The Parenting Trenches: Newborn Edition

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“Say goodbye to sleep.”

“You won’t be able to travel anymore. You’ll definitely have to settle down then.”

“It will stress your marriage to the breaking point.”

For many years, I didn’t understand why parents have this need to complain incessantly to their child-free friends about how hard their lives are. Maybe they were bitter, or sleep-deprived, or jealous of our care-free nomadic lifestyle, but somewhere in between an ex-coworker describing his children as “endless agony” and another friend slipping me the business card of his divorce lawyer “just in case” when the topic of kids came up, FIRECracker and I were scared off of having children for most of our adult lives.

So when we found out FIRECracker was pregnant at the beginning of the year, it was hard not to keep all those fears from re-surfacing. Was this really going to be that bad? Did we just ruin our perfect, awesome lives? Had we just made a huge mistake?

It’s been 3 months since our son was born. And here’s what I discovered.

It’s Impossible To Do This Alone

I have so much more respect for single parents now.

In Asian cultures, it’s common for multiple generations to all live in one household, and while this makes it difficult for anyone to have any privacy, it does come with some advantages, like built-in childcare. When FIRECracker was growing up in rural China, even in the extreme poverty her family endured, there were still Aunties in the village whose job was to help new mothers take care of their kids.

In North American society, by contrast, we’re much more isolated from each other. We don’t automatically have aunts and uncles around us to pick us up when we’re down, and if we want that kind of help, we generally have to pay for it.

This “help gap” reveals itself as a gaping chasm when it comes to taking care of kids. Because no matter how strong, or how hard-working, or how independent you are, when it comes to kids, you simply can’t do everything yourself.

The newborn phase is a great example of this. I didn’t know this going in, but when babies are brand-new, their sleep patterns are all over the place. They sleep, on average, 12 to 16 hours a day, which sounds like a lot, but they can’t differentiate between day and night yet. Plus, their stomachs are so small they constantly need to feed, so when they sleep they do it in short bursts, around 15 minutes to 45 minutes at a time.

Adults, as you may have noticed, need much more time of continuous sleep to function. So this mismatch means that if one person tries to do everything, they quickly become a sleep-deprived zombie, and everything suffers.

We solved this problem by using a strategy in the her article about “How To Maintain Sanity With A Newborn” that Liz from Frugalwoods taught us, which is sleeping in shifts. I would sleep between 10 PM and 3 AM, FIRECracker then sleeps 3 AM to 9 AM, and we’d both be awake from 9 AM to 10 PM. This way, someone is always with the baby and both partners get 6 continuous hours of sleep, but this requires two people.

If you don’t have that option because your partner’s not there, what do you do? You cry is what you do.

We Don’t Support Mothers Enough (Or At All)

Normally, ranting is FIRECracker’s job, but today I’m going to take a crack at it.

When it comes to child-rearing, as a society we ask way too much from the mother.

Oh, and not only do we ask too much from the mother, we don’t help them do the things we ask of them. And when they run into trouble, we blame them and make them feel like shit for not living up to an idealized “Perfect Mother” stereotype that is both unfair and, at times, contradictory.

Breastfeeding is a great example of this.

Everything we’ve read in the lead-up to Little Matchstick’s birth, and all the medical information the hospital gave us, told us that “Breast is best.” I get the sentiment, but the Breast Feeding industry that’s supposed to help women accomplish seems to do the exact opposite. Maybe we just got some bad nurses, but all they did was berate FIRECracker and tell her all the things she couldn’t do while not giving any solutions that might actually fix the problem.

“I don’t have enough supply, what do we do?”

“That shouldn’t be happening. Breastfeeding should be easy and natural. You must be doing something wrong.”

“He seems upset. Can we feed him some formula to supplement?”

“No, then your supply won’t come in.”

“Can we pump to get our supply up?”

“No, then he’ll get nipple confusion from the bottle.”

“So what should we do?”

“This shouldn’t be happening. You must be doing something wrong.”

No matter what we suggested, we were given a detailed list of reasons why that would cause even more problems, and then told to “just try harder.”

If I could sum up the advice of the Breast Feeding Industry to new mothers who are having trouble, it would be “Don’t go forward, don’t go back, don’t turn left, don’t turn right, and definitely, definitely, don’t stand still.” Gee, thanks a bunch.

Oh and when we having this conversation, we had just gotten back from the hospital after 3 days of no sleep, with the baby crying in our lap. Good thing we were too tired to throw the phone across the room, otherwise we’d have to buy a new phone on top of everything.

Eventually, we solved the problem the way we always solve problems: By ignoring the experts and coming up with a solution ourselves. FIRECracker would pump like crazy, pretty much every waking moment in which she wasn’t holding the baby. Whatever breastmilk she produced, we mixed with formula so the baby was always fed.

At first, it was 10% breast milk, 90% formula. But then, as her supply went up, we gradually reduced the proportion of formula and increased the proportion of breast milk, until we hit 100% breast milk, 0% formula. And then finally, we transitioned from pumping-and-bottle feeding to direct breast feeding.

Finally, after months of hard work, we achieved the coveted new-parent designation of “EBF,” or Exclusively Breast Feeding”. No thanks to the Breast Feeding industry.

FIRE Makes Parenting Way Easier!

So you might be wondering, if everyone was telling us how awful having kids was, why did we decide to do it? For this, we have our wonderful colleagues and friends in the FIRE blogging world to thank for talking us off the ledge.

Liz from Frugalwoods taught us the strategy she and her husband Nate used to tag-team the little one during the brutal newborn months, Kirsten and Paul whom we met at the Greece Chautauqua showed us that it’s possible to not have your identity become subsumed by becoming a “parent,” and the Mad Fientiest, who recently had a child of his own, recounted the experience of his first year and how it wasn’t nearly as bad as everyone told him it was.

The biggest difference, it seemed, was being Financially Independent.

When we first started writing about FIRE way back in 2016, the media tended to depict the movement as a bunch of frivolous millennials shirking their responsibilities and having fun. And to be honest, the first 9 years of nomadic retirement have been an absolute blast.

But this year, we realized that the rather than shirking our responsibilities as workers, the true value of FIRE is in giving us the ability to 100% fully commit ourselves to our responsibilities as people. When my dad got sick, we were able to move into the house and give our 100% focus on helping take care of him. And now that we have a kid of our own, we can once again give our 100% focus on being the best parents that we can be, without the added pressure of worrying about what our boss thought or having to keep up with rapidly ballooning mortgage payments.

It turns out that not only does FIRE fix your money problems, and your stress problems, it solves a lot of parenting problems too.

While the Mad Fientist and us were swapping breastfeeding tips (a sentence I never thought I’d ever have to type), he said something that really stuck with me.

He said “I am so grateful for the financial decisions I made before this.”

Me too, buddy. Me too.

In other news, we’ve recenly been featured in Vice, talking about what retirement is like 9 years later:

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18 thoughts on “The Parenting Trenches: Newborn Edition”

  1. Yeah. Add to that a 8 to 6 full time job and you have it. You’re lucky you’re fire then had a baby. For 99% of the community this happens the other way around. Consider yourselves lucky

    1. What others see as “luck” is often (sometimes tough) decision-making coupled with good old-fashioned hard work (and a side of self-deprivation).
      We were “lucky” to have me home with the kids starting when my oldest was nine. My husband drove a rattle-trap pickup that was even older than my own car, we rarely went out of town (let alone on vacation), we didn’t go to restaurants or movie theaters, didn’t belong to a gym, didn’t have cable, and our meals consisted of very little meat and dairy because they were so expensive. Our kids went to Disneyland only when grandparents took them. Our family outings involved free farm festivals and walks along the river.
      Honestly, we were sometimes astonished that people referred to it as “luck”. The only luck we had was in each marrying a partner that was willing to do all of those things without complaint (instead of insisting on the new car, booking the week at the resort, or leaving the relationship).
      Here, on the other side of the journey, we consider all that “luck” (self-sacrifice, waiting, living without, using up, and making do) to have been worth it.

  2. Wow. 100%. Couldn’t have said it any better. Even if you haven’t achieved FIRE yet during the NB stage, it’s still doable but you’ll have to carve out time during work to pump. We gave birth right at the start of the pandemic and had zero support. From experience, I would avoid new job/responsibilities around this time. Personally, I’m finding that FIRE in the US by the time the eldest is ready for TK would be the most ideal as schedules from daycares, elementary schools, and work will start clashing like crazy.

    For other new moms out there, the one video that really helped me breast feed was a video from TakingCaraBabies where she compared breastfeeding to eating a Subway sandwich. Also the second child is easier, the boobs will remember.

  3. Sounds like things are going well as new parents. I’m curious if you are thinking about buying a home? I know in a city like Toronto it is not uncommon for renters to have to change apartments each year which to me would be awfully taxing especially with a new born.

    1. Exactly! I don’t know how FI I’d consider someone to be until the lock down one of the biggest expenses – shelter. Having to switch apartments or be subject to rate increases for the next 18 years is… suboptimal.

  4. Trust your gut instincts, not the “experts”. Everyone and their circumstances are unique, it’s impossible for everyone to be treated the same. There’s definitely no manual or blanket solution. Parenting requires you to be a creative problem solver and adapt quickly. We won a trip to Spain (from Canada) when our first born was just 2 months old. We had 3 weeks to get his passport and prepare for the trip. We had no idea what we were doing, but it was too good an opportunity to pass up. So we lived and learned. It was so easy to travel with him after that… and FREE before age 2. I think it’s the best time to travel with them, but again everybody’s situation is different. Just don’t listen to the naysayers if that’s what you want to do and are able! I BF both of my kids until age 3, much to everyone’s dismay. Nurture the bond you’re building with them, they won’t do it forever.

  5. “Eventually, we solved the problem the way we always solve problems: By ignoring the experts and coming up with a solution ourselves.”–Brilliant. Engineer your way out

  6. When I gave birth to The Eldest she was group B strep positive and had to be put under lights due to jaundice and since she was so premature it was a real struggle to breastfeed (esp post-Caesarian). I suppose I am lucky in that the hospital I gave birth at in Ottawa specialized in childbirth and so they had a lot of tricks up their sleeve (I also had a midwife for the first, which I regret not having for the second because I knew I would be a C-section again. Their support was unparalleled). The nurses/midwives would help me breast feed with a small tube they would place in her mouth that was connected to formula. So when I breastfed, she would get both formula and breastmilk and it encouraged my body to produce. I also did a lot of pumping on my own as well but while they encouraged people to breastfeed, they were not dictators about it.

    Sadly, your experience is more common. It’s such a difficult time post-birth between hormones and lack of sleep and everything else going on that it’s awful to have challenges with BFing as well. We need support, not judgement! I really struggled with the loss of autonomy that came along with being your child’s primary food source and it seemed like a lot of responsibility to care for this helpless being. Of course, I eventually eased into it but there was definitely a psychological crisis for me for awhile there.

    People will always have some opinion that makes you apprehensive and wondering just what you’ve gotten into. “Bigger kids, bigger problems”is something I constantly heard, along with “Just wait until they’re teenagers!” As it turns out, these two things have not been my experience. My kids are 13 and 15 now and guess what? I find having teenagers an absolute delight, so far. I adore my kids and we spend a lot of time together. In fact, the older they got, the better it was. YMMV but I find the naysayers completely unhelpful and just pile on negativity to…make you feel badly because other people did that to them? It just seems so unnecessary and mean.

  7. It may not be intuitive to most people in the FIRE camp, for those who achieved FI 10, 20 or 30 years earlier than the general population say of 65 years old, the achievement is highly correlated to the genetic makeup and the earlier years of financial impact or education (if the impact is positive).

    If you are a member of this high-achievers group, having children at a younger age will not prevent the crossing of the FI finish line. In our own personal experience, my wife and I were much more focus once the baby came aboard.

    Moreover, the baby got best love from us (not the technical love), but the best love as we were young, full of energy and very forgiving. I cannot imagine the first 10 years of any child life is being subject to FIRE, FIRE and nothing but FIRE.

    I am not advocating for people to breed babies with little or no responsibility. However, the optimal number is somewhere between $0 to $1,000,000.

    Cracker should be able to “Math that Sh*t Up.” And customize the number for everyone!

  8. Love these parenting posts! Looks like you are learning a lot but also tapping into the experiences of others! Way to go, growth mindset people 😉

    I can’t wait to read the post about your first travel with Little Matchstick. I’m betting that his first trip (internationally) would be somewhere in Asia… Let’s see…

  9. Be sure to join the group Traveling with babies and toddlers on FB if you haven’t already! We get amazing tips from that group, anything from flying tips with babies to best kid friendly resorts worldwide!

  10. “… the true value of FIRE is in giving us the ability to 100% fully commit ourselves to our responsibilities as people…”

    BINGO @Wanderer and in both our cases…

    Simply put, attaining FIRE status affords us the ability and opportunity to dedicate our most precious asset in time on being a FULL-TIME parent (and for yours truly, as our own child makes the transition from teen to adulthood life – guiding them every step of the way not only in today’s challenging environment but taking part on those crucial life lessons as part of their personal development).


  11. Great post! It was 29 years ago but I still remember our 3am tearful call to the breast milk support line at the hospital. We went in the next morning and hooked me up to this huge Mo fo breast pump (industrial size). RELIEF… Our little matchstick was apparently too lazy to suck??? Anyway, between a nice lady, a home pump and a feeding tube we somehow flipped the switch… Lot’s of parenting things were figured out by ignoring the experts and using our problem-solving skills… you are bang on. And good for you for being so “lucky” to be able to do this together! All the best.

  12. Even without family near-by, we learn from each other and those in our circular of influence. Bringing a new person into the family means change and a lot of it but through it all there are challenges and joy. Nothing compares to that joy. I have no doubt that Firecracker and Wanderer will make good decisions. Some things math doesn’t answer but the heart and a good mind will! Congratulations and best wishes!

  13. Congratulations on your little one!
    Well done for taking the leap into parenting, it’s not an easy one but it is very rewarding.
    I speak as a mother of 3 boys (ages 3 to 13), who has at one point been the main carer as well as working 12hnight shifts, 50 hour weeks as the main breadwinner and starting my own business all at once, living as an immigrant with no family or friends support other than my partner. No wonder my brain went!
    Yet, I still wouldn’t choose not to have my children, they have taught me more than anyone else could.
    Well done for all your hard work so far. I guess in some ways there is a twinge of luck in it all. What I mean is when I had my first child (besides the whole surprise baby thing) I didn’t even know FIRE was an option, so I am happy you have gone through the work that takes before having a child. Like you say, it frees up your time for all that is important.
    I get the whole “breastfeeding should come naturally” thing. I had that with my first child, and it sure didn’t help at all. No, breastfeeding doesn’t come naturally anymore; humans are too far removed from nature for the most part for it to come naturally. If I had my time again, I would ask the nurses, “Can you go into the wilderness and survive for a week without training? No? Why not? It should come naturally to you!”
    Fortunately, things did change when I had my second child, in a different country, perhaps that helped. I finally had helpful advice, and he would have been EBF longer if I didn’t have to get back to work.
    Now I am confused about you guys calling it the breast-feeding industry; it’s the word industry that confuses me here. Why are you calling it industry? I just can’t see how milk produced by our own bodies to feed babies, as nature intended, can be an industry. Formula milk is an industry; how is breast feeding an industry? I was just wondering if anyone could be kind enough to enlighten me here.
    Thank you for all your hard work on the blog.

  14. Great point about needing a village to raise children – and you will find not just in the early months! Even though we had our 3 girls late, we were lucky to have 3 grandparents in town. They were a huge help for the fill-in times for things like letting me grocery shop solo. We said we had never appreciated our parents until we had kids. I’m glad to see you are getting good advice because having kids is both the toughest and most rewarding job in the world. Good luck and enjoy the ride!!

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