Friday, November 5, 2010

My children have turned me into Jackie Chan

It's pretty obvious that pregnancy and childbirth change a woman's body in a lot of ways; but what has become clearer in recent years is that many fathers experience real physiological changes at this time as well.  For instance, research shows that it is perfectly natural for me to gain fifteen pounds during my wife's pregnancy and retain those pounds well after she has delivered the joy-bundles and lost her own "baby weight."  That's my interpretation anyway, and I'm usually pretty good at interpretating.

But that's not the only awesome physiological change I wanted to talk about here.  I have actually read about stuff that happens to new dads on a molecular level, mostly courtesy of Jeremy Adam Smith and his excellent book, Daddy Shift, wherein he pulls a Malcolm Gladwell and makes science (social and otherwise) fun and interesting for people who can't bear the thought of reading a science journal.

In his 2009 article "The Daddy Brain," on the U.C. Berkeley website Greater Good, Smith explains that research shows "pregnancy, childbirth, and fatherhood trigger a range of little hormonal shifts in the male body—but only if the father is in contact with the baby and the baby’s mother. When a child is born [...] testosterone levels drop dramatically in men. Men also gain prolactin, the hormone associated with lactation, as well as cortisol, the stress hormone that spikes in mothers after childbirth and helps them pay attention to the baby’s needs."

I do feel that I have changed since the babies arrived.

In all the areas that testosterone figures prominently, however, I can't discern any difference in myself.  I also read up on prolactin a little bit, and can't see how it relates to any of the changes I've experienced, except for maybe the curious stains on my t-shirts.

But the cortisol--that explains a lot.  If you look it up, you'll probably be struck by the number of negative side effects associated with overproduction of this hormone, some of which come in handy for explaining the deterioration of my body without impugning my lifestyle: decreased cognitive ability, decreased muscle tone, increased abdominal fat, etc.

Essentially though, when it's not running you into the ground, cortisol, sometimes called the "fight or flight" hormone, gets you off your fat ass in a hurry when something needs to be done.  And so far, I'm convinced that coritsol is both my friend and the protector of my children.

You see, I've never been known for my quickness.  In terms of work, sports, intellectual pursuits, and even relationships, my strength has always been stamina.  I'm kind of a tenacious plodder.  This has worked out pretty well for me, and I've always believed that as long as I live to be 140 years old, I'll be able to accomplish every bit as much as many of my peers have, without dealing with the stress they've endured.

But the cortisol has changed me.  I'm not a bundle of nerves or anything--it's just that my fight-or-flight instinct is probably on par with the average mom now, which is way high compared to what I'm used to.  And although there have been moments of impatience and inexplicable crankiness, mostly cortisol has given me a sixth sense about impending danger and children's shenanigans.  And lightning-fast reflexes.

In just the last week, there have been two incidents that illustrate my ninja-like reactions.  The first one was at an afternoon cookout at the home of one of the guys from my stay-at-home dad group.  No matter how I tried to distract the twins with toys and snacks, they wanted nothing more or less than to climb up and down the four steps from the back door to the patio.  So I sat on the steps--of the truncated zigguarat style, where you can walk out the door and descend to the right, to the left, or straight ahead--drinking a beer, talking to the grownups, and recording every movement of the twin on either flank with my peripheral vision.  When the inevitable happened and Butterbean plummeted headfirst toward the unforgiving slate corner of the bottom step, my right arm snapped out like a switchblade and blocked her fall before my brain even registered the danger.

And yesterday I was sitting on our bed playing guitar when Cobra climbed up onto the Ikea love seat-ish thing and started pumping her arms victoriously while balancing on the very edge of the seat.  This is something she does regularly, and I think of it as a motor skills exercise.  But as I hacked my way through "Gavotta-Choro," I must have sensed Cobra losing her balance, because my left hand floated off the fretboard just in time to gently catch her head--which had been on a collision course with the corner of the nightstand--and ease her onto the carpet so softly that she giggled.

To you, these examples may seem considerably less impressive than a John Woo action sequence.  But compared to my pre-fatherhood self, I have become a domesticated Jackie Chan.  Had those falling babies been grounders or passed basketballs when I was a kid, my sluggish hypothalamus would have been all: ball approaching...should run toward...or maybe someone else closer? take hands out of I smell tacos?  And my unfortunate teammates would have rolled their eyes once again as the ball bounced off of my noggin.

When my sisters and I talk about our mom, we often joke about how she could see us with the "eyes in the back of her head" whenever we even thought about misbehaving.  Or how you would suddenly feel her deathgrip on your forearm as you reached for the cookie jar, when you could have sworn she was two rooms away.

It's interesting, but not surprising really, that we remember her using her powers to thwart our fun, but not so much to keep us from harm.  I guess kids just take it for granted that their parents have the ability to keep them from impaling, abrading, contusing or lacerating themselves, so it's not worth remarking on our survival of the perils of childhood.

I wasn't really sure that I would have the reflexes necessary to keep kids out of harm's way.  I was kind of hoping that my kids would be slothful like their old man, so I could keep up with them easily.  But instead, it seems like nature has given me a little kick in the pants, endowing me with the reflexes of, if not my mom, at least an aging action hero.            




  1. LOL, remember when our mom's would tell us " wait till u have kids"... lol... it comes full circle doesn't it?

  2. True stuff right there. If your like me, you are probably able to imagine all the ways kids can get hurt. If it wasn't for my wife I would have the kids in Haz-Mat suits all the time.

  3. Awesome! This is reassuring for when I have to leave my baby with my husband two or three days a week while I go back to work. Maybe the magic hormones will make him less clumsy. Haha.

  4. It's amazing the powers of a never truly understand it until you become one. Great story! Oh...and I love the new banner!

  5. First, I love Jackie Chan. Seriously. Second, good catches, man. But beware, even Jackie has his off days. I seem to remember seeing that he breaks a bone during every movie he films. Take care, grasshopper. I remember falling down the stairs with my son in my arms and doing a lot more damage to myself than was probably required. Thanks a lot, cortisol. I owe you one.

  6. Great stuff and interesting to hear a man finally mentioning hormonal upheaval (considering that it is typically associated with/in reference to women.) Have you looked into the benefits of Natural Progesterone (no, I'm not a sales person?) Myself and hubby use it and you'd be amazed by the benefits. Check out this site for interesting info: and I were amazed by the info here.

    Either way, I've been cyber-stalking your blog for a few months now and love the read. Great to read a Dad's perspective that cuts right to the chase! =)

  7. Gym membership? Karate lessons? Death-defying boot camp? No, just get some kids, they'll keep you in shape!

  8. That's kinda wild, dude. I notice that I don't sleep as deep as I used to and even though I have terrible hearing, I'll pick up on the baby being uncomfortable or about to start crying, without necessarily hearing him.

    The Baby Force, man.

  9. In reference to John Woo, would that be the modern Hollywood dampened action sequences of Broken Arrow or Face/Off or his masterful classic works like Hard Boiled or The Killer?

    I know what you mean though. My first two I'd be out of bed from a deep sleep at the slightest whisper of trouble. By child number three though, it's gone. These days a plane could bounce off the house and I wouldn't stir without my wife kicking me. She was actually reading your post this morning and laughing at me.

  10. Yep. Ninja-on-demand skills are an interesting side effect of fatherhood. I only wish those skills would manifest at other moments, ones where my daughter isn't about to plummet over a ledge of something. They'd sure come in handy, if I could control them.

    P.S. When Mini-Pirate was a baby, I WAS that bundle of nerves you described. That's what cortisol did to me. I was cranked freakin' TIGHT until she was at least a year old.

  11. My kids are both daredevils and tests my mommy instincts all the time. So far they've come through alright but not without the random bump or bruise...luckily for me most people understand but some people stare at me like I'm the worst person in the world! All I can think is just you'll see

  12. You know...I have seen those same curious stains on Jackie Chan's t-shirts...hmmm (in case you're wondering, I do in fact have total access to Mr. Chan's casual wear. Don't ask)

  13. As my husband is more clumsy than the average human, I can't see him gaining Jackie Chan-like reflexes if we do have another little one.

  14. Now all you need is your own theme music too.

  15. Interesting take. I have noticed an increase in crankiness (err that's about it)

  16. @KBF--Indeed it does come full circle!

    @JM--I did a post a while ago where I took pics of the kids in suits made of bubble wrap. I was only kind of joking.

    @Genie--Yeah. You have to make sure he's around a lot right when the kid is born. That's when the hormones get cranking. It's interesting stuff.

    @Alicia--It's true! And thanks for the kind words.

    @Nicole--I have visions of falling down the stairs with both kids in my arms. It never ends up well for anyone.

    @Elaina--Will progesterone give me ripped abs and 3% body fat? If so, I'll take a boatload, please.

    @The Brewsky--They'll keep you in shape if they don't kill you first.

    @Frank--Same here. I can't hear half of what my wife says, but I can hear the kids from downstairs on the other side of the house. I don't even use the baby monitor anymore.

    @Cpt. D--The Killer, of course. See, I was the youngest kid in my family. That probably explains a lot. I didn't get hurt much more than my sibs, but I'm a little more laid back than them.

    @DiPi--I think we were starting out at very different baselines. When you are as mellow as me, intense stimulants just wind you up to average tightness.

    @Beth--Mine have already had some bumps and bruises. The worst was when Butterbean cut herself on an exposed nail in a crappy old piece of furniture in our dining room. Nice parenting!

    @Nari--If you could bottle the essence of Jackie Chan's shirt stains, you would have a seriously marketable commodity!

    @Granny--Well, let's just wait and see if they make it through intact!

    @Alittlesprite--Just make sure he has plenty of early exposure to the little one. It's gotta help!

    @dbs--I'm working on it. I really liked the theme song from Super Cop, written and performed by Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo. I'm going to try to get him to write me one.

  17. mmm. Cortisol.... Do you know where I can buy some of that?

  18. Your exactly right about this. I've always been pretty quick and had really good reflexive instincts. But ever since my kids were born, it's like I'm a Jedi or something. I've saved my 2yo boy from trips to the ER countless times by catching him, or cradling his head before it hit something really hard. I think something happens to us as we become parents that gives us a 6th sense that is way more important than what Haley Joel had in that dumb movie!

  19. I hate cortisol. I've been overproducing all my life. It's so nice to read something that actually talks about the upside to my downside. If I'd ever had kids, my head would have exploded. It's been bad enough with all the nieces and nephews.

  20. I liked the description: "my right arm snapped out like a switchblade and blocked her fall before my brain even registered the danger" Nice!

  21. Truer words have never been spoken! I remember coming home from the hospital two days after my OB had ripped my child from my uterus. As I was nursing the babe at the kitchen table, the oldest babe climbed up on a chair and was tilting it backwards until it inevitably began to fall. Amid all of the young and agile family members present, I - yes, me! - was the one that caught the chair, consoled the child and then wiped up the blood from my staples. Babe on boob didn't even know. Thank God for cortisol.

  22. too funny. I never realized the father was affected that much.


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