Baby Rejection: My Biggest New Dad Challenge

In the months leading up to the birth of our daughter I spent more time pouring over new dad material than I knew was even possible. I read books, articles, watched Youtube videos, and peppered every father figure I knew for advice. I learned infant CPR. I tried to devour as much content as I could, even though I knew it wouldn’t be enough. Truthfully, most of the first 60 days or so is just a sleep-deprived haze. I can remember moments, especially when I look at pictures, but I don’t fully recall what my day to day was like. I guess the books and blogs worked, because I made it through, but I don’t think anything really took me by surprise.

My wife and I are the first of our core group of friends to have a child, and in the months since having her, the dam has broken and it seems like everyone we know has either had a baby or is having a baby this year. The baby fever is real. This also means that I am getting a ton of questions from my fellow dad’s to be about what resources they should be hitting up to get ready. What did I read, what did I watch? Did it actually make me feel prepared to be a dad for the first time. Then one day at a party, my buddy asked me the question that gave me pause and that I have been thinking about ever since. “What was the hardest thing that you’ve had to deal with that you DIDN’T hear about in any videos or read about in any of the books? What was something that caught you completely by surprise?”

Surprisingly, I immediately knew the answer, and to this day it is still the hardest challenge that I’ve had to overcome both in parenting and just in my adult life in general. What happens when you come home from work wanting to see your baby and she wants absolutely nothing to do with you? How do you overcome the feelings of frustration and resentment that will develop between you and your spouse and your baby when something like this occurs?

I still remember the exact moment it happened for the first time. My wife was still on maternity leave, and so our routine was that she would have her all day long and then pass her off and allow me to take point with her in the evening once I got home from work so she could take a break (or as a much of a break as anyone gets with a newborn) and eat and just relax for a bit before the night watch began. Of course she absolutely loved the time that she spent with our daughter, but there was also a palpable sense of relief when she could hand her off for awhile, which was fine with me as I spent most of the day at work wanting to get home and have her in my arms again.

Then came the time that I walked through the door and picked her up and was met with instant tears. Not just a normal fussy cry either. This was the full on crying-with-everything-these-baby-lungs-can-muster cry. To this point I hadn’t heard this level of crying for more than a minute or two at a time, because thankfully our daughter just wasn’t much of a crier. I tried everything I knew how to get her to stop. I changed how I held her, rocked her, spoke softly to her, walked with her around the house, swaddled, un-swaddled, bounced, kissed, back rubbed, and anything else I could think up to calm her down. Absolutely nothing helped. As a matter of fact, although I would have thought it impossible she just continued to get more and more upset and angry. Eventually I had to give her back to my wife because I was worried she was actually going to stop breathing she was crying so hard. Within a couple of minutes she was calmed back down to calm. So, the problem was she just didn’t want me to be the one holding her. Ouch.

We tried the hand off again and immediately she was back to screaming. Neither of us could ever figure out what it was that made her not want to be held by me, but figured she was just having a weird night. Then it happened again the next day. And the next. By the time that we got to the end of the week it was officially a problem. There were so many negative dynamics at play, continuously being multiplied over one another every time I tried to hold the baby. Amy was becoming more and more exhausted by the day, and I could tell despite her best efforts she was very much resenting the fact that it seemed like all of the responsibility was now on her. I was resentful of the fact that she was resenting ME for something I obviously couldn’t control. I was trying not to resent the baby despite the fact that she was absolutely ripping my heart out every day when all I wanted to do was love on her. I started dreading coming home at the end of the day because I knew what was probably going to happen once I got there. So then you could throw guilt on top of everything else because what kind of piece of shit father dreads coming home to his new baby every day? I would step inside the house and be relieved if she was sleeping in her bassinet because that meant that I would have a few minutes peace before it all began again. If I was very careful I could pick her up and hold her while she slept, but as soon as her eyes would open the cycle would begin again.

I don’t think I can remember a time when I have felt so low. At one point I was sitting on the edge of my bed, holding my baby who was screaming her head off while my exhausted wife tried to take as fast a shower as possible so that she could take her back and calm her down and I thought “I mean at this point it would be better if I just didn’t come home at all, because it just makes everyone’s night so much worse”. That was a dark moment. All of the excitement and pride and joy that I had about being a dad for the first time was just completely buried in feelings of inadequacy, bitterness, and frustration. I had no idea how to deal with or overcome the situation and to be honest to this day I still don’t.

Even when she was asleep, the problem was still there. Amy and I had some discussions and then some arguments, and then full on fights about it. Those kind of fights when there are no winners because no one can control what is happening. She is frustrated because now all of the baby burden is on her. She is exhausted. The baby is exhausted. I get it. But what do you expect me to do? We all want the same thing, and everyone feels shitty about it. Rinse and repeat. And it’s not like I was giving up, or just throwing up my hands and doing my own thing. I was there every chance I could be trying to get this child to love me and being disappointed every time. Things went on like this for about a month before there was any sort of improvement.

I wish I could say it was because I had some epiphany, or I was able to figure out something she liked, or I could find any way to credit myself for making the situation better but I am pretty sure it was just a timing thing. She got a little older and didn’t mind being held by someone who wasn’t mom. There were longer and longer spans of time where she would let me hold and snuggle on her without getting upset. Then came the smiles. Nowadays I am up on her upper echelon of people. It’s me and mom and then everyone else. Some days I am even number one, especially if we have spent the day together just the two of us.

I want to be clear, I am not trying to pat myself on the back or act like I did anything special to fix this problem. I made it through the other side because I don’t know of how I could have done anything else. Even if it didn’t get better I don’t think I have it in me to not hold my baby, even if she wants nothing to do with it at the time. I am sure all new dad’s know exactly what I’m talking about. I am surprised though, that in all of the research and studying I did before the birth that this situation never came up. I have no idea how normal it is for this to happen, but I have spoken to other dad’s who have had their first child in the last few months and they have all had a similar experience to some degree.

This brings me back around to how I answer now when someone asks about what advice I would give or what is the hardest thing about being a new dad. There is probably going to be a time where for whatever reason your baby just does not connect with you like she does with mom. Hopefully it’s not as bad as it was with me, but if it is then you have to find a way to just keep trying and wait out this phase. Understand that if you are truly trying to love on her and care for her then at some point it will get better. Maybe have discussions with your wife beforehand and make sure she knows that you are not giving up, and that you are there with her in wanting to share the burden of your child. Because I know that, although at the time she was frustrated and even angry with me because of the situation, she also knew that I wasn’t just giving up or looking for excuses to not help with the baby. Keep picking her up. If she cries 100 times in a row make sure you pick her up 101. I mean it sounds so fucking cliche’ but that’s what it all comes down to right? Just keep trying.

I am curious how other dad’s have dealt with this situation with their children. At the time I felt very isolated and kind of left to figure it out on my own, and would have loved to have someone just say “oh yeah I remember when that happened, here’s what I did”. That’s one of the reasons I have made a point to talk to all of my buddies about it, and last week I had one of them text me to say he knew what I meant now because he was going through it and it felt good to know that other dads had too and it wasn’t because he was a bad father. And maybe I am just completely naive (wouldn’t be the first time) and this is common knowledge and I was just off in the weeds and somehow missed out on this basic info. Wouldn’t be the first time. If that’s the case please share below so I can learn up on it and I can share it as well. Or if you have any of your own experience you would like to talk about. I would greatly appreciate hearing about other parent’s journey’s and steps they took to overcome them. In case you haven’t noticed from my posts I still feel lost at times. But. I’m also loving the journey.


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