Thursday, January 08, 2009

So Much For Free Will, Newborn Edition

At this point I feel that, for the most part, I was adequately prepared for the reality of taking care of a newborn. I expected that they cry, they throw up, cause sleep deprivation, etc. My daughter has been no exception in this regard, but she hasn't presented any real unanticipated challenges either.

Prior to her being born I had, of course, been peppered with various testimonials on how having a baby "changes everything", how its "an experience unlike any other", etc. etc. blah blah blah. At the time I considered these to be either truisms or maudlin sentiment. Of course having a baby (or, more actually, conceiving one and then deciding to carry it to term) "changes everything"; you all of the sudden have a virtually unlimited responsibility for another human being. After the fact I (still) think that people are, at least in part, obeying expected social form. At least one mother I met at a party I recently attended was openly aghast that, in response to the inevitable "How are you doing/holding up/etc?" question", I said something along the lines of "She eats, she poops, she crys... about what I expected".

Anyway... what I wasn't prepared for on any level was the very obvious mental shifts that accompanied her birth. It is true that having a child changes your perspective, but its not because your eyes have suddenly been opened to the ineffable beauty of the parent-child relationship or anything of that nature. Rather, and this is something I observed quite clearly at the time, the newborn is accompanied by a huge, euphoric effect. I could quite literally get high just by holding my daughter.

It seems almost inevitable that there'd have to be some degree of that just to ensure the propagation of the species. Objectively a newborn is a noisy, needy little creature that leaks from every orifice; on an intellectual there's very little that's redeaming about them. So it makes sense that they bypass the intellect entirely with their freaky biochemical kung-fu; babies which fail to do so probably show a decreased survival rate relative to those that do.

The downside about this though, and this is what makes me trepidatious about my own mental well-being, is that the effects of the "baby high" seem to be far broader in scope than is really necessary. There are lots of things that I was concerned about prior to the birth of my daughter but which don't bother me anymore. Intellectually I understand that nothing has changed but I can't muster the accompanying motivation/emotional response.

I find this a little bit distressing. Except that's not accurate. As I sit here and write this I recognize that I should be alarmed, but I'm not. As I said before this isn't the result of some grand re-prioritizing following my daughter's birth. Its more like some part of my brain has been crippled. Again, its probably one of those "survival of the species" things, but in the very least its irritating. And it makes me wonder what other changes I've missed or am somehow blind to.

Anyway, no one told me about this, or of they did they were speaking in code too easy to misconstrue. Be warned then: kids fuck with your head in ways you might not appreciate.


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