Science just confirmed what many of us have been saying for years: having your first baby zaps your happiness. Seriously. Your first baby comes in like a wrecking ball and totally fucks your life. Don’t worry though, childbirth is beautiful and you’ll never know love until you have a baby of your own. HA!
Researchers set out to figure out why couples said they wanted a certain number of children (before they had them) and ended up with a different (lower) number. The question was “Why do people stop at having one child?” To determine the answer to this question, researchers analyzed the happiness of parents surrounding the birth of their first child: how they felt about childbirth, whether they regarded it as an experience they wanted to “go through again,” and how difficulties in the year after having their first child affected their desire to have more.
After following 2,016 Germans who were childless at the time the study began until roughly two years after the birth of their first child, they concluded the effect of a new baby on a person’s life is “devastatingly bad.” It’s worse than divorce, worse than unemployment, and even worse than the death of a partner.
There’s a reason there are millions of parenting memes on the internet about wine, coffee, misery, and generally turning into a zombie. Raising a child in this day and age is hard as hell. Anyone who says it’s not may be highly medicated or working with a team of nannies. The rest of us are just sitting over here like, “Why is everyone pretending this is so great? On a scale of bad to great, this sucks.”
The couples they studied had an increase in happiness before they had children (probably due to the lies everyone tells them about how great it is). After the birth, only 30 percent stayed at about the same state of happiness or better. Everyone else’s joy dropped. Seventy percent. Seventy percent of the new parents were less happy after they had kids.
The study makes sense. I mean, come on. It does.
Before you have your first child, everyone says things like, “You won’t believe the love you’ll feel! You’ve never known love like this before! It hits you like a thunderbolt as soon as you give birth!” Then you have your baby, and you may feel like, “Huh?”
Yeah, you’re in an operating room and you can’t feel anything under your neck. Also, your intestines are sitting on a table next to your body. Isn’t it just great? Or, after nine hours of excruciating pain, an actual human just slid out of your vagina. I’m sure you’re not traumatized or anything. Totally normal day over here. Just feeling the love.
Then you bring your little life-sucker home and everyone around you is saying things like, “Oh my god! Look at him! He’s amazing! You’re so lucky!” You barely hear them, because you’re busy plying yourself with caffeine in an attempt to stay awake and sane. You may also be rocking in place, looking like a scene from Girl, Interrupted, but luckily no one will care because your family will immediately stop noticing you the moment a baby emerges from your womb. Seriously. My mom forgot my birthday for the first time, ever the year after my first baby was born.
Then you’ll start existing on zero sleep, possibly feeding a child from your actual boob on demand all day long. There will be vomit on your clothes, you’ll be changing diapers filled with liquid poop, and you won’t eat a hot meal or pee alone for a while. All the while, people will begin asking you when you’re “having another!?”
Admitting how hard the transition to parenthood is can be a serious no-no. The researchers said about their study, “Although this measure does not capture respondents’ overall experience of having a child, it is preferable to direct questions about childbearing because it is considered taboo for new parents to say negative things about a new child.”
If everyone told you getting a tattoo was painless and you farted glitter after it was over, you’d feel snowed after you left the parlor. You’d be in pain, there would be no glitter, and you’d be wondering why no one told you how much it hurt, what the recovery would be like, and how much you’d have to care for your new art in the period following getting it. Why is it so bad to prepare parents the same way?
If we’d all stop pretending growing a human and caring for it 24/7 was so enjoyable and easy, we’d be better off. That’s my own scientific hypothesis, from a study of one.