Baby Steps 101 – Learning to be a first-time parent

What goes on in the labor room, stays in the labor room! Some progressive hospitals let the dad into the labor room to enjoy (seriously?!) the whole 360-degree birthing experience, but more often than not, the dad and the couple’s close relatives sit in the waiting area, praying for the health of the mother and the baby. The father-to-be can clearly be distinguished from the lot as the one pacing the entire length of the dimly-lit corridor, biting his nails (or indulging in some alternate idiosyncrasy), waiting for the nurse to come out with some good news; a scene straight out of a silent movie. It could be hours, even days (God forbid), till you hear from the hospital staff, and when you’ve given up all hope, a nurse sporting blood-splattered scrubs (the source is better left unnamed) bursts out of the labor room screaming, “It’s a girl! It’s a girl!” (or a boy). What follows is nothing short of a miracle; the silent ambiance is ruptured with shrieks of joy and cries of “Mubarak Ho, Mubarak Ho!” (meaning Congratulations in Urdu). From my personal experience and fairly recent induction into daddy-ville, a possible sequence of events that follow include:

  1. shedding a tear (or two) of relief, or even a full-blown outburst (believe me; no one will judge you)
  2. seeing the baby for the first time
  3. shedding a tear (or two) of joy – again; no judging
  4. checking on the mother’s health
  5. sharing sweets with everyone
  6. seeing the baby again
  7. your mother and your mother-in-law arguing over who she resembles more
  8. saying the Azaan (Muslim call for prayers) in the infant’s ear
  9. seeing the baby some more (you just can’t seem to get enough of her)
  10. having some more sweets (Pakistanis will be Pakistanis)
  11. shortlisting baby names (if you haven’t already decided on one yet)
  12. meeting your wife together with the baby and crying some more
  13. giving the baby something sweet to taste

And then the baby comes home, bringing with it, two invisible (not imaginary) companions named “Sleepless Nights” and “Ceaseless Crying”. You have no choice but to welcome them into your humble abode; no compromises. Waking up at hours unheard of somehow becomes routine. People at work mock/pity you as you walk into your office with bleary red eyes. You seem to be running to the doctor every time the baby sneezes. You used to think your wife was high-maintenance; well guess again! The formula milk and the diapers, the cleaning wipes and the bouncers, the bottles and the sterilizers, the rattles and the swings, and loads of other things-that-shall-not-be-named, don’t come cheap; and don’t even get me started on the filthy expensive vaccinations. But wait; there’s another intruder that creeps into your life and needs no invitation; “Postpartum Depression”. Your wife’s mood swings, an essential part of her hormonal imbalances, may drive you to the edge and back; tears of joy might turn into a crying frenzy on how she would be a terrible mother. In her defense, after what she’s gone through, she deserves a breakdown or two (hmmm… make that a hundred). As a loving husband, you must hold her hand through all the highs and lows, and make sure she knows that you are there to support her no matter what; a freezer full of her favorite ice cream seems to help (a lot!).

One of my daughter's favorite toys - may it rest in peace (or should I say 'pieces'?)

The last paragraph should pretty-much sum up your life for the first three months after the baby’s birth. But as soon as the baby crosses over into her fourth month, most lucky parents (myself included) see a visible change in their lifestyles. The baby becomes more responsive, starts cooing, even ga-ga-ing at times, might even recognize you, bestow you with a smile or two, and seems to settle down into a sleeping pattern. Sleeping for four (maybe even six) hours isn’t just a dream anymore. Life somehow seems much more settled. There are a few outbursts, a tummy-ache here, a little gas there, but all-in-all, you feel blessed after having gone through what you have in the early days.

Five-month olds and coloring books do not mix - take it from experience

My daughter is a little over five months old now and she keeps getting more adorable every second. I can hardly restrain myself from giving her soft cheeks a loving bite. Besides being my favorite dessert, there’s a lot more she has to offer, be it a sincere smile, or a gentle caress. But more than anything, she has drastically changed my perceptions on learning; it is not a one-way street as perceived by most new parents. We spend all our lives trying to mold our children into ideals, but we somehow miss so many things our children can teach us, even as infants. Here are twelve things I learned from my five-month old daughter.

  1. Persistence is the key to getting what you want, when you want; crying always works.
  2. Curiosity might have killed the cat but it won’t kill you, as long as your parents are watching.
  3. Change is healthy, even if it’s just a loaded diaper.
  4. A sincere smile can change any situation from bad to good.
  5. Don’t be afraid to try out new things even if they are not edible.
  6. Appreciate the little things in life, even if they’re as mundane as the ceiling fan.
  7. Don’t care what people might think about you; just let it rip.
  8. Time shouldn’t limit your abilities to do wonderful things.
  9. If at first you don’t succeed, keep trying; you’ll eventually learn to sit on your own.
  10. Hold onto the people you love as if it’s the last time you’re holding them.
  11. Raise your voice; you won’t get any milk if you aren’t heard.
  12. Be content with what you have; drinking milk everyday is enough to keep you alive.

Raising a child can be nerve-wracking and fun, all at the same time. But more than anything, its an amazing voyage of self-discovery. It has its ups and downs (mostly ups), but most importantly, it allows you to appreciate the gift of life. You may have other children later on, but the experiences of raising your first born will last you a lifetime.

NOTE: Being a father, I’m writing this article from a dad’s perspective and from my own personal experience. Even though it has a lot of religious and cultural influences, you may be able to relate to most of my experiences.

This article was published at the Express Tribune Pakistan Blog (International Herald Tribune) as well as in the October – November 2011 issue of Expert Parenting and Pregnancy, Pakistan.

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