"It All Changes, Man."
After we announced my wife was pregnant I noticed I was getting the same advice that wasn't advice from a few guy friends. They would be congratulatory before leaning in and saying in a hushed tone "you know, it all changes..." After the lean in they would rock back and forth giving a thousand yard stare so intense that it was as though they had went off to a jungle war only to see all their friends killed off by a camouflaged heat-seeking alien. It's almost as though they were warning us that we would be surprised by a tiny living thing that would poop its pants and need to pay for college in 18 years.
If the change would be that suddenly my physical activity would change from pull-ups and push-ups to baby-ups, as I call them, then they were right. It turns out that getting a baby to and from the floor from a standing position is quite a work out. The Little Chef was just over five pounds when he was born and is now somewhere in the teens as a four month old (we recently saw Ratatouille and I could relate to having a little thing that would pull my hair and force me to cook). It's a nice workout to the quads to get from the floor to a standing position while holding weights and not using your hands, but can be a real pain to the lower back. I'm still working on the perfect picking up baby form because what I do now involves a lot of grunting and groaning.
Most of the "it all changes" thought process seems to be diaper related. That's because there are two stereotypes of how parents change diapers:1. They're way too into it and will say things like "ooh look at that poopy! What a big boy!" Or, 2. It's a constant horror show of gagging from the first five rows at a SeaWorld show spray zone. It's not that extreme, or shouldn't be. It can be messy, but aside from one kind of a exception, anything that comes out of the lower half of a kid wipes off them easily and it doesn't smell like it would if you were to crap your own pants. It's much more of a gas station egg salad sandwich smell which is neither appetizing nor especially wretch inducing.
Babies will have what I call transitional pees or poops, which means they will let something fly when you're between diapers on the changing table. With a little preparation these aren't a big deal. What you'll need are a change of tee-shirt available, a towel or rag to go with the changing surface, some oxiclean and maybe an extra wipe for a boy to drop on their dinger during the transition time. For baby boys, keep an eye out for baby erections, not just because they're hilarious, but because it can be a cue that the kid is about to pee and you might get a clue on the direction if you can't cover it in time. Baby erections are not always an indicator that they will pee and the inverse can be true of pee without warning.
There are some products for protecting from the spray of transitional pee with names like The Pee Pee Tepee and the flaw with those are that they shield the parent but don't adequately soak up the pee. When a kid transitionally pees into one of these the urine just dribbles down back onto the baby and underneath. You've saved yourself, but now your kid is covered in piss and even laying in it. And that's why a cloth underneath is a good way to go because it will soak the pee so it doesn't pool under the kid. And in the event they have a transitional poop, you can just take it away, spray it with oxiclean and throw it in the wash. Why have an extra tee shirt? Because if they do pee, you never know which direction it's going to spray.
*Spoiler Alert for First Time Dads!*
*For First Time Moms*
Hey moms, here's a hint when the baby is born: have dad change the very first diaper. This isn't for some kind of emotional, connecting reason, it's because the first three changes are by far the most difficult and frustrating. It's not because it's new to a first time dad and they just have to get used to the mess and smell and awkwardness of pee and poo. It's because the first one to three-ish poops of a baby's life will be meconium which is entirely made of stuff the baby ingested while in the uterus. Meconium is frustratingly massive and sticky. It is not easy to wipe off the dark green odorless substance and it's easy to get the feeling that you'll give up on it. Kid, you're doomed to be dirty, this stuff is too stuck on. Here's the payoff, once baby has their first real poops from breastfed milk, cleanup is insanely easy...
*End of Spoilers*
However, I did find in the first week at home I was getting frustrated at our Mr. Wiggles (or Mr. Squiggles) during changes due to my lack of sleep and his tendency to wiggle his legs while being changed and making it hard to get a diaper on him properly. After a few changes I was noticing my own frustration and stopped to ask myself why I was so bothered by the difficultly of getting his diaper on. It helps to kind of take a breath and recognize that it doesn't have to be frustrating. It didn't take long for him to get the hang of being changed and it's a pretty enjoyable experience for him now as it's mostly a relief from his cries.
When my wife let me know we were going to have to go to the hospital after an hour or so of sleep on a Sunday night because the baby was coming it hit me that perhaps I had already had my last eight hour night of sleep for a while and I hadn't had a chance to really appreciate that. It's all going to change, man. That thought of not having eight straight hours of sleep was true, however the fear of it was not as big of a deal as I thought it would be. The worst of the sleep is in the first month or so, but with a supportive other parent you can get naps in here and there that feel like the most appreciated naps you've ever had.
One of the harder things to do is to get your baby to sleep. There is a lot to learn from your baby about how they like to get to sleep. Whether it's from a short feeding that they doze off from, a little bouncing or rocking, from swaddling, or from cuddling. We found that if we give our guy a little feeding he can quickly fall asleep but if he gets frustrated and takes a while that is most likely because he needs a new diaper. This certainly wasn't foolproof in the first two months and we had some frustrated evenings where he wouldn't get to sleep until 11pm or midnight.
From a book on sleep science for babies we learned that babies function on a 90 minute sleep cycle. If a baby is awake and staying awake, they may not be able to get to sleep until that cycle is over and at the end of that cycle they will need to be lulled to sleep, otherwise the cycle will start all over again. They suggest you keep a log of when they wake up or fall asleep and to start a 90 minute clock when they wake up. We also found that once he appears to be asleep we would have to really need to confirm he was asleep before moving him to his bassinet so we had another twenty minute clock to see when he was ready to move. It doesn't work 100% of the time, but it helps. Or you can spend a thousand bucks for a magical bassinet you strap your kid into that makes white noise so you don't hear them crying and it rocks them to sleep.
Every few weeks my wife will have up to a week of overnight shifts. This was true before the baby was born as well, but what has changed now is that I change, feed and lull the baby at night. Then I watch him during the day as my wife sleeps. The big change here is that there are longer portions of not sleeping in the middle of the night for the at least 20 minutes of cuddle time we have to get him back down. The trick is to find a way to enjoy those stretches of sleeplessness as Mr. Squiggles gets through his 20 minutes. For a few weeks I would use this time to catch up on comedic TV shows, but it took less time than I expected to catch up. More recently I've been watching streaming movies 20 to 30 minutes at a time. It's a lot easier than thinking "sleep, damn you, sleep, damn you, sleep..." until you end up accidentally falling asleep well before the baby is ready.
The "everything" that changes is that you can't just prioritize yourself when you're a parent. I'm not sure that's really a change from living with a pregnant woman who isn't quite able to run around the apartment. At least for a 35 year old dad like myself things changing in life shouldn't be something to be warned about. It's been 14 years since college and I'm living in my fourth city, soon to be fifth. I've worked in sports data, been laid off, went to law school, worked in the world, gotten married, had some pets. My life is drastically different than it was ten years ago. I enjoyed my life then and I enjoy my life now, I just get to share it with my wife and Baby Dude.
When I was a kid it sure felt like all the adults had forgotten what it was like to be children. It wasn't so much that I wanted to play and have fun and that they seemed to like boring things (and oh boy do I like boring things now!) but it felt as though adults didn't seem to understand the frustrations of being a kid. In hindsight, there were some pretty valuable lessons from adults forgetting their childhood where they made it so that I had to learn how to figure some of these frustrations out on my own. I think in the end, a kid doesn't want their parent to remember too much what it's like to be a kid because then dad is stealing all their toys. Maybe that's what changes, you don't get the toys anymore but you do get to relive fun childhood experiences like the zoo. At least I'll be eased into a world with a crawling then walking kid.