Eve and I are going to have a baby. Now, I know that this is not unique. As I understand it, people have been been giving birth to babies for eons. Unlike my dad’s story of how he found me under a leaf in a manure pile, I was even once told (thank you, mom) that I came into this world the same way.
Having babies is disturbingly easy. After having discovered our tackle at an early age, one needs to only wait until puberty before said equipment turns from “useful decoration” to “the reason for living”. That flood of time-released hormones, combined with only a shred of ingenuity, turns that once simple use quickly to abuse…before we almost instantly realize that rubbing them up against someone else is much more enjoyable. Genitalia have a certain gravity, though illustrated inversely, towards others of their kind. Unlike Newton’s apple which went down due to earth’s gravity, our apples go decidedly up in the presence of other compatible fruit. Newton’s apple was a coincidence, of course, but it couldn’t have been more apt in its relation to procreation and censorship, nor more damning for Newton. The church hates apples. Ever since Adam and Eve were banished from the garden because Eve kept offering her apple to Adam, the clergy has had it in for those tantalizing orbs. This is probably why Newton was persecuted so fiercely for his heretical theory. Had it been, say, a pear that bopped him on the noggin, things may have gone better for ol’ Isaac.
I can only conclude that this fear of apples, passed down over the ages, is what gave birth (pardon the pun) to the story of Snow White who took a bite of the witch’s poisoned apple before falling into a death-like sleep. Because of our species’ inherent short-term memory, however – and due to the fact that we hate to eat healthy but love sex – the moral of these stories isn’t that we should have less sex or use birth control, but that we should be wary of fruit. This, in and of itself, explains both the world’s weight gain and overpopulation.
Thinly-stretched analogies of poorly-conceived conception aside, the difference with Eve and I, however, is two-fold: The first is that we planned our pregnancy. Unlike many pregnancies that start simply with a few drinks and a devil-may-care attitude, Eve and I had to plan ours.
This is not common knowledge, but Eve has Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) and so she normally takes meds to control her flares. Unless you’re a seven-tentacled Gorfloc from the planet Mutatagon, this medication isn’t exactly conducive to producing healthy offspring. Eve needed to be off of them for no less than six months before we could even try to conceive. Now when I say “try”, you all know what I mean. Or at least I hope that you do. Heck, even the Gorflocs know what I’m talking about, and they reproduce asexually and so don’t even need to, errr…”try”.
The second part of our planning is, you guessed it, that we knew that we were going to have our baby in Germany. Since Germans are loathe to make even a trip to the grocery store without first having a solid plan, graphed through multiple spreadsheets, you can imagine the amount of prep that goes into creating another human. Aside from the decision to give birth with the help of an Epidural, or to push that new being drug-free into the world via an underwater, Edelweiss blossom and pain-filled utopia while screaming “Wir sind der Welt” (We Are The World), there are many, many other things that must be considered. Since I don’t want to spoil the joke by giving away the punchline, you will have to be patient as I wade through each of those points in the coming paragraphs.
Assuming that your trying attempts have proved successful and you now find yourself pregnant in Germany, the first thing you will need to do, if you want to truly be a pregnant German woman, is to not tell everybody that you know. Unlike in the States where every expectant mother informs every person whom they’ve ever met that they are pregnant, you must keep your mouth shut. Expectant American women will use every possible means to inform the world that they are “with child” including email, Facebook, WhatsApp, and even smoke signals. The latter, however, usually comes from forgetting that they have something in the literal oven during the late stages of long-term pregnancy called “Prego Brain” where your lovely wife forgets everything, just the now scorched pizza. The point is that while U.S. women are on cloud nine and are freely telling everyone that they are “with child”, the furthest reach of the the more reserved German’s cloud-scale goes only to seven. This I am not kidding about. When Germans refer to themselves as being ecstatic, they will say that they are on “cloud seven”. The ever realistic Germans know, until the the baby is in hand, so to speak, that they are actually “without child” and are merely hoping for the best. Cloud nine? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Though I normally try to make people laugh with these posts, this particular one is about pregnancy and so I am probably obligated by contract to make all of you weep with sappy tales of creating life. To this end, I will share the story of our conception, though without the actual details of the act itself.
Eve and I conceived in Chieming, Bavaria on the day after our beloved dog Wilson – or Willy the King, as we called him – passed away. I will spare you the details of that event as it will make me weep, but knowing that we created a new being just as another that was so dear to us departed, is as close as I care to get to karma and the fabled “circle of life”. Let’s just say that the significance isn’t lost on me. So much so that since our new addition’s name will be Sam, I fully intend to lift him up for all of the doctors, nurses, and other savannah animals to behold while “The Circle of Life” from The Lion King plays in the background. That’s right; Sam is “Sam-ba”, your new ruler. Better practice your kneeling, insolent peasant.
The “Female Doctor”
Your first stop on the pregnancy train ride is to the OBGYN, or Frauenarzt (literally “female doctor”) to confirm the pregnancy and receive your Mutterpass (mother’s pass). This little book will be filled out by your doctor at each visit to keep a record of your appointments, including your babies growth, tests, etc. It is meant to be kept with you at all times so that if something were to happen to you, it could be found by medical personnel who would be able to not just identify you as pregnant, but would also instantly have a complete record. It is essentially a pregnancy passport but, as you will undoubtedly stuff Ultraschall (ultrasound) photos inside of it over the next nine months, it will grow into an 10 pound baby bible. Since a pregnant woman isn’t allowed to carry anything heavier than a package of Oreos and a grudge, men, it is your job to trudge this thing around. You could lug it around in your arms like a caveman, but that is impractical and this is Germany. I recommend a stroller that you will be buying momentarily anyway. You will not only save your back, but when someone asks to peek at the baby, you can immediately show them the most recent ultrasound photo that almost always looks like either an H. R. Giger illustration:
“Sure. Hold on… Oh no, he hasn’t been born yet; this book just weighs as much as a baby and I have a bad back. Ah, here he is! What’s that? Why yes, he does look look like an alien! We’re just hoping that he doesn’t burst violently from Eve’s chest. Umm… Maybe we should step back”.
First Things To Buy.
Now that no one knows that you’re pregnant save for your Frauenarzt, you are free to secretly begin planning for the arrival of your smiling bundle of joy. Ah, but wait. You’re German now, remember? You know better. Forget the fantasies surrounding childbirth of squeaky clean cherubs being placed gently on your chest as you gaze at him or her with perfect makeup. Babies do not come cooing into the world in a puff of lavender-scented fairy dust. Delivery is not a Disney movie. It’s more like a Tarantino film. If you have a old, cantankerous lush uncle like I do, childbirth is not unlike his appearance from the bathroom after he’s drank too much at Thanksgiving: Newborns come out screaming, wrinkled and confused, and covered in icky goo. Luckily for you, there are nurses on hand to clean up the mess. Regarding your uncle, you’re on your own and you’ll probably have to dig into those those wet-wipes that you’ve been stockpiling for the baby.
What’s that? You don’t have any wet-wipes yet as you’ll get most of that stuff from the baby shower anyway? Oh boy. This is going to be hard. I hate to break it to you, but there aren’t any baby showers here in Germany. At least not outside of Kaiserslautern, the American army base teeming with perpetually pregnant army wives like a fishing pond overstocked with patriotic and hormonal trout. You, my friend, are going to have to buy most of that stuff yourself, and – boy, oh boy – is it a lot. Lucky for you, you’re German now, and so you won’t waste a minute. Let’s get cracking, shall we?
The small stuff like formula and diapers (nappies, for you Brits), can all be purchased at your local grocery store or DM. The larger items will have to be bought at different places. Since this is Germany and not New Jersey, there aren’t any Babies R’ Us or Targets on every corner. Baby stores do exist, but they are typically in and around large cities and no self-respecting German would drive three hours to buy a bassinet. Heck, since most people live in small towns like I do that have a brewery, most would just notch out and upholster an old wooden beer keg. If you’re not the crafty type, your best bet is online shopping via Amazon.de or BabyWalz.de. While you’re doing that, I am going to Google “Bierfaß Korbwagen” (beer keg bassinets) to see if I can patent that little gem so I can sell you one. I just have to empty the Faß first. Thank you, brain. Sorry, Liver.
Like in the U.S., the most important items – the ones that will see the most miles – are the stroller, the crib, and the changing table. The bassinet is also important but since it will only be used for a couple of months (and since yours is already on order from beerkegbassinets.com), I’ll start with the most fun first. If you are a guy, this is the stroller. They have wheels, axles, and sometimes even racing stripes. Okay, I realize that “racing stripes” in American English also means something different and decidedly less appealing, but you’re about to have a baby! Eventually everything that you put that little skid mark maker in is going to have racing stripes. Just think of them as real racing stripes.
“Vroom, Vroooom! Screw you, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Jr.! You see those stripes?! You’re going into the wall”!
I’m actually not a NASCAR fan, but I couldn’t resist. Watching grown men pilot cars around a closed race-track is about as exciting to me as watching old people cruise their walkers around an enclosed bingo hall. Sure, there is bound to be the inevitable collision, but there are rarely any injuries… Which is good since they’re old. I, for one, one will not stand idly by as the elderly are injured for our amusement. You people are sick.
Anyway, many models are available, but the one that we opted for has a stainless steel fixed-chassis, a six gear manual transmission, and a turbo. I’m just kidding, of course: the turbo was too expensive. This little gem also has a detachable bassinet for newborns that you can swap out for the car seat and, when they are a little older, the upright and forward facing chair. It even comes with an integral shopping bag that converts into a backpack, and a diaper bag that hangs from the handle bar. The only thing that it doesn’t have is side air-bags, but only because those, like the turbo, cost extra. This is Germany, people. Performance handling and sleek styling are necessities. This thing even has spoked wheels and inflatable tires, though they aren’t Pirellis. That option was way too expensive and, to be frank, I don’t want to tempted to drive too fast into curves: Being a dad is all about safety. And impressing the other dads. But mostly safety.
Let’s pretend for a minute that you are in the States. Before you could purchase the other two items, you would have to decide on the theme for you baby’s room. You wouldn’t want the furniture to clash with your decor, right? How gauche. This is your chance to appear creative, ever-so-caring, and clever to boot. No matter how much you might love your child to be, simply buying a Winnie The Pooh bed spread and mobile will not do. The other new parents will be aghast at your indifference and may report you for child neglect. They will call you Stalin and will exclaim things to each other like “How is the baby supposed to BLOSSOM in that oppressive environment”?! Yes, your baby is a daffodil, but that’s not the worst part. Because of your apparent lack of interest, these people may decide that you don’t even want your baby, and, like PETA members at petting zoo, will begin plotting to steal it so that they can be raised in a stimulating room painstakingly crafted to resemble a tropical paradise, complete with forest mural, interactive surround-sound jungle noises, and a real waterfall. In America, truly caring about your baby means that even the most mundane things must be transformed into elaborate productions and so the room – the place where they will spend most of their formative years – must be no less exciting than a Hollywood blockbuster. Luckily for you and your wallet, you live in Germany and nurseries here have a much less whimsical flair. This is because Germans are a serious people. Unlike in America where children are raised on fairy tales, the more practical Germans know that life is serious, if not often dangerous. They didn’t grow up with Disney’s happy endings. They had the Grimm brothers’ tales of the more realistic consequences of what happened to children when they went skipping unaccompanied through dark primeval forests, and this is clearly reflected in their sense of minimalist, if not somber, design.
Since I am an American, however, we did decide on a theme. We painted a mural of Sam as a toddler blissfully blowing bubbles while Buster watches, and added decor with elephants and stars. What we should have done however is pick the theme that straddles the line between the German style that is dull but will keep your kid alive, and their inevitable death of the carefree American one: Pirates. Not only does it combine imagination with both adventure and history, since I will have only one functioning eye from lack of sleep and will reek of rum from stress, I would have matched the decor perfectly. New parents are essentially pirates. Add to this the the fact that when one stumbles one-eyed through a darkened baby’s room at 3:00 AM, they will inevitably whack their toe against the crib and curse like a sailor while hobbling around like they have a peg-leg.
Crib & Changing Table
Should you have chosen the swashbuckling decorating style, you will also now be in a great position to finally buy those other two items I mentioned earlier: The crib and changing table. Since all cribs are basically just tiny jail cells with a mattress floor, not only do you not have to get to fancy, the more beat up it is the better. You want this to look authentic. Because of the Swede’s love of simplicity and the color grey, IKEA has a crib that actually looks like a tiny prison cell. It may even be called “Bäbi Jåel”. When your little first mate attempts a mutiny in the form of not napping (or if they’ve just hit the bottle too hard and passed out), you can just throw the tiny rebel in the brig. The punishment for the most severe offense, willful and premeditated pooping, is reserved for the last piece of furniture: The changing table.
German changing tables are inherently different than American sideways-lying style in that they have the “ass-on” approach. Because of this, they have a table on the top that extends outward which looks uncannily like the plank on a pirate’s ship. The tiny terrorist obviously can’t be thrown in the clink when they have exploded a powder keg in their pants. No, in this case you must make them walk the plank, i.e., change their diaper. Luckily for them, the only thing that actually gets thrown overboard is the offending sack of doo.
When you first change a diaper, you will notice that it is almost impossible. Babies shake, writhe, and yell non-stop during this task. If that wasn’t enough, all of that movement causes the table to also tremor about. It’s like changing a diaper on an aerobics instructor, mid-workout, during an earthquake. Because of this incessant shaking, and because changing tables are typically constructed from wood, I suspect that this spectacle is how the term “Shiver me timbers!”, uttered by some exasperate pirate-parent, was coined.
Author’s note: This last part may not be that helpful as it probably only applies to me but, since it relates specifically to changing tables, I have decided to include it:
As I mentioned above, American changing tables lie sideways, meaning that you lie your baby down so that they are perpendicular to you. If you are right-handed, their heads are to your left and their feet are to your right. Since German changing tables, or Wickeltische, are situated so that you are parallel to the baby and his feet are pointed toward you, this presents a problem for me. My wrist joints do not bend like normal peoples do. Again, I am being serious. I don’t know if it is from some injury early in life, or if it’s just poor ligament mobility, but I cannot bend my wrists past 20 degrees. If the kid was lying with his feet to my right like they would in the states, I could easily wipe and dab as needed. With the kids’s ass facing me, because I can’t bend my wrists, I will essentially be stabbing his nether region with my fixed hand like a stork’s beak trying to impale minnows. This does not bode well for peaceful diaper changes. I may as well have a hook for a hand. While most parents keep Desitin close-by for rashes, I will have to keep bandages on hand to apply to his wounds. Fortunately, I’ll be a pirate by then and my ever present bottle of rum will serve nicely as a disinfectant.