There’s no way to convey the enormous change that occurs when you get your first baby. It’s not like anything you’ve ever imagined because your mind is not capable of imagining something you have no precedent for. But anyway, I’ll make an attempt of painting a picture for you.
You get woken up every ~3 hours in the night, and there’s no ‘good night’s sleep’ in sight; proper rest is not in your near future. You’re feeding the baby every ~3 hours, which is its own ordeal, and then the baby poops, so you change his nappy and maybe his clothes. When the baby falls asleep, you may think you have some time for yourself, but beware: he may wake up any second. He may sleep for 3 minutes or for 3 hours. You never know if you’ll have enough time to pee, eat lunch, do the laundry, call a friend, or all of the above.
A lack of predictability on the micro level
The toughest thing for me was the lack of predictability. It’s one thing that I like to plan out my days and have a routine–that was definitely out the window. The thing was that I wanted to be able to eat my breakfast without being interrupted, but if my son started crying, I had to pick him up, feed him, change him, etc. I could only return to my breakfast maybe an hour later.
It felt crazy to not have any wiggle room and to accept that whatever I was doing could be interrupted at any time, and, if that happened, I had to drop everything on a moment’s notice.
I’m talking about a lack of predictability on the micro level. Will I be able to finish cooking this meal? Don’t know. Will I complete my 10 minutes of exercise? No idea. Will I be able to brush my teeth or even pee? We’ll have to see. The biggest one was the shower. One time I got in the shower and 2 minutes later William started crying (I had just put him to sleep, and I was alone at home). I was all wet, with shampoo in my hair, and he was crying like crazy! I got to him as fast as I could, but I’ve never felt so guilty about taking a shower in my life.
It gets better with time
The good news is that it got better over time. After a few weeks or months, William no longer cried as hard when he woke up, and I didn’t have to feed him right away. In other words, I had more wiggle room: I didn’t have to drop what I was doing right that instant but I had maybe a couple of minutes.
The same was true for when he was awake and was gradually getting fussy. When he was really small, I had to attend to him immediately, pick him up and rock him, and I couldn’t put him back down at all. As he grew, the time from starting to get fussy to really fussy became longer and longer, which gave me time to, e.g., finish my meal or finish putting away the dishwasher.
Now that William is almost a year old, we have much more flexibility. He rarely wakes up crying anymore. Instead, he calls out to me while playing in bed. When he’s awake, he can sometimes play by himself for an hour, and I can do something, while checking on him and occasionally engaging with him. When I notice that he’s getting fussy, my strategy is to show him a cool toy to play with (opening and closing doors is his favorite right now), while I gradually finish up what I’m doing and get ready to take care of him.
The illusion of predictability and control
Life is slowly becoming more predictable for me again, but not entirely. Fortunately, William is keeping me on my toes by once in a while doing something unexpected such as being wide awake and wanting to play at nap time (or worse, at 2 am!). The good thing about this is that it reminds me that we can’t always predict events in our lives and we can’t control what happens.
It’s terrifying not to know what is going to happen to us. Will an illness cross our path? Will a terrible accident strike us? Or will we meet an amazing person who will bring joy to our life? Will we discover a new passion, a hobby that absolutely sets us on fire? Some people are excited by this range of unknown possibilities, but I tend to be scared by not knowing. The logical response for many of us is to try to control life, which is not always helpful.
A baby is exceptionally good at showing you that you can’t control what happens in your life. As I began shedding the illusion that I can predict and control my life, I was very uncomfortable, but I also found a new sense of openness. My heart became receptive like an exquisite musical instrument: I found my baby’s smile infinitely lovely; cuddling on the couch with my husband and son became my favorite activity in the world; seeing my son’s amazement at water flowing from the tap filled me with amazement too (not for the water but for my baby’s ability to learn about the world).
The truth is that none of these moments are a given, and I can’t predict what will happen next. So I’d better notice the current moment when it’s here because in an instant it will be gone.
Back to reality
Now, all this ‘appreciating the moment’ stuff is great, and I mean it, but it’s also not easy to appreciate the moment in the middle of the night when your child is crying and you so desperately want to sleep. Believe me, I’ve tried to appreciate that unpredictable moment, and it’s HARD.
That’s the truth about parenthood: it’s great, and it sucks, sometimes in very close succession. It’s really difficult sometimes, and especially the early months of no predictability are super tough for an adult who is used to mostly doing what she wants in a day (and gets mad when the line at the supermarket is oh so long, how is this even okay, it’s completely going to throw off my plans for the day!).
It’s super useful to get help from other people, so their lives can be unpredictable for a few hours instead of yours. Alone time is AMAZING at restoring a sense of well-being and self-efficacy, and so is doing something small for yourself such as reading a few pages from a book.
And the last thing I’d like to say is a cliché but a very true one: This, too, shall pass. It really does pass, even when you don’t believe it will. One day you may even miss it, or at least parts of it, so let’s appreciate those lovely moments while they are here.