For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to have kids. It was something that I had been looking forward to when the time was right. The best … and hardest thing that has ever happened to me happened in July 2018. That was the day my daughter was born. Cheesy and predictable I know, .. but stay with me here.
Outside of dealing with the loss of something or someone, having a child is without question, one of the hardest things you will experience in a lifetime. You think to yourself, yeah, this will be hard but I can do it (with enthusiasm of course)! You think, many people have kids and they all seem to do alright, how hard can it be? People in worse circumstances have been having kids forever and they seem to be just fine. What doesn’t seem to get through your head when you are on the other side of the fence is how hard it actually is. You can hardly put into words the change that literally happens overnight.
There is no workup.
There is no slow transition.
It is an instant, life altering event that is with you for the rest of your life.
Leading up to the birth of our daughter, my wife and I read every book we could get our hands on to prepare us for what was ahead of us. We felt like superstars that could take on the world – no matter what was thrown our way. Like many things in life, things aren’t that simple. Looking back, there are a few things I wish I would have come across to help prepare me for the things that we experienced. We read high level on the subjects but not in a way that I connected with. The topics I wish I would have narrowed in on included The Lead Up, The Bond, Points of Struggle and The Perspective Shift.
The Lead Up: Preparing for the Birth
Foreword: I know a bit off topic but I wanted to include this section to set the stage for my experiences leading up to the birth. I think by setting context, it may be easier to understand where I am coming from through my perspectives on the subject that follows.
There is only so much preparation you can do before it becomes information overload. My wife and I read as many books as we could get our hands on and attended virtually all the classes you could take leading up to the birth. We both found that some of the content was better than others. For expecting fathers, The Birth Partner, The Expectant Father and Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child were my top picks. For expecting mothers, Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, Happiest Baby on the Block, Spinning Babies (videos), Expecting Better, and The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding were my wife’s top resource picks.
Beyond the books, we took many courses / tours as well. None were must-attends, though our birthing class and hospital tours were great to give us insights into our rights as well as questions to ask when developing our birth preferences. Regarding the hospital tours, those are great to ensure the hospital and their practices are the right fit for you. For the curious few, the other classes we took include: Breastfeeding, Newborn Care, Birthing Class and Child CPR.
Aside from the books and courses / tours we took, other things you can do to prep include:
- Nursery prep. Get only the basics – a crib, some 0-3 month clothes, some swaddles, Formula for backup, diapers, wipes & changing table. We went all out and didn’t use half the stuff we got. You will learn as you go what you need based on the way you raise your child. Don’t stress if you need to do a few late night trips to the closest baby store.
- Develop meal plan / Fill freezer with easy meals. We used our Instapot to create a bunch of frozen meals (chili, chicken noodle soup etc). When you are tired, the last thing you want to do is cook so plan in advance if you can.
- Deep clean your house. After you have your child, cleaning the house will be much harder. Having a deep clean done before you have your child ensures you are set for a bit once the little one arrives.
- Develop a birth preferences. Probably the most important of the lot. Create a list of preferences of how you want your birth to go depending on the methods of intervention are used if used.
- Pack the ‘go bag’. Packing the essentials for your hospital visit will make sure you are prepared when the labour begins. If you are planning a home birth, it is still important to have a bag ready to go in case complications arise.
- Go on a babymoon. When I first heard about it, I thought it was wild but looking back, I am glad we did it. Babymoon’s are a last holiday as a couple without the baby by your side. It brings you closer as a couple before your life changes forever.
- Find a Doula. Similar to a babymoon, having a Doula was another thing I was curious about. Doula’s acts as an advocate for you while in the hospital so you can focus on the experience, rather than communications with the doctors. Although somewhat limited to region, DONA International has a list of Doula’s you could consider.
- Find a Pediatrician. In many places, you need to have a Pediatrician appointment booked before you leave the hospital with your baby. Spending time before the baby comes allows you to do meet and greets with potential Pediatricians to make sure whether they are a good fit.
- Find daycare. Finding a daycare early will make sure the transition back to work is smooth. Looking for a daycare can be overwhelming when looking late so starting early with ease the pressure.
- Create a Will. in the event something bad happens, having a Will helps lay out a plan for what would happen with your child. Having this in place is your security blanket to ensure that he or she has the best chance for success. If you don’t have a lawyer but live in the US, Legalzoom offers a planning guide to simplify the process.
Sounds like a lot, right? It is but I promise you these things are much easier to do BEFORE the baby comes. If you happen to have any questions about the things listed above, please reach out to me and I would be happy to provide more information on each.
Beyond the elements listed above, it’s also important to think about how you will manage your work leading up to the birth as well as the days following the birth. For myself, I own my own business as well as freelance with other companies if the right opportunity comes along. It was reasonably easy to set time aside following the birth. My plan was to take about a month off and then jump into the odd job out of the house with the majority of my work I take being projects I can do from home.
The Birth: Establishing a Bond
The birth will never go the way you expect it to. Surprises will always come up. However, if you know your rights and the questions you need to ask, you will set yourself up for the best possible outcome.
For us, we originally were planning a home birth but we risked out because of missed blood-work from our midwives. Although disappointing, we had checked out a few hospitals and found one that was a good fit for us. Three hours after having the water broke, we had our little girl. The experience was much different than we envisioned but a positive experience all around.
For any parent, establishing that bond is something that we push for. Some say its instant. For me, as natural as everything felt, it still felt somewhat like a dream. Many people say that it was incredible right from the start but for me, it wasn’t quite like that. Sure, it is pretty incredible that you made this little thing but until she starts to show some form of interaction, it all feels utterly bizarre and as it is someone else’s baby. Luckily … that does change.
Bonding is an intense attachment that develops between parents and their children. It is what drives parents to do whatever it takes to protect their child. Interestingly enough, the way in which you respond to your child‘s signals has an impact on their social and cognitive development.
For us, I manage the nights with Emma and because of factors out of our control, my wife exclusively pumps (which means I can also bottle feed our little one). That means I have had the opportunity to bond more than most dads, which is great – but even though I’ve had this extra time, the bond has only started to grow. We are at six months with our little one and I’m starting to feel more of a bond as every day passes. I’m realizing it is the small things that make it worth it and that the more time you spend, with your undivided attention, the more feedback you will get.
Points of Struggle
My biggest point of struggle was with my career. I defined myself by the work I did and when I lost that, I lost a part of my identity.
…A feeling of being lost and not knowing what to drive towards.
…A feeling like I had my feet knocked out underneath me.
…A feeling that all the efforts I put in was for nothing.
…A feeling like I may have sabotaged relationships in the quest to build a career.
…A feeling like many friendships may have been broken in the process.
Ultimately, whether or not any of that was true was beyond the point. What I was dealing with was the fear of the future and what it had in store for me. Living in the future (or the past) is very debilitating. I knew that to attempt to gain some of the traction I felt I lost, establishing new routines was critical.
The main personal and professional routines I saw impacted that I needed to re-establish was business development, time management, sleeping and eating. Although there were other areas impacted, these were the main ones I wanted to focus on in an attempt to set a strong foundation for success.
- Business Development: The fact of any business or freelance career is that you need to continually pursue new leads if you have a desire to have a sustainable business. It sets the foundation for your business and sets the trajectory for the work ahead. However, establishing new leads when your new reality is unpredictable is challenging. For me, I was unsure how much I would need to be present in the house. As such, my desire to pursue new leads came to a halt almost completely. I was forced to re-evaluate the work I was producing and how my time was being spent. I learned that I needed to pursue leads that allowed me to work from home.
- Time Management & Work Blocks: I used to think I was pretty efficient with my time. I had project management platforms I worked with (Monday.com). I kept a pretty tight schedule. I thought I had a rock solid system that worked for me. I also thought I was pretty good at multitasking when needed (knowing multitasking on a regular basis is actually less productive). However, having a child truly showed me that I had a lot of work to do regarding time management. Now, multitasking when working in the home was unavoidable (for now). When I am able to get a small work block of time between diaper changes and naps, I get right to the task at hand and execute as efficiently as possible, knowing that the work block could be over at any moment. I also found that without keeping an active log on all things that needed to get completed that the items of less importance slip through the cracks much easier than before. I transitioned from an online only management system to a system that included the Bullet Journal. The reality of having a child is that you cannot always have a laptop by your side and easily track things. What you can have though is a notebook at all times. As such, I worked to develop a system to ensure these small things didn’t slip through the cracks by leveraging a paper catch up system. I found that the combination of the Bullet Journal and Airtable were the perfect catch all system. I’ve included a few screen grabs of my system. If anyone is interested in a walk through of how I leverage each, reach out and I am happy to share.
- Sleeping: You always hear people say, catch up on all the sleep you can now because once you have your child, you won’t sleep anymore! Frankly, I didn’t need to be told this. I knew that it comes with the territory. What I learned though is that you need to listen to your body. When it tells you that you need to catch up on some sleep, do not ignore it. You will notice the lack of sleep show up in other aspects of yourself from your mood to your performance. If your body is telling you that you need to catch up on sleep, then sneak in a sleep / nap when the baby naps if you are able to.
- Eating: This is an important one. With all the moving parts that comes with having a child, this one is easy to let by the wayside, even when healthy eating is an important thing for you. We found that meal planning is more critical than ever during the early stages.
The Stigmatized Hidden Struggle
My wife was hit with a pretty severe case of postpartum depression. This has been the biggest moment of clarity for me through the entire process. It is the one thing you cannot prepare for and affects more people than you would think. Unfortunately, it is also not talked about very often at all.
The effects can be felt daily. You can go on moment from having a great day with a plan for the day to having that railroaded in a second. Survival is the ultimate goal through the low points. No matter what you have to do in a day, this takes precedent. When you are in the throws of dealing with postpartum depression, everything is under a magnifying glass in an attempt to try understand the triggers and develop ways to overcome them. The struggle is that sometimes, the low points come out of nowhere.
The question that comes up often, will it ever go away? Will things ever go back to normal? The simple answer is yes. It may take time to truly overcome it but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I know it may seem impossible but I know we will have our day when PPD does not rear its ugly head. Like anything, it will just take time.
My wife shared some of your experiences with postpartum depression in the podcast below.
If you happen to be in a similar situation with a wife with postpartum depression, please reach out. I am more than happy to talk with you about my experiences and we have done to try overcome it.
The Perspective Shift: Adjusting To Our New Reality
I used to define myself by the work I accomplished. If I wasn’t accomplishing things, than I was stressed. What having a child has done is shift my perspective on not only the work I do but also why I do it.
I’m starting to realize that life isn’t just about the accomplishments you make professionally. Life is about building a nest around you that keeps you warm and makes you feel happy and present. Your profession is what enables the type of life you want to live, not the other way around. I think I lost sight of this.
Having a kid puts things back into perspective and shows you how important your tribe is for your well-being. The world is a lonely place when you don’t have people around you. Its okay to have a period in your life where things with your career slow down or pivot entirely.
Slow down. Be present. Enjoy every moment.
For me, I have started to leverage the time and re-evaluate the work I am doing and how I was spending my time. It’s funny, sometimes it feels like having a child gives you laser-like focus. When your time becomes so precious, you are truly forced to understand whether what you are doing aligns with your values.
I have started to focus on developing systems that plug into my new reality. I am focusing on moving towards a slower life. I have started to embrace minimalism. I have started to narrow in on my vision of self and establish a clear trajectory for life with a newborn.
I have learned the importance of patience and perseverance… because face it, when the only way a newborn knows how to communicate is crying, you learn pretty quickly how important each of those things are.
Most importantly, I have also learned that you need to build in space for yourself as well. Alone time is critical to maintain space to breathe and some emotional clarity. Without this space, you may not only struggle with your happiness, you may slowly lose your sense of self. When my daughter goes to bed, I carve time out for myself.