Congratulations on Publishing Your First Baby

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Everybody thinks they have at least one good baby in them. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been at a party and when people find out I’m a parent, they say, “Oh, I’d love to have the free time to be procreative like that,” or, “When I retire I’m planning to set aside some time to finally pump out that baby I’ve been mulling over.”

Most of this is idle chatter—rarely getting beyond basic Internet research and some potential baby names scribbled on a Starbucks napkin—but every now and then I encounter someone who has actually gotten down to business and conceived a child, and asks me how we managed to get our baby out of our reproductive organs and out into the world. This is what I tell them:

The first thing we did was find a doula. Friends and family outside the parenting world didn’t really know why we needed one, or even what a doula does. “Do you really need a doula? Can’t you just ask a doctor to deliver your baby?” they would ask, naïvely. Sure, back in the olden days you could just walk straight into the biggest hospitals in the city and ask them to deliver your fetus, but these days you won’t get far (i.e.: past triage) without a good doula.

A doula is a partner, an advocate, a voice of experience in navigating the byzantine parenting world. My wife and I spent a lot of time researching doulas to find one that was right for us. For instance, we knew that while our first child would be a boy delivered naturally, we wanted to have twins the second time around, with drugs. We needed a doula who was comfortable with both.

Querying doulas was nerve-wracking, so we were thrilled when one finally offered to represent us. Our doula, Maria, had the qualities we were looking for: passion, experience, and a robust social media presence.

Once we had a doula in our corner, it was time to find a hospital. Like most parents, we dreamed about delivering our baby at one of the big hospitals in town, but Maria warned us those were particularly hard to get into. And, just as she said, it wasn’t long before we started receiving emails like this:

Thank you very much for sending us your medical records. While we enjoyed seeing your baby [WILLIAM]’s sonogram photos, we regret to inform you that we don’t feel your fetus is the right fit for us at this time. We hope you find a good hospital to deliver your baby, and we wish you the best of luck.

We tried not to take it personally, even though we’d poured our blood, sweat, and tears into this baby (metaphorically, for me; literally, for my wife). Maria reminded us that even the most famous parents faced rejection. After all, the Virgin Mary got turned down by that inn in Bethlehem and had to give birth in a barn. And her baby turned out to be Jesus!

Along with the big hospitals, Maria helped us to look into specialized clinics and wards that cater to specific kinds of births: Christian births, natural births, sea births, even births for babies with names like Frodo Lopez or Daenerys Mulligan. Not to mention smaller, indie hospitals that offered us and our baby a lot more personal attention and care (though fewer perks like free diapers or formula).

And then there was the increasingly popular option of self-delivering.

If you’ve spent any time on Parent Twitter, you know that the big debate that blows up regularly is: DIY vs. OBGYN. In other words, deliver-it-yourself at home, or at a big institution with a fancy name. I can’t say self-birthing didn’t have its attractions—we’d have full say in how our baby came into the world. But we’d also have to do all the work hospitals normally do, and on our own dime: prep, epidurals, cutting the umbilical cord, scheduling photo shoots, etc.

Self-delivering is a perfectly valid option, but my wife and I both knew that our first choice was to have our baby at a prestigious, big-name hospital.

After a few months of anxiously submitting applications, we were admitted by the biggest hospital in town, Penguin County/Random Lutheran. Maria called us while we were still at work and broke the news. My wife and I screamed in excitement, cried, and had champagne (well, I had champagne). Our dream was so close to coming true!

Little did we know that the easy part was over. We quickly realized that it wasn’t just us and our fetus anymore. We were part of an institution: doctors, nurses, physician’s assistants, administrators, PR people. As the old saying goes, making a baby takes two people, but delivering one takes a team.

Mostly, we were happy to have a group of professionals helping us get our baby delivered. We felt our fetus was in good hands, and we didn’t feel so lonely anymore. But some things came as a shock. For instance, we didn’t realize the hospital had final naming rights for the baby. We’d decided on “William” since before our son was a twinkle in our eye, but our OGBYN told us they were already scheduled to deliver a “Liam” and a “Wills” that week, and to avoid confusion, our baby was named “Greg” now. We’ve gotten used to it.

The final weeks before delivery were the most stressful. The day we’d been dreaming about since we were kids was almost here! We were about to become parents! But underneath the joy was deep anxiety: what if people hated our baby? Up until then, we’d sort of blithely assumed everyone would love Greg as much as we did. But the closer the due date came, the more we remembered how harsh the parenting world is. Mommy blogs can be vicious, and even venerable institutions like the New York Times‘s baby announcement page are known for their razor-sharp criticism. The last thing we wanted, after minutes of sex and months of pregnancy, was for people to say our baby sucked.

But it was out of our hands. And when the big day arrived, we didn’t have time to glance at even a single blog—the WiFi on our ward was terrible. Besides, nothing could take away from the incredible joy I felt when I held my son in my hands for the first time. In that moment, all the effort and anxiety became completely worth it.

Once “Greg” had arrived, it was time to let the world know! Hospitals used to handle the majority of this: hiring a photographer and sending out birth announcements. But we soon found that unless you’re a celebrity, you’re largely on your own. We’d done our homework about promotion and talked extensively about it with Maria and our OBGYN, but we still felt adrift. We looked around and noticed how many newborns there were, and that was just at our own hospital. How would we get ours noticed?

Three words: Mommy Blog Tour. We reached out to our favorite blogs and did guest posts and interviews. We had to develop a thick skin when we opened Greg’s YouTube channel, though. Our first video hadn’t been up for more than five minutes before commenters started vehemently critiquing our burping techniques. I tried to be above it all, but I admit a few comments got to me, and in a low moment I logged on to tell jimmys_mom09 that she was, “A real sack of meconium,” and SteelersDadPA he was welcome to, “Suck on this!” (I posted a picture of my nipples).

Like any parent, we were active on social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. But we tried not to overdo it. While everyone loves cute baby pictures, there’s nothing more obnoxious than a parent spamming their followers with picture after picture of their little bundle of joy. And while the Internet offers all sorts of venues for promotion, we also pursued the tried-and-true methods: birth announcements, desperate cries for help, and promotional giveaways. Fans of Greg (his grandparents) signed up to win inked footprints, locks of hair, exclusive photos from our newborn photo shoot, and his umbilical cord.

After a few months, the excitement and chatter about Greg died down. We knew it was inevitable, but it was still a letdown when people started talking about newer babies. The world had moved on. And we had to, too.

Maria called us and we discussed our plans beyond Greg. We’d always envisioned having lots of kids—a big family—but it was exhausting to think about going through the pregnancy and birth processes again. My wife wondered if we had it in us to build the kind of family we’d dreamed of. I reminded her we had to be persistent. It took Jon and Kate Gosselin eight children before they got a TV show. “Imagine if they’d stopped before that!” I said. “Jon and Kate Plus 7? Nobody wants to watch that. That doesn’t even fucking rhyme!”

We agreed to have more kids, but we also didn’t want to do anything rash financially. Like most parents, I dreamed about quitting my job to parent full-time. But after checking Greg’s YouTube channel metrics and seeing he was only the 15,678th most popular baby among subscribers, I knew we couldn’t afford it. We’d both have to work, and find time to parent in our spare time.

We’re working on having that second kid, and trying not to get overwhelmed by the pressure to make this one even better than Greg. We know second children are often a disappointment. So, I try to concentrate on the good things: Greg’s been out in the world for two years now. He’s still growing little by little, though of course not like he was when he was a newborn. And even though he’s probably never going to land us a TV show, every time I look at him, I feel a burst of pride and think, “I created a baby. Truly, I am a real Parent.”

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Rumpus original art by Max Winter.


Austin Gilkeson lives just outside Chicago with his wife and son. His essays have appeared at Catapult, The Toast, and Tor.com. He can usually be found on Twitter, at @osutein. More from this author →