I’m dead serious—you’re signing up for two years of misery. And nobody is talking about it. Here is my story.1
Having a baby is worse than the death of your spouse?
Imagine your spouse or partner, the most important person in the world died. Horrible, right? Well, according to a 2015 study2 having a baby is worse. In numbers, it’s 50 percent worse than the death of your partner or being unemployed. The birth of your first child is almost three times as bad as a divorce.
There you have it: Having a baby sucks.
When you hold your baby for the first time it is the moment: peak awesomeness. But within a few weeks of baby’s birth, your happiness will fall off a cliff. Your life will become so shitty, that you’ll find yourself breaking down in tears on the bathroom floor. You will wonder if you have just completely ruined your life. You will snap at your partner. You will come face to face with the most disgusting side of your personality. You will want to give the child back.
What makes it so bad exactly?
Both parents suffer. For the mother it’s the hardest, hands down. You’ll witness the metamorphosis of a lovely butterfly into a tired, snarky, miserable bitch with dark circles under her eyes, vomit on her shoulder, wet stains from leaking nipples and smelly hair tied back into a ponytail. This is the new baseline.
Whatever the woman did so far to be a happy and confident individual will be pulled out from under her feet. No more pursuing her intellectual interests, Sunday brunch, yoga, CrossFit, spa weekends, dinner parties—gone! Everything which made her what she is: her job, her expertise, her friends, her passion, her calling—gone!
Ladies, I’m talking about a total disintegration of your identity. You’ll be a slave to this dependent and demanding little human being. Your baby will be unreasonable and unfair. There will be no end to its needs nor to your tasks. You’ll beg to go back to your stressful 60-hour-job because now you’re on duty 24/7. No weekends, no evenings, no coffee breaks. Hell—you won’t even have time to take a dump.
And worst of all there’s the social isolation. Unless you have family or friends with kids living next door, you’ll be alone with your baby most of the time.3
Don’t be so foolish to think you’ll go places with a small child. First, you’ll find it impossible to get out of the door. The moment you put the baby down in order to perform, say, the most basic personal hygiene, the baby will cry. Also, don’t underestimate the sheer amount of stuff you need to pack when you go out with a baby: diapers, wet wipes, changing pad, diaper cream, plastic bag for dirty diaper, burp cloths, pacifier, tissues, blanket, spare clothes, nursing pads, sunscreen…
If you actually do manage to leave the house, be prepared that it’ll take twice as long to get anywhere because your baby’s crying will make you stop every couple of minutes. You’ll be a sweaty mess when you finally arrive at the coffee shop to meet your friend for lunch. Then, rocking, feeding and burping the baby will make it virtually impossible to maintain a conversation. And get used to gulping your food down cold since babies reliably start crying the moment a meal gets served. Am I scaring you off yet? Did I mention the social awkwardness of breastfeeding in public? Picture yourself sitting in a packed restaurant with your breast hanging out for 20 minutes. I hope you don’t have any inhibitions.
People are polite enough, but no one enjoys the presence of a screaming baby. Good luck dealing with your guilt at constantly ruining other people’s lunch breaks, meetings or commutes.
Now, was all that hassle worth leaving the house in the first place? Hardly. Sooner or later you’ll become like other parents and leave the house only when absolutely necessary. And if you think now that “Being home is not the end of the world. I can read a book, binge on my favorite TV show or check my Instagram.”—trust me: you won’t be able to do any of that. Before I had a baby, I didn’t know that you could be busy all day and bored out of your mind at the same time.
Being at home with a baby feels like solitary confinement.
The nail in your relationship’s coffin
You and your partner will fight a lot. About everything. Constantly. Think about it like this: whatever bugs you about your partner now, will make you want to tear their heads off once the baby is born. There is a reason why sleep deprivation is classified as a form of torture. You quickly lose your kindness, patience, sense of humor, your sanity.
If you think a baby will fix your relationship—think again.
You might wonder “People have had kids forever and if it was truly that awful they would have said so.” While this sounds logical, consider how the definition of awful changes in relation to the other awful things you have experienced in your life.
Hardship is relative
If you were born in Europe in the early 1900s, you lived through the terror of two world wars and the great depression. Having a baby back then was probably not the biggest stressor in your life.
The post-war generations were brought up under difficult circumstances by authoritarian—and often violent—caregivers.
If you’re reading this, you’re probably a member of the Generation Y (1976-1990) or the so-called Millennials (1991-2005)4. If you were also born and raised in the western hemisphere, you were lucky to grow up in a safe and comfortable environment. Your parents—Baby Boomers and Generation X—had already taken a stand for gender equality, countered racism and superseded the authoritarian approach to parenting. This means that—as a group—you’ve experienced a lot less shitty stuff in your life.
The worst events of your lifetime were perhaps 9/11 (the majority followed on TV) and the financial crisis of 2008. The financial crisis certainly took its toll on the early members of Generation Y. But most of us were either still in school—thus financially supported by our parents—or had just started out a career with an underpaid job and a cheap rent. Because we didn’t have a lot to lose, the crisis only affected us peripherally.
There is no shame in living a protected life, it’s a privilege. It’s important to acknowledge the fact however, that not having experienced war, political suppression, famine or poverty—our younger generations’ experience of hardship has been limited. Therefore…
Having a baby is likely going to be the worst experience of your life.
Two years. And then…?
At around two years, your child can walk, has acquired basic communication skills and develops an attitude if their own. While the latter can often present a challenge, the whole package starts to look like fun for the parents. In the long run, you’ll come to see that the “worst experience of your life” was just a dip in your overall happiness curve.
After two years you will have adjusted to the new situation. You will have grown as a person and have made a number of adjustments and optimizations to your life that will change it for the better. Sometimes extreme pressure is just what it takes to form a diamond.
My daughter mercilessly eliminated baggage I was carrying for reasons of courtesy, guilt or compensation. I quit meeting people half-heartedly, stopped pointless internet surfing, I abandoned all non-essential home improvement projects. I stopped obsessing about looks and went with natural nails, low-maintenance haircuts, functional clothing, threw out all my high heel shoes, and the list goes on. My child forced me to set priorities like nothing else I’ve ever experienced. In fact, my life has gotten an upgrade.
Natural dopamine hits
Of course, having a baby doesn’t suck entirely. For example, the baby will get you high on dopamine and oxytocin a lot of the time.5 Those are two of the many neurotransmitters which make you experience a form of happiness.
A little wave of happiness hits you every time your child smiles or masters a new skill.
Interestingly, mothers also show a dopamine response to a crying baby.5 And indeed, those countless little dopamine and oxytocin highs every day feel wonderful and can bring a lot of joy into a parent’s life.
Like a phoenix from the ashes
After the disintegration of your identity, chances are that you’ll come out the other side a better version of yourself. Athletes train under adverse conditions so that they can perform better under regular conditions. It’s the same principle applied to your personality and relationship. What doesn’t kill it makes it stronger. Children are the kind of hardship that can make you come to terms with your deepest issues and resolve them.
Stop whitewashing early parenthood
We have to be honest with new parents—particularly the mothers—or they’ll think they’re doing it wrong. Take this as an analogy: people who sign up for a marathon usually know beforehand how brutal it is going to be. If they only found out halfway into the race, they’d be overwhelmed and might want to give up.
In the same way we should be honest about just how tough those first years are going to be. We can’t spare new parents the stress of sleep deprivation, domestic isolation or relationship glitches—those things are inevitable. But we can spare them the additional pain of thinking that the stress they are experiencing is due to their personal shortcomings. If I had known that having a baby sucks, I wouldn’t have felt like such an idiot.
Despite all my ranting, I wholeheartedly recommend motherhood. I recommend it the same way I recommend traveling the world on a shoestring. It shapes character.
As things naturally relax after the first two years, parents quickly forget the early hardships—just like the pain of giving birth—and remember the good times. What they say then is “Your life changes completely, but I wouldn’t have it any other way” or “Children are a gift”. While this might be true once you’ve gotten some perspective, this is not how it feels in the moment. So, my advice for soon-to-be parents is: expect the biggest challenge of your life.
Disclaimer: While most stories on Sapiensoup Blog are science-based, this one is primarily based on the personal opinions and experiences of the author. ↩
Margolis R, Myrskylä M. Parental Well-being Surrounding First Birth as a Determinant of Further Parity Progression. Demography. 2015. 52: 1147. ↩
This affects primarily stay-at-home-moms. Social isolation and some of the other challenges I address in this article might not concern working moms. They’ll have different challenges to face though. ↩