?),
- resentment (mostly at giving up a life peppered with regular luxuries: frequent travel, stays in expensive hotels, dining out much more than in, not having to worry much about how we spend our money),
- concern and worry over my wife’s health,
- frustration and guilt at not being able to understand and empathize with my wife’s mood swings (especially when she gets weepy),
- bemusement at our situation,
- worry about whether we’ll be able to navigate the seas of parenting.
I’d say my outlook is actually mostly hopeful. I’ve always held the attitude that life’s surprises are what make life most interesting. The biggest surprises should lead one to the most interesting paths.
A kind of turning point for me was seeing “ Children of Men.” I left the theatre thinking, Now I get it. Children are the source of hope in this world. Not a deep or earthshaking revelation, I know, but it’s been one that has allowed me to feel much more at peace about bringing a child into the world.
The above letter is several e-mails pieced together from a conversation this past weekend. What do you say to this dad? A few thoughts come to mind.
Everything this dad is feeling is similar to what most first-time parents feel. It’s fear of the unknown. Will I be a good parent? Is my life as I know it over?
The answers are: yes and yes.
The fact that he’s scouring web sites doing research indicates he’s ahead of the curve, taking an interest and feeling responsible for his baby’s life. It would be all too simple to slough everything onto the mom. His outlook is good.
If any one aspect of his comments concerned me, it was the word resentment. You can’t resent an infant who nurses every two hours for the first six weeks. It’s not part of the equation. This is part of your new life.
The key to not being overwhelmed by parenthood is to remember it doesn’t happen all at once. This is a project with a minimum of 18 phases, and many life-long obligations. You jump into phase 1 extremely confused and exhausted. You bumble around in a hazy delirium and after a year you realize something. It’s never going to get any easier. (You also wonder how your own parents ever got through it.)
Each phase of the project presents new challenges. The difference is that you get used to it. You become immune to many of life’s daily hassles. Good parents become stronger, more patient, more mellow people.
Your life as you knew it is over… not because you’re not partaking in life’s luxuries as often as before, but because you as a person have changed, or at least you should have. Before, you lived your life for you, and for your spouse, accruing wonderful experiences. Now, you are responsible for raising and nurturing a child into a responsible, loving, self-sustaining person.
Parenthood demands you turn your selfish existence into a selfless one. It is by no means a miserable existence. It must be experienced to be understood, but is best described by appropriating a slogan used by the Peace Corps: “It’s the toughest job you’ll ever love.” Parents don’t experience a loss of fun. You discover a richer sense of fun as you relive your youth while exploring the world with your child.
Now, this dad does have some specific questions.
Where should we be in planning for the baby? A timeline would be really useful. I wonder if a general consensus exists about some things: buy your crib by this date, pick your pediatrician by that date, and so on. Or maybe it doesn’t matter?
Again, these are typical questions. No timeline exists, except with respect to care for the infant and mother, and milestones for your baby after birth. My wife says the only products you absolutely need by the time of birth are an infant car seat, diapers and a boob.
I prefer to be a little more prepared. Consider that as mom grows larger, her endurance for shopping may wane, especially if the pregnancy has complications. And, after the baby arrives, both of you will be overwhelmed.
If I picked an arbitrary date, it would be 32 weeks. Develop a birth plan and pick a pediatrician or family practice doctor. Just don’t expect the birth to go according to plan (any more than your wedding did).
Hold a baby shower. Afterward, begin shopping for basic baby gear — car seat, changing table, diapers, baby health kit, clothes, crib or bassinet, etc. Ultimately, for non-essential items, let your interest drive you.
But that’s just me. What does everyone else think?