The Darkest Days of the Baby Experience

The relationship troubles that come from sleeplessness, the ones everyone warned me about, were upon us last week: She seemed mad all the time, resentful that I had to work and so couldn’t give her frequent breaks from holding a squalling, pissing, shitting, vomiting, red-faced bundle, and I was mad that she was trying to stop me from doing my work, because I had deadlines and students and these demands are not flexible. And of course to her it doesn’t look as if I’m really working all the time when I’m sitting at this computer; it might even be possible that I am looking at porn from time to time. (And just try explaining that looking at porn is a natural break from the mind-breaking stress of writing, that it might even be seen as part of the process.)

When the baby is cranky, which is to say when he is awake, which is at this point about 12 hours a day, he must be either fed or cradled or he will shriek. We have tried ignoring the shrieking; it is impossible. And rocking him and feeding him are both boring activities. To do it for more than a few hours straight, as she has to do every weekday, sometimes for eight hours at a time, is mentally debilitating; it is a kind of imprisonment, a torture by mindlessness. If I have a deadline, I can’t be holding him or feeding him, because both those activities require two hands. My partner reminds me that she has creative work to do, too, and that she is sacrificing it. And I snap something about who is getting paid more (which is really, really stupid), and then I have escalated the conflict, as the psychologists say.

If I worked outside the home the division of labour would not be an issue. If I were in a boardroom or on a construction site, it would not occur to my partner to call me and demand that I come home in the middle of the day to hold him for ten minutes. But I am just sitting in the next room. I can, of course, take breaks and change him or take him for a quick walk, and I do. But it never seems to be enough.

Meanwhile I am feeling I am hanging on to my professional obligations by my fingernails. I feel I am always behind. I haven’t missed a deadline yet but I fear I am always about to. And I am not answering important messages, messages about dates and plans that have to be made now, right now, this afternoon. I fear I am getting the reputation as someone unreliable. And I get angry if this concern doesn’t appear important to my partner.

I haven’t exercised, done real exercise like running or weights, since the birth. Any moment of free time I have must now be devoted to giving the poor lady a break. So I take him for a walk, which at least puts him to sleep. But it doesn’t help my feeling of unhealthiness.

And these tensions are of course compounded by constant sleep deprivation. I feel that we are right now in the darkest basement of the baby experience.

So we came up with a plan: She would get a break, a real break. Not just from the baby but from me. For her birthday, I gave her three days in a hotel in Montreal. She went with her sister. She left the baby here.

I have just completed my marathon of solo male baby care: four days, three nights with a breast-feeding three-month old baby and not a lactating breast in sight. My diary of how I coped will follow. You may be surprised to learn that it involved poker and whiskey.

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