So you’re expecting your first baby!
As we all know from the adverts and the Disney films, this is the most wonderful thing in the world, a time of boundless joy and happiness where you bring life into the world, strengthening the bond with your soulmate and everyone living happily ever after.
Or is it?
Yes, its an exciting time…as is taking heroin (so I’m told). But having a baby comes with pitfalls that other people won’t tell you about. So once again it falls to The Escape Artist to cut through the horseshit and tell you what other people won’t.
Warning: parenthood is very personal and therefore subjective. My experience doesn’t applies to everyone else anymore than yours does. On my blog, I say what I think and what happened to me. You do you.
I’ll say upfront that fatherhood has been very rewarding (in a non-financial sense). But I don’t pretend that its some perfect paradise where nothing bad ever happens. Nothing in life is 100% good or 100% bad. Every cloud has a silver lining and every silver lining has a cloud. I’ll be honest: becoming a father was a shock to the system for me, unused as I was aged 30 to responsibility in general and scraping the shit off someone else’s butt in particular.
So let’s tell the story. As a nice middle class couple, we’d been to NCT baby classes, natch, where we’d met other
earnest nice people and written something called a “birth plan”. This was all very well meaning but, as it turned out, futile. They say that mortals make plans and The Gods laugh.
Come due date, the baby wasn’t popping out and gradually the atmosphere in the hospital changed. The tone in the nurses and doctors voices started to rise and their movements became more urgent. My wife was rushed to the operating theatre for an emergency C section. I was now a helpless onlooker, unable to add much as my wife was cut open in front of me. Let me tell you THAT IS SOME BRUTAL SHIT that goes on in there. In an earlier age, my wife would probably have died.
[As a side note: when we had our second child, he tried to kick his way out like a cop kicking down a drug dealer’s door. As the surgeon opened up my wife for another emergency C section, I saw the baby’s foot sticking out of her ruptured womb. It was an absolute fucking horror show.]
But the fear did not end with the birth. A day or so later we were being hustled out of the hospital, freeing the bed for someone else. I vividly remember the feeling of terror as we left the safety of the hospital. At least with a new TV you get a manual, a warranty and a Quick Start guide…with a baby: absolutely fucking nothing.
We walked to the car park with me carrying my baby daughter strapped into a brand new (and grossly over-priced) safety car-seat. My wife shuffled alongside me…unsurprisingly struggling from having had a football-sized hole cut in her stomach.
We got home and the baby wouldn’t breast feed. Somewhat on edge, I started catastrophising and imagining the baby would die of starvation overnight (unlikely, but parenthood has this way of turning you paranoid).
So we cracked open the fake baby milk in the free promo bag of
shite baby products that Megacorp Baby Products Inc “kindly” gave to all new parents in our hospital. To be fair, in the circumstances, it felt like a life saver until the breastfeeding thing got mastered the next day. But I invite you to consider how unlikely it is that some chemical engineer on an industrial estate has replicated all the nutritional value of natural breast milk honed over millions of years of evolution.
Where possible you should be living the most natural life that you can. That means breastfeeding is better for your baby than fake milk. Women told me that breastfeeding gave them an amazing sense of connection with the baby. And, by the way, did you know that its free?
The Prison Camp hates it that everything a baby needs comes for free (or next to nothing). So it invents fakes needs to make up for that. Note how each fake need spawns new ones. So if you use bottles and fake milk instead of breast feeding then you’ll be also be needing sterilising equipment, spares, holders and other assorted gadgets. There is no end to the shit being sold to new parents. Apparently you can buy robot teddy bears with a fake heart beat, sold to sleep-deprived new parents on the basis that it will magic the baby to sleep.
Babies are big business. Perfect ParenthoodTM is sold as a Blue Pill fantasy by advertisers and marketeers who play on our emotional weak spots ruthlessly. The most valuable customer segment for consumer goods companies to capture are new parents.
Why? Because new parents are stressed, tired and under pressure. They are time poor and prepared to throw money at the problem. They desperately want the best for their child and so the advertisers and marketing people can stoke feelings of guilt, shame and peer pressure that go along with consumerist aspiration.
In writing this article I spoke to a number of mums to balance my male perspective. Speaking privately (with guaranteed anonymity), they were honest about the downsides as well as the upsides. Some told me about feeling guilt or shame when they felt they fell short of unattainable perfection in motherhood. There is also a fear of judgement by other mums (or dads). This can add to the self-imposed pressure to insist on premium or at least familiar (translation = heavily advertised) brands
The phrase that sums all this up is:
“I want the best for my child”.
It sounds so natural to want the best for your child doesn’t it? But its dangerous. Its dangerous because perfection is an unattainable state. You can bankrupt yourself in the quest for THE BEST FOR YOUR CHILD. And what does that phrase even mean?
Does it mean designer baby clothes? Does it mean multiple buggies / prams / strollers – one for off-road use, one for town? Does is mean an interior designed nursery? Their own bedrooms? Does it mean nuking the house clean with anti-bacterial chemical weapons?
No, I say THE BEST FOR YOUR CHILD consists mainly of unconditional love. There would be two parents, with time off work for both and ideally with grandparental help. There would be no money worries. They’d be breast-fed and, once the child is a bit older, there would be plenty of playing in the grass / mud / sandpit to give their immune system the start in life that it needs.
Is that everyone’s experience of parenthood? No, of course not….like I said, it’s an ideal to aim for. My point is that the phrase THE BEST FOR MY CHILD has been hijacked by consumerism and taken to mean THE MOST EXPENSIVE SHIT FOR MY CHILD.
The nesting urge can be powerful but don’t fall into the trap of buying and stockpiling loads of stuff ahead of the birth. Friends / relatives will buy you tonnes of baby stuff so its worth waiting to see what you get before buying it yourself. Don’t be afraid to be pro-active: you can make requests and you could have a baby gift list (like people have wedding gift lists).
You can get everything a baby needs for next to nothing. You can make your own baby food. And because other parents buy too much stuff, eBay etc is awash with never used / barely used baby kit.
Children change everything, including your relationship. There is a power balance in every relationship even if you don’t like to think of things in those terms. If 2 partners were evenly matched before the baby comes along, children can change that. Studies show that testosterone falls in new dads, making them more agreeable. In contrast, my wife turned into a bit of a tiger after child birth. If you know anything about tigers, you don’t stand between a hungry or tired female tiger and her cubs.
This is relevant to your personal finances because it can drive spending behaviour.
I remember being in a supermarket with my wife in the baby foods section. She dropped some branded baby food into the basket. I suggested a lower cost alternative and got THE DEATH STARE.
I caved on the baby food…sometimes you have to pick your battles.
My wife took to motherhood like a round peg in a round hole. I found the transition to parenthood
traumatic more challenging. I felt a huge burden on my shoulders from being the sole breadwinner. It felt very uncomfortable and triggered some my childhood fear of poverty.
Not only that but you roll the dice when you have children. They could get sick or die. You become emotionally vulnerable in a way that I couldn’t have imagined before having children. Becoming a parent softened me…which may or may not have been a good thing but, like I said, it wasn’t a comfortable process.
When you have a child you commit to putting another human being before yourself for a couple of decades. For this, you will get no gratitude (just as I didn’t give my parents any gratitude until I was well into my 20s). It’s only when you start changing nappies and feeding a baby that it dawns on you that someone did all this shit for you.
The funny thing about parenthood is that, for all its downsides, you rarely meet anyone who admits to regretting it. We humans have a great capacity to make the best of the circumstances that we’re in and if that takes a few subconscious rationalisations after the event then hey, so be it. Someone smart once described this as seeing where the arrow lands, then painting the bullseye around it.
And as for those parents that say that parenthood hasn’t restricted them, their angel always sleeps through everything and hasn’t stopped them heli-skiing blah blah blah…well they’re probably full of shit.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t become a parent. But I am saying that its a HUGE life choice with potentially huge financial and emotional implications.
And I AM saying its fucking hard work. You can’t understand what parenthood will do to your nice, well-ordered life until you’ve lived through the chaos (it gets easier after the first 5 years).
So I wish you all the best. Just don’t forget to look after yourself as well as your new arrival.