My three-day old daughter and I had embarked on an adventure together into the wild jungle of pediatrics. We faced the pressure of fashion, the conundrum of car seats, and the perils of traffic. (They were far too perilous.) I was already exhausted, and the bulk of the pediatrics lay ahead.
I’ll pick up the story right after the glorious episode of the medical forms. My daughter had fallen comfortably asleep in the baby carrier, snuggled in warm flannel pajamas under more blankets than was likely reasonable. I was leaning down toward her and staring while I tried to overcome my shock that she existed.
I was also unusually conscious of germs. Until that moment it had never occurred to me how much doctor’s offices were like horrifying monster-filled war zones. I’m pretty sure that I shared the waiting room with a tiny little grandmother and a polite, well-behaved young girl, but it felt like a room full of plague zombies and flying shrapnel. Every time the girl coughed, I would flinch, get a little bit more defensive, and drop protectively lower.
I have a feeling that I looked pretty ridiculous. Or terrifying. I was this hulking seething fellow, crouching over a baby and scowling at a little girl and her grandmother. If the whole scene had taken place at night in a secluded area of woods, I could have been the villain of a fairy tale.
In my defense though, not once did I cackle maniacally, call anyone “my pretty,” or threaten to bake German children.
At least not that I remember. I was pretty tired though.
Obstacle Four – Other People Wanted to Touch My Baby
What I didn’t realize was that the waiting room was actually a pretty safe place to be. In the waiting room, everyone left us alone. (And they stayed pretty far away too, for some odd reason.)
When our turn finally came though, I discovered a danger I hadn’t known to anticipate: doctors. When they came into the room, they said something innocuous, that they needed to take some measurements or run some tests or something. Most of it went over my head, but if the results were any indication, what they meant was: “We’re going to wake up your baby and scare her a lot.”
Just in case you don’t know, they run a lot of tests on newborns. Objectively, I’m thankful for this, and for doctors in general, whom I greatly respect. I knew that they were trying to be helpful, and that they had a lot of methods for detecting trouble early so that they could intervene.
In contrast, I pretty much had one method: I lurked obsessively to make sure that she was still breathing. As much as I did it, it never became particularly informative. Also, newborns don’t breath very loudly, so it was mostly a way to cause unnecessary panic. Especially if, when I didn’t hear breathing, I shouted for my wife and woke the baby.
Nobody is happy if you do that, for the record. Learn from my mistakes. Somebody needs to.
On the morning of my story however, the pediatrician “helped” my daughter into a state of extreme hysterics. All things considered I think I handled it pretty well. Naturally, what I wanted was to scoop her up and run back to Notre Dame de Paris shouting, “Sanctuary! Sanctuary!”
I didn’t though. In part this was because I might have discovered myself in a Victor Hugo novel, and those never end well for anyone. Also I didn’t want to scare her with the grotesques. There was no sense adding architecture to injury.
Instead I think I squeezed fingernail marks into the examination table. If it hadn’t been bolted to the floor and really heavy, I might have started swinging it around in the fashion of a lion tamer to keep people at bay. I really don’t handle it well when my daughter cries.
Obstacle Five – Waiting in the Aftermath
Then they left me alone with her. The doctors and nurses finished whatever they had been doing, handed her to me, and went to do something vague in a different room.
As happy as I was at first, I realized pretty quickly that any idea of how to comfort a baby had probably left the room with them. My entire arsenal of comfort consists of two things: being enormous and reminding people that I’m enormous.
I’m not saying that to brag: I’m a big fellow. Unfortunately, I spend most of my life realizing how entirely pointless my one strength is. If I had needed to defend my baby from angry wolves or savage pirates, I would have felt more comfortable. (Not prepared, just comfortable.) I might have been confused about why wolves and pirates were in our pediatrician’s office, and about what kind of environment supported both, but I would have been more comfortable. Against attackers of all sorts, size matters.
Against the heart-wrenching distress of a helpless baby who doesn’t understand why she can’t be warmly and safely asleep, I had nothing to offer. I couldn’t even throw myself in front of the bad guys and give her a chance to get away. There were no bad guys, and she couldn’t go anywhere without me. It was a pickle.
Fortunately though, while necessity is the mother of invention, its father is blind luck, and we fathers stick together. I tried to hold my daughter as close as I could, like I was trying to wrap myself around her. I rocked her in a way that I hoped was reminiscent of being carried around by her mom. Soon I was pacing, because that made the rocking easier, and muttering what I hoped were soothing whispers.
And suddenly I had made up a song. It doesn’t actually take much to trigger random singing from me. My brain apparently thinks I live in an operetta, and no amount of embarrassment can disabuse it of that notion. This once though, it came in handy.
You’re gonna be okay; you’re gonna be fine.
You’re gonna be okay, as long as you’re mine.
You’ll always be mine, so you’ll always be fine.
Don’t worry about a thing, just nap while I sing.
I sang my new song over and over again, and pretty soon my daughter had fallen asleep on my shoulder. It was the first time she ever did that. She seemed so sweet and content, and I felt like a hero for having shoulders; I was hooked in an instant. Consequently, I really enjoyed the rest of the wait.
Obstacle Six – Our First Official Evaluation
Eventually though, the pediatrician returned to give her report on all of the test results. At the hospital they had told us that our daughter was perfectly healthy, so I wasn’t too worried about this part. My wife and I had only been primary caregivers for half a day; what could we have possibly messed up so quickly?
Caring for newborns is actually pretty easy. God thoughtfully planned a bit of a hiatus between labor and bedlam. In the first few days of their lives, newborns mostly just want to sleep. They wake up for a few minutes here and there, but I figure it’s just so they can gather new material for the next batch of dreams. To get them through, all you have to do is keep them cozy, keep them fed, and change their diapers regularly.
My wife is the queen of cozy, so no child of ours would ever lack that. As a babysitter I had changed diapers regularly before, so I could take care of business on that end, so to speak. There was only one area we overlooked.
Yep, the food.
It wasn’t intentional; we’re not monsters. We’d just gotten confused. We asked so many questions while we were in the hospital, maybe there was too much information for us to absorb. Maybe they tricked us into thinking too much about car seats. Either way, we got it into our heads that we needed to feed a newborn for five minutes every four hours. We were actually supposed to feed her for twenty minutes every two hours, so we were a little bit off.
This resulted in our daughter going on one of those crash diets that turn Hollywood starlets into freaky stick people. She had already lost ten percent of her body weight since birth, which would be like me losing eleven pounds a day.
It upset my wife the most, because in her culture, failing to feed someone is almost worse than murdering them. If I show up at my mother-in-law’s house at two in the morning, she’ll still have a fresh pot roast in the oven for me. I know, because that’s happened. Twice.
But needless to say, we were both pretty shaken by the doctor’s news. Fortunately, God also designed babies to be practically indestructible, especially ours. She bounced back in a matter of days, and probably didn’t know anything was wrong. She was a rookie in the entire eating experience, after all.
Obstacles Seven and On
So my first father-daughter trip could have gone better. The whole business was an intimidating introduction to fatherhood. I’ve never worried so much in my life about such an array of things that had never before bothered me. And the day wasn’t over.
The morning wasn’t even over. I got my little girl dressed again, got her into her car seat again, and braved traffic again. By the time we got home it was only about ten-thirty in the morning.
Like I said when I started this story, it was a long day.
Of course, even though I was able to recount the whole adventure at some length, the part I remember the most, the part that sticks with me, is when my baby fell asleep on my shoulder. Fatherhood can be crazy, but it definitely has its perks.