I recently wrote a piece about how my feelings towards my dog changed after I had a child. Unsurprisingly (because people online have a lot of feelings about children and a lot of feelings about pets), this got a strong reaction from the peanut gallery. I should have known better than to read the comments. But because I’m a stupid idiot, I looked in on some. What I saw several times was this Internet chestnut: "How did you not know that having children would be hard?"
I confess this is something I’d trotted out myself in response to STFU Parents-type posts from woe-is-me parents. “Oh, gee, being a mom is hard? If only you’d had some sort of notice!”
There’s a difference, though, between the guy on that show "Pregnant in Heels" (which I watched when I was pregnant to assure myself that I could do better than those idiots) who assumed he could still make his weekly trips to the country winery with a newborn in tow, and just plain not-knowing how having a baby will make your life hard and different.
I knew having a baby would be hard. I knew it from observing my own parents, from my friends who were parents, from reading and being alive in the world. But just like with sleep deprivation, knowing it’s going to be hard isn’t any sort of preparation for how it will be hard. There’s watching TV and seeing cute images of parents falling asleep on each other, while their adorable newborn snoozes in the foreground. Then there is the soul-stripping, sob-inducing, tortured feeling that actually comes from being sleep-deprived while also trying to take care of a newborn and a post-baby body.
Maybe it’s macabre to compare the two things, but it’s like losing your parent or spouse. You know it’ll happen someday, and that you’re going to be very sad, but there is no way to measure or experience or prepare for the grief until it happens.
It’s just not part of the popular narrative to really talk about how crazy-hard it is to adjust to life with a newborn, especially today, when the conceiving and gestating of a child is so public. According to the greeting cards and covers of popular magazines and Shutterfly advertisements, we should be over the moon, full of baby love, maybe—at worst—with a perfect little smear of poop on our hands. Instead, I think of the first few months with baby as being kicked in the head the way Kramer was that time on "Seinfeld." There is, literally, a dent in your brain. Adjusting to your new life doesn’t mean that your brain grows back to the way it was—it grows back in a new way.
I tried so hard after my son was born to go on the way life was right before—to keep the house clean, the dishwasher and laundry basket empty, my blog running—while my insides were falling out of me. I wanted to cry (or was crying) all the time.
And this is after knowing it would be hard!
I was aware that taking care of a new life is a huge responsibility. After doing things like juggling multiple jobs and training for a half-marathon, I thought I knew hard—but that still didn’t prepare me, for instance, for how exhausting it would be that first time to take the baby to the doctor by myself. I honestly felt prouder and tireder after that morning than I did after graduating from college.
I knew having a baby would be hard. But knowing that something is going to be hard isn’t the same as being prepared for how hard it is. Maybe it’s macabre to compare the two things, but it’s like losing your parent or spouse. You know it’ll happen someday, and that you’re going to be very sad, but there is no way to measure or experience or prepare for the grief until it happens.
So, yeah, sorry to everyone who was mad that my dog doesn’t get petted as much as he used to or that I don’t care for wiping up his piss at 6:30 in the morning. I don’t really think, though, that it was a situation where thinking harder about what it would be like to have a baby would really help.