You know the sound someone makes when you’re peeling their skin off with glowing hot pliers? You probably don’t. But imagine the kind of desperate cry someone would produce if found in such an unfortunate situation.
That’s the sound I woke up to.
In one moment I was dreaming of lying in a hammock sipping a mojito and in the next someone to my right is crying for dear life. With my head throbbing, I pick up the phone. It’s 3:47 AM.
As I look to my right, against all odds, I don’t see an inquisitor holding some rusty tongs. It’s just my usually loving wife holding our usually lovely baby. But, as you can already tell, this is no usual Thursday night.
Our baby is screaming like she’s trying to escape from Satan’s claws. As I tumble towards the kitchen to prepare a bottle of milk, I hear my wife muttering:
My dear, for the love of God, please stop crying or I fear you might land out the window
Now I’m no stranger to doing night shifts. Neither is my wife. Being awakened in the middle of the night, even several times per night, is part of a resident’s life. But this takes it to a whole new level. Nobody is doing night shifts for 10 days straight. Let alone 20. Or 30.
Well, this is day 47. That’s how many days have passed since we became parents. And it’s been a great experience so far. No, really! It’s fascinating to watch your baby grow and discover the world around her. But sometimes, when you’re all alone and honest with yourself, you think:
Why the hell did I sign up for this?!
This is hard to understand for anyone who’s never been a parent, but once you have a baby everything changes. You go from being a highly functioning individual who has career goals, hobbies, close friends, and long thoughtful conversations, to being a glorified babysitter.
Sadly, too few people talk about the hard parts of being a parent and how to deal with them. Everyone just posts incredible cute photos with joyful babies smiling like they’re the happiest little person in the world. And when you ask your friends about it they just say what a miraculous experience this is and how it’s the best thing that ever happened to them.
Now don’t get me wrong. Being a parent is an absolutely wonderful experience. It doesn’t even come close to anything my wife and I have done in our lives so far. But it’s also a huge change in anyone’s life. One that’s often not easy to handle. Not easy at all.
That’s why I’ll let you in on some insider information and paint you a real life picture.
Disclosure: This is the part you should skip if you’re thinking about having a baby in the near future. Just scroll to the next subtitle.
- A good 8-hour sleep? Gone.
- Girls’ night out / bar-hopping with the boys? Gone.
- Your private me-time reserved for reading/gaming/watching Grey’s Anatomy? Gone.
- Remember those lazy Sunday mornings when you could sleep in and have breakfast at 10? Better forget them.
- Along with going to the movies, having romantic dinners at a restaurant, or going to the gym regularly. They’re all gone, with no signs of coming back in the next 10 years.
So why do people keep having babies if this is all true?
Two reasons. First, evolution made sure sex felt good enough to make it worthwhile. Otherwise, we all wouldn’t be here. And second, it’s likely to be the most rewarding experience of your whole life.
The Cycle of Desperation
For anyone who’s never been a parent, it’s hard to understand how a baby can transform you from a grateful Mother Teresa into a fire-spitting grinch that hasn’t shaved in 3 weeks. Let me draw it for you.
This is the Cycle of Desperation. It shows how having a baby messes with your head, your body, and everything else in your life.
First comes the lack of sleep. A newborn needs to eat every 2-3 hours, which means that you never get to sleep for more than 3 hours straight. This will get to you.
Being sleepless makes you grumpy, tired, and unfocused. Which takes us directly to the second part of the cycle.
Your productivity will drop. Dramatically. You will start making mistakes, dropping things, and feeling unable to concentrate. This may draw unwanted attention at your workplace, which will make you even jumpier. It will also take you a lot longer to get things done. Which sets the stage for phase three.
You never have enough time. No time to cook, eat, or watch some TV. Heck, you barely have enough time to take a shower. So when can you get some stuff for work done or catch up on your favorite series? The only time when you have a few quiet hours is late at night, while the baby is asleep.
But this will lead to even more lack of sleep. And so the cycle goes on and on.
How to get your life back… and then some!
You’re still glowing! Most parents lose this after the first few weeks. How come you still have it?
That’s what a colleague told me a few days ago. Honestly, I have no clue what she meant by glowing. I just hope it’s not from working in the radiology department.
But I do know how I feel. It’s the first time in my life that I’m experiencing such a great sense of fulfillment and satisfaction. Sure, I’ve had my share of successes in life. Quite a few even. But nothing comes close to this.
It’s hard to put into words how it feels when you come home after work and see a little human look at you with astonishment; then her lips curl up into a smile and her arms want to grab you. Everything else becomes background noise.
That argument you had at work, the jerk who cut you off on the way home, or the rude old neighbor complaining about your trash sorting habits — they all disappear. For just a brief moment you get a glimpse of the big picture of your life.
It’s like Nirvana — but with baby, no Buddha.
However, as every karate kid movie has taught us, you can’t experience Nirvana without training, hard work, and discipline. Which in our case means breaking the Cycle of Desperation.
Breaking the Cycle of Desperation
The Cycle has three stages that repeat themselves. And with every passing cycle, things only get worse.
The good news is that you can break the Cycle at any time, regardless of the current stage. In other words, you have three ways of escaping the Cycle. Let’s take a look at each of them.
1. Prioritize your sleep. You need sleep if you want to take good care of your baby. I’ve already written about how to get by with less sleep and how to control your sleep. Those tips will come in handy when you can only sleep for 2-3 hours straight and need to wake up multiple times per night. Also, try to alternate sleeping times with your partner. And sleep when the baby sleeps! I don’t care if you’re not used to napping in the afternoon or sleeping before 10 PM. Just do it. Your mood, focus, and overall health will improve with just this small change. You can thank me later.
2. Stay productive using DAT. When you feel overwhelmed by everything on your to-do list, first Delegate. This means asking a family member or paying someone to do it for you. We did this with house-cleaning (best decision ever). If you can’t find the right person to delegate, then Alternate. Take turns with your partner, while one of you recharges or does another task. If it still doesn’t work, then Terminate. Just get the most important stuff done and accept that you have to pass on less significant tasks. At least for a while.
3. Use every minute wisely. You will very soon find out that babies take up A LOT of time. This has two consequences. First, you can’t cram as much stuff in one day. The sooner you accept this, the better. Second, you need to use every bit of free time you can find.
Is the baby asleep for 10 minutes? Use that time to peel 10 potatoes or cut 5 fingernails. Don’t expect to get everything done during the first try. But these small breaks quickly add up, so use them wisely.
You should also plan ahead. At one point you baby will follow a daily routine. Plan for the 2 hours she sleeps every afternoon, or the 30-minute nap after playtime. Know exactly what you need to get done (see point 2), even if it’s just getting some sleep (remember point 1?).
Whatever you do, never cram all the things before bedtime. It will make the baby agitated, yourself frustrated, and it will restart the Cycle of Desperation. Go to bed on time so you can rise to fight another day.
A few essential things to remember
Now that you know how the Cycle of Desperation works and how to break it, you’re all set to become a normal human being again. But tread lightly.
I don’t care how well organized you are and how megaubersuperduper adorable your baby is, there will come a time when you’ll have doubts. And anxiety, and frustration.
You will also have thoughts which may or may not involve an exorcism and/or throwing that baby out the window.
Trust me, such moments will come. And for exactly those moments I’ve prepared the following list. Feel free to print it out and keep it on your nightstand.
- Baby’s life is hard. Just imagine you’re suddenly thrown in a strange new world that’s a lot louder, brighter, and drier than what you’re used to. You also now have to put in the work to get food, you get stinky when you poop, and eating while sleeping doesn’t work anymore. This sucks big time. But there’s more. Everybody moves you around without asking for permission, sometimes the whole room lights up with no warning, and you poke your eye every time you want to scratch your nose. It’s a tough life. So have some sympathy.
- Baby never asked to be born or have parents. You were the one who made the decision, so act accordingly.
- It’s normal to feel doubt, frustration, and despair. It’s not unusual to lock yourself in the bathroom and start crying. We’ve all been there. So have your parents and grandparents. We also got through it, and so will you.
- It’s OK to want to get rid of the baby for a few hours or even a few days. This doesn’t make you a bad parent. It just makes you a normal person, who has a lot more interests and roles than just being a parent. Just ask your partner, close friends, or family to take the baby for a bit. It will do you and your relationship a lot of good.
- It’s normal to feel like you wanna scream your lungs out and run for the hills. It’s not normal to actually do it. Whenever you reach a breaking point just put the baby down or hand it over to your partner and leave the room. Nothing bad will happen if you take a 5-minute break to recover. Everyone will be better off afterward.
- This is your hero moment. There will never be another time in your baby’s life when it will be as easy to be a true hero. You are the center of her world. Only you have superpowers that magically make the hunger go away, transform dirty diapers into soft clean ones, and sing the best lullaby songs ever (even if your neighbors disagree). Use your superpowers and enjoy every moment of it.
The best thing to spend on your children is time. ― Louise Hart
Originally published at optimizemy.life