The Easiest Thing About Being a New Dad

I’m back to the longest weekend of my life, specifically the moment I first laid eyes on my daughter.

At the time, the feeling was too overwhelming for me to even comprehend, but now I am at least able to try and work out exactly what it was that I felt at that specific moment. I knew that this little person, my child, was there beforehand; before she was born. I could feel her move, see her in scans and hear her heart beating, but not until that first face to face meeting did I truly get it.

What do I mean by that? Getting it? Understanding? This is one of those things that it is virtually impossible to put into words, I know because I have tried to write about it on several occasions and failed. Recently I was asked the question by another blogger “What did it feel like when your child was born?”, and as I thought about it, what seems silly to describe as a moment of enlightenment hit me. People always say that you will fall in love with your child. My dad told me that it was the closest thing to love at first sight that he had ever experienced, but I feel that it goes so much further beyond that. There is this unexplainable feeling of knowing, or connection that occurs. That first face to face moment with this person, who you have never actually met before, feels like you have known them forever. Time is meaningless, the world stops turning and you are holding the entire universe in your hands. This person is as much you as you are yourself, an extension to all you have ever known. When you see this person, when you feel this feeling, it is as if a window has been opened and you get a glimpse of the infinite. I’m trying not to say that you get the answer to the meaning of life, because that is not what I mean, but it is like someone has shown you the answer, and you simply cannot comprehend it at all.

And now, with every day that goes by it’s as if you have this key to the universe’s biggest question, right there with you at your side. You get to live with them, play with them, hold them, teach them, show them what joys the world has to offer. There are hard times, and undoubtedly there always will be, but there is nothing that isn’t completely resolved by a stupid wonky smile from this wonderful little counterpart. The unfathomable potential bundled up in this entire person grants you limitless possibilities. It’s overwhelming, it’s painful, it’s incredible, it’s the easiest thing about being a new dad.

Mummascribbles

The Hardest Thing About Being a New Dad

She looks at me as if I am frightening her. Briefly looking into my eyes before screwing them up tight and wailing. She doesn’t want to be there it seems, in my arms, she won’t accept any comforting that I can give that has worked before. My wife returns from her shower taking her out of my arms. She settles, I leave the house. Cycling on my way to work, I try to look for an answer that rationalises it beyond the thoughts that maybe she doesn’t like me, or that my frustrations rub off on her, or that my lack of knowing what to do is apparent and unsettling to her.

I get home, take her from my wife, spend the next hour bouncing and rocking her on a knife edge. I change hands to get more comfortable and this upsets her. I change direction, and this upsets her. I look down and ask her what’s wrong, and she cries. Real tears now. Each upset takes longer than the last to resolve; to return her to the knife edge. I lay her down and will her to fall asleep so that she doesn’t have to endure me any longer. I want to be there for her, to make it better, to be the dad that she needs, but right now it seems I can’t. My wife takes over, reads the story and puts our angel to sleep. I go downstairs, my head in my hands, trying to look for that answer again.

Not every day is like this, only sometimes, and unfairly it happens to be the times I feel most tired, or stressed. But on these days, when it is like this, it hurts me. I know I shouldn’t, but sometimes I can’t help but feel that there is something that I am doing that makes her upset or grumble, and that sends things spiraling down. Sometimes it does seem like she is happier with my wife. Sometimes it does seem like she is frightened of me, or that my badly concealed mood is affecting her. And so the seeds of doubt in my own abilities begin to grow. Am I cut out to be a dad? Am I cut out to be her dad? To think that you can’t do this; to be this person’s dad, for me, that is the hardest thing about being a new dad.

Story Time

“The total area occupies 3,800 acres..” She listens intently. As I read an article about a solar farm in California, my daughter kicks excitedly, lifting her arms up as if surprised at the shear scale of the installation. “It generates 550 megawatts of power…” The dummy fell from her mouth.

I’ve discovered that reading a bedtime story needn’t be about farmyard animals or enormous crocodiles, it can be anything. I suppose this is only going to be the case up until a certain point, but as long as I read in a soft tone, she doesn’t care what the subject matter is. I like to think that by covering a broad range of topics it is going to encourage her comprehension of the world, and she will have a bigger pool of information in her life to influence her decisions.

Story time is for me as much as it is for her. Looking back to before she arrived, I would come home from work thinking I should catch up on some reading only to be stonewalled by a wave of tiredness or distraction. It was too easy to forgo the reading in favour of television and dinner on my lap or browsing the depths of the internet. Now I have a new found opportunity to read however. All those magazine articles, books I’ve bought or received as gifts, can now be read episodically every other evening when I take her to bed and read to her a bedtime story.

And so, as I read the conclusion of the article about plans to expand the solar farm to produce a further 750 megawatts, her excitement and interest wanes, as her eyelids droop to a close.

Let's Talk Mommy

The Look

There are many challenges that come with having a new baby, that remains needless to say, but certainly one of the hardest things is how you cope with a screaming baby in public. Thankfully, this just so happens to be accompanied by one of the easiest and likable things about having a new baby, which is the superstar like status you as a family receive when your little angel is being cute in public.

On our recent trip out to the coast I experienced the whole range of attention from people around us, including one of the hardest things I have had to deal with since we have had our daughter in tow.

A feed was due, and we began walking the streets of the coastal village looking for a place to sit. It was teaming with day trippers as her grumbles for food escalated into screams of hunger, and I could feel people’s eyes land upon us. I looked around, catching the stares, feeling more self conscious than ever before. Some I’m sure were looks of pity, those feeling sorry for the young family with a howling child. Although I couldn’t say I saw those ones, all I was able to see were looks of disgruntlement from those whose park bench meal of fish and chips had been ruined by the screaming baby. You might think that this was all in my head, but why would I believe that not to be true when I myself have felt a baby has compromised a flight I’ve been on or cafe I have sat in. My temperature rose and I started to sweat, all I wanted to do was go home and deal with this in private and behind closed doors. I couldn’t stand the thought of people criticising our ability as parents; “not able to control our screaming child”.

We eventually found somewhere quiet we could go, and my wife fed her on a picnic bench. Afterwards, once full and satisfied, our little angel emerged and started to charm the holidaymakers around us. We walked up onto the cliff top with her strapped to my front, facing forward, and there wasn’t a single person who walked passed us that didn’t smile or let out a noise that people only let out when they are overwhelmed as their heart warms. Families, pensioners, teenagers, and even the sort of person that you would normally associate with making growling noises went “ahh”.

This was of course a great feeling, you feel proud of your daughter, you feel proud of yourself, but sometimes, for someone like me, this attention can begin to overflow and almost feel invasive. Throughout my life I have been the sort of person that blends in, never fussed over and usually left alone. Naturally introverted, I don’t usually make the effort to stand out, and have sometimes gone out of my way to avoid being noticed, and so maybe you can understand why now that I have a baby that draws the interest of others, I feel slightly vulnerable to this sort of attention at times.

For example, you might be enjoying a private moment with your family, trying to have a meal or sit in the park, and you hear total strangers making comments about the baby as they pass by or sit on the table next to yours. You might not think that this is unusual, we are instinctively wired to have an interest in the offspring of our species I suppose, and as I said more often than not I actually feel that this is a really nice feeling, but imagine that you remove the baby from this scene. You are out on a date with your partner, enjoying a nice dinner for two, and then you hear a group on the next table discussing amongst themselves what a cute couple you are. That’s weird isn’t it? Maybe my introverted self is the only one who thinks so, but it is a feeling that becomes notable.

So when your baby does charm all who see her, I suppose you get a taste of what is it like to be someone with unexpected and new found celebrity. She’s fine with this of course, I doubt she will have any feelings of self-consciousness until she is a teenager, so this look, whether of upset or adoration, is something that I will need to get used to.

Point of no Return

“I don’t want my baby to be dependent on a dummy.” This is a remark that I assume many parents make at one stage or another. I have. I think many new parents rightly go in feeling as though they will be the best and most responsible parent they can be, of course they will, and a part of this is about those decisions made on parenting style where there are options to choose from. I too have felt that we should try and avoid giving the baby a dummy to soothe her. Why? Mainly because it feels like using a dummy marks a point of no return. I imagine that the child will be forever in need of it, and images of an eight year old version of her sucking on a dummy as we walk around Sainsburys plague my thoughts.

These, I suppose, are fairly legitimate concerns to have, and have the added questions about how and when you wean them off the dummy? If they start screaming or making a scene when you take it away, it would be hard to hold your will and watch your child descend into a state of unhappiness. That’s against all of our instincts right?

We’ve started using a dummy.

It’s not that it is impossible to soothe her in any other way of course (see my priceless insights here), it’s just that a dummy does it more quickly.

However, when I give our daughter a dummy, who am I really doing it for? Is it wrong that I am perhaps selfishly trying to regain order with the least possible effort? Is it wrong that I give my daughter something that is potentially quite “addictive”, knowing that she will undergo the unpleasant cold turkey experience when we decide she needs to give it up? Just because I want to stop her crying, is it fair to put her through all that later on?

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Best Laid Plans

Our daughter had just turned six weeks old, and for near enough each moment of each day of those six weeks my wife had been with, or at least in close proximity to her. So, when an opportunity arose for my wife to have a social evening out, seeing a film with colleagues, we both agreed it would be a good thing if she went. She would only be gone a few hours in the evening, but it meant she got to see what it would be like to take more of a prolonged break, and I would get to spend some quality time with our daughter. Apart from a stroll I took her on that ended up lasting much longer than planned, this would be the longest time it was just the two of us, and every one of us looked forward to the evening.

I’ve fed her before, put her to bed before, and done everything I was going to be doing, so I wasn’t worried about anything, and nor was my wife, but this time I wouldn’t have a team mate to cheer me on as I did these things. I dismissed this thought however, knowing that things wouldn’t be any different to the previous nights. We have recently started forging a routine for the end of the day, so there was a familiar outline that we could adhere to, meaning that what lay ahead would take a reassuringly predictable course.

My wife waved as she cycled away, and the baby and me sat down on a chair to discuss what shape the evening would take. A spot of playing, making faces at one another, and signing songs would be followed by one last feed at seven o’clock. Then it would be time for pyjamas, story, then bed. Once we had agreed this schedule, I felt a terrific movement from where I held her. We looked at one another as I began to feel a dampness on my leg. I looked down to see that not only was my leg damp but so was hers, and her sock. And not just damp, but mustard yellow.

An emergency nappy change and clean up threw things into disarray, I checked the clock to see that bed time was fast approaching and nearly upon us. So we went for the straight-to-pyjamas option. As I gently pulled the vest over her head and arms she began to doze off. “Okay…” I paused as I formed a decision. My wife had given her a feed not long before she left, so perhaps she was full enough to sleep through for a few hours. So off to bed I took her. She was drowsy, as I slipped her into her sleeping bag, and having just read about the importance of reading to your child, I thought we could return to our plan using the the story to soothe her off to sleep fully.

Rhold Dahl’s the Enormous Crocodile was next on her reading list (a list determined by my wife and I of childhood things we wanted to read). Maybe a bit scary I thought to myself, but she wouldn’t understand at this stage anyway. Maybe a bit long for one session actually, but it was fine because I figured that I could stop part way through once she had completely fallen asleep, she does not yet have a concept of a beginning middle and end yet.

As I started to read, her eyes widened, and she began to listen intently. I have noticed this more and more about her in the last few days. When I talk softly to her, or sing one of the completely made up songs I have become quite good at, she visibly reacts to the sound. Another indication that she continues to develop, and it’s also heart warming to see that our little girl likes the sound of my voice.

As the story went on, her eyes gradually drifted back down, and just as she was about to fall asleep she woke herself up with a fuss and a grumble, which could not be soothed any other way than by me picking her and rocking her. When she started to drift away again, I made an attempt to put her down, which provoked the same reaction of fussing and grumbling. So up I took her again, and again, and again. I had started to doubt my decision, and wondered if I really should have given her a top up feed, but before I did so, she allowed me to lay her down, the Enormous Crocodile was hurled into the sun*, and she began to softly snore.

The rest of the evening was punctuated by the baby monitor fussing and grumbling every ten minutes, which I remedied by returning upstairs and telling her it was okay, and to go to sleep, as I pushed slices of pizza into my mouth in the moments in between.

As the evening came to an end, my wife walked through the door looking relaxed and refreshed. She asked how things had gone.

“She pooed on me”, I said.

*Apologies if I have ruined the ending for you!

Day trip

As we stood there, in the invigorating sea breeze, I looked out to the horizon and took a deep breath. I looked at my wife. I looked down at our daughter. It dawned on me that that there was now a new meaning to trips like this, a purpose that added a entirely different dimension. I realised that what is often initially assumed to be a constraint was actually the complete opposite.

Easter weekend presented us with such an opportunity. The weather was good (enough), we had no prior engagements, and the car had passed it’s MOT. We decided upon visiting the coast, knowing that it was well within reach so it could feasibly be made into a day trip, and suitably adventurous compared to our suburban home.

Why did we want to go to the coast for a day anyway? We wanted to see the sea, have a walk, enjoy the fresh air, eat an ice cream, do something that we like to do. But there was that added dimension. The reasons I have just given may have seemed as though they were the primary reasons, but the underlying, less obvious reasons cannot be disregarded. We wanted to prove that we could do this sort of things with a baby, a long drive, unknown territory. We wanted to impress upon her the things that we enjoy, and the pleasure that comes from being outdoors. We wanted to take her on her first trip to the seaside, and to experience an activity such as this together as a happy family.

I remember early on my wife and I had discussed what life would be like with a child. We both came packaged with preconceptions of what happens when you become a parent; the sacrifices and changes that we would be challenged with. We sat there and had reasoned that our life didn’t have to change though, and that we would continue doing all the things we enjoyed doing. We convinced ourselves that we could easily defy the convention of these preconceptions with the choices we made, and by taking the plunge, dealing with whatever problems as and when they presented themselves. We knew that having a child could not hold us back.

I have to admit though, that when faced with the prospect of having a baby it is hard to avoid any negative assumptions regarding the sacrifices you face, but all those things you have to adjust to seem minimal in comparison to what you have to gain.

Our will and choices genuinely feel forever changed by having a child. But subtly, and surprisingly, these changes are all of a resounding, positive note. Now that we have a daughter there is only purpose added and nothing taken away. We have a reason, or excuse if you will, to take opportunities that previously may have been passed up due to being too expensive, or too far, or too much hassle. We now have more reason for visits to the beach and an entire universe of other limitless opportunities.

The Twinkle Diaries

Pub

We decided that because we had a few extra days together over Easter we would do some things as a family – a new family – and what better way than starting with a bank holiday stroll to a local, country side, pub.

The walk took us into a surprisingly remote area of the city across farmland. We casually walked along the meadow, taking in the fresh air and watching the spring lambs frolic in the fields around us. This was the first time I used the baby carrier, and I had approached it tentatively. I spent most of the time uncertain of how well I was doing and learning slightly forward, getting a crick in my back, fearing that I might accidentally suffocate her as she nuzzled into my chest.

I checked her again, fast asleep, lulled by the bobbing of my stride.

The thirst we worked up on the walk was satisfied by a pint and accompanied by some crisps. Our daughter was greeted with celebrity status, charming the bank holiday visitors with her docile and playful mood. We were relaxed. We sat their as parents thankful for the break from home, enjoying the time together. As I sat back I looked at us all together. It was a nice afternoon, and I felt proud. Proud of my successful baby carrier experiment, but mainly proud of our daughter, and how she provoked such a positive reaction with no effort. People other than us seem to like her too. She did nothing much, nor did we, but it was enough.

What else could we do with this long weekend?

Night Feed

I crept into the bedroom, expertly negotiating my way in the dark. I could hear the heartwarming, gentle breathing of both my daughter and my wife as they deeply slept. I gently lifted my daughter from her moses basket and carried her out of the room.

I lay her down on the changing table and she began to stir. Half way though the nappy change, her eyes opened a crack, followed by a blink. At this point the muscles in her face contracted and she started to redden. Just as a cry was about to bellow from her, the dummy was deployed and her usual colour returned, her eye lids began to droop once again. We left the changing table clean, dry, and calm, and as I walked past the bedroom the soft breathes of my still slumbering wife continued.

We went downstairs and took the pre-warmed bottle from the kitchen. By the time we entered the lounge she had again started to wake and fuss. I sat down with her on my knee and replaced the dummy with the the tip of the bottle. She realised she wanted it, and as she drew the milk her eyes widened at the surprise of receiving a faster flow than she was used to from her more natural feeds throughout the day.

My wife remained asleep upstairs, making the most of a valuable and elongated opportunity for sleep, and I sat staring at my daughters face, making the most of this time I could have with her. Her look of suspicion and surprise settled, and she began studying my face with a calm and casual look.

As the bottle was drained she squirmed a bit and let milk flow from the corners of her mouth. “Finished?”. I slowly pulled the bottle away and her face reddened once more and discomfort filled her eyes, pleading to me. I began lifting her to my shoulder for a winding, and as I did so a trail of vomit cascaded from her mouth and down my jumper. “Mummy’s better at this, isn’t she?” I said as she looked up at me, the look of relief crossing her face.