We had some friends from church over for dinner recently. They were a younger couple, in their early 20s, with a one-month-old baby. It was their first child. Mel and I have three children, the youngest being five. We were swapping stories of late nights and spit up and diaper blowouts, along with all the other horrible things that come along with caring for babies. Part way through, I said something to the tune of, “I hate the baby stage.”
My wife, Mel, was sitting next to me at the table. She rolled her eyes and nodded in agreement. Then the couple looked at each other with shocked faces. They smiled, and then one of them asked, “Is it okay to hate the baby stage? Because I’m pretty miserable.”
Let’s be honest, they had a lot to be miserable about. The mom had just had a Caesarean section, and was now trying desperately to care for a new baby, while her husband worked outside the home. Both their eyes were a little bloodshot, and although they’d obviously tried to get dressed nicely for dinner, both had those awkward white stains on their shirts that could be anything from spit up, to pee, to boogers, to poop, to who knows.
I looked at both of them, and was instantly reminded of when I was a new father, caring for this little auburn-headed baby boy who wouldn’t sleep unless someone sat up on the sofa and held him like a football. I can still recall being exhausted and falling asleep in college classes, and in-between shifts waiting tables, and on the bus, only to wake up in some strange part of town I didn’t recognize.
And for what? It’s not like babies can hand out a thank you, or even a smile, or a hug, or do something mildly amusing that makes you gush a little inside. They just sprawl out like a shriveled up sack of crying spit up, asking for you to care for their every need, and not giving a damn about your job, or your homework, or your other children.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my children. I don’t regret having them one bit. They have made me a better person, and they have shown me what it means to really — and I mean really — love someone. But that whole baby stage is just ridiculous. It’s this horrible time with little sleep and a lot of unknowns, where you wish something would happen, anything, but nothing does. You’re just paranoid that you are doing it all wrong. You wish you could take one moment to yourself, but you can’t, so you strap this little booger-maker to your body and chug along.
And listen, I know there are probably people reading this with their mouth open a little, shocked that another parent would say they didn’t like the baby stage. There are people who just love itty-bitty babies. It is often described as such a wonderful bonding stage. And you know what, if you subscribe to that, good for you. I’m happy you love those little poop-filled clingers.
But to those of you just longing for your child to do something outside of cry and fill their diaper, I get it. I’m here to set the record straight. It sucks. I’m with you. It’s okay to hate the baby stage. There are parents who hate the toddler stage, or the preschool stage, or the teenager stage. They talk openly about it, and everyone nods their head, but for some reason the baby stage is this sacred ground that has to be discussed with awe. But just like any stage of development, it can suck. Bad. Facts are facts, and I for one am not a fan.
So back to that dinner with those new parents. That mother looked at me like we were treading on thin ice. Like we were working in some really troubled waters, and she wasn’t sure if it was okay to agree with us. I could see in her slumped shoulders and red eyes that she was struggling, but like a lot of new parents, she was afraid to say it. I went to speak, but my wife, Mel, jumped in before I had a chance to.
“Lots of mothers don’t just sink into motherhood,” she said. “Everyone has an age they prefer. Right now, I’m loving our preteen. But I could do without the baby stage.”
“Yeah,” I said. “You shouldn’t feel ashamed for not loving your time with a newborn. It’s rough, and it’s totally normal to feel that way. You are still good parents.”
I can’t tell you that admitting a hard truth about babies made this couple’s life easier. I can’t say that it solved all of their parenting woes, or made their marriage a little sounder. But what I can say is that hearing a couple of experienced parents admit that they shared their struggle with the baby stage made them both breathe a huge sigh of relief.