Back in February, I wrote a post about my upcoming book that included a big visual of the timeline. Just two weeks after the book launch, my first baby would be born. I’d promote the book, catch my breath, and then begin the new adventure.
Thank god for those critical two weeks.
The night before book launch was (obviously) a frantic all-nighter, and I eventually went to bed after 40 hours awake, exhausted and satisfied. We had done it. The book was live. It was over. I’d actually wake up tomorrow without this project hanging over my head. The sky would be blue. I’d finally be free.
I woke up close to noon and felt at peace for three seconds before opening my phone and seeing three texts from my wife:
I knew what water breaking was. But I didn’t know what it meant. Is the baby coming out now? Or was this one of the false alarms I had heard about and the baby is still a couple weeks away? Is there a chance she just peed her pants and is misdiagnosing the situation?
After some rapid-fire googling, one thing was clear: We had to go to the hospital. Now.
The drive was weird. I had pictured myself heroically driving a screaming labor-having wife to the hospital, but here I was driving normally to the hospital with a very normal wife next to me. Apart from her new leaking situation, nothing was different than it was yesterday. There was no way we were actually having a baby today. Right?
Upon arrival, the PA assessed things and yes her water had broken, and yes in order to avoid infection that meant the baby had to come out now. Two hours and 12 canceled book-promoting podcasts later, we’re in our delivery room, where my still-not-in-labor wife would supposedly be producing a baby sometime later today.
Again, there was a major expectations-reality gap. I had pictured the day of my first child’s birth being impossibly frenetic and emotional and intense. But there we were, eating animal crackers and gummies from the treats-you-can-eat-while-in-labor bag, hanging out and chatting like any other day.
My wife was hooked up to a bunch of tubes and machines and the plan was to see if contractions would start on their own as a reaction to her water breaking, but a few hours passed and nothing happened. Eventually, the nurse came in and poured a magical little chemical called Pitocin into her IV bag.
And things started happening.
Contractions began, which my wife described as “a really bad period cramp,” which helped me understand what they felt like 0%. Over the next couple hours they got worse and worse. I was quickly assigned the role of “don’t say or do anything” while contractions were happening, so I’d just kind of sit there awkwardly and watch with this face on:
Her epidural plan was something like “definitely get one but tough it out a little first,” and after a particularly awful contraction, she called it a day and the epidural team came in to do their thing. 45 minutes later, we’re back in the “I know this is the day of the birth of our first child but it sure doesn’t feel like it” zone, chatting and hanging out normally. After a few more hours, a nurse came in and checked on the dilation situation and was like “alright, let’s do this!”
Once again, nothing like I pictured. I thought there would be a big team of doctors and nurses doing a whole big hectic thing and I’d be standing somewhere on the side. Instead, it was me and this nurse, each holding a leg.
The game went like this: When a contraction starts, we each grab a leg and she pushes really hard for 10 seconds three times in a row. Then everyone chills and hangs out for a few minutes until the next contraction. And repeat.
After a few rounds of this, it was clear this was not gonna work. Nothing was coming out. But we kept trying anyway.
And then I saw it.
The edge of an upsetting slimy pancake.
When I asked what the upsetting slimy pancake edge was, the nurse told me it was my daughter.
This then went on for a while. We’d do a round of pushing, the upsetting pancake thing would come out a centimeter and then go back in, and each round it would come out a few more millimeters. It was increasingly feeling like we really weren’t getting anywhere with this strategy when the nurse suddenly says “okay let’s deliver a baby!”
She makes a call and a few minutes later a group of people come in, including the first doctor we had seen that day. The next contraction came along, I leg-held, my wife pushed, and then in the most surreal moment of my life, I was staring at a tiny screaming alien.
That was 3 months ago. I’ve had a lot of thoughts since then. Here are 10 of them:
1) A newborn is not a baby
I thought it was gonna be like this:
But it’s actually like this:
A newborn is not a baby. Babies are cute and roly-poly and can see and are conscious and are normal and a newborn is not any of these things. It is a bizarre human larva that acts super weird and would still be in the womb if it could be. The problem is, when humans went bipedal, our pelvises got smaller, and as humans got smarter, our heads got bigger. So evolution had to get creative. Its solution: all human babies would be premies, born when they were still small enough to pass through a human pelvis. The last couple months as a fetus would happen outside the womb, and everyone would just have to deal with that. This became incredibly obvious during the first month with my daughter. She was a raw human id not remotely ready for primetime. Thankfully, since then, a baby has grown around the id and now she has the figure of a miniature 390-pound 84-year-old woman.1
2) It is insane that there’s not some required training for new-parents-to-be
If I want to drive a car, I have to take driver’s ed first. If I want to provide medical advice, I have to go to med school first. But after we had the baby, the hospital was like “don’t shake it k bye.”
I know a lot of words I didn’t used to know. Meconium. Tummy time. Latching. Bicycling. Swaddle. Colostrum. I know how many ounces of milk and hours of sleep the baby is supposed to have each day. I know baby CPR and the baby Heimlich maneuver. I know how to induce baby burps and shits. I know how warmly to dress a baby. I know what temperature baby bathwater should be. I know what sleep training is and when it’s okay to start it. I know that you can’t just pick a newborn up, you have to pick all the pieces up at the same time or else the pieces fall off.
But I only know all of these things because I read books and articles and am fortunate to have people I can call with questions. And society’s current plan is to just expect/hope that every new parent does the same?? There should obviously be like a mandatory four-hour course every expecting parent has to take before they’re actually in charge of a newborn.
Instead, people like to say things like “you’ll figure it out” and “just use your instincts.” You could apply the same logic to driving and people probably would just figure it out—but we don’t do it that way, because that would be absurd.
3) Babies have giant heads*
*I made this visual thinking it was gonna emphasize how big baby heads are, but after looking at the big-headed guy on the right for a while, it started to look normal to me, and the normal-headed guy suddenly looked like he had a ridiculously small head. So now I’m realizing that the big takeaway is that baby heads are normal and the rest of our heads are tiny.
4) Babies are incredibly overdramatic
When a normal person is hungry, or tired, or needs to burp, they’re a little annoyed. Babies are in Shakespearean agony. And then comes the burp and one second later they’re like “sup.” It’s insane behavior.
For a while, the range of baby emotion runs from Shakespearean agony to neutral, never entering the positive realm. Neutral is a newborn’s best-case scenario.
After six weeks or so, positive emotion begins to make an appearance, but then they still go apoplectic at the slightest inconvenience.2
While we’re here, I know it’s bad but I can’t help it—crying babies are funny. My wife completely disagrees with me on this.
5) The parent-newborn relationship is super one-sided
It’s weird—you have all of these intense feelings for this little person* and there’s just nothing to do with those feelings. I could squish her face, but then she’d cry and I’d be abusing a baby. In the early weeks, there’s just not really a satisfying outlet for your baby fondness and it’s annoying.
One other one-sided thing is you’re apparently supposed to talk to your newborn even though they’re an unconscious fetus because it supposedly helps develop their brain. So now my baby has heard multiple versions of my next book outline, the full story of the rise and fall of the Assyrian Empire after I listened to a podcast about it, and a list of every World Series champion going back to 1990. Never once has the baby shown any sign of being affected by any of this.
*That said, I’ve always thought of parental love as the most intense form of love—the kind where if you had a Sophie’s choice where your baby and spouse were both hanging off a cliff and you could only save one, you’d save the baby without a second thought. And…yeah I’m not there yet. I love this little creature a freakish amount, but as of now, I’m definitely saving my wife in that situation. Sorry kiddo. I’m sure Tim the Baby-Saver-Wife-Dropper will at some point emerge, but I guess it takes some time.
6) Babies shit all over your schedule
Obvious one, I know, but just check this out:1
These are the sleep graphs of three different babies, but they all have one thing in common: there’s no rhyme or reason in the early months, because newborns are dicks.
7) It’s mathematically impossible to know if your baby is cute or not
I think my baby is impossibly adorable, of course, but every parent thinks that about their baby, so that offers no information. Everyone who has met her or seen a picture of her has commented on how cute she is, but they’d say that no matter what she looked like—which I know as someone who has commented on the cuteness of babies ranging from perfect to hideous—so there’s no information there either. FYI, I once depicted what happens when friends visit someone with an uncute baby:
8) I’m a motor skills virtuoso
It’s pretty amazing how bad babies are at everything. They’re terrible at thinking, at knowing anything, at moving all parts of their body. The cool thing is that spending time with a super unimpressive baby has made me super impressed by myself. Like I’ll watch the baby sitting in a baby bouncer trying to reach for a little wooden flower one foot in front of her and she just flings her arm in the general direction and misses by a lot. Then I’ll reach for a glass of water and all of my joints work together to send my hand on a perfectly straight path through three-dimensional space, gracefully clasp my fingers around it using the perfect amount of pressure, raise it to my mouth, tilt it in perfect sync with the movement of my lips, and then return the glass to the table and gently place it down like an absolute genius.
9) You don’t go from a non-parent to a parent overnight
Some things are just too big for our little human brains to fully absorb. The bigness of the universe. The permanence of death. The magnitude of the marriage decision, which I once described like this:
When you choose a life partner, you’re choosing a lot of things, including your parenting partner and someone who will deeply influence your children, your eating companion for about 20,000 meals, your travel companion for about 100 vacations, your primary leisure time and retirement friend, your career therapist, and someone whose day you’ll hear about 18,000 times. Intense shit.
A few months into fatherhood, this feels like another item in that category. When your baby is born, you will (hopefully) never live another day as a non-parent. For people who make the decision to do this, it is the BC-AD line of their life. It doesn’t mean you can’t still be you, but you are trading in one kind of life for another, with all of the pros and cons that come along with it.
I don’t think I’ve been able to quite wrap my head around the bigness of the situation. A curious childless friend asked me the other day if I feel like a dad, and I surprised myself by answering “not really.” I mostly feel like old me that has this new delightful little thing living in my house. When I see friends with sentient kids actually parenting them, saying things like “that’s not nice, stop it,” whatever that must be like is as much of a mystery to me as it was three months ago. For me at least, it seems like a parent is something you slowly turn into as your first baby slowly turns into a person.
Btw I’m now even more convinced than I was before that this is the most personal of personal decisions and no one should ever try to pressure anyone else to have kids—it’s way too big a thing to be anyone else’s business.
10) Having a baby really makes you think about the future
Every parent in history has brought their baby into a world with an uncertain future. But our future is the uncertainest. My baby might live a life a lot like mine, just a little more futuristic. Or she might live to 500. She might live most of her life with a brain-machine interface implanted in her head, thinking with her own superintelligent AI. She might suffer through civilizational collapse. She might live in a world that would seem like utopia to us today. She might live on Mars. She might meet aliens. She might die in the apocalypse. There’s just no way to know. It makes all of those fun, exciting, terrifying conversations about the future hit just a little harder.
If you like Wait But Why, sign up for our unannoying-I-promise email list and we’ll send you new posts when they come out.
To support Wait But Why, visit our Patreon page.
If you can’t decide whether to marry your significant other: The Marriage Decision: Everything Forever or Nothing Ever Again
If you’re hearing everyone talk about AI and would like an overview: The AI Revolution: The Road to Superintelligence