Thinking back, Angelica Pickles from Rugrats could talk to both the grownups and the…I guess the Rugrats? Do they ever call themselves that? Basically all of the babies. And technically, I think that makes her bilingual. If toddlers can speak to both infants and grownups, when do you stop speaking “Baby?” Babian? Babese?
Also, do all infants speak the same language? Like at one time in our lives, we may all be speaking the exact same language (quiet, you math nerds). Maybe that ability to speak to infants goes away as we get older. It’s like imagination. Or playfulness.
No one cares. It’s a cartoon. Moving along.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve become increasingly aware of my limitations. I’m realizing I’m not as physically capable as I used to be, but also, that I was never really as capable as I thought. And before you read through my sweepingly broad claims and think I’m way off (disclaimer), just understand that everything in here is a subjective opinion based on my interpretations of my experiences, and may differ from what you’ve also experienced and your opinions of those experiences.
Accepting I’m not as capable is something that comes with age: we just get old and our bodies don’t respond as well as it did when we were younger. That second part of that capability statement was a tough realization, but ultimately, one I came to understand once I realized my potential of something existed based on my inferred maximum capability of said…thing?
Let’s say I was able to eat 2 Double-Doubles from In-N-Out in my 20s (capability), and at the time, I don’t know a lot of people who can do this. Hell, I could probably eat 3 (maximum potential). Others have told me that this is impressive, which makes me think I’m above the average. I know I’m probably not the only person that can do this, and others can likely eat way more than double my Double-Doubles (inferred maximum capability). Now in my thirties, I can barely get one down (diminished capability). But then I talk to people in my life around my age that can still eat 2, and also, used to be able to eat 4. And now it seems like 2 really isn’t that impressive anymore (perceived capability re-calibration).
Essentially, the more people I meet, the more average I become, which is just awesome for me.
Mentally, I think the second realization applies: I think we think we know a lot because our view of “a lot” is based on what we think is out there. I personally had to re-read that sentence 3 times to make sure it makes sense and I’m pretty sure it still doesn’t. But as I get older, I start realizing that there’s more out there than I had originally thought (duh), and I don’t know much at all. And the more that I discover, the more I have to rely on previous experiences in order to guide me through and comprehend the new discoveries.
This limitation became very evident while my wife went through the pregnancy and birth process. I’ve seen pregnant people before. I had a general idea of how it works. But those assumptions set my pregnancy-expectation bar at a level that was much different than reality.
I’ve never felt so inept to support someone, and it’s mainly because I had no idea what they were actually experiencing. I’ve never had to grow a child. Even more basically, I don’t think I’ve ever had migraine headaches, let alone frequently for 3 straight months. I’ve never had to weigh and measure my food, and check my blood sugar for months so the child that I’m growing doesn’t come out with diabetes. I’ve had leg cramps before, but not every night for 3 months. One time while my wife was experiencing a contraction, I asked her what it felt like, hoping I could better understand exactly what she was going through. She responded, “It feels like your insides are expanding.” …yea, I got nothin for that.
There were some things that I could relate to. A couple of common phrases are used by medical professionals during the stay at the hospital. One was, “you’ll feel a lot of pressure in your butt.” …Ok I got that. Probably not the EXACT same, but I can tell you that alcohol-induced decisions + food from a carnival = butt pressure.
Other things I struggled to relate to. Phrase #2 was, “It’ll feel like really intense cramps, but like worse than you’ve ever had. It’ll be the most pain you’ve ever felt in your life.” I had no idea what those types of cramps feel like, so I started to think about the most pain I’ve ever felt. Honestly, I couldn’t think of when that was, and I don’t know if that’s a good or a bad thing. Like maybe I’ve never really had it that bad or I just do a good job of forgetting the negative experiences in my life. Maybe those are just two good things.
When my wife was experiencing phrase #2 and an epidural was requested, the anesthesiologist starts walking my wife through the process and he says, “You’ll feel a prick, and then cold, and then a really weird sensation.” This guy does this for a living and the best way to describe this feeling is that it’s “weird.” My computer brain brings up an error message that says, “hmmmm…this search term seems to yield too many results. Please refine your query.” Like…is it weird like the feeling you have when a guy compliments your shoes in a workplace bathroom or like…the way Dots feel?
An emotional support system during the pregnancy process is critical, but as a person supplying the support, it’s difficult to know that’s all you can provide. You see this loved one going through one of the hardest trials in their life, and you’re physically incapable of really doing anything to stop that pain. It’s hard to know that the only thing you can do is squeeze someone’s hand and let them know that they are not alone, and, at some point, it will end.
I’ve heard a lot of people explain the pregnancy/birth/meeting-your-child-for-the-first-time as indescribable and something that you just have to go through to understand. While it’s true that I do think the best way to understand anything is to go through it, I’ve learned that it’s easier to say, “It’s indescribable” rather than explaining that really, it’s a mixture of complex emotions varying in intensity over a period of time where either it feels like nothing will ever happen or everything is happening really fast. When someone asks what it was like, I feel like the appropriate response should be, “at what moment?”
But a lot of these feelings are ones that we’ve felt before. I think the thing that makes it indescribable is that you’re feeling a lot at the same time, and they may be more intense than you’ve felt them before. You feel fear, anxiety, empathy, compassion, frustration, and uncertainty mixed with a sudden rush of happiness, love, relief, and excitement compounded by a fatigue. And I’m not even the one doing any of the real work. I’m just the partial owner of the team with courtside seats. I’m cheering along, but I’m not impacting the outcome of the game.
I will say that I did experience two levels of love that I had never experienced after looking into the eyes of my wife and daughter post-birth. My desire to have a child really was a selfish one. I wanted to have a kid because I wanted to be a great dad. And really, at the most basic level, that means I wanted a kid because of the way that they could make me feel, not the other way around. I asked my wife to buy into this process with my faulty expectations about the whole thing; without fully understanding everything she was going to have to go through. And she did it all for me. I say “for me” even though we now both share the experience of having a child that we love, but really, she did all of the work. When you supply groceries for a meal, but someone else cooks and does all the work and the only real job you have is to text people “MEAL HAS ARRIVED!” along with time and weight, you don’t say, “thank you for cooking for us.”
If there are three adjectives that I could use to describe my wife through this experience, they would be Persistence, Determination, and Patience. I was relieved that it was finally over for her, and although I knew that we would be starting down a new path of uncertainty, that huge hurdle was finally cleared. Although I know there was still some lingering pain, that immediate and severe suffering was done. Being a first hand witness to immense, drawn-out, physical sacrifice is incredibly intense when you realize it’s for you. It’s a mix of extreme guilt (“I didn’t know it would be this bad”) and appreciation (“I didn’t know it would mean this much”). My capability of love was raised. My wife looked at me through tear-filled eyes, and pushing through pain and exhaustion was a look that said, “this was for you because I love you,” and that shit just broke me right in half. I’ve never been so proud to have such a strong wife and so grateful that I was her husband. But I know that the wave of emotion was not for our child; it was my growing love for my wife.
Our daughter came out with eyes wide open. She was looking around trying to figure out exactly WTF WAS GOING ON. And when her eyes finally locked in on me, I saw her look at me with love. Then I remembered that she couldn’t make out any images at all because her eyes are like…brand new.
I personally don’t think young babies know how to feel love. I think babies feel comfort and discomfort, and that’s all that their primitive little brains can handle. I think that love is learned, and what I’m seeing in my baby’s eyes was a reflection of my willingness to do everything that I can to teach her what love is. For as long as it takes. That look makes you want to be a superhero. That look confirms purpose and commitment. My maximum potential was raised and I was willing to do whatever I could to reach it. I felt love towards something that had never showed me any love, and all I wanted to do was to give her everything that I had for as long as I could give it.
This was very long, and took a long time for me to compose my thoughts and make the time to write. But like love, I felt like it was important enough to pursue, regardless of how long it took.
Thanks for reading.
– Max Pickles