9 Observations About Life From My First Weeks With My Newborn Daughter
I am delighted to share that Katie, my wife, recently gave birth to a healthy baby girl. We’re completely in love.
Rather than share a traditional narrative of her arrival, I thought I’d mix it up a bit and share some observations from my first few weeks with my newborn daughter.
1. Sometimes fortune cookies tell the truth.
The night before our baby girl arrived, Katie was full-term, uncomfortable, and ready for the baby to be out. Multiple friends had told her that a specific Chinese dish had induced labor for them, so she took their recommendation and we went out for Chinese.
We ordered the spicy dish, knowing full well how dubitable these labor-inducing claims were.
After our meal, we opened our chocolate fortune cookies (how long have these been a thing?!) and read them to each other. Katie’s said something vague and unhelpful about introverts, but my fortune was unforgettable. It read, “Tomorrow will be an important day for you.”
We couldn’t believe it.
When Katie woke me up the next morning to tell me her water broke, one of the first things I said was, “it was right!”
2. Labor & delivery doctors and nurses are awe-inspiring human beings.
I actually learned this when my wife gave birth to our first child. But this go-round was a vivid reminder of the reverence these hardworking people have for the sanctity of new life—and the act of bringing new life into the world.
It was startling because, well, everything seems to startle me when my wife is in a hospital bed and actively delivering a human being into the world.
But also because the composure, kindness, and expertise of these nurses and doctors humbles me and makes me feel thankful that some folks have dedicated their lives to taking care of other folks during an incredibly tense and joyful and terrifying time of life.
3. Helplessness brings us closer to God.
Just like any partner/husband/father, I felt completely helpless during the labor and delivery process. How could I not? There was nothing I could do but try to be supportive and calm.
And of course, it’s during times like this when I am, when all of us are, most compelled to speak to God. I mean, I know folks who don’t believe in God speak to God in moments like this.
I’m not in control. We’re not in control.
It can be terrifying to acknowledge this, but when we do, we move outside of our own limited view of things and become able to see that we’re part of something much bigger, something incomprehensible. In short, we become vulnerable.
And if the Bible tells us anything, it’s that God is with—even that God is on the side of—the vulnerable.
Beautifully and painfully, vulnerability isn’t hard to conjure up for parents. From the moment our child arrives, we’re at the mercy of forces that are well beyond us. There’s so much to be learned from this, and if we let ourselves, we can be transformed for the better.
4. Growing one’s family involves grief.
I’m paraphrasing here, but I’ve heard Rob Bell say something along these lines: every time you gain something you lose something.
If you sit with this thought for a moment, you realize how unbelievably true it is.
When we added our little girl to the family, I did feel some grief because her presence—which has added so much joy—has also meant we’ve lost our family of three.
This isn’t a bad thing, obviously, but Katie and I have definitely felt some sadness that our toddler son can’t have as much of our time anymore. That would be impossible.
We are just beginning to figure out our new normal, with the knowledge that things are always going to change and shift, especially with kids. It’s hard.
It has also been hard for our son. He has been so sweet with his baby sister (see #5 below), but his sleep has been disrupted for the first time since he was an infant.
We know he’ll get through it. We’re giving him lots of love, and so are our friends and family who come to visit. But I’ve learned that it’s important to name grief when you feel it, and to allow yourself to feel it instead of trying to pretend like it’s not present.
5. There are few feelings better than seeing one of your children find joy in a sibling.
Our son is completely in love with his sister. He dotes on her constantly, always stopping by while we’re holding her to “pet” (as he accurately calls it) and kiss her head. The poor girl may never not have Goldfish dust in her hair.
Also, just the other night, he picked up a congratulatory card somebody sent to us because it had a moon on the front of it, and he loves Goodnight Moon. He subsequently opened the card and began reading a stream-of-consciousness retelling of Goodnight Moon to his sister—going as far as holding up the card to her so she could see the imaginary illustrations.
It’s these moments of him finding joy in her that fill me with indescribable happiness. Then I find myself with tears in my eyes and say to myself not here you blubbering fool.
But this is what it’s all about.
And I’m learning as a parent to let myself really feel this joy. As Mary Oliver once wrote, “If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy, don’t hesitate. Give in to it.”
6. Babies love to pee into the open air.
Our son did this on occasion, spraying our shirts and our walls with a sudden stream. Our baby girl, however, is constantly peeing as soon as we take off her diaper. And because she’s a girl, it all goes down instead of up, so the mess is a bit more contained. But it’s still a mess.
This is what kids do, though. They reconnect you to the basic elements of life, which reconnects you with the essence of life.
You’re brought back to the human body—first theirs, and if you allow yourself, yours. You feel them breathing on your chest. You smell their hair. You touch their fingers and their toes.
You remember for the first time in maybe a few days or weeks or months or even years that you’re here, you’re alive, and you’re here to love.
7. Babies, and parents of babies, belong outdoors.
Okay, I’m kind of cheating again, because Katie and I learned that babies belong outside during our first summer with our son. But it’s proven true with baby #2, too.
We live in the Boston area, so we’re not far from the coast. We pack a simple tent and let our baby girl nap in her bucket seat inside the tent. The beach—nature’s sound machine and pleasant breeze generator—inevitably lulls her to sleep.
As a parent, it’s also nice just to be outdoors. Having a newborn is stressful business, and being outside, much less at the beach, goes a long way toward helping you relieve some of that stress.
8. Mothers are endlessly strong.
Seeing my wife move through pregnancy and give birth on two separate occasions has given me new evidence for something I’ve known for a long time: mothers, and mothers-to-be, have an inner strength, a dignity, that is worthy of abundant respect.
I have no idea how Katie went through what she went through, both while pregnant and while delivering our children, but she did so with all the power of a superhero.
It’s perhaps best said—well, sung—in “Djohariah,” one of my favorite songs by one of my favorite musicians, Sufjan Stevens: “For the mother is, the mother is the glorious victorious / The mother of the heart of the world.”
9. The miracle of new life is a reminder of grace.
The Christian concept of grace is any free, generally undeserved, gift from God.
Regardless of religious affiliation, I think we’re all able to recognize those times in life when something beautiful has been given to us—an opportunity, a place, a person—and all we needed to do was to receive it. For me, being able to welcome a second child into the world is absolutely a free gift, one that I try everyday not to take for granted.
New life really is a miracle, isn’t it? Despite everything we know about how and why new life comes about, there’s still so much mystery.
A new life, a new soul, has come into the world. And as parents we have the crazy good fortune to have played a part in making it happen.
My daughter’s very existence is a huge reminder that grace exists, and I feel that as her parent, it’s my responsibility to look for grace in other parts of my life, because I know it’s there.
When I look, I see it everywhere: in the flowers, in the trees, in Katie’s smile, in my son’s laugh, in a good book, in the kindness of my neighbors.
And now that my daughter’s here, I have the great privilege of showing all of this to her, too.