Third Time Mom, First Time Dad
I know what to expect with my third child, but my husband has some learning to do
By Jordana Horn
When I took the pregnancy test last November and showed its little plus sign to my husband, he stared at it in disbelief. The first words out of his mouth were, "How did this happen?"
So I gave him a quick refresher on that filmstrip you watch in seventh grade. He got up to speed quickly. We were incredulous, stunned, and thrilled, all at the same time.
But admittedly, it was heavy on the "stunned." After all, we'd just gotten married the month before. We both wanted more children (we have two boys from my first marriage), but weren't sure how long it would take to conceive, or if it would even be possible without assistance. We decided to see what happened the first few months of our marriage and take it from there. And…well, there you go.
So like I said: incredulous, stunned, and thrilled. Those feelings have continued to be a common denominator in the pregnancy that websites tell you is "ours," but my nightly peeing habits, weight gain, and elastic-band pants tell you is "mine."
Our Different Experience
I'm about to become a third-time mother. My husband J. is about to become a first-time father. And every now and then, I'm reminded of the differences which come out of those two separate worlds of experience.
Exhibit A: J. and I are relaxing on the couch after putting the two boys to sleep. J. is telling me about a great business trip he has coming up in August, and how I'll come with him, and it will be a lot of fun.
Babies: a year round event.
Me: Hon? I think we're going to be pretty busy in August.
J: (genuine look of confusion on his face) What do you mean?
Me: Can you think of anything we're doing in August?
J: Hmm. (Thinks. Note: This is a man with two Harvard degrees.)…No.
Me: We're having a BABY.
J: Right…but I thought that was in July?
Sigh. Yes, oh love of my life, the baby's due date is in July. But the knowledge that that baby will be a total game-changer beyond the single moment it emerges from my uterus seems not to have completely taken hold yet.
You Can't Blame Him
It's not that he's not excited. He tells me all the time he's excited. And he doesn't have to say the words: I can tell by the way he touches my belly that he's excited. I can also tell that he's clueless--in a sweet and endearing way, but clueless nonetheless.
I know the feeling. I, too, was utterly clueless before having my first child. I'd sit in Central Park, watching the moms drive their Mercedes-esque strollers, and think, "Wow, it's going to be so cool to have a little cuddly thing I can dress up and drive around in my own pimped-out stroller!" Back then, I had only the vaguest idea what was in store. I didn't know the lows of crying in the middle of the night (and by the way, I'm talking about me, not just the kid). I had no idea about the highs of watching him smile or laugh for the first time. I knew those things allegedly existed, but I knew it the same way I knew how walking on the moon feels weird--through description rather than personal experience.
I didn't know about the level of insanity that sleeplessness can create (a direct quote, me to my ex-husband over crying baby at 3 am: "Why couldn't you have gone to med school instead of law school, so that at least one of us would have a clue about what to do with this kid?" At the time, by the way, this complaint struck me as being completely reasonable). I didn't know about the depths of fear, along with joy, that suddenly appear when you become a parent. Having a child, I've tried to explain to J., is sort of like having your heart outside your body--you would die if anything happened to it, but there's only so much you can do to protect it.
Having stepchildren, admittedly, has been a kind of training wheels scenario for J. It's a little like driving with a learner's permit. You get to love them, with the added perk of learning all of the esoteric trivia about Star Wars, Harry Potter, Playmobil, and Lego.
But babies? This guy don't know nothin' 'bout birthin' no babies. (me: "Ooh." J: "Are you okay?" me: "Just a Braxton-Hicks." J: "What's that?") Or changing no babies, neither: apparently, the man has made it to the midpoint in life never having changed a diaper. Well, we're going to fix that, mister, don't you worry! In short, I know what to expect when I'm expecting. Which makes one of us, anyway.
I've decided there are two potential approaches to this situation. Sure, it would be possible to live in a pissed-off state for the next three years or so at his genuinely-naïve, utterly clueless approach to parenting ("But isn't it easier to take a little baby on a trip because then their clothes are smaller and easier to pack?" Um…no).
But I think the far better approach is for each of us to take a page from the other's playbook. He can have a helping of the comparative nonchalance my third-time-parenting experience conveys. Every sneeze does not warrant a terrified trip to the pediatrician. If the baby's crying, chances are that it's going to be okay--kids cry. Also, if this kid's pacifier falls on the floor, forget the five-second rule: the kid will be lucky if I wipe it off before popping it back in its mouth.
And thanks to J., I have the opportunity to be a little less nonchalant. I'll relish the excitement and joy of a first-timer, seeing things through J's eyes for the miracles they truly are, as well as the complicated webs of obligation and responsibility that they weave.
And that's pretty awesome.