What was it like to have a baby?

I wrote up the financials of our first calendar year with Lily. But I wanted to write up some of the other, non-financial advantages and disadvantages we’ve experienced in having a baby:

  • Jeff and I had read the (mixed) research that parents are a little less happy than non-parents. It’s hard to tell if this has been our experience; Jeff’s experiments in mood tracking didn’t yield anything that seemed useful. I think I’m happier, but that’s what you would expect me to say because I’m primed to think about my child right now. I definitely think the highs and lows were both more extreme than in my usual life.
  • The medical side of things went extremely well. The pregnancy went fine and was not nearly as uncomfortable as I was expecting. I was trying to prepare myself for anything from permanent metabolism shifts to post-partum depression to physical injury to birth defects. (I didn’t think I could really prepare myself for possibilities like stillbirth, so I didn’t try.) In the end, I had a very good birth experience and neither of us had any lasting medical problems.
  • We dodged the bullet on colic, which is where your baby cries for hours every day for no apparent reason. Glad we missed out on that one.
  • I had read a few things about how trying to perfect your child doesn’t seem to really do much, so you might as well just relax and enjoy the process. I was also determined not to buy into mother-blaming. I was not anticipating how difficult it would be to actually relax and not feel personally responsible for all her outcomes. At times this freaked me out a lot.
  • I was afraid that Jeff wouldn’t be very interested in Lily and would help out of obligation rather than actually wanting to. He hadn’t shown much interest in other babies, even when we lived with one. But as he predicted, he fell immediately in love and was a devoted caregiver. I knew we were okay when he spent much of the first week staring at her asking, “Why are you so cute?”
  • I also found Lily much more interesting than I expected to. I thought of babies as something you kind of had so you could have an older kid, but I found each new stage fascinating. Looking back, I can’t really remember why I found one-month or three-month-old Lily interesting, because she’s so much more smiley and active now, but at the time I was totally absorbed. I can only compare it to when you first fall in love with someone and you want to be near them and look at them and touch them pretty much all the time. Your child keeps turning into a different person, and you keep falling in love with that new person. Turns out evolution is really good at making parents and children very appealing to each other! Who knew?
  • Relatedly, I wanted to go back to work less than I thought I would. I thought it would be so tedious to take care of an infant that I would be ready to go back to work after a few months, but I liked being home with her. In nice weather I especially enjoyed being able to go outside whenever I wanted. And I liked having a break from work.
  • You shouldn’t have a baby just because you want someone to love you unconditionally, but it’s pretty amazing to be someone’s world, to know her better than anyone, to be able to provide her with everything she needs.
  • There is a lot more play and cuddling in our lives than there used to be. From an editorial on the lack of non-sexual touch in men’s lives:

    While women are much freer to engage in physical contact with each other, men remain suspect when they touch others. There is only one space in our culture where long term platonic physical contact is condoned for men, and that is between fathers and their very young children. I found this kind of physical connection when my son was born. As a stay at home dad, I spent years with my son. Day after day, he sat in the crook of my arm, his little arm across my shoulder, his hand on the back of my neck. As he surveyed the world from on high, I came to know a level of contentment and calm that had heretofore been missing in my life.

  • Sleep deprivation was bad, though actually being awake in the night was the worst and the days afterwards were mostly okay. Jeff found that he needed more sleep than I did to function well at his (cognitively demanding) job.
  • I know the first years with a baby can be pretty hard on adult relationships, but Jeff and I did quite well. In some of our less friendly moments, I think it helped that we knew it was the sleep deprivation talking.
  • It helped that much of our social life was already baby-friendly. People were very happy to see Lily and help with her at contra and Morris dancing events. We even managed to bring her to an academic conference, though I was constantly worried about bothering people and Jeff and I only heard about half the talks because one of us was usually taking her outside when she made noises. I was sad to miss some events, like a friend’s wedding and various Less Wrong gatherings, because traveling with her seemed too difficult. We also found it harder than we expected for Jeff to be away on trips, so he’ll be doing less traveling with his band.
  • Lily’s bodily functions were less disgusting than I expected. It helps that Lily wasn’t very spitty and hasn’t had any stomach upset, but even things like diapers are just not as bad as I expected. And this is after working in daycares, so it’s not like I’d never encountered children’s body fluids before. In some ways her body still feels like an extension of mine, so I don’t find the idea of her germs disgusting because I probably already have them.
  • Lily’s a pretty pleasant-tempered baby, so we got a lot more smiles and less fussing than we might have.
  • Living with family was a good move for the first few months. After that it was less helpful.

In short: a few things were harder than we expected, but most things were easier and more fun than we were preparing ourselves for. I recognize that this is not everyone’s experience (some people really do find their babies pretty boring, oxytocin notwithstanding). I think we had a better experience than most people do. In particular, I imagine that having a fussier or more medically fragile baby would be less pleasant. But our experience has been quite positive.

I was tempted to end this post with a cute picture of Lily. In the spirit of editorial fairness, I will also include the least cute picture of her we possess. 

not cute cute - Edited

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3 thoughts on “What was it like to have a baby?

  1. Julia Padua Whiteneck

    So glad you are enjoying your baby! I think that it is easy to underestimate how much other people love their babies – I think that most people cannot express how attached they are to their child and may realize that gushing over every burp may not be something they want to share for their own self-image. I know a (male) coworker and I both clammed up when talking about our babies to a non-parent boss we had. Ultimately in comparing notes, we had both come to the conclusion that he would never relate to what we were feeling so we just didn’t even share.
    Great pictures! Lily IS dang cute!

    Reply
  2. Gianna

    A lot of your experience echoes mine. Our daughter is about 5 months older than Lily. I’ve found that as she’s progressed into early toddlerhood, many of the basic care and schedule issues have gotten easier, but some things are getting harder: It’s harder to stay out past bedtime without ending up with a screaming mess on our hands. It’s harder on our adult relationship in some ways as well, as she is less of a cute bundle that happily goes wherever we want, and more of a person with her own opinions, as well as a more variable temperament now that she’s getting older – I find her crying and whining more frustrating now than I did when she was a baby, and could figure out what she needed more easily. Using up my patience on her means I have less in reserve. Plus, now it’s sometimes about what she wants, rather than needs, and we’re having to figure out joint parenting strategies in ways that aren’t applicable with an infant. I totally agree with the observation above that it’s really difficult to express to non-parents one’s feelings about their child.

    Reply

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