On July 18 – a full 17 days before Liam was born – I posted my thoughts heading into fatherhood. After actually being a father for the past 5 months I want to revisit that topic, looking at how my perspectives have and have not changed, along with some new thoughts.
First of all, the past 5 months have been both joyous and difficult. Melissa’s pregnancy and delivery were about as close to perfect as can be expected: she had no major health issues, for the most part enjoyed being pregnant, and the delivery proceeded exactly according to plan. But parenthood – especially for Melissa – has been fraught with an unending run of relatively minor but nonetheless irksome difficulties. The biggest problem has been Liam’s poor sleep habits. Of course babies wake up and cry during the night – that is an expected part of infancy. But our son is far worse than most – by 12 weeks of age 96% of babies sleep through the night on a consistent basis. Now at 18 weeks old, Liam has slept through the night perhaps 4, maybe 5 times in his life. And I don’t mean he’s woken up once or twice every night, I mean he generally wakes up 3-4 times a night, if not more. Thankfully there is nothing wrong with him: he is well-fed, has no real health problems, and is delightful and happy during the day. Nights are a different story.
I’m sure this seems like petulant whining to some of you, and I’m sure plenty of you have had difficult, colicky babies. But for Melissa, who is heroically determined to continue breastfeeding, waking up every 2 hours every night for 5 straight months is an exhausting endeavor. Even with my help and her mother’s help, it has been an ordeal for her. Now consider her personal difficulties: baby blues (not unusual, but exacerbated by a new city with no friends), followed immediately by mastitis and a yeast infection that began in early October and persisted to mid-December, a severe cold that is just now resolving, and most recently oral surgery from which she is only 4 days out. The mastitis was painful: imagine a knife plunged into your nipple every time you breastfeed, which is 6-7 times a day every day for 10 weeks. After multiple antibiotic regimens, a trip to the ER for borderline sepsis, a lengthy course of anti-fungals for her and Liam, she is finally better. But her milk production decreased because of the infection, dropping Liam’s weight from the 30th percentile to the 10th percentile for the past 2 months (it held steady on the curve over the past month, which is good). The decreased production also makes pumping difficult, which means she must physically breastfeed him every time he’s hungry rather than allowing someone else to give him a bottle. Both Melissa and Liam have had a cold for over a week, and Melissa just had painful oral surgery this Tuesday, limiting her food choices and adding a bevy of medications to her daily routine. Add all of that to perpetual sleep-deprivation and you get a sense for how hard these months have been.
Yet despite these difficulties, the joys of parenthood easily counterbalance the frustrations. Melissa loves Liam and loves caring for him, even though it is often anything but fun. I haven’t had it nearly as rough, so I have been able to enjoy fatherhood much easier than Melissa has enjoyed motherhood. Indeed, I wrote in July that I expected to enjoy his infancy, and that has been the case. I love watching the pensive expressions on his face when he looks at new things. It is fascinating to see his obsession with lights (especially Christmas lights), and watch him crane his neck and bend his body in all sorts of contortions when his eye catches a new light. He laughs often, and it always brings a smile to my face. He smiles often as well, especially when he sees a familiar face. Of course he chews on everything now – it’s as if every new object must pass a taste test.
Watching him develop has been intriguing. For the first 2 months or so he was minimally interactive, both with us and his surroundings, which is fairly normal for a newborn. But since the 3 month mark he has become more and more social, “talking” to us eye to eye in emphatic baby lingo, maintaining eye contact, tracking movement around the room, and most recently reaching out and grabbing everything within arm’s length. Most mornings he is in a very good mood – it’s always nice to hear him talking to himself while still in his crib; often we’ll be greeted with a smile, his arms still clinging to his snuggly. I’m a bit surprised that he likes baths as much as he does. He seems to enjoy reclining in his little tub, looking around and sometimes eating (solid food) while he is washed from head to toe.
And he’s discovered food. Starting around Thanksgiving he starting watching food as it made its way from plate to mouth, and in mid-December we started giving him some rice cereal and have gradually
added sweet potatoes and winter squash to the daily routine. He loves it all. He was a natural in terms of the physical act of swallowing, and is at the point where he wants spoonfuls in rapid succession – delaying the next bite even for a few seconds is met with a demanding fuss. Our beverages are also interesting to him, as he looks at our glasses and opens his mouth wide as if asking for a nice swig of Coke or tea, which of course we refrain from giving him. Last night he decided our ice cream looked pretty tasty.
So I am enjoying Liam’s infancy even more than I expected. Yet along with the fun and joy comes responsibility, which was one of my thoughts back in July. My first concern was providing materially, and so far that has been relatively easy. Our income isn’t as high as we expected, but we have been blessed abundantly. We have more than enough for our basic needs, and have been in position to purchase things, take trips, and give Liam everything we can.
Most of my concerns in the July post were for his development beyond infancy, when discipline and values and healthy respect for authority must be instilled. Those are still valid concerns, but there are other indirect responsibilities that have not been easy to fulfill. Spiritually, I pray for Liam and Melissa, though certainly not as much as I should. Finding a church has proven much more difficult than expected, and we knew it was going to be tough transitioning from Redeemer to pretty much any other church. We currently attend Destin United Methodist, and while their beliefs don’t always coincide with my own theological paradigm, it is a Christ-centered congregation with a good pastor. Importantly, they have a solid small group program that we are looking forward to entering this month, and even plan on leading a new group.
Perhaps the most challenging aspect of fatherhood – my third July observation – is maintaining a vibrant relationship with Melissa. In some ways this has proved more difficult than expected, though we are by no means having difficulty in our marriage. With her staying at home with Liam and effectively centering her life around caring for him, her day to day activities are far different from mine, which are spent at the hospital and clinic. Her attention is heavily focused on Liam, while mine is more fractured. While she doesn’t envy my work per se, she does long for more adult contact and interaction, even if it is in a professional setting. On the other hand she is much closer to Liam – she knows his wants and needs and how to interact with him much better than I do. She has a routine, she knows where everything is, and she has a much better sense of the ebb and flow of parenting him. At times, I feel like an outsider looking in on their world.
So our relationship now is very different from our relationship in New York. There we both worked during the day, but living across the street from the hospital made it easy for me to slip home for meals and breaks, and Melissa had plenty of time at home with her flexible schedule. We saw each other throughout most days, and when we made it home in the
evenings it was just us. Our spheres, so to speak, almost perfectly aligned. But without friends in the area, without work, and staying at home with Liam all day, Melissa is very focused on him. Because I am away from home much more, I cannot be as focused. Thus our spheres overlap, but aren’t as tightly congruent. Again, there’s no real friction or problems in our marriage, but there are plenty of other “distractions” from each other.
It won’t be easy, but we must strive to make our relationship with each other the priority. With the help of Melissa’s parents we have been able to go on dates, which has been nice. When they leave next week it will be more difficult – but no less important – to carve out time for the two of us. I need to do a better job of being sensitive to helping Melissa and giving her a break, and proactively looking for ways to make things easier rather than simply reacting. I love Melissa more than anything, and am exceptionally proud of the job she is doing as a wife and mother. I love Liam and want to cultivate a strong bond and relationship with him. As I said in July, love is not a zero sum game – there is no reason I can’t be a great father to Liam and also an exemplary husband for Melissa.
In closing, being a father has made me appreciate my parents much more than I ever have. I realize the devotion and sacrifice it takes even from an early age. I’ve always said my parents were wonderful, but now I understand how their parenting extended far beyond what I remember. My mother was exceptional and my father was a great. He wasn’t perfect (no father is) and I can learn from his mistakes, but I want to emulate his devotion and selflessness. There was never any doubt he cared deeply for my brother and me – this was evident throughout our lives. I hope Liam will know a fraction of that love, devotion, and undying loyalty.