Wednesday, 31 July 2013

How caring for a newborn is like getting a PhD. An on loneliness...

When I finished my PhD I thought that this was the hardest thing I have ever done. Now that I am caring for a newborn I realize that *this* is the hardest thing. This is where similarities begin. Just like with PhD, this is a process of never-ending research and experimentation. Why did my baby sleep well this night, but then slept horribly the following night? What has changed? What variables were involved? Can I reproduce this experiment? Except the experiments are not reproducible, because babies grow and change every day… Just like with PhD, you often feel like you are poking in the dark, like a blind person, not knowing what you are doing, operating for months without feedback or positive outcome. And just like with PhD, when your efforts pay off, you finally get your paper accepted, or, in case of babies, your baby finally smiles at you, you are elated with joy. Except the joy is much more meaningful and deep with the baby…

Besides those trivial similarities there is another one, unexpected and striking: loneliness. Your friends who have not worked on a PhD will never understand what you are going through. Likewise, your friends who never cared for a newborn will never understand. So you simply cannot expect lots of empathy. Don’t be angry at them, just accept that will never never never understand how you feel. They’ll never understand how it feels to live for months on a sleep schedule consisting of 1-3 hour stretches. They’ll never understand how it feels to “live on a timer” – where you can’t sit down for a relaxed meal, knowing that the baby may wake up anytime. As a result, caring for a newborn can feel very very lonely.

Bouncing on an exercise ball with the baby, trying to calm her down. Hungry.  Alone. While everyone else is having drinks on the patio.  Rocking the baby to sleep in the middle of the night for hours.  You lose control of your  head as your body drifts to sleep, not having slept for more than two hours straight since before you gave birth.  Alone. While everyone else is snoozing peacefully in their beds. Pacing the streets at 5am with the baby in the baby carrier, because she decided the night ends at 4am. Realizing that coffee shops do not open that early. Alone. And when you call your friends and they tell you: "We'll MY baby only cries when there is a reason and she always sleeps through the night!". Now that make you feel really lonely. 

But just like with PhD, if you have a supportive family who are helping you to care for the baby, instead of being a lonely affair, this can be an extremely fun collaborative project that brings the family together and helps you form new deeper ties with the members of your family. I am blessed to have such a family…

If your loved one is caring for a newborn, never ever leave her alone.

1 comment:

  1. I have a very clear memory of sitting with my 2-month-old son in the middle of the night. He was fed, diapered, warm...and crying disconsolately. For the life of me, I couldn't figure out what could possibly be wrong and help him to sleep.

    And I remember thinking to myself..."I will never think work is hard again."

    Two more children later, I still don't!