Deadlines and newborns go together like peanut butter and meconium. Good luck with that!
“I love deadlines,” wrote Douglas Adams, legendary hater of deadlines, in The Salmon of Doubt. “I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”
The best part about this titbit from the mind of a genius is not even that it is a titbit from the mind of a genius.
It’s that The Salmon of Doubt was published posthumously, and incomplete, a full year after Adams’ death.
Now that’s a missed deadline.
Working to a deadline is hard, and – even if you are a genius – getting there may kill you.
But what if you are a non-genius? One with a newborn baby whose needs are so unrelenting, and who is so loud, that you can’t even hear the deadlines whooshing by?
You are screwed is the short answer.
In retrospect, this is as blindingly obvious as the baby shit you didn’t realise you’d worn to the office until the MD pointed at your shirt and suggested you might want to get changed.
At the time, however, the false promises of positive thinking are devilishly difficult to recognise.
How hard can it be?
As a father who works largely from home, I expected to encounter a few issues around work immediately after my newborn son arrived.
And yet, I was stupidly confident.
The months and weeks before birth are awash with optimism, smeared across the spectrum from cautious to delusional.
If you are in the same boat, tensely awaiting the seismic arrival of a shouty, pink, diarrhoea-blasting turd-cannon to bless your life, I expect that, like me, you also think you will somehow muddle through – maintaining professional standards, even if you’re learning fatherhood as you go.
“I will figure out a workaround,” you’re thinking. “My partner has six months’ maternity leave. I will be there to help, but she knows that it is important that I continue to pay the rent while we are both at home, and she has agreed to let me work as uninterruptedly as possible. How hard can it be?”
It’s not like you were a well-oiled machine before.
Personally, I faffed about endlessly during my pre-birth career working from home.
I thought that the focus fatherhood provided would miraculously grant me some sort of new, laser-like efficiency. I thought I might even get my writing work done in less time than before – new baby chores included!
I was hopelessly wrong.
The challenges are physical and emotional. Here are the mains ones that I have juggled with.
Tiredness is cumulative
Rising early to complete a job you didn’t get to yesterday?
It won’t happen, and if it does today, it won’t happen tomorrow, when you miss today’s deadline.
Add to that, the physical effects of your partner’s exhaustion on you. She’ll be even more tired. And she will be a lunatic.
On one hand she’ll be deeply anxious about things you’d never have even noticed, like wallpaper –
“Could that be a spot of mould? Our baby will inhale mould! Asthma! Tuberculosis! Boneitis!”.
On the other hand, she will be utterly stoical about things that you’d never expected she’d be stoical about – and frankly, wish she wasn’t – like asking whether you think this could be a haemorrhoid.
Even if you manage to avoid the curse of baby brain, living with a lunatic is a tricky tapdance across eggshells.
Try working while also trying to calm her down, or with her discussing vaginal stretching with your mother in the kitchen as you sit within earshot.
There’s a new no.1 in town
I was worried that I’d be overwhelmed to the point of blubbering each time I looked at, or even thought about, our new baby. That I would become a dad and instantly go soft in the head with love.
On the contrary, seeing him mostly had little effect upon me. No cheesy sitcom wonder about the miracle of life (biology, stupid) or profound reordering of the universe.
Just a mild sense of discombobulation and a deep, soft-edged feeling of satisfaction.
Sure, there’s a new number one priority – the kid – but it’s not at the total expense of everything else. You are a man and you keep your commitments, both personal and professional.
As long as he was being looked after, and happy, I was cool with popping my head in now and then, and then leaving his mum to it throughout the ‘work day’.
But there’s one emotion that will shit all over this mindset at a moment’s notice.
It’s the guilt that gets you
A baby’s cry is genetically designed to be un-ignorable. And your partner’s desperation when he won’t calm down – when he isn’t happy – is compelling.
To ignore it is to be wracked with guilt. To help out is to compromise your work.
You are compelled to do your bit – even if, rationally, ‘your bit’ would be a better contribution if it were being able to invoice for your work.
Sleep eludes you. Clients suffer the difference.
Deadlines whoosh by.
Prepare as best you can; ignore the child as often as you can (which won’t be a lot), and hope that in the wash-up, you still have clients, a job, or a professional reputation.
Unlike this guy.