Halley Rebecca Griffin is 4 months old today. That's a nice age to be, full of smiles and squeals and colors and the conviction that the known universe revolves around her.
But for me, it marks the all-too-rapid passage of time. This is my first stab at parenthood, and one of the sharp surprises is how quickly and constantly my baby changes. Some days I come home from work and find that the child I come home to is noticeably larger and brighter than the baby I kissed goodbye just 10 hours earlier.
The 3-month mark, however, was also an anniversary of sorts, marking the passage of a year since Halley was conceived. And what a year it has been.
Above all, it's been a year of learning. Becky and I learned a lot about each other, about ourselves, about the human body. We discovered how effusively society responds to this whole business of having babies. We found out, thanks to a medical scare, how much we mean to each other.
With that first-time experience still fresh, here are some recommendations for those making their initial entry into parenthood.
1. Enjoy it. Not that pregnancy doesn't have its down side. Morning sickness is certainly no picnic. But pregnancy can be a very special time for both partners. In addition, it becomes a useful training ground for the expectant father. As the mom-to-be gets larger, family and friends increasingly focus their attention on her, helping the father grow accustomed to not being the center of attention. That shift will be crucial after the baby arrives.
2. Keep a journal. But don't wait for the baby's arrival to get started. So many subtle changes occur during pregnancy that they'll be lost forever if you don't keep a record. Start as early as possible. Keep in mind that it's not just for yourself. Someday, perhaps when you're about to become a grandparent, you may want to share what it was like with your child.
3. Bring your photo albums up to date. By having a child, you are adding to family histories. Make sure yours are in order -- once the baby arrives, you'll spend all your time processing baby pictures. Becky and I each prepared photo albums that chronicled our lives (including pictures of parents and grandparents) up to the point where we first met. A third album illustrates our years together. Our latest begins with the pregnancy.
4. Take lots of pictures. Some women don't want photos of themselves when they're pregnant. Becky was at least willing, if not eager. Now she's glad. Same thing with the birth. Some of our most endearing shots of Halley were taken within minutes of birth as she screamed her first impressions of the outside world.
5. Take a nice romantic vacation. We found it was a nice way to close the unencumbered stage of our relationship and psychologically prepare us for the challenge of parenthood.
6. Record it. On a whim, when Becky woke me up to tell me labor had begun, I flipped on the tape recorder. We ended up with an audio chronicle (later edited to about 25 minutes) of the entire experience, from the call to the doctor to Halley's first cries to the congratulatory messages that were left on our answering machine. Becky especially appreciated it, since she had little memory of her long ordeal.
7. Don't judge a hospital solely by its reputation. We did and were sorely disappointed. Had we listened to our instincts -- that the hospital was marked by a rigid bureaucracy -- when we were taking the hospital tour or when we were pre-registering we would have gone elsewhere.
During the height of labor pain, it took nearly 2 1/2 hours before Becky received any pain relief. When a fetal heart monitor malfunctioned, a resident told us the baby's cord was probably wrapped around its neck. (It wasn't.)
Finally, after 20 hours of labor and delivery, she was placed in a room next to one being demolished with jackhammers. Getting them to move us to quieter quarters was an ordeal.
8. Trust your instincts. And maybe find one or two good books you feel comfortable with. That was the best advice I got during pregnancy.
9. Expect the blues. The onset of parenthood is marked by many losses. The largest loss for us was closing a chapter of our six-year relationship -- the chapter that involved just the two of us. As wonderful as parenthood is, we'll never have that again.
10. Be prepared. Among the advice you'll get in abundance is the admonition that first babies are always late. Wrong-o. Halley arrived early, as did almost every other baby in our childbirth classes. Unfortunately, I had scheduled everything as if she'd be either on time or a little late. As a result, Christmas cards got sent out in mid-January, the mortgage payment was mailed late and I still haven't finished wallpapering the nursery.
Although Halley arrived two weeks early, I've been three weeks behind ever since.