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Survival Days: The First Month
1. She's had the baby! Bravo!
It's great; it's wonderful ... So why are you staring at the ceiling at four A.M.? Because, like all guys, you're afraid of the Unknown (and you've noticed that babies don't come with operating manuals.)
So stop holding your breath, exhale, and take a cue from your wife. Right now, your marching orders are to take it one day at a time.
2. If being a father is so natural, how come you're doing things like eating a pastrami sandwich at 6:45 A.M.?
Life before fatherhood had its basic stops and starts known to normal people as day and night, and breakfast, lunch, and dinner. But soon after our baby was born, my wife caught me scarfing down a pastrami sandwich before seven A.M. "That's revolting!" she said.
I halted in mid-bite. I should have been disgusted, but I wasn't. Time, as I'd known it, no longer existed. I'd been up pretty much for four days straight. I'd adjusted to catnapping at three P.M. (which I now considered my night's sleep), eating cereal for dinner as breakfast, eating a sandwich for lunch at breakfast time, and eating whatever caught my eye (and it was plenty) for dinner at midday. Sleep was a herky-jerky train ride with stops wherever the conductor (and there was little doubt who that was: our baby) desired. I barely recognized my wife. She was so pawed, sucked, pinched, and gummed that I knew never to touch her. Her lips were still parched from labor. She walked like she'd just taken a mule ride down the Grand Canyon. She was drugged, groggy, achy. Seeking quiet, we dashed into closets to makephone calls, and neither of us thought it odd that we tugged on the telephone cord if we needed the phone. Our parents were driving us nuts with constant, elated phone calls; the pediatrician seemed smiley and expensive but basically unhelpful; and our friends seemed like distant, cool moons that had shifted their orbit from our solar system to somebody else's. All in all, our world was upside down.
Yet despite all that, we were in heaven. It's amazing how adaptable we humans are when we're in love. And this was love. Big-time, uppercut to the jaw, knockout, seeing-stars love. I'd never felt anything like it. The day after we got married, my wife and I were very naughty in a boathouse, not fifteen feet from sun worshipers. We could hear the slap of hamburger patties hitting the grill and the flap of sails of boats pointing into the wind ... and I thought, It doesn't get much better than this.
Ah, but it does. That's the big secret of all this early infant madness: You can now imagine your life without the boathouse love scene, but you can't imagine your life without this crying, defecating, arm-waving, nearly cross-eyed baby. Just take a whiff of your baby's neck. What's that smell? Love.
So, for a while, you'll survive on love (and 6:45 A.M. pastrami sandwiches).
6 Things You'll Realize the First Week After Bringing Your Baby Home:
- Pregnancy was nothing compared to this!
- The change from Single Man to Married Man is nothing compared to the change from Married Man to Father.
- You never thought you'd think this, but you want your mother-in-law (or the blue-haired nanny) to stay forever.
- You can't take the baby out without bringing more stuff than an Everest climbing team (and IMAX film crew).
- You really are truly exhausted, because when you peed while holding your glasses in your mouth, you also yawned and had to fish them out of the toilet bowl.
- You can change a diaper while talking to your mother no one line and your mother-in-law on the other, while winking to your wife that you've got it all under control.
3. There will be a series of reminders that your baby is reaL
One moment might be when you see your baby's name written and suddenly, she will seem very real. When we started getting gifts in the mail (especially checks made out to our newborn), I thought, "You know, this isn't for me. It's not for my wife. There truly is a baby here." (Yes, it sounds weird, but this will happen to you, too.)
4. Turn off the ringer on the phone and the speaker on the answering machine.
Play back messages in the late afternoon and return calls all at one time. Otherwise, you'll both go crazy from the well-intentioned but incessant calls from curious and concerned family members and friends.
One of the most important things you can do for your child is remain happily married. Yes, getting involved as a father is fabulous but not to the exclusion of focusing on your wife. Wear different hats: father, husband, lover, friend, confidant.
5. Trust your instincts.
My buddy Tim said, "I had never held a baby before in my life, and there I was, an hour after driving back from the hospital, our baby at my hip while I was cooking breakfast for my wife." The answers aren't really in the baby development books; they're in you.
6. If you don't trust your instincts, know that it's not that hard to hold your baby.
How is it you could catch a muddy pigskin thrown by a quarterback with a dislocated shoulder on a day that made a monsoon look like a sun showerand you can't hold a baby? The answer: You're afraid your baby's head will fall off and roll down the street like some lopsided cantaloupe ... all because you're a clumsy oaf.
Don't get me wrong; you have to be extremely careful with your baby's neck. So, here's how: The football hold is good. Your baby lies across your forearm; your hand holds your baby's head; your wrist supports your baby's weak neck. Or your baby's head over your left shoulder, left arm to your baby's fanny, right hand supporting your baby's back. Or cradle your baby in the nook of your arm, his head near your armpit, his feet near your wrists. Or the twoarmed baby to your chest hold. Or the two-armed rocking baby motion.
It's hard to go wrong because, well, holding a baby is natural. One day, I came across a diorama of cave dwellers in a museum of natural history and I had the eeriest sensation. The hairy dude in the diorama was holding his baby daughter in almost the same position I was holding my baby daughter.