This morning I went to a post-birth baby shower for a colleague who just became a first-time father. He has that glassy-eyed look I remember well. It's from the sleep deprivation plus that hit-by-a-truck, holy-shit-what-happened-to-my-life realization. I told him afterwards about our take on parenting a newborn. Basically, it's like joining the army. The first three or four months is boot camp. Basically, it's really hard, really taxing, and it's not what you thought you signed up for. But you learn a lot in a hurry -- mostly about pushing your own limits and bonding with others in your unit, but also important survival skills like changing a baby who's power-pooped all the way up her back, how to fall instantly and deeply asleep in any sort of foxhole for 20 minutes when you have the chance, graciously accepting help and advice from your in-laws, etc. Also you have a vague understanding that the easier and more rewarding stuff is coming, though you just don't know exactly when. For a lot of people, of course, it's when the baby sleeps more than six hours at a stretch, or when she smiles at you for the first time.
I feel for the guy, because I remember the new-parent psychosis that, for us, peaked when Sarah was about three days old. I'd given birth late in the afternoon after being in labor all that day and the previous night, so we were already exhausted right from the start. Sarah was peaceful as could be in the hospital, looking around curiously from her stripy blue papoose. Then we took her home and all hell broke loose. In all this breast-feeding propaganda, they skim over the fact that mom's milk doesn't really come in for about four days, but the baby starts getting mighty hungry right about the time the happy family goes home from the hospital. But the Nursing Nazis make you feel like a killer if you give the poor kid a bottle in the meantime. So there we were, Ben and I, staring haggardly at each other while Sarah screamed and screamed in the wee hours when you're most alone in the world. We walked and rocked, walked and rocked. Finally just for a change of pace we changed her diaper. The screaming suddenly went to to an 11 (see "Spinal Tap") or as Ben called it, bobcatting. Desperate for an answer to end the torture, we were like detectives, trying everything we could think of with our logical brains, so amidst our psychosis, this new development could mean only one thing: Sarah had suddenly developed an allergy to the baby wipes! Eureka! "We gotta give her a bath right now!" said Ben as he grabbed the baby while I ran the water in the little tub. We put her in and... guess what? The volume meter is now at 12! It's pegged in the red zone! OK, so maybe the wipes weren't the problem... what the HELL could it be? Well, by this point we figured we'd totally ruined this kid emotionally already, so we might as well admit we were totally lousy parents and go the whole route by giving her a little bottle of sugar water the nurses had slipped to us (they knew, those nurses). A miracle -- Sarah sucks it down like a funneled beer at a frat party and passes out cold for several hours. The next day my milk comes in, and for a couple of days, I have enough in the personal dairy to feed every baby in the greater Boston area. Sarah figured it out, carrying on like a piranha after a cantaloupe, and we lived happily ever after, more or less -- especially once I figured out how to feed her while lying down in bed and emerging from my coma only far enough to plug her in.