While Skyping from Bosnia, my sister asked me what was the surprising but amazing thing about having a kid. At the time all I could pull together was a very un-profound answer about how they change so fast, and how stressful it is trying to figure out the “right thing” to do. Which doesn’t really answer the question, so I kept pondering.
How to answer that question? Several people asked me what surprised me most about having Simon and I wasn’t never sure what to say. You know having a baby is going to be hard, and it is hard. You know you’re going to learn a lot, and I certainly am. You know you’re going to love them so much, and I am experiencing a new capacity to love, a depth and intensity previously unparalleled because your sacrifice and investment is also unparalleled. I had never spent nearly every waking moment trying to keep someone else alive, and all the other moments trying to keep myself alive so I could keep Simon alive (when he was a newborn). The caretaking which both pours out from and feeds an overwhelming maternal love was a new experience for me and thus somewhat of a surprise, yet I expected to love in a whole new way.
The postpartum hormonal experience was a bit shocking, as I described in “Giants in the Land.” At the same time, I’d heard about the oxytocin-estrogen-etc. rollercoaster and it doesn’t really last that long. Along with this, when Simon was first born I felt very close to Neil. But after a few weeks I realized I felt sort of distant from him. Of course our lives and schedules and time together had all changed and that contributed to the feeling. But another part was simply that I was experiencing motherhood, and Neil could never relate fully to this. He wasn’t breastfeeding eight hours a day or sleeping no more than a couple hours at a time (because he wasn’t breastfeeding). He would never know the hormones, the stitches, or the way motherhood takes over your brain. I’ll never know what it’s like to be a father, but I can’t imagine the transformation is as all-consuming as becoming a mother.
I started to resent Neil for a little while, not because he was doing anything wrong, but just because he would never get it. He’d pop his head in the nursery and ask, “Is it okay if I go play basketball with the guys?” and it was okay, I wanted him to go. But I also wanted him to know what it was like to not have the option to just go and do whatever he wanted. I didn’t even really want to do anything because I was happy to take care of Simon; I just found myself missing the freedom he still had. But the distance and resentment passed soon once we talked, the hormones waned, and Simon grew older.
But to answer the question: what was really a pleasant surprise was how Simon changed Neil. He started warming up to babies a little with our friends’ kids, but to see Neil cry when Simon was born, to watch him fuss over him and hear him brag about Simon’s cuteness was, well, surprising and amazing. He even complained to me when one of the babysitters didn’t wax eloquent about Simon’s cuteness. Now Simon is so excited to play with Neil when he comes home from work and gets sad when he goes to another room. Neil has lots of grand plans of fishing, camping, and playing with Simon when he’s older, but he always says, “I’m not in a hurry for Simon to grow up. I’m really enjoying this phase and how he is right now.” And Neil was never a baby kind of guy. In fact the first time I told Neil I was pregnant his joyful response was “Shit.” (And we were trying). He was scared to death about being a parent and now he’s so in love with Simon. So to answer Courtney’s question, the most surprising and sweetest thing about becoming a mom was for me to see my husband become a dad.