Us

We had eaten sausage casserole for dinner, and were now attempting to answer questions about art and history and physics as we sat close to one another on the sofa, watching University Challenge. The cat was curled up on her armchair, and the washing up would wait until the morning. It was nice.

For this moment, time had been rolled back to about two months ago. We had recently moved into a new house, and finally everything was unpacked and in its place. Outside it was dark and the wind blew ferociously, but we were safe and warm inside, taking it easy, sat in our pyjamas. Except this time my wife wasn’t heavily pregnant, there was a tell tale muslin square hung over the arm of the sofa, and a baby monitor displayed the temperature of the room upstairs.

For the last couple of evenings we have been making an attempt at a routine, and so far so good. She gets fed, taken upstairs, read to. We get dinner together, time together; time to ourselves. And how wonderful it is.

We admittedly felt like something was wrong, or missing, and we froze at every moment that the monitor made so much as a sigh. But do you know what? Sometimes, just sometimes, it’s okay to not have her around, to have this time for us.

Advertisements

Becoming

A nappy change, this time without any screaming. Quiet, calm, and compliant. Her gaze fixed on the soft book of farmyard images I had placed there in a previous attempt at distraction from the usually woeful experience of being removed from the security of giraffe pyjamas. I turned the pages, a colourful duck, a tractor, and the most fascinating drawing of a big red barn you had ever seen.

We moved down to the kitchen, and as she lay in the crook of my arm she watched as I skillfully washed her bottle one handed. In the lounge she listened as I read a magazine article aloud. She felt me blow some fluff off of her face.

She stared at me as I smiled. I made some funny faces and starting making an “ooo”ing sound, which caused one of the most incredible expressions. Her chin pulled backwards as her head slightly cocked to the side. Her, as yet non-existent, eyebrows raised. A combination of surprise and confusion, but ultimately, the look that she gave me was of interest.

This is one of those moments I have spoken about; right now I’m standing on the beach (if that doesn’t make any sense, see a previous post). Our baby is changing and this was a moment that revealed that to me. Whilst I knew, or had been told, that being a parent was rewarding, I didn’t truly know what those rewards would be, but it is an amazing feeling to see this tiny human develop before your very eyes, and it puts a lot into perspective. More than anything, it is an overwhelming, humbling, privilege to get a front row seat in seeing a person in this world slowly become who they are going to be.

Proud

I like congratulating my daughter on many things, some of which happen daily. Good burp, not crying, big poo, not weeing on me, having grown a big enough head to fit her hats, copying me when I stick my tongue out at her, grasping my finger, lifting her head momentarily, and who could forget the proud moments of putting her birth weight back on finally, and that time when her cord fell off. Some may suggest that these are all minor achievements (except maybe the cord thing obviously!), but for someone who has only been in this world four weeks these things are no less than astonishing. Congratulations on being one month old today my love.

A Father’s Work

I’m tired. I stare absently at my phone, only partially absorbing the news article, or whatever it is, that shines back at me. She lays on my lap staring at me wide eyed, wondering what this dummy I am testing out on her is. I’m catching an artificial break from her evening fussing after the experimental bottle feed hasn’t soothed her off to sleep like my wife’s, much more effective, feeding method seems to. Since going back to work the end of the week is the hardest.

How am I sleeping?, I’m asked by literally everyone I talk to. In truth, I am sleeping well. Maybe a bit less each night than I used to, but I sleep heavily because I am so exhausted after a long day at work which is book-ended by doing those things that my wife and I used to share. The cooking, cleaning, washing up, tidying, errands to shop. Add to that the additional support I give my wife, bringing her what she needs, and offering those precious breaks from feeding or bouncing or singing. I’m glad to do this of course. It’s harder for her, as her time is entirely consumed by attending to our daughter all throughout the day and night, feeding on demand.

Before she came I wondered what my role in the pregnancy was. Now I reflect on my role as parent; as her dad. Things will inevitably change, they already have so much, but it feels a bit deflating at this point as it dawns on me that really my daughter has no dependency on me at all. At least for now. At less than one month old her primary requirement is food, and I can only give that to her indirectly by making dinner for my wife, or by being eyed suspiciously as I administer expressed milk through a rubber teat. In the meantime I’ll just keep fighting the tiredness, helping how I can, waiting until that glimmer of a moment where my daughter looks to me to be there for her.

A Masterclass in How to Soothe a Crying Baby

Babies cry. And fuss. And scream. I know this because we have one. And this evening she has shown what she is capable of. As she stirs, threatening to wake up and start again, I hunt for advice on how to put out that fire. There is a ton of advice out there telling us how to soothe our crying babies, but I’ve realised that sometimes, a baby is screaming so loud she will not hear our soothing tones. So I have put together my own masterclass of sorts learnt over the last twenty two days; a collection of the top ten tips that come from a man who has tried everything.

  1. Don’t ask her “what’s the matter?”, it’s pointless, she doesn’t understand and can’t reply. Instead, just keep repeating “I know, I know…”
  2. When in the supermarket, rocking the packet of nappies you are holding under your arm does nothing to soothe her when she is with her mum, crying in the next aisle.
  3. Rocking an empty pram when your wife is holding the crying baby has the same level of impact as the above.
  4. She can’t hear you repeating “shhh” when you are downstairs and your wife is changing her nappy upstairs.
  5. Sing a capella versions of your favourite rock songs, so you don’t drive yourself crazy by getting stuck in a never ending loop of Incy Wincy Spider.
  6. Daddy’s little finger can work as well as anything that mummy has to suck on.
  7. Begin to bounce her gently to disrupt the screaming rhythm her diaphragm has built up. This genuinely works, and if you’re lucky, she will have forgotten what she was crying about and not start up again two seconds later.
  8. Telling her she is overtired doesn’t seem to work in reasoning with her in the way you would expect it to. It’s best just to will her to fall asleep.
  9. Once you have found something that does actually soothe her, make sure it’s comfortable. The last thing you want is to be hopping on one leg for the whole night because you fear that a change in method will set her off again.
  10. It turns out there’s only nine…

Unless any other experts have any suggestions of course? After an evening like this one, I would be willing to consider everything.

Paternity

I think most fathers will say it, but I want to make it clear, that two weeks paternity leave is not long enough. It’s as simple as that. I would encourage anyone who is going to become a father, post April 5th, when the new shared parental leave rules come in to effect, to seriously consider what you would really be giving up if you weren’t to make the most of it.

And so, as I have now well and truly returned to work, I want to tell her how it feels.

It was incredible to spend the first fifteen days of your life together. Imagine that at that point, apart from those nights when they wouldn’t let me stay with you at the hospital, we had spent your entire life up until then together!

We spent those days staring at one another, bouncing together, dozing off in the afternoon as you lay on my chest. There were of course other moments which weren’t as “easy”, but we were both getting used to a new and exciting world, and we have both already learned so much. We went through a lot, but then also not enough, and it feels wrong that I have had to return to some old world I had before you came along. You have no idea how silly it seems to spend my days at the office, rather than with you, but I know that it’s important I do, and it provides for us all.

I miss you during the day, and feel as though I am missing out on some important lessons you need to teach us. I’m worried that as a consequence you will now need to learn to cope with a handicap in my parenting skills, as I reduce the practice I get from 24/7 to just evenings and weekends, (we’ll still get the odd middle-of-the-night nappy change).

I feel guilty when your mother lets me sleep through the night, and I then see her struggling the next day. I feel guilty saying that I have had a long tiring day, when I know you haven’t given your mother a break. I feel guilty about leaving the house in the morning, when you have just started crying. Or when I get frustrated when I return home wanting to hold you the second I come through the door, only to find you are in the middle of a feed and I have to wait.

I don’t want to say how it makes me feel to think that it’s a possibility that instead of being there to witness your first smile I will be updating a spreadsheet, or on a conference call, or waiting for the printer.

I’m so happy that I was lucky enough to have those fifteen days at least, they were amazing. But let’s just say, I can’t wait until Easter.

The day

My wife had had an interrupted sleep, getting woken by a contraction whenever she managed to drop off. We spent that Sunday in limbo, unable do anything other than wait for the final call. This is a hard part about labour (certainly not the hardest!), there is no schedule, and that feeling of the unknown is nerve wracking and unsettling. We didn’t know what to do, nor how long this would last for. We continued with some distractions, a short walk to the local shop for the paper became a long walk and about 20 contractions. My wife baked a cake, taking breaks whenever another one hit.

Evening came and we attempted to get some rest. There was no sleep of course. Contractions were now becoming more of a burden to my wife, and the harder and more painful it was for her, the less it felt like I could do anything to help or make it better.

At 3.30am we phoned the hospital. It was time to go. It wasn’t this mad panic that I had anticipated, in fact, it was a relief. I don’t know exactly why, but I think that it was because it had finally started to feel like some order was returning; going to the hospital meant that we had reached the next stage, and someone would be taking control from here on in.

The rest of the night was a blur of assessments and waiting things out as things gradually progressed. It was just as tiredness of being awake for two days took hold, that the relentless stages of this runaway train hit us.

I cannot begin to describe how hard it is to see the person that you love so much be in such pain and discomfort. It’s not just hard, it’s excruciatingly, emotionally painful. At times I couldn’t talk as my throat was blocked by a cry trying to creep out. My wife was screaming in such a way I did not think she was capable of, literally pleading for help, and I felt more helpless than I have ever in my life. I so much wanted to end this for her, but I couldn’t.

It was after this point that things took another turn.

My wife was exhausted, physically. I was exhausted, emotionally. And still the hardest part was to come. The last minute of the labour was another blur. This time it almost felt unreal, and nightmarish, as the baby’s heart rate dropped and dropped. Everyone in the room began to rush around with great urgency, I watched my wife drifting away into another place as they dragged her, roughly, into a position at the edge of the bed. They quickly explained what they had to do, but I can’t remember anything of what they said. All I know is that out of nowhere I was crying uncontrollably and asking if the baby and my wife were okay. No one was answering me, at least I don’t think they were. My head was rushing at a thousand miles per hour, trying to understand what was going on. I couldn’t stop the worst of the worst thoughts coming. Were we losing the baby, this life we had created, that had got through so much already? Was I losing both of them? Everything that I had.

Forceps were engaged, and my wife instructed to give her all one last time.

“look down” a voice said. A small croaking sound suddenly halted all the chaos. A tiny hand reaching up. An eye blinking against the first light it ever saw. “look at her perfect little ears!” said my wife.

The Twinkle Diaries

The days before

“I’m frightened” said my wife.
“Don’t be. Everything will be okay” I replied with a calming authority.
This conversation happened the day before our daughter was born, except some of the details are not quite accurate – It was in fact me who was voicing how frightened I was, as my wife reassured me.

Our daughter is two weeks old today, and enough time has passed now that the trauma of the labour is just a memory that I can recall rather than relive.

Why was I frightened? My wife had been having occasional contractions throughout the day on Saturday and it was all of sudden dawning on me that we were actually going to have this baby. The best way I can describe it is that I knew we were going to have a baby, but I didn’t know we were actually going to have a baby!, if that makes sense.

Because the birth of the baby was imminent I expect I was just having some last minute panic about being ready for what was to come. Had I had enough sleep to drive us safely to the hospital? Enough to eat to keep my energy up? And I genuinely woke in the middle of the night and realised that I had either forgotten, or never known how often you should give a new born baby a bath. My wife was nervous too, but she just had a better poker face. In her it manifested itself in her watching videos of the best positions to take when having a contraction. Knowledge is power.

As we waited for the next phase to begin, where the contractions would start to get more intense and regular, it gave us plenty of time to calm down and casually get prepared. And so we settled in and got on with things at a leisurely pace. We figured that in case we do have to leave in a rush we would take this time to make a list of things to do and remember before we left. Some things were fairly standard and obvious, like remember to bring the hospital bag, car seat and camera, the rest were the practical things you tend to forget when running out of the front door, like turning off the oven (if it was on), and feeding the cat.

I went for a run, and my wife listened to podcasts as she worked on a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle, we even hung some curtains – I would go as far as saying that it was a nice and relaxing time. This however was just the beginning of the longest weekend of my life…

The Dad Network

The biggest change of all

My wife and I have undergone a substantial change in circumstances, but I think I perhaps expected more significant changes to me as a person in becoming a father. I’m not sure exactly what, but maybe I imagined there would be more of a feeling of sacrifice or compromise, or a profound shift in my very core values.

So what has changed about me? Not much if I’m going to be perfectly honest, I feel like the same person I was. I just now have a child. My day to day has some added trials, but really, things feel pretty status quo – Before the baby came along we used to enjoy watching addictive tv boxsets, and we still do. I even still enjoy the odd beer to wind down after a long day. I still have the same standards and the same hopes and aspirations. I still live in the same house, and I still have the same name. I’m still me. Our daughter is only nine days old, and does little more than eat, sleep and poo, and I fully expect some of these aspects of “me” will change in line with her as she grows up however, right now I don’t feel I’ve become a completely, unrecognisable, different version of myself.

The biggest change in me is that I have noticed is that I feel less stressed, which I admit sounds like an absolute contradiction. Okay, I am still on paternity leave, and some of this could be attributed to that rather than new found parenthood. But instead of setting out an agenda of things to do, and getting stressed when I don’t stick to it, I am much more in favour of completely flexible, simpler activities. Like lying on the sofa listening to my daughter breathe softly (or snore) as she sleeps on my chest, or staring at her face as she gazes unblinkingly at the sky, wondering what she is making of it all.

Being the father of someone a little over a week old is not all peace and tranquility; it is of course stressful when she screams in such a way that it is as if the world is ending, and we have no way of knowing why or how to console her. But it’s different. As she consumes my time and thoughts, everything else in the world becomes less significant. Maybe this is obvious to the rest of the world, but I think that it is this simplicity; this one track mindedness, that is the biggest change of all.

Public

I had some eggs, my wife had porridge and our daughter had her first public display of breast feeding without any flashing or awkward looks from across the room. A family outing to meet my wife’s sister for brunch was initially a slightly daunting thought. Our first official public excursion required much more thought and preparation than it would have done before we had a miniature counterpart in tow. After deciding how many layers would be enough, how many nappies we needed to bring with us, when to get a feed in before we left, we had needed the entire morning to get set for an eleven o’clock meeting.

I practiced a little bit of one handed eating, holding my daughter in one arm and trying to fork what was now luke warm eggs into my mouth. My wife finished her porridge and took her from me, at which point I hungrily wolfed down the remains of my brunch (being up at 4.30am scrubbing a newborn’s poo out of the carpet seems to provoke quite a hunger).

Overall things went well; everyone remained calm and there were no tears from any one of us. We had total strangers approach our table and begin cooing over our little bundle, obviously remarking how cute she was.

We were so proud of our well behaved baby that we decided we would make another little trip, this time to the supermarket. She screamed all the way.