Now we are 4. Last Thursday Lauren and I became parents of a bouncing 9lb 7oz (big!) baby girl. She’s fine, Lauren’s fine. As a matter of policy, our children’s names and photos don’t appear here, so instead of saying “the kid” it’ll have to be “the boy” or “the girl”. Well, we decided to make one exception; how can a cute-baby photo do any harm? Plus, as a service to the loyal readers of ongoing, a dozen facts about newborns and their context.
Those who are parents will already know these facts, and perhaps enjoy a moment of nostalgic glow. For non-parents, a glimpse into another planet.
The unpleasant parts of the pregnancy, birth, and baby-wrangling experiences fade fast from memory, amazingly fast. Otherwise the species would have died out one generation after the arrival of birth control.
White newborns look like Winston Churchill. East Asian ones look like venerable monks. South Asian ones look like actual children, with beautiful eyes. The complex we were in had no African babies. This being Vancouver, there were a few ethnically-mixed little citizens; some combos work better than others.
Newborns can’t really see you; they haven’t mastered the technique of pointing and focusing their eyes. When they accidentally achieve focus on something in the room, they get this hilarious look of wide-eyed astonishment.
When you’ve got a kid and you look at their newborn photos, you can see the roots of what their faces have become. It doesn’t work the other way though; when you look at a newborn’s face there’s no way to tell what it’ll come to look like.
Newborn poop doesn’t smell. It however is visually dramatic, progressing in a few days through the slimy black of Meconium through some surprising greens to the inoffensive, slightly sour-smelling yellowish diaper-loads of the breast-fed.
Every parent worries about SIDS, which is what they call it when a baby stops breathing and nobody knows why. Newborns are scary because they’re unpracticed at breathing, and often make unnerving sounds: choking, hacking, and snorting. When they’re in a deep milk-befuddled sleep, they move hardly at all and you can’t hear their breath no matter how close; I’m sure every parent has stroked a sleeping baby’s face, or tickled its finger, just to make sure it’s breathing.
The process of having a baby and eventually getting it home involves contacts with many flavors of medical professional. (Our experience at B.C. Women’s Hospital was smooth, professional, and caring). However, it exists in a flow of time disjoint from that we normally experience. Whenever a medical professional leaves the room saying “I’ll be right back” or “Dr. Haddad will be in to have a look”, time stops; for a period that is wildly unpredictable but never less than 45 minutes.
The senior nurses that run the shifts in the post-natal units are like Zen masters; their depth of knowledge and centeredness are awe-inspiring. They see things the doctors don’t.
The arrival of a newborn switches you in 24 hours from a normal human being to a shuffling sleep-deprived zombie. I’m easing off a bit at work (must figure out how to book a few days of parental leave to make up for the loss of intensity) but there are a still a couple of work things I’m doing that I think are important. The trick is to seize a moment when you realize that your brain is actually working right, and the baby’s asleep, then get something done.
Each one’s different! The new girl has this powerful, repeatable reflex that the boy didn’t; whenever you touch her around the ankle or foot, her knees bend and she tries to retract her legs. This makes putting the diaper on a chancy business.
Parents tend to generalize about the differences between “little boys” and “little girls”. I think that most such differences would melt away in the harsh light of statistical evidence; but I think I know why we do this. People who aren’t parents look at babies and wouldn’t know the gender if they weren’t dressed in blue or pink. But parents spend, in aggregate, many boring hours unclothing, cleaning, and re-clothing little genitals; staring blankly at your baby’s crotch while wondering “Why does he/she do that?” has likely been the source of much gender-based folklore.
When you’ve got a newborn in your lap, most of the time it’s either asleep or cranky or has a bellyache. There are a few moments when it’s actually awake and comfy and just looking. There aren’t many times you get to go one-on-one with an intelligent being just arrived on Planet Earth; cherish it.