TL ; DR
- I have a one-year-old son
- He was born on my birthday
- Nothing prepares you for parenthood
- Things change quickly
“We have to go” my eyes strained against the haze of interrupted dreams. Who said that? What time is it? Where the- I was in bed, in my Berlin apartment, it was 5am, and a certain little boy had decided to arrive a few days early – on my birthday. We drove to the birth house, and after about 15 hours of labour had ourselves a very healthy, quiet, and curious baby boy.
What a difference a year can make…
Nobody is ready
Nothing really prepares you for parenthood. I certainly never felt ready, but fortunately I was also surrounded by friends of a similar age who had recently become fathers and who were able to reassure me and also give some good advice.
Regarding being ready, regular readers of my website will know that I have a bit of a thing for throwing myself into the deep end of situations, being in over my head, and then figuring things out as I go along. Is this a responsible approach to raising a child? Perhaps not, but it is probably also the only way to raise a child, especially the first one. There is literally nothing that compares to the experience of becoming a parent the first time, and as such, no amount of preparation will ever be enough. I suppose the only way to prepare for this kind of thing is to spend a lifetime throwing yourself into unfamiliar and unexpected situations, and improvising your way through them, and with that in mind, I guess I’m at least as well prepared as anyone else short of perhaps a midwife or nursery teacher.
Expect the unexpected
It seems strange to say this because when you think about it, everyone was a baby at some point, and the whole business of taking care of babies has been around for as long as humanity itself. You’d think we’d be completely on top of it by now. But no, we aren’t, and are really nowhere near. There’s an enormous amount of conflicting advice out there, and a surprising number of people and books telling you to trust your instincts. Even though modern, civilised life is hugely artificial and ‘unnatural’, the one thing that perhaps keeps us as humans grounded is the fact that the experience of reproduction and child rearing has remained essentially the same for as long as humans have been around. So in this case, instincts are actually not such a bad idea.
Also unexpected is the effect that becoming a parent has had on me. A friend put it well – it changes your perspective and in particular your perception of your capacity to love. I really never thought I could live someone this much. Being a parent also changes your perspective on things in general. In addition, this kind of “settled” life is also a little unexpected, since the meandering path of my life over the last few years has been rather all over the place and unpredictable to put it mildly. To think that three years ago I got kicked out of Denmark and had to juggle and count my days in and out of the Schengen Zone, have had to move several times, and have really only recently been able to have any certainty about my legal status concerning visas. Luckily, for reasons which should be obvious in the context of history, Germany is not in the business of separating families so I am safe for now.
What is at the same time obvious, but also remarkable is the rate at which things change. The first three months is often referred to as the fourth trimester, and with good reason. Newborns are unbelievably undeveloped, and totally reliant on their parents for survival. A horse can just about stand up as soon as it is born, human babies are somewhat more helpless.
While this is inconvenient and raises the amount of effort that goes into parenting somewhat, it is also rather endearing and fascinating. To think that being able to grip an object is something that you once had to learn, or being able to sit, or roll over. Watching the progression has been an endlessly amusing aspect of parenting. Even though it often feels like you’re drowning trying to stay on top of things, the bit of advice I was given to savour these early months and years was right on the money – things change quickly, and before you know it you’ve basically got a different kid in front of you.
The experience of observing all the little steps of progress in my son’s development also made me a little sad. Sad for the places around the world where work-life balance was such that one or both parents are forced to miss out on these crucial early stages of their children’s lives. I feel very fortunate to live in Germany where parental leave is very generous in the scheme of things, and our son is lucky enough to have the full attention of both parents for the entire first year of his life.
In addition to the rapid developmental progress, there is of course the more obvious physical growth, and even though there are many charts that tell you what to expect, it still surprises you. In the first six months, he tripled in weight, and outgrew the first cot that we got for him, as can be seen in this time lapse video.
It must be said that nothing is quite the same after the birth of your first child. The first few weeks hit you like a truck, with sleep deprivation, physical exhaustion, hunger, and the mental load of all this new responsibility thrown in, not to mention some very smelly nappies. But slowly… actually quite quickly, everything changes and the newborn becomes a baby who then becomes a toddler and one day he just a small human who wants to fit in on this planet and in everyone else’s lives, just like everyone else.
Fortunately I work from home, and situations that require me to be away are infrequent and short in duration. It will surprise nobody that I haven’t gotten a lot of work done in the last year, but as the change has become less rapid, and routines become more stable, I’ve slowly been able to resume little bits of my previous life (like writing for the loyal readers of my website), doing a bit of coaching, and continuing to work on Mailpile. I highly doubt everything is ever going to go back to being normal but I also have no desire for that to happen. My life is much better for the addition to my family, and it is difficult to imagine life without him. He can’t quite talk or walk yet, but I look very much forward to getting to know him better over the next few years. In the meantime, here’s a video of him eating a cake for his first birthday (and us cleaning up afterwards), enjoy.