How is it going, Daddy?
I had written this blog post as a personal reflection and shared it with a few friends. They encouraged me to share it with a wider group because the story may help not just new parents and caregivers, but even those who are working towards deeper awareness and wellbeing - especially men.
Many people ask me how you are doing. The simple answer to it is - "I am well" However, the honest answer is "I am well now" The first month was draining, the second month was a period of adjustment, and the third month was when I finally started having fun. Let me share the evolution!
In the first month, we had a week-long stay in the hospital after a mighty scare during the delivery. In addition to getting adjusted to the baby (we will call her D), we were horrendously sleepless due to the endless, untimely hospital procedures. I was exhausted but kept trudging because my partner (we will call her P) was more tired, and D had to make significant adaptations in the world outside the uterus. Despite our parent's offering to stay overnight in the hospital, the rigmarole was draining given their age. I am grateful they held the fort at home, cared for our cat and brought us nutritious meals, besides substituting for me for a few hours every day.
Besides physical exhaustion, not having a space to process our emotions was particularly challenging. What made it worse was the unnecessary advice that came our way that we hadn't yet learnt to filter. Instead of someone just sitting and listening to us, we were constantly receiving inputs on what to do, which, believe it or not, included considering having a second child! Everyone talking about how wonderful it is to have a child didn't help. It was not their intention, but it made me feel like there was no space for our anxieties and pain to co-exist alongside all the positive emotions. I felt unheard and unseen.
After coming home, D had disrupted all the rituals and routines that energized us. We would wake up for 45-60 minutes every 90-120 minutes at night for the feeding-burping-changing-putting-to-sleep cycle. It was frustrating. One small plus was the sleepless nights allowed us to process the events at the hospital, which was much needed.
Given my many doubts about having a child, I felt regretful on the difficult days, sometimes even resenting P and D. On days D was cranky, I would sometimes just leave her crying and walk away, demonstrating visible irritation. My inner chatter was, "What have I done! Our life will never be the same again. I should never have become a father. It is all P's fault!" P was a kind witness to all this and took charge in these moments, despite her significant post-partum fatigue. I don't know what I would have done without her.
By the time we reached the second month, we had gotten much better at reading D's cues. We had worked out a distribution of D's responsibilities that worked for us. I had just returned to work. Realizing P required more support, I had requested my team more flexibility and chosen to work just part-time, which they happily approved. I felt supported.
We also decided to restore some routines and rituals, especially our morning ones, and integrated D into them. We found a way to spend some time in the morning sun, drink a glass of warm water, read a book, and on good days, even work out and cook breakfast.
Just when we thought things were getting better, Covid finally caught up with all of us. We were quarantining those who showed symptoms at home to protect D. It got incredibly tiring because the responsibility of even daily chores fell on our shoulders in the absence of our parents and our house help. And with it came back all my frustrations and unhelpful self-talk.
As my own quarantine began, I had time to reflect. Besides Covid, I realized I was showing symptoms of another underlying condition - unacceptance. The choice to have this child was a joint decision. I was excited about it. We had discussed the parents we wanted to become. I had also anticipated this phase was going to be incredibly difficult. Yet, I had forgotten that it was temporary and it would pass.
Moreover, instead of looking inwards, I blamed my feelings on two people - P, who always had unconditionally loved and supported me, and D, whole, pure and unaffected by malintent. I understood that wishing this situation away would brew only further resentment and regret, and I did not want this to be the foundation of our relationship. Finally, P and I had a deep conversation. I felt a release, and since then, I haven't had a day I haven't responded with grace and love towards D.
Returning to work was incredibly difficult in the first few attempts. I struggled unless I was thought-partnering with a team member, who would keep me focused and on-task. It took me some time to realize that I would have to set up the day into 2-3 short sprints of 90-120 minutes. I would have to be realistic about how much quality output I would be able to produce in a day.
Deep work involving design or conceptual writing still seems complicated, but I have been able to work on most other stuff now. I have also been gentle to myself on days things go off track. Deep in my heart, I know this time with D will never come back again, and she is priority number one!
Returning to work has helped me reconnect with an aspect of my life that is highly energizing. The nature of my work serves as a constant reminder to prioritize my wellbeing. Moreover, being able to return with reasonable success has alleviated my fears that D will be all-consuming. There is a space for other facets of my life - my wellbeing, my communities, friends and family, etc. It comes with some minor adjustments and accommodations, and limited time.
Having accepted my reality, I have now moved from cognitively recognizing the beauty and wonder in D's evolution to emotionally feeling it in my heart. I feel warm-heartedness, love and joy.
I write letters to her, sharing my own feelings and thoughts vulnerably. Despite her inability to understand, writing makes me feel I am communicating with a friend. One day, I will give these letters to her when she is ready to understand. Until then, I will revel in our inter-being. While I am her father, I know I am the one who will grow. I feel confident this will be a transformative journey!