Big Smile, No Teeth: Magical vs Nightmarish – The two sides of having a baby


My boy was born on the eve of Covid-19, right before the world realised how bad things were going to get. I was still allowed into the delivery room to be with my wife as she was giving birth, a luxury many hospitals no longer allow. My wife also didn’t have to wear a mask during labour. So we had a decidedly pre-pandemic delivery.

Being present, I also watched the birth of my son, meaning I literally watched him emerge into the world. Not by choice mind you, only because the doctor called out, “James, here he comes!” My name is, of course, Jason, but my character on TV is James, though that’s not why I hesitated. I wasn’t sure I wanted to see the actual nitty gritty of how a baby is born but my doctor insisted: “Look, James! Look!”

So I did.

And there was our boy, his cone-like head – because all babies’ bones shift in their skull to make it easier to pass through the birth canal – emerging, and then suddenly he was yanked into the world. The doctor held him up triumphantly as the umbilical cord tore in half spraying him and the nurses with blood. They flinched as the blood hit them but to me, on the other side of it all, it was like fireworks. And our boy was paddling his limbs in the air, covered in mucus, red in the face, screaming and looking more like a little alien than a human infant.

And I remember thinking, wow, birth is magical.

Later the doctor called me over, “James, look at this”. He and the nurses were staring down at the placenta hanging partly out of a metal tray.

“It’s a kilogramme, James, ” he said (and I was never going to correct him about my name – he had, after all, delivered our boy). “It’s the biggest placenta we’ve ever seen.”

Wow.

“And this, ” he held up what looked like a half empty sausage, “Is the shortest umbilical cord we’ve ever seen.”

I was impressed by my wife’s ability to prioritise the nutrient-giving placenta over the comfort and ease of the umbilical cord. Good work, honey.

Childbirth was magical. Having a kid was awesome. But then we took the baby home and things became very much less awesome. That first month was rough. Really rough. Struggling with fatigue, a loss of free time and a host of new responsibilities, my wife and I cared for our boy.

We had watched Babies on Netflix which stated mothers receive the “love hormone” oxytocin when they care for their children but fathers also get an oxytocin boost when they care for their kids. So we took shifts watching our boy. We went for a walk with the dog one night, looking like we had slept in our clothes on the road – which actually would have been preferable to no sleep – and the wife said, this is the best thing that ever happened to us right? I shrugged. This is not a question new parents are supposed to ask but here we were.

Friends who had babies at the same time were posting photos and declaring the birth of their baby was their happiest moment in life. Smiling photos of them looking fresh and happy, baby grinning a gummy toothless grin... and all I could think was, if you took a photo of us with our boy, it’d look like we both got hit by a truck and our baby would be screaming his head off.

While the birth had been magical, taking care of an actual baby was decidedly painful.

But now at four months old, our boy has started to smile and giggle and I find myself doing whatever I can to make him laugh because I love to hear it. It’s much needed magic after the sleepless nights that made me feel like my eye bags were burrowing into my face.

And I realise for some people, it’s all magical. The fatigue, the hardships, they see it all as part of a great journey. And other people are like my wife and I, we love our son, but spending months in what feels like one long night is punishing. It’s two sides of the same coin.

I’m just starting out with this parenthood thing but as our boy gets more interactive, I understand the magic part of it more and more. Watching him gain basic skills, to grab, to grin, are incredible. These are the moments that make all the sleepless nights worth it.

That said, if you take our family picture now, my wife and I are still going to look like we just wrestled bears, but our son at least will look cute.


Big Smile, No Teeth columnist Jason Godfrey – who once was told to give the camera a ‘big smile, no teeth’ – has worked internationally for two decades in fashion and continues to work in dramas, documentaries, and lifestyle programming. Write to him at lifestyle@thestar.com.my and check out his stuff at jasongodfrey.co. The views expressed here are entirely the writer's own.

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Jason Godfrey , Covid-19 , parenting , birth , babies

   

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