We already had one daughter. She was a little over a year old at the time, and she had spent much of the previous twelve months making our lives a demented, hellishly desperate brand of forced march. Most children don’t sleep through the night for the first few weeks or months of their life; after months in the womb, doing whatever a baby does while living in another human, the eight-hour timing takes a while to adapt to. (Plus: A newborn’s stomach isn’t large enough to make it a full night without going empty.) So there are long, bleary nights and longer, blearier days. Your mental fuse and capacity for stress simply evanesce.Parenting books and doctors will tell you that most kids are fine by a few months in. Which means their parents are . . . not fine, but at least improving, and getting more than two or three hours of sack time per night.
Only for some reason, our first daughter didn’t sleep through the night until she had been alive for almost an entire year. Which means we didn’t, either. We were reduced to a handful of hours every night, for months on end, because that’s what happens when you are woken up every 90 minutes by screaming, when your child’s bedroom shares a wall with yours, when your wife is getting up constantly to nurse or pump, when you’re in the kid’s room trying to feed her and rock her back to sleep. Patience disappears. You do things like lie in bed, staring at the ceiling while debating whether or not to get up and help the baby, genuinely praying for a meteor to hit the house. Screaming comes to define your life. (Some of it from the kid. Not all.) You fall asleep, or back asleep, with tightness in your chest, unable to relax, an anvil on your heart, because you know what’s coming. You wake up dreading the next day, because it’s probably going to resemble yesterday, and yesterday was almost always a fucking dumpster fire.
If you spend a year without sleeping and began that year as an optimist, you will have that quality temporarily beaten out of you. If you have an ounce of pessimism in you, even a grain of the stuff, you will find yourself nurturing and growing that grain until it dominates your life. You will spend a lot of nights lying in bed, staring at the ceiling, thinking, “This is what I get. Everything good that has ever happened to me was a fluke. Finally, the world makes sense.”
You will feel something like crazy, and you will not remember the moment when you and another person decided to have children.
And then, a year into it, our daughter started to sleep. Her personality began to reveal itself in more ways than just demanding food or drink. She stopped being a baby and started being a small child, and my wife and I turned back into humans. Life once again seemed sustainable, maybe even pleasant. The three of us seemed to enjoy each other, a feeling as new as it was genuine.
I remember one morning in particular, scrambling eggs for breakfast, whistling some song and thinking, like a dipshit, that I was actually something like happy.
Which is exactly when my wife told me that she was pregnant, again.
I should have known it was coming. We had been stupidly sloppy with our birth-control methods, just happy to be near each other without wanting to run or yell. But that morning, in the kitchen, her eyes were hollow. She looked afraid.
It made sense, I thought. How could she not be? I was scared, and she knew everything I knew. I backed away from her, not knowing what to say, until my back found a wall, and then I slid down it, coming to rest on the floor. The fear hollowed out a hole in the back of my skull and settled in so quickly and deeply, the rest of the world disappeared. I suddenly couldn’t remember a time when I wasn’t terrified.
There were so many reasons. Partly because a writer’s salary is not large, and I didn’t know how we would pay for another person in the house. Partly because we did not have any family in town, and we couldn’t afford daycare, which meant my wife was going to have to quit her job. (Again, money.) But most of all, I was afraid because I didn’t know if we could survive it. I wanted to stay married, and I wanted to stay sane, and I was genuinely unsure that another year of temporary madness would allow for both.
This sounds like exaggeration. It is not. That first year split us at the seams. Both my wife and I quietly considered getting divorced, but we didn’t tell the other, because we didn’t really want to talk, much less have anything resembling a deep emotional discussion. All we focused on was getting through the night, literally and figuratively. We were so close to collapsing we didn’t even have the strength to discuss whether or not it had already happened.
This was a fitting kick-off to being a parent, because it taught me, early on, that I wasn’t going to be able to control anything. Or not the things that I wanted to, at least. And that sometimes, you just take the step without knowing enough.
I share all this because the editor of this website recently asked me about planning to be a parent. He wanted to know what the chief considerations were, what the conversations were like. How I knew that I was ready to be a dad. But if I’m honest, I never felt ready. I wonder if anyone truly does, no matter what they think at the time. We had made decisions, of course. We talked about having children, and we were convinced that we knew what we were doing, or at least as much as you can. (God, I was stupid. I was even so stupid as to think I knew how stupid I was. I was wrong. I was more stupid than that.)
I was 31 and my wife was 32. We had read books and tried to learn; we had put off the decision as long as we could, because we both had careers to nurture and finances to get in order. I laughed when friends spit out the cliché that “there’s never a right time,” because it seemed like we were aiming for it, somehow. In the back of my mind, I kept kidding myself that we were almost there. But the truth is that, when either of our daughters born, we weren’t. Our finances were not in order. Our careers had not been nurtured enough. No one told us just how hard it would get, and if they had, we probably wouldn’t have believed them.
Those friends were right, of course; there never is a right time. Clichés are usually rooted in truth. But I think back, occasionally, to sitting on that floor. It got better, and then it got worse, and then it got better again. I presume it will again one day get worse, and then better again after that. All I know is that I’m still here, and damn if that doesn’t feel like an accomplishment. Which, as far as I can tell, is pretty much the whole point.
Source: How to Tell If You’re Ready to Have Kids