I don’t always manage to stay on topic here. Most of the content is supposed to be about relationships, specifically marriages, from the point of engagement onward. I also would like to focus on things you’re not typically hearing or prepared for. Today I’m going to deviate from that just slightly, and on purpose. We’re going to talk about something you’re probably sick of hearing about, but you’re simply not prepared for, at least if it hasn’t happened yet.
Your first child.
I’m sure you’ve heard it from your parents. I’m sure, long before you decided to get married, you’ve played out the scene where one or both of your parents throws their hands up in exasperation and exclaims some permutation of the following: “When you have kids you’ll understand.”
Well, they’re right, it’s one of the many things your parents were right about. We all go through those face-palm light bulb moments. My parents didn’t spend so many words on it, perhaps they thought an explanation would be wasted, or impossible. Impossible, probably, but not wasted. I’m going to attempt, I’m going to do the best I can to convey just how powerful that love can be. I’m sure, like many before me, I’ll fail to exhaust all the words necessary to convey the meaning. I’m sure the words sufficient to do so do not quite exist. I’m just going to do my best.
When I decided to marry Emily we had the strongest romantic bond I had ever felt in my life. I had a separate bond with my parents and siblings that felt on par, but it sure wasn’t romantic and Emily came slightly ahead anyway. I didn’t think there was a situation that was likely to happen where I would choose say, my parents, over Emily, but I could imagine them if I tried hard enough. When Emily became pregnant with our first child, that immediately changed. Emily was now unequivocally first, above and beyond the bonds of siblings or parents, not even on the same playing field. If we were in some impossible SAW movie scenario and it was push my mom into a wood chipper or lose Emily it would be the wood chipper no problem. It would suck, as understated as using that word there is, but it wouldn’t be a difficult decision. Hell, mom would probably ask me to push her into the wood chipper, but she would have had the advantage of knowing the love of a child already. It’s a little graphic, and you might think I’m spending a little too much time on that already, but there’s a point to it. On other fronts, my aggression increased. My eyes were wide open and everyone was a potential threat. That hardly ever manifested itself anywhere but my heart rate, but even the act of Emily driving herself to work became nerve racking. I wanted, selfishly, to ensure that if anything happened to her that it was either unpreventable or my fault. I anticipated each day the grief that would befall me if something happened to Emily that I could have prevented had I been there.
Sound a bit obsessive? Good, because that’s what was going on. Her safety became an obsession of Don Quixote proportions that took an extraordinary amount of will power to prevent from manifesting into daily actions. Oddly enough this obsession started self-soothing as time went on and the baby bump was getting bigger. Not until the “any day now” phase did that feeling rear its head again.
Then it happened. I watched our first child come into the world. I’ll clarify this right now. I can only write this from a father’s perspective. I can’t under any circumstances imagine that Emily doesn’t experience these feelings on a more powerful level, it’s impossible to compare however, so I won’t. I swear with everything I have I could feel my brain chemistry changing on the spot. I was never the same again. I started noticing changes in my behavior and mood almost immediately.
I noticed that sad news stories involving children and particularly murders hit me like a ton of bricks rather than the just-another-bit-of-info that they were before. I thought parents whom’s children died of neglect were unbelievably incompetent before. I abjectly hated them now, I actively wished for their deaths. Prior to this, I’d go to the seedy underbelly of the internet on occasion and take some morbid satisfaction in some gore threads. I don’t enjoy those anymore—I can’t even stomach them. I don’t know if something was just fundamentally broken with my empathy back then, but it was fully armed and operational now.
I recall, not long after the event, Emily and I were up late watching a very old episode of Deadliest Catch. It was during the two or so weeks I had off after the birth—I’m lucky to work for a place that affords me such luxuries. An episode like this wouldn’t have bothered me before, despite being the eldest of four and the youngest indeed being a little sister, but one of the fishermen got news that his little sister had cancer, or had succumbed to it, I forget which, it doesn’t much matter, I bawled. It came from absolutely nowhere, I was just fine and then I wasn’t.
During the first several months I would wake up in the middle of the night, not because of crying or anything, but because I was afraid my child had stopped breathing and I felt the urge to check. That remained constant with each subsequent child. I was a tosser and turner prior to my first born. Emily decided she wanted to co-sleep. I instantly and immediately stopped tossing and turning in my sleep, I lay mostly still now. Did I mention the terror of SIDS and the need to make sure my child was still alive in the middle of the night, and didn’t die for literally no understood reason?
I know a mother whom’s child did die in the middle of the night, inexplicably. You hold your children tighter when you get that news. I think the absolute worst thing was when a friend of mine passed away suddenly as a result of a seizure. I have to impress this, I have to make this absolutely crystal. Losing my friend was not as painful as imagining, and witnessing, the grief of a father that’s outlived his son. I get emotional just typing that out. Losing an infant is immensely terrible, but I have to be honest, I think losing a young man or woman in their prime is that much worse. You know SIDS is a thing, you know that’s a possibility, a terrible and tragic possibility, you are hyper aware of their frailty in that stage of life, but losing someone in their mid-twenties to a seizure, it just doesn’t compute.
Realizing that the love of your life, isn’t. That was an eye opener. Here you have this beautiful, loving wife worthy of all your adoration and you think that nothing will ever top that. You’re wrong. My wife had become above my parents, now she was the second banana. Between her and any one of my children, Emily gets the wood chipper. She feels the same way about me, and neither of us feel a hint of guilt about it. If you’re married now, but don’t have children, I really want you to take a second and try to imagine loving someone else enough that condemning your spouse to death is even an option.
That aggression I mentioned before when Emily was pregnant? Multiply that a few times. I had never before seen Emily get short or aggressive with anyone. Beware parents with young children, they’re not to be messed with, you just don’t understand what that chemical cocktail can do until it happens to you. There’s a reason society frowns on messing with other parents kids. You’d be surprised just how much spine and rage you can find within yourself when you feel they’ve been mistreated, or even that they’re about to be. Maybe you’ve encountered some really meek parents before, granted. Don’t press your luck, you’re going to run into something entirely different someday if you do. I can’t express that enough. Playing that game is dangerous, physically dangerous. Socializing your kids isn’t just about them getting along with other children, the parents of the other children are threats too. Seeing your child overtly physically mistreated, especially by a significantly larger kid, is enough to make you forget that you aren’t supposed to come at children with the intention of seriously hurting them. Do not let your kid turn into that if you value their safety. Ignore that if you want, think that extreme if you want, it kinda is, but it’s also the truth, you don’t know rage like that until you do. Don’t let it surprise you.
How could it be any other way? Who else would you endure that many sleepless nights for? Not your spouse I can tell you that much. Your children are utterly dependent on you. They’re not just dependent on you for their nutrition or their physical safety, neither of which do they make easy, they’re dependent on you for emotional support too. Lack of love and touch can literally be fatal to an infant. So not only do you need to change every diaper, never miss a meal, deprive yourself of sleep, you’ve got to do it while totally in love with them. Willingly and lovingly exploited. That’s the bond with a child. I hope I even got a tenth as far with that as I needed to.