Having children makes things all-too-real on multiple planes of reality, in a way that privileged people and especially fathers are poorly equipped to deal with, since being privileged just is the ability to live one's life as if it's a dream... merrily merrily merrily, right? Fleshy reality, deathy reality, and even the mushy stuff of social reality, become heightened to the point of existential discomfort, even panic, under parenthood. Few people emerge from having children unchanged. Those with a disposition open to learning, are transformed to the core.

Mothers, on the other hand, are perfectly positioned to undergo unreal growth and development, through becoming mothers. Which is why "the motherhood penalty" in professional life baffles me. Confidence and free time are way overrated. A cocky and adrift employee, with no real committments or demands on their time, is probably a liability and a flight risk as much as a trophy. Mothers are battle-tested triage experts. They have lived things you cannot imagine. They have insights into the human psyche that nobody in a laboratory setting will ever see, much less measure.

First, there is pregnancy. This, dads can ignore almost entirely, which is not to say that all of them do (when hypothesizing at the systemic level, it is irrelevant whether some or a few buck the trend). It is one thing to watch someone else's body grow slowly and then all at once; it is quite another thing when it is your own body expanding to unfathomable proportions in ninety days. None of your pants fit. You get winded as your lungs struggle for room to expand. A human head uses your bladder for a pillow. No amount of peeing relieves the sensation that you have to pee. One day you can no longer tie your shoes, you crawl on all fours to stand up.

Then comes the realization, five minutes before midnight of your transformation, that you must evict the fluttering swimmer, which has taken up residence in your torso. Exhilarating at first, when you feel it somersault in the weightless universe inside you. Amusing if a little painful when it kicks you in the ribs from inside your rib cage. Shocking when its head begins to wedge itself down into your pelvis between your legs, so you are left waddling. But terrifying, when the time comes to acknowledge that it may tear your nether region to bloody shreds on the way out.

This fleshiness of reality is something most of us have the luxury to ignore, most of the time. In the developed world, even the poorest of us, in some ways, lead lives of material wealth that Louis Quatorze would envy. We have indoor plumbing, heated water, endless entertainment, effectively infinite music, vaccines, modern medical care, and access to any number of food delicacies. Louis Quatorze stank, lived in a drafty home, had a mouthful of rotten teeth, and was limited in his entertainment options. Nowadays, unless you are unlucky to have a major health event, you can relate to your own body mostly as a source of distraction.

Giving birth brings the fleshiness of existence to the fore like nothing else. First of all because going into labor is the worst pain you will ever experience. Yes there are epidurals now, (and I got one,) but you still need to labor at home until your contractions fit a certain rhythm, because going to the hospital too soon can stall the labor. Many women get "induced" nowadays (don't get voluntarily induced, ladies, this is nuts), which I have been told is even more painful than regular labor. The fact is, your body becomes an all-encompasing crisis, which you cannot simply hide from. You must face it, yourself. You must face the danger, no or.

More fleshiness is the mewling alien, complete with a deformed head and busted capillaries from being squeezed like a sausage, and an umbilical cord that feels like it's made of steel cable wrapped in a silicon liner. This little alien, definitely is not human yet. It cannot lift its own head. It cannot crawl or roll over. When you place it on its belly as instructed for "tummy time," it just lays there, writhing slowly like a grub worm. It suctions onto its food source like an open-mouthed baby bird. If you drop it on the ground by accident, it will literally die, or suffer traumatic brain injury, rendering it severely disabled.

The hospital where you deliver your baby will not let you go home until you've watched a harrowing "Shaken Baby," video, and signed an affidavit (complete with penalty of perjury) testifying that you have done so. That is because your newborn baby's brain is moored to its scull with membranes about as strong as wet tissue paper. If you shake the baby, in a fit rage or whatever, its brain will literally tear away from its moorings and will swell with devastating inflammation, rendering the future person whose soul should be seated there, irreparably brain damaged. And you signed the form, so if you shook the baby, you go to jail for life.

If that is not fleshy enough for you, try this: After giving birth, your OB/Gyn will need to reach her entire fist inside of your uterus, and pull out any remaining chunks of placenta. If any pieces are left in there by accident, you will get sepsis and die. Your vagina can tear down to the muscle layer, straight through to your anus. Your pelvis bones separate during labor, leaving them unstable afterward, so that you are advised not to climb stairs for six weeks after birth, or risk your pelvis separating mid-step, and shredding you from the inside out, like a pair of bony scissors embedded inside your soft parts.

Oh just get a c-section, they'll say! In order to reach the baby, the entirety of your intestines are removed from your abdomen, and placed on a surgical table next to you. Multiple doctors (woe unto you if your friends are doctors) have told me that OB/gynos are considered "butcher" level surgeons. They regularly nick other organs while they're working on you, which can lead to internal bleeding, infections, sepsis, and death. Women die everyday from c-sections gone wrong. It's major surgery. Major surgery that you're recovering from, as you adjust to your new life as a legal guardian.

Once you are back at home for a few days, and you figure out how to feed the helpless grub worm you birthed (a fifth of women won't produce enough milk, and under the insane pressure to breastfeed, many will accidentally starve their infants), you will begin to settle into a routine. As the incontinence pads in your underwear begin to be less and less soaked with blood, and you learn to swaddle your grub worm with the expertise of a Chipotle line worker, you will begin to exhale. You will begin to relax, and think perhaps the worst is over. You will be wrong.

The Witching Hour will begin. And that is if you are lucky. If you don't need to rush back to the hospital with some unforeseen health issue, the best case scenario will be the Witching Hour. Four or five days upon arriving home, your newborn, who has been sleeping happily for 12-14 hours per day, will start to fuss after their last nighttime meal, rather than sleep happily. You will try to feed them more, but it won't help. The next day, the fussiness will progress to crying, which you will soothe. The following day, the crying will become inconsolable. The baby will cry on the breast, off the breast, swaddled, unswaddled, walked, bounced, hugged...

You will reacquaint yourself with death as a limit, when your newborn turns into this smoke detector gone mad, which you cannot rip out of the ceiling or replace with a fresh battery. Suddenly, you will understand exactly why the hospital made you sign that "Shaken Baby" affidavit. Noise is torture. Noise can be a weapon. Unceasing noise will drive you mad. You will suddenly realize that the self-control required to raise human babies is super-human, that nobody can do it well, that many people kill their offspring, which is why all the baby books provide a hotline number you should call if you're considering harming your child, or yourself.

The inconsolable crying will go on for 1-3 hours every afternoon, for 1-3 months, until your baby learns how to soothe itself. They literally call it self-soothing. There are all manners of contraptions invented to rock the baby to sleep. Most of them will not work. The most popular one, the Fischer-Price Rock'n'Play, was recalled, because desperate clueless people were using it as a crib for their babies to sleep in all night, rather than a soothing tool. Like I said, newborns can't intentionally move their heads or roll over, so if they wind up in a weird position, they will just suffocate, and you will wake up to find your baby blue and dead.

Dads? Dads will either become men, or will shrink and shrivel and regress into dead weight on the battlefield. Feminists often get criticism for generalizing that all men are shit, or what not, (and they are shit in the aggregate), but the feminist disappointment in men takes on another much more charitable form, in motherhood. It is no longer about anger. It is beyond anger. It is about who gets out alive. And while no good soldier leaves the wounded on the battlefield, dead weight will kill you dead, and the children need parents, so you need to triage your energy on the fly. Thus the first major trial of hetero-motherhood becomes checking Dad's pulse.

Perhaps because of low expectations, which nonetheless color one's view, (regardless of whether they are justified), there is nothing more beautiful than when a dad chooses to stand up in the face of being flesh in danger, rather than lay down and die. Chooses to do the emotional labor of showing all the way up, when it is much easier to pull the blankets over one's head. Chooses to do the emotional labor of anticipating what his partner and children need, rather than waiting for instructions. Chooses to ask for instructions when his imagination fails him. Chooses to relinquish the delusional fantasies of his pre-dad youth.

At the end of their childhoods, children turn into people. People who know their parents more intimately and who can judge them more completely than anyone on earth. Women are pros at being subjected to harsh judgments, whereas culture itself might as well be defined as a collective exercise in sparing the naked emperor's ego (I am not sure whether I define culture as such in its entirety, but there is a case to be made that this is all it is). "But I was made fun of," interjects the reply guy, who again betrays an inability to think systemically, by always bringing up his individual experience. "Yes, and who mocked you?" Other men, most likely?

As much as fathers becoming fathers is indeed a beautiful thing to witness, when the process succeeds, stillborn fatherhood is not treated as the risk it should be, especially in comparison to the risks that employers seem to attribute to mothers. There may not be a risk calculus at all for mothers, but just a collective simmering contempt. Maybe even contempt that would be reserved for the king, if it didn't seem so unnatural to blame him. The point is that many fathers are dead weight in their households. This can lead to any number of terrible outcomes, all of which make for less than desirable company. Hire mothers. Hire mothers only, if you're smart.