A Peek Behind The Editorial Curtain

In my last blog post I made a cheap joke about Oxytocin, meaning to convey that the sense of bliss it imparts was part of what helped even the most anti-child women become loving mothers, but my most important reader pointed out to me that the cheap joke’s tone came across far more serious than I had intended, and rather than jokingly implying that the sense of euphoria caused by the release of Oxytocin helps bad moms become good moms, it more closely implied that all mothers and babies get high off each other and that was the only reason they had a good bond.  Far from being a joke, what I appeared to be saying was, quite understandably, seriously offensive.  More importantly, it was offensive when I had no intention of it being offensive.

I have occasionally written inflammatory statements in the past (not yet on this blog), but the important thing about any inflammatory statement I write is that I intend to be offensive when I write it.  I have even occasionally told offensive and off-color jokes, but, again, the important thing is that I expect the possibility of my listener either laughing or being offended.  If I tell a (lame) joke that I consider to be largely harmless and find out that, in actuality, it could be taken as broadly denigrating the bond every single mother shares with her children, well, that’s a problem.

As a result, I changed the wording of the offending paragraph last night.  I realize that this is just a blog, and I realize that I may never have a wide readership, but I am still a writer, and I still want to strive for excellence in my writing.  The editorial process is an important part of the writing process, and, just as I would want to go back and remove typos or factual errors pointed out to me, I want to remove or rework statements that just don’t work in their present form.

I doubt I will generally point out edits that I make, as (I hope) they will usually only consist of minor corrections and formatting adjustments, but this was a big enough change that I wanted to draw attention to it and say mea culpa.  If you read yesterday’s post before last night’s edit and found it to be offensive, I want to apologize for my careless wording.  I conveyed a message that I absolutely did not intend to say, and I am truly sorry for any and all offense I caused.

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Changing The Worldbuilding

Absolute Bliss

I was reading a Cracked article earlier today, 5 Popular Excuses That Are Totally Meaningless, and one of the excuses really got me thinking: “I’m too selfish to be a parent.”

Now, you know what?  I know some parents who should have had this thought before having kids.  At the same time, though, I can honestly say that I don’t know very many parents I would consider to be terrible, and part of that is because having kids changes you in some subtle (and some not-so-subtle) ways.

Of course we all know that, from an evolutionary standpoint, the release of oxytocin helps to cement the powerful relationship between mother and child, but that sense of euphoria doesn’t explain the way mothers seem to instinctively know what to do with their own child(ren), even when the mere thought of holding a friend’s child sends child-fearing women running for Depends.

Let me give just one example: Jen and I own two cats.  We’ve owned at least one cat constantly since shortly after we got married.  Both of our cats are capable of delivering toxic stenches bordering on the biohazardous.  In that time, we have never gotten used to that stench, and will frequently move to get away from the stench of their emissions and deposits.  Before Morgan was born, my experience with diapers consisted of 1: Standing outside of nurseries holding my nose at the stench while friends changed their younger siblings’ diapers, and 2: Almost passing out from the stench of changing my nephew’s diaper when I had to watch him for a few hours one day and having that stench seared indelibly upon my olfactory memory.  I don’t remember anything about changing that diaper beyond the horrifying stench.

Morgan has had some pretty stinky poops in the past 6-1/2 weeks, but you know what I remember about changing her dirty diapers?  How hilarious it is when I open her up too soon and she’s still pooping, or how shocking it is that someone so small can produce so much poop.  As soon as a stinky diaper is changed, the stench is gone from my memory beyond a vague footnote that, “Oh yeah, that didn’t smell very good.”  I remember the taffy-like consistency of Morgan’s first Meconium-infused bowel movements far better than I remember the odor of the huge poop she had last night.

I don’t have the excuse of a bliss-inducing hormone addling my senses so much that disgusting poop no longer disgusts me, but the fact remains that 6-1/2 weeks of having a baby has addled my senses in a way that 7 years of cat ownership could not, which makes it clear to me that there is more than a hormonal euphoria forging the bond of love between parents and children.  And yes, the cats are still capable of dropping bombs of horrific proportions that leave me looking out the window for UN inspectors investigating violations of the Geneva Conventions.

I can’t say that I ever looked at it this way, but I have heard some non-parents talk about having a baby in the same way they talk about owning a pet.  On a purely cognitive level, I understand some of the parallels, but I also understand that this kind of statement comes from the same place as that “I’m too selfish” excuse: inconceivably vast ignorance.  Owning a pet is something you do for companionship.  Having a child is not something you do for companionship.  Even the worst pet does not have the potential to fill you with joy or break your heart like a child can.

Ultimately, having a child is something that you do when you have matured to the point that you no longer want to be the main character in your own story.  Plenty of people have children before they reach that point, but it is the mark of the greatest parents I know that they are no longer the protagonists of the story of their life, but rather the key supporting cast in the story of their children’s lives.  You can still live a rich, fulfilling, and important life as a supporting character, but you can never look at yourself as the most important character again for as long as your child is in the picture.

Ultimately, this is what someone who thinks they are too selfish for a child truly means.  As Cracked points out, that excuse itself is insane.  After all, if you’re too selfish for a child, what makes you not too selfish to have friends?  The truth is, these people aren’t selfish, they’re simply unwilling to cease being a protagonist, because they realize that, in actuality, a child is nothing like a pet.  You don’t have a child to support your own needs and desires (certain celebrities notwithstanding), you have a child to support their needs and desires and to give everything that you have to give to the process of creating another beautiful human being for this crazy world.  You have a child because, no matter what they ask of you, it’s never too much, because you love them with every atom of your being.

It isn’t selfish to be unwilling to do that, and if you feel like you can’t do that, you absolutely should not try.  There is nothing wrong with being unwilling to have a child.  Absolutely nothing.  If you need to spend the rest of your life as the main character in your story, then do so and be happy!  But if you one day wake up and realize that nothing would give you greater joy than seeing someone else skyrocket to greater success than you ever could have had, well, you know what to do.  Evolution will handle the rest.

Waking Up Your Primal Instincts

I’m a bit of a heavy sleeper.  When Hurricane Opal whipped through North Georgia in 1995, felling numerous trees on our property and leaving us penned in for a few days as a result, I woke up late that morning having no idea what had happened until my mother told me.  I’ve slept through a mild earthquake (which is still more major than Georgia is supposed to get), a few tornadoes, and countless intense thunder storms.  I’ve only slept through an alarm a couple of times in my life, but I also set third and fourth redundant alarms to make sure of this.

I was terrified that I would find myself watching Morgan by myself at some point and sleep through her crying – especially since I have tended to sleep through any time she wakes Jen up for a feeding.  This morning, I was given one of the greatest reliefs of my young life as a parent.  Jen had gotten up to use the restroom, and I assume that either Morgan was waking up anyway or the jostling must have woken her (it was not long before I normally get up for work).  Morgan made a sound and I woke up out of a dead sleep to check on her.  I was able to get her up and ready for Jen to feed her with no trouble.

It’s such a minor thing, but knowing just how much I am capable of sleeping through, it is a huge relief to know that evolution did not fail me.  Of course we know that there are certain behaviors that have selected over the course of our evolution, and that awareness of one’s children is among the simplest of our animal instincts to have been selected (since, after all, being unaware would typically lead to fewer surviving offspring), but until you’ve had that awareness confirmed, there are always niggling doubts.  It is a huge load off my shoulders to have this doubt removed!

Reflecting on Christmas with a baby

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I hope that everyone had a happy Christmas spent with the people they love most.  We had a very low-key holiday this year, which was absolutely perfect.  There will be plenty of time in years to come for Morgan to have the excitement and wonder we all remember from our own childhoods – this year was all about enjoying the calm and quiet joy of family.

I admit, I’m already looking forward to those years that Morgan will run shouting and laughing into our room as early as her little body can get out of bed, but just fawning on her while enjoying time with family this year was wonderful.

No matter what your beliefs are, I hope that this holiday season has been kind to you and your family, and that the value of your family was always first on your mind this year.

Baby’s First Christmas

All our love to you and yours!

All our love to you and yours!

We had our first Christmas get-together of Morgan’s life last night, getting together with my side of the family.  This was Morgan’s first time meeting her aunt and one of her cousins (my niece), as they were both sick when she was born.  Her uncle and my nephew both came by the hospital the day she was born.

The family gathering went off smooth as butter.  She ate right as we got there and was contentedly asleep for most of the time we were there.  She was just starting to get fussy as we left.

My nephew absolutely melted our hearts with how sweet he was to Morgan.  As my young stepbrother continually tried to get him to leave the family to go play, he would say things like, “But, the baby is here!

Toward the end of the evening, as we were packing Morgan up, a disappointed nephew said that he had hoped to hold her, too.  He had been so sweet all evening, and Jen had said that he could hold her a little earlier in the evening – how could we say no?  Back out of the carrier came Morgan and into her cousin’s arms she went, giving us one of the sweetest holiday pictures ever.

My nephew doting on his beautiful new cousin.

My nephew doting on his beautiful new cousin.

Morgan is a very lucky girl.  She has an extended family that loves her almost as much as Jen and I do.  She may not have any memories of this first Christmas, but I’m proud of the memories that we made and are still making to one day share with her.

Sick days? What are sick days?

Jen has been dealing with a sinus infection all week long.  Yesterday, I gave her a sick day.

The thing about parenting is that, unlike any other full-time job out there, there is no such thing as a vacation day or a sick day.  If one parent is a stay-at-home parent, they are responsible for the child(ren) no matter what.  If the other parent is working, the parent at home has no choice but to take care of everything else.  Yeah, yeah, “No kidding!”  Even if the other parent is at home, a crying child can make it difficult for most parents to rest.  You know, because evolution.

When I started a full-time job that actually obeys the law and gives employees sick leave and vacation days, I found out something that was a little surprising for some reason: taking time off to care for a sick family member other than yourself is not a sick day – it’s a vacation.  Giving Jen the sick day she so desperately needed means taking away from non-sick family time at some point in the next year, but that’s not a problem, just something to consider when we plan our family time next year.

But more to the point of Jen’s sick day: for most of the day, I handled the majority of Morgan’s care.  Jen fed her for most feedings, but I held her, carried her, changed her, etc.  Jen tells me that this really did allow her to rest, and she was feeling better last night than she had in a while.  I even got the Christmas tree put up and finished some housework that one of our helpers had promised to do and never done.

The housework really drove home just how much the parent at home has to do.  In my mind, just taking care of Morgan was more than enough to qualify Jen as the harder-working parent of the two of us, and my 10-1/2 hour workday (counting driving time) still leaves me feeling so tired when I get home that I want nothing to do with things like a sink full of dishes or a house in need of vacuuming, especially when the sink and vacuum are “normal person” height, which leaves my 6’4″ frame with plenty of back pain.  Even with an infant in a sling, a stay-at-home parent has to juggle precariously to do housework while they’re home alone, and if baby wakes up fussy, the housework stops until she can be comforted.  I accomplished what domestic chores I accomplished by letting Jen watch Morgan while I was doing them.

I know it goes without saying, but housework is nearly impossible when a child is first born.  Even ignoring the fact that the mother often has a pretty serious tear/surgery to heal from (which, by the way, you should never ignore), newborns, at least OUR newborn, have this interesting habit of waking up as soon as they are laid down.  While some may stay asleep for a while, it is virtually guaranteed that they will wake up as soon as any real housework is commenced – especially housework involving loud appliances.

I think every dad should have to spend at least one day every year taking care of running the house (including the kids), and they should do it using a list left by their partner detailing everything that has to get done that day.  I have heard all my life of men who think their wives do nothing at home, and I always thought this was an insane notion, perhaps in part because my mom homeschooled me and my brother – her laziest day was as busy as my worst day at work.  It’s a lot harder to think a stay-at-home spouse is shiftless when you actually take over their responsibilities for a day.

Seriously, guys – just because we might spend all day playing games if we were at home doesn’t mean that our partners do.  I’m amazed at the job that Jen does every day, and I’m even more amazed that she’s done it with a nasty sinus infection this week!

The things nobody tells you

Going into parenthood for the first time, Jen and I researched, talked to people, and tried to do everything we could to get ready.  Jen was 10 and 15 when her younger sisters were born, so she thought she had a decent idea what to expect.  All the same, there were simple and apparently common things that totally blindsided us.  We found plenty of information once we started searching, but, strangely enough, it all started with someone saying, “Help, I don’t know what to do!”

Fussy Time:
Of all the things you’d think you might get warned about, this one’s a biggie.  Apparently, at some point between 1-6 months, almost every baby has a fussy time where they cry for no apparent reason for a couple of hours each day.  This is not colic.  It’s not gas.  It’s not hunger.  It MIGHT be fighting sleep.  The first time this happens, you spend hours searching online in worried parent mode, only to find out two things: it’s normal, and experts have no idea what causes it.  Seriously, fussiness with no cause that starts and stops on its own, and nobody thinks to warn the new parents?  We heard plenty of glowing comments about how we would soon be able to understand Morgan’s every cry, but never a mention that there’s one cry that just means, “Nope, nothing you can do about it, I’m just gonna cry.”

Clusterfeeding:
Oh dear god, clusterfeeding!  Neither Jen nor I had ever heard of clusterfeeding before Morgan started doing it.  It often coincides with “fussy time,” and it is absolute hell on the mother while it happens, because the baby is essentially grumpily snacking almost constantly for anywhere from several hours to the entire day.  Even in non-fussy babies, clusterfeeding is very common during growth spurts.  To give you an idea of how rough this is, I’ve also heard it called “Little Devil Syndrome.”  If a mom doesn’t know it’s coming, it can be devastating to her confidence.  Even if she does know it’s coming, the first thought is that she must be doing something wrong or her body must not be producing enough milk.  Nothing is further from the truth, and this is perfectly normal.  It goes away in a few days and things get back to normal, but the stress on mama in the middle of a clusterfeed time is incredible, and it can be terribly frustrating for women who are used to being independent, because clusterfeed days become almost exclusively devoted to feeding and comforting.

The difference between formulae:
You may be planning to breastfeed, and if you are, that’s awesome. If you can feed and pump and do everything that way, by all means, do so.  But you may find you have trouble with your milk supply, or maybe you have trouble producing for a breast pump, so you may find yourself supplementing formula.  Or you may decide not to breast feed at all, in which case you are going to rely solely on formula.  Then you go into the baby formula aisle at the grocery story.  That’s right: formula aisle.  You may have a baby with a stomach of steel who doesn’t care if you buy the cheapest crap in the aisle, or you may have a baby that suffers from reflux or, god forbid, GERD.  The good news is that babies with reflux and GERD get over it.  The bad news is that, until they do, trying to find the right formula is going to feel a lot like something out of The Exorcist.  Similac and other high-end companies make formula specifically designed for spit-up and GERD.  Not surprisingly, it’s a lot more expensive.  A quart of Similac’s alimentum (supposedly the best formula for GERD and reflux) is usually about $3-4 more than a quart of standard formula.  That adds up fast.

The thing is, though, your baby may not need the most expensive formula if they are spitting up badly.  The first thing you should try is simply switching from powdered formula to ready-to-drink formula.  Ready-to-drink is thicker, and that thickness is often enough by itself to fix the problem.  Even if it’s not, get small packs of several types of ready-to-drink formula to test.  Morgan spits up frequently with alimentum, but she handles the cheap Gerber Good Start formula just fine.  

Parenting Advice:
This is a weird one, but Jen and I both noticed that the parenting advice given to us post-partum, especially the written advice, quickly turned from the happy, joking advice we had received leading up to Morgan’s birth to a very dark place.  The pamphlet the hospital sent home with us suggested in all seriousness that, on those days you feel like throwing your baby against the wall, you should lay her down in another room, leave her crying, close the door on her, and retreat a few rooms away so that you can’t hear.  Jen saw similar advice from several more post-partum advice sources.  Besides being somewhat scary that parenting advice has to mention feeling like you want to throw your baby against the wall, it seems like this advice (likely designed to help mothers who are dealing with post-partum depression cope with some of the issues above) goes to an even darker place than a PPD mother already occupies, to say nothing of the fact that this could start parents trying to force their kids to “cry it out” way too early (most research shows that the “cry it out” approach simply teaches a child that her parents do not care about her and will not listen to her – especially when that child is still learning how to differentiate her cries enough to communicate.  Essentially the body of research now thinks that making a baby “cry it out” does not teach them independence, it simply demolishes their spirit).

There are plenty more things that blindsided us, and I’m sure even more will come in the future, but these were some of the big ones that may just help someone else be that much more prepared when their own son or daughter gets here.