I traveled with my wife to New York City for a conference she was attending. While she was at the conference, the baby and I walked downstairs at the hotel to get some food. Well, she immediately started crying, and I don’t blame her. There were a lot of people, a lot of noisy people, and the lights were very bright. It must have been quite the shock to her senses.
The people grabbing their breakfast weren’t having any of it. They didn’t say anything to me — and God help them if they did — but they seemed very annoyed that I was in the way with the stroller and a crying baby. They had to work their way around me as I filled up a plate with a couple of sausage links, an English muffin, and grabbed an orange juice. That was about all I could get because the crowd was so big.
Once I got back to the room and settled down the baby, I got to wondering (yet again) how single parents do this. My wife had fed and changed the baby right before she left for the conference. There were bottles of breastmilk in the fridge. Although I was going to be alone with the baby for the morning, my wife would be back by noon. Then we’d be alone for the afternoon, but she would be back at four and we’d all go out for dinner. She wasn’t going to be gone for weeks or months, or forever.
My own mother was a single parent in definition but not so much in practice. There were always aunts and grandmothers at the ready to look after me if she needed it. Or I would be dropped off with the neighbor lady who stayed home raising her own kids. Or one of my teenaged cousins would watch over me. When I was off visiting my father, it was the same. Most of my needs were tended to by women who were not my mom. A village raised me.
With this little one, we have the blessing of having my wife’s parents only an hour away, and her sister-in-law and friends are all willing to help out. We are also very lucky to have the funds to pay for daycare, which the baby will begin at the end of the month and will allow us to return to a more “normal” schedule where my wife can go to work and I can go to the school to continue working on my dissertation. Still, even with all this help and all of these blessings, we feel a little bit of pressure.
We feel some pressure because this is a child for whom we — and only we — are responsible. If she turns out to be a bad person who hurts others, that’s on us. That’s not going to be on anyone who takes care of her. So the pressure is on. Add to that the fact that neither of us has ever been a parent (except for watching our parents raise our younger siblings and taking care of four-legged creatures), and we’re kind of just winging it.
It’s kind of stressful.
Other parents (online and offline) have said, quite correctly, that becoming a parent for the first time is a traumatic experience by definition. (Frankly, it was more traumatic for my wife since she actually had to go through some rough body changes.) Like with other trauma, there comes a period of time in which we adjust to the new normal. Before the baby, we would travel without too much of a care about what to bring along. “We’ll get it there if we need it” was our rule about things like soap or toothbrushes. Now, we really have to take inventory of all the things we need because they may not be easy to come by, even in a big city like New York. (Though Amazon Prime delivery has not failed me yet.)
The baby’s sleeping is still not quite there yet. Like New Yorkers, she’s decided that she’s going to run on her own schedule and keep us up at night. This sounds okay on paper as my wife is on leave and I’m not beholden to any kind of regular hours in which to work on my dissertation, but it’s still kind of bad because we don’t want to be completely off kilter once it’s time to rejoin the workforce. (Did I mention that being able to take time and not work during these first weeks is a huge blessing?)
So we continue to plug along on this adventure of trying to save the world while trying to raise a child while trying to get some sleep while trying to not lose our minds. If you have any good tips, please leave them in the comments.
René F. Najera, DrPH
I'm a Doctor of Public Health, having studied at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
All opinions are my own and in no way represent anyone else or any of the organizations for which I work.
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