Baby,  Essay,  Life Story

alienation in the first year

Recently I’ve started feeling that I only need to get Joan to age two and then I will hand her off to Joe for her further education and edification. Joe says he’s in the “newborn disenfranchization” period with Joan. A period that we blessedly now know is short and temporary. He says that, before Lux, no one told him as a new dad that he would feel helpless and alienated from his child for a good while, that the first time he held her it wouldn’t necessarily be like a light-switch of bottomless love was flipped.


There’s a few things dads can do with young babies—get them to sleep occasionally, offer a bottle here and there—but overall for the dad who really wants to be involved, it can feel like he’s not wanted. Sometimes I exhaustedly hand Joan off to him and she just cries harder for the five minutes he’s holding her. That brief respite for me is life-saving in the moment, but there’s no moment of engagement in return for him. He’s merely an extra set of hands helping his wife.

There’s science behind the breastfeeding success rate for women who breastfeed within two hours of the baby’s birth. Scientists believe the hormones that are released in the woman’s body by breastfeeding create feelings of connection and intimacy with this newborn. Feelings that will propel her to pick her up when she cries, to carry her around for hours, to feed her every three hours for almost six weeks before the mother might get anything in return, such as a smile. There’s no doubt that it can take a little boost from nature to assure the mother of their connection. Dads don’t necessarily get that.

But now that Lux is long-since through that stage, it’s amazing to see Joe and Lux together. Despite the time he’s gone each day at work, they still get in countless games of “ghost tent” and “fly bear,” bike rides, and drawings. Before bed they talk through tucking in each of her 8 stuffed animals. He seems to read aloud at least 10 books to her every Saturday. They share their cereal bowl in the morning. He’s the only one who can get her to both try the new food on her plate and love it. If she and I find anything broken throughout the day–a ripped page, a cracked egg, a plant knocked down on the sidewalk, a creaky door–Lux declares, “Da-da fix” with a confident nod. In the last hour before he gets home from work, she walks dolefully around the apartment, looking at me like I’m some kind of CSPAN to Joe’s Disney Channel.

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Sometimes I get annoyed that on the scale of self-sacrifice, I feel like I’m at an 8 and Joe is at a 3. Sometimes I feel like saying, you are a child compared to me. The things you’ve given up, the frustrations you encounter, they are so petty compared to what I do everyday. You thought that was frustrating? Try that times two, at three times the volume, then multiplied by three hours. The first week postpartum with Joan I remember saying you do realize I’ve sacrificed my body on an alter to our family, right? We laughed (that was the first week, of course. I felt much much better exactly seven days later. Worry not.). I think about him going to the gym a couple times a week and spending an hour in pursuit of nothing but a better physique, walking out to buy lunch in a cute cafe and eating it at a table by the window, having a meeting over drinks in the evening. I am almost aghast at the differences in our daily lives right now. Remember when we were dating? Remember when we were all matchy-matchy, and both liked spending an hour at used bookstores, and both liked buying scones on a morning walk, and both liked seeing indie movies at the theatre every week? I wonder, will he ever catch up to me? Or will it have just been me all these years, becoming infinitely more patient, or more beleagured, as the case may be?

I think I spent a whole week being simultaneously jealous of Joe and Lux’s evolving relationship—that she doesn’t need me wholly and comprehensively anymore—and wearied by the very same needs from Joan.

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Then I think of something my friend Kellyn said to me when Lux was two months old. We went out to visit her on Nantucket and one day while I made lunch, Kellyn held Lux, showing her around the cottage.

“Lux only smiles like that when you walk into the room,” she said. “She doesn’t smile like that for anyone else.”

Oh the gravity of a compliment.

To hear a baby cry, to pick her up, to feel her relax against you in contentment. To whisper a request in your toddler’s ear and have her to do just what you asked. To have your children turn away from a stranger and search for the safety of your hand, the beat of your heart, the back of your legs.



  • bridget

    Rachael! I was both laughing and (almost) crying through this. What to even note? The whole thing was so good!

    CSPAN to Joe’s Disney Channel – so good. “Newborn disenfranchization” – also so good.

    And yes. My sister and I talk about this. Even when Steve’s had a bad day, he was still surrounded by rational adults (well, hopefully). Even when my sister’s husband is really busy he can walk to breakfast between clients… alone and in peace!

    Parenting. We’re in the trenches!

    Loved this. Enough with my paragraph now. Oh, and see you soon.

  • Erin Clifford

    I’m back at work and my husband is at home with our almost 7 month old and 2 year old. In the days leading up to my going back to work, I thought many times to myself how nice it would be to drink a cup of tea without interruption and “now he’ll finally see what it has been like”. I do get a running leap into my arms with a chorus of ‘mommy’s home, mommy’s home’ and a wail for me from the baby wanting to nurse even if she has just finished eating. But, somehow my husband is still the fun parent. I think Dad’s just get that role as I will never throw either of my daughters up in the air, I will make sure there are lots of pillows around so if they fall no one will get hurt. And he still seems to make/take the time for himself. Maybe that is something I just need to get better at.

    • Rachael Ringenberg

      Right. So right. I saw it happening too, and was happy to see it. I just don’t grab Lux and toss her onto to the bed over and over and over again. There’s so many things I’m grateful he’s up for doing, that I don’t think I’ll get better at, even if I tried. (I was dancing to music in the kitchen tonight with a glass of wine in my hand, Lux was laughing and dancing along, and I thought ‘I need to do this more often.’)

  • noelle

    Reading this made me smile the biggest smile today. Stephan also read and exclaimed (and he never exclaims!) “exactly!”

    And now he’s making a playlist while drinking a beer.

  • Amber

    It seems that I have just come out of these familiar trenches as I’ve surprised myself by reacting to these beautiful words(!) with nostalgic tears of knowing rather than an exclamation of validation. My second, and forever last, baby turned two this week and I’ve been gathering more and more glimmers of who I was before newborn happened. Only after the years of sacrifice, alienation, pouring our again and again, I’ve found a better me–the familiar old with the ever-changed new.
    Only recently have a felt the loss of not having a baby to nurse, quickly tempered by the gain of a daily early-morning stroller-less run. Motherhood: letting go gracefully with stubborn faith that there’s always more to gain.

    • Rachael Ringenberg

      Oh, I know I’ll miss so much. I actually can’t really imagine it right now (and I do have a habit of leaving the old behind rather quickly) but it must be something to know those days are over forever, as much greater adventures begin.

  • Blaze

    I just found your blog through itsahuntslife and this is such a perfect first post for me to read! I have all these same feelings every day while my husband is at work and I’m home with my 2.5 year old & 7 month old sons. I love them more than life itself and have always planned on being a stay at home mom but on those endless days when my husband is traveling & everyone is fussy and no one naps I fantasize about a job (any job!) outside of the house haha. But then I get a smile or a cuddle & I know home with them is the only place for me.

  • Erin

    I just love reading what you write. You’re very good at taking these tough, sleepy new days and making the beautiful shine through the difficult. For so many, all they give off is the negative. Thank you.

  • beaktweets

    This is so, so good. It articulates so well so many thoughts. “I’m some kind of CSPAN to Joe’s Disney Channel” and “you do realize I’ve sacrificed my body on an alter to our family, right?” stand out. Chris is absolutely the fun one and gosh, I can be such a martyr sometimes. And of course, as I expected as I read, a perfect little reminder lesson at the end. It can be exhausting to be the (only) one that soothes and comforts, but it really is such an honor when I allow it to be.

  • Sarah

    I am fascinated by the idea of raising babies in the city. Don’t personally know many (any?) who are doing so and forgoing the large house in the suburbs. You have an adorable kitchen registry on here – maybe a baby registry for big-city-dwellers could be next?

  • andrea (book-scout)

    wow, rachael. just give me a second to compose myself and reapply some damn mascara. i remember, back in the not-too-long-ago dark days of crazy insomnia and post-partum depression and round the clock nursing, when the little was maybe four months old?, being so jealous at the simplicity of my husband’s days. they were long, yes, but straightforward. he could meet his own BASIC NEEDS. (i was part cave-woman at that point, i think.) because that’s just it, right? you HAVE sacrificed your body (and soul!) on an altar for your family. it’s a joke, but it’s also kind of deadly serious. and it’s a lousy feeling, knowing you’re winning at being put-upon. but time passes. sometimes sloooowly, sometimes fast. i catch myself thinking regularly now, how i wouldn’t trade places with him for the world. funny how that feeling sneaks up on you. either over time, or through the words of a friend. xoxo

    • Rachael Ringenberg

      And he’s a chef right? So that’s a pretty crazy day to be jealous of, all things considered. But yes–I know it will switch back to the other side, and then I’ll feel almost too lucky to get to stay home and cuddle up with books and snacks on a cold rainy morning.
      Thanks for your kind words!

  • Jenna Sietsema

    It’s nice to know I’m not alone in my feelings/thoughts. Thanks Rachael for being so honest… it’s refreshing and encouraging.

  • jillyliz

    I am saving this for a couple years down the road. I would love to turn to my now boyfriend/future husband and have him read this, but football is on so it will just have to wait:)

  • Kathy MomOfNine

    Beautifully written. After nine babies needing me more that their dad, nine time sleepless nights, nine times weary days, – all I can say is it’s oh so worth the sacrifice. A child’s love for his/her mother…You have captured the sacrifice, the love, the eventual weaning from our grasp in such a lovely manner. Thank you!

  • jolie

    I have been so horrible at keeping up with my blog feed but just happened to scroll to this. Rachael, RACHAEL! Could you have more specifically written the sentiment of my heart, I don’t think so. Specifically all of the husband and wife differences – thank you so much for sharing. It is a constant process of refinement over here.

  • What To Expect

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