It’s the holidays, which means lovebirds young and not-so-young are getting engaged. Love is in the air all the way through Valentine’s Day, and with the New Year approaching, it’s time to reflect on life goals and milestones, past and future. Is baby-making in your plans for the coming year? It should be.
You may not be planning to have a baby. Maybe it’s not the right time financially, or you or your spouse are still in school, or any one of a plethora of perfectly understandable reasons to put off trying for a tiny, chubby angel of your own.
But I hope you’re not shying away from parenthood out of trepidation, or doubt that parenthood is really worth all the tears and sleepless nights (and, for the mother, the taxing physical demands of pregnancy and breastfeeding). The cynic might think all your parent friends on social media are just over-sharing baby pictures to project a level of happiness they don’t really have. And the constant complaints of overwhelmed parents streaming through your feed aren’t exactly motivation to hop on the baby train.
Over the past few weeks I’ve gone back and forth in my mind on whether to write about parenthood from my own personal experience. Maybe it’s better to put it off until I’m older and wiser, and the lack of sleep and feelings of floundering in my new role are put in perspective. But then I thought that if other folks are in doubt over the plunge into parenthood, maybe they do need the perspective, raw and unfiltered by time, from someone who’s in the thick of it right now.
Some of What You’ve Heard Is True
I’m a brand-new mom (our daughter is two months old). I’m not going to dismiss the struggles you’ve heard about from new parents: the sleep deprivation, the unsoothable crying spells, their constant needs, the anxiety about your baby’s safety that borders on paranoia. It’s all real. It’s all difficult.
It wouldn’t be fair for me to gloss over this, if I’m exhorting people to have babies. Over the past two months I’ve had a generous handful of emotional breakdowns. Two were almost solely set off by sleep deprivation. I’ve spent more than half my nights on the less-than-comfy couch, where it’s easier to nurse and change diapers and my baby can fuss and cry without waking daddy up (because one sleep-deprived parent is quite enough).
One breakdown was a struggle to cope with my little girl’s round-the-clock needs that had her basically glued to me 24/7. The other was straight-up anxiety. My goodness, I’ve never known worry like this. Day four of being home from the hospital saw me curled up on the couch spilling tears all over my baby while scanning the room and counting up all the dangers in sight.
Danger was around every corner. Even the corners were dangerous. And here I was, holding this tiny fragile human, with just my husband and me responsible for keeping her safe, knowing that some dangers are under God’s control alone. SIDS is every parent’s worst fear for her baby. Every time I woke and couldn’t hear her breaths, I strained my eyes in the dark to see her little chest rise and fall in her bassinet beside me. The fragility of the new life you made is the most terrifying aspect of having a baby.
Then on top of all this is the struggle to stitch my pre-baby and post-baby life together in a somewhat coherent manner. Family and friends, work, writing—they must all be carefully sewn into the new quilt of my life one patch at a time.
The Love Is Totally Worth the Sacrifice
I take the time to explain this not to deepen your anxiety over having babies, but just to lay things out as they are. That’s so when I describe to you the rich rewards of parenthood, you will appreciate just how rich they must be, that we’d take on the fear and exhaustion and stress.
My husband and I didn’t become parents out of some selfless belief in bearing children for the good of society. We did it because we had wonderful childhoods and caught glimpses here and there of the joy we gave our own parents, and we wanted that joy, too. We did it because we knew family was God’s plan for our life, and that plan, through all its challenges, would prosper us. Perhaps your reasons for having children will be a little different, but I doubt they’d cheapen the experience.
This quilt, my life, frayed and unraveled and clashing in colors as it is right now, is beautiful. All the fear, the stress, the sacrifice, we have been repaid a hundredfold in the love we have for our daughter and the profound joy of our bond with her.
Robert and Sherri Tracinski wrote a piece last year describing some of the most fun aspects of having children (particularly small ones). While my baby isn’t even crawling yet, I can already see that this joy of parenting is genuine. “My children are a joy” is more than just an expression parents use to gloss over hardship when talking to non-parents. As Robert and Sherry wrote, that joy includes fun, wonder, and excitement.
Sometimes you can’t identify fun, wonder, and excitement in what you’re doing right in that cold, hard moment, but love keeps you from freezing. It’s a low and steady burn most of the time, throwing sparks occasionally, just when you need the extra light.
Those times when she’s wailing in the middle of the night, just when you think that sad, stressful noise will swallow your mind to temporarily leave you an emotionally void zombie, she picks up her little head and wobbles it a little closer to the warmth of your neck and your heart glows. Each of those toothless grins are worth an hour of crying. And a laugh? A whole sleepless night.
What Else Are You Doing? Nothing This Real
We get to watch as she discovers her world, the wonder of which Robert and Sherri illustrate well. Every other day, it seems, she does something new. One day she becomes fascinated with the decorations on the mantle, as if it had only just appeared to her (and indeed it had, as her vision improved). The next she’s uncurling her legs and putting weight on them as we hold her, and then a day or two after that, she’s enraptured by the blurs of color rushing across the TV screen, holding still to listen to the sounds.
We get to be her favorite people in her world, as small as it is right now. We’re the people she loves most. My heart warmed again when I laid my baby down to change her, a simple routine I could do in my sleep now. My mother was watching my daughter watch me with those big, sparkly blue eyes as I worked. “Oh, Georgi,” she sighed. “She loves you.”
She was only six weeks at the time, but my mother knew it, and I knew it. I see it when my husband picks her up in the morning and exclaims in that soft but excited voice in which we talk to babies, “It’s Daddy!” and her eyes light up and she smiles.
When I have to go to work, my arms ache to hold my baby, but it’s a good ache. It’s the ache that reminds me there’s something precious to look forward to when I get home: hugs, cuddles, kisses, smiles. Her cries—yes, precious, when you’ve been missing her for hours. The soft sound of her breathing as she falls asleep on my shoulder and the warmth of her rosy cheeks. As I type, she’s dozing in the crook of my arm. My right hand can barely reach the keyboard, but it’s more than alright.
Shortly after my baby’s birth, my mother related her and my father’s feelings after their first kid. “It was like, what were we doing with our lives, these last five years?” she said. While I have countless wonderful memories and can name multiple fulfilling accomplishments during our marriage up to this point, I knew what she meant. There’s no joy, no privilege, like parenthood.
An essay or two probably won’t convince you, but it’s worth it. Don’t let all the whining, the snarky memes, the talk from women who supposedly “regret having kids” fool you. Don’t let fear keep you tarrying. You should definitely have a baby.