Goodbye, sleep; Hello, fatherhood: Life as a new dad
June 16, 2015
It’s a haze of being pooped on and not sleeping.
That’s how I remember the first months after I became a dad for the first time. I’d come home from work and my wife, Lauren, would hand me our newborn son, Graham. She’d go to sleep for a few hours, then she’d wake up, and I’d go to sleep. That’s how we functioned.
Friends tried to warn me about what to expect as a first-time dad: You’ll never get to sleep again. Say goodbye to your social life.
But what they forget to tell you is that it’s kind of cool, too. It’s you, your spouse, and your kid, all together in one room. It’s a bonding experience. When you bring your new baby home, the whole team comes together.
With Father’s Day coming up, I’ve been reflecting on becoming a dad for the first time. Of course, my role didn’t compare to what Lauren went through with the pregnancy and delivery, but it has been unforgettable for both of us.
Today, I’m a dad, not a doctor
Lauren had a completely normal pregnancy with Graham, but neither of us realized the challenges that awaited in the delivery room.
When it came time for Graham to be born, we headed to Parkland Memorial Hospital. I was a fourth-year obstetrician resident, and I worked with pregnant women all the time. But this time I was on pins and needles – it was my wife and baby in the delivery room.
Months before, Lauren and I talked about how we wanted the childbirth experience to play out. I mentioned that I could split my attention between her and the delivery team. But together we decided I needed me to be there 100 percent as a husband and father, not as a doctor.
Graham’s delivery was scary. He was having some difficulty coming out and his heart rate started to drop at the end of the delivery. It was really weird for me – very emotional – to be on the opposite side of a delivery. I was scared knowing all the potential complications that could happen.
That day I learned that sometimes it’s appropriate to play the doctor card, and sometimes it’s not. The nurses actually made me stop looking at the monitors, and told me that was not my job today. That’s when I decided, today, I’m a dad, not a doctor. When Graham finally was born, his skin was blue. The NICU team was called in to evaluate him.
My emotions were really high. They are for any new parent going through a delivery, but the complications made it even worse. I wasn’t thinking logically like I do in my role as an obstetrician. I couldn’t focus on the 98 percent of the time that everything works out just fine.
There was an overwhelming fear, a breathtaking moment when it was hard for me, as a dad, to hold it together.
Thankfully, Graham bounced back just fine. When I held him for the first time, I felt this overwhelming pride. This was my son. My son!
And then I felt a massive wave of fear. I have to take care of this child. Forever. I remember thinking: I don’t even know which way a diaper goes on!
When we got home with Graham, the real learning experience began. Lauren and I muddled through it together. I remember the first night at home, sitting on the couch with Graham, who was crying and seemed inconsolable. Lauren came around the corner. I looked at her and whispered, “What did we do?”
I think every parent goes through that moment to some extent. These are the moments that I can look back on now and laugh, but that night it wasn’t so funny. Obviously, moms have all kinds of emotions before, during, and after having a baby. But for dads, I know I had a feeling of helplessness. We want to be able to help and protect our kids. As guys, we want to be able to control and fix situations. But part of becoming a dad is knowing that sometimes, there’s nothing you can do but hold your baby and love him or her.
And then there were two
Lauren’s pregnancy with Nora was totally normal and uncomplicated, and thankfully, so was the delivery. We’ll see if she continues to be the “easy kid” as she gets older. I’ve heard stories that raising girls and boys can be a whole different ball game!
So far, our second baby experience has been far easier than our first. We both knew what to expect this time around, and Nora is an excellent sleeper and cuddler, so that helps. Plus, having a 4-year-old tornado of a son running around doesn’t leave you much time to sit and feel sorry for yourself when you’re stressed or tired. Seriously, Graham wakes up and hits the ground running. We’ve learned to treasure the little moments more this time around because we know how fast it goes by. Even these first few months with Nora have flown by.
The good stuff, and some advice
I always wanted to be a dad – I have a great dad, and I always saw myself doing that. Watching Graham’s reaction to being a big brother has definitely been one of the highlights of fatherhood so far. It’s so cool to see him take to her.
Becoming a dad has definitely impacted how I care for my patients. It’s made me realize just how precious every pregnancy is. It’s one thing to know the science of it – it’s a completely different story to have a personal connection. Every day, I have to tell women they have a pregnancy complication or problem. Now that I’m a dad, I am much more empathetic to what a blow that can be to my patients and their partners.
Some of what my friends told me was right. I don’t sleep as much as I used to, and that’s OK. Dark circles under my eyes make me look distinguished. My social life has taken a detour, and that’s OK, too. It’s always a circus or a soap opera at my house, depending on everyone’s mood – my buddies don’t offer entertainment like that!
At the end of the day, the sleepless nights, missed social events, tears, and tantrums are worth it. You can’t control kids, and you can’t control their schedules. Fatherhood is supposed to be unpredictable – that’s part of the experience. You can’t learn to be a good father just from parenting books or videos. It’s something you have to learn as you go. Trust me. It’s awesome.