Back in pre-baby days when Alex and I were newly-weds talking abstractedly about the concept of growing a human, one of the biggest things that stayed my hand, or in this case, another appendage, was the thought of the cost.
I am a self-confessed introvert (see post ‘Vienna in the time of COVID – Chapter 19‘), which in a nutshell means I like my own company and am content locking myself away for prolonged periods of time, wandering through the words of a book or whittling away at some creative pursuit, such as drawing, crochet, or a blog about parenting.
Even before beginning the process myself, I was given to understand that, as a parent of an infant, it’s rather frowned upon to just drop sticks and leave in the middle of a diaper change or when your baby won’t stop crying, even though you’ve asked him politely three times to keep it down, because you need a little me-time. In fact, the stark reality is that by volunteering to be the care provider for a helpless, immobile, beginner human, you’re essentially forfeiting me-time for the foreseeable future.
This idea troubled me greatly. At the time, I felt I was performing reasonably well as a husband/brother/son/friend, but knew I was able to give a lot to these relationships because I had the luxury of balancing my community commitments with isolated periods of hermitage and self-indulgence. Granted, my self-indulgence wasn’t anything extravagant, more binge-watching a science-fiction show with a bag of peanut m&ms and long solitary walks with an audiobook than weekends in Dubai and snorting lines of coke off a stripper’s foot (or whichever body part is currently in favour), but these were the activities I needed to keep the Jonathan train chugging along. Without these nuggets thrown into the firebox from time to time, I was concerned the whole locomotive might derail.
I talked about this with my wife who was sympathetic and supportive, and didn’t just say, ‘Suck it up, buster, and join me in the real world’, which she would have been somewhat justified in saying had she chosen. Even as I talked about it with Alex, and even as I write about it now, I appreciate that this is most definitely a twenty-first century, first-world problem and that historically, and in other countries in our world currently, people are more concerned with earning enough money to feed themselves and their families than with the quantity of me-time they’re allotted.
With this unignorable fact pinging around the back of my head, suck it up is essentially what I did. I wanted to be a father, and I wanted to see what a person that was a milkshake mix of me and Alex would look like, therefore I needed to accept the cost of that decision.
We were approximately half a year into the COVID lockdown when Alex broached the subject. We had already determined that we would procreate eventually, but knew there were still a few things on our life-before-baby list that we wanted to tick off, such as a trip to Bali with two of our favourite people, Damian and Holly. The trip was originally scheduled for early 2020, but a little something happened that year that got in that way. We naively thought the whole global pandemic thing would blow over in a month and rescheduled the holiday for November of the same year. When we found ourselves still waist deep in virus and November rapidly approaching, we stopped rescheduling, mostly to save ourselves the heartbreak every time our plans got cancelled. Hope may be the thing with feathers, as Emily Dickinson said, but it can also be a bitch.
Alex, normally a lover of plans and the adherence thereto, suggested we ditch the timeline and just jump in the sack together. Technically, she said it a little more eloquently than that, presenting the argument of years lost waiting for the pandemic to subside and the subsequent time spent pursuing those childless-and-free activities we had outlined for ourselves, followed by the time spent trying to get pregnant and our hypothetical ages when we did finally become parents, but it boiled down to the same thing: it was baby-making time.
Given her persuasive argument, and the undeniable fact that not a lot else was going on, I agreed that, ready or not, we would try and get pregnant. I am not looking forward to the day when I have to explain to Roo that he is just another pandemic baby.
That feeling of the cost still weighed on me, however, mostly that my performance as a father might suffer due to my own inbuilt dependance on bouts of solitude going unmet. In an effort to game the system, I decided that from this point until we saw our little cluster of cells in an ultrasound, I would indulge in my favourite pastimes, thereby storing up a supply of introverted contentment to get me through the lean years. This was not a hard thing to accomplish given COVID meant that not much else was available to me other than lazy activities you can do in your living room. To be honest, by the time the world started opening up again, even this happy little introvert had had more isolation than he could handle.
One other hobby I was looking forward to indulging in was the increased efforts at sparking the candle of life with my wife. We already shared an ease and comfort with each other when it came to amourous activities and this connection only deepened and intensified when we partook knowing it could result in an act of creation. This was unfortunately short-lived as, once all forms of contraception were out of the picture, we had sex a total of two times before conceiving. At least we know we’re fertile.
Alex being pregnant really played into my plans as, not only was she increasingly tired, which further limited our social calendar, she also classified as a vulnerable group, and so our care in avoiding the virus increased tenfold. Our wild weekends, which were tame to begin with, shrank down to afternoon walks along the river, meals at my in-laws, and coffee and cake with friends in the comfort of our living room. By the time amniotic fluid started leaking from my wife, my introverted battery was fully charged.
But the anxiety of the scope of what I was committing to never fully went away, even though my excitement for meeting my offspring was growing exponentially. In retrospect, I suppose it was really the same anxiety every person faces when consigning to be responsible, in body and mind, for a brand new person. The influence such a decision has on your life is monumental, and should be monumental, and the act of bringing to bear what I would no longer have was my way of coming to accept the enormity of what I was devoting myself to: a life-changing experience.
When that moment came, when I saw my son’s face for the first time, his small cries croaking from his tiny perfect mouth, it was indeed a life-changing experience. I know it is cliche to say but I can only report the event honestly as it happened to me: I saw him and knew I would happily pay any cost to be the father of this amazing miracle. He was so little and vulnerable and he only existed because of me, and I accepted the responsibility of caring for him so utterly that to worry about less time rewatching The Office seemed so absurd.
The scientific thinkers amongst you will no doubt be thinking of the flood of hormones that are programmed to release to invoke these feelings to ensure I don’t get distracted and let my baby be eaten by a crocodile. The psychologically minded amongst you may be contemplating some sort of instant and acute Stockholm Syndrome. Perhaps those with religious tendencies believe I’ve fallen under the sway of a very powerful and very tiny cult leader.
I won’t argue with you. Neurotransmitters most definitely swamped my brain and continue to do so, I fell instantly in love with my captor, and, boy, did I drink the Kool-Aid. But whatever the reason, it doesn’t make it any less true. My free time is almost exclusively devoted to my family and I am more content than I have ever been. What I failed to insert into my equation of effort expended versus time lost to calculate total cost is what I would receive in return. I was focusing on what I would lose and failed to account for what I would gain.
There is no question that parenting is exhausting, and taxing, and requiring of sacrifice, and there have been times in this past year where I have been physically, mentally and emotionally drained. But all I can tell you is that when my son flops down beside me in bed, or smiles up at me when I walk through the door at the end of a work day, or cackles wildly when I blow raspberries on his belly, my battery feels full.
Next week’s topic: Birth Story (Part 1)