Cat

Our “first” child came several years before our first child. Naturally when the news came that we would be parents we did wonder how this would affect the cat. I have to add that it wasn’t our first concern, but it did eventually come around. We had heard about pets becoming jealous and distressed when their domain is all of a sudden invaded by a tiny new ruler. Cots being used as litter trays, and simply giving in and re-homing themselves. Pets often are a member of the family, and so the thought of your family not getting on was troublesome.

We had no idea how the cat would react and we did little to prepare her for it despite having heard about playing the cat YouTube videos of babies crying. We avoided that, I’m not sure why, perhaps because we too were worried about becoming distressed by the sounds of what we were letting ourselves in for.

Our cat is generally quite social, and likes to be with people. Whenever she wants attention (always on her terms of course) she knows how to get it. Before the baby came my wife and I decided, naïvely, that when we would bring the baby home we would make sure that while one was with the baby the other would be with the cat. Without question we didn’t stick to this, its impossible to do so. Your attention is one hundred percent fixated on this new arrival who is thousands of time less independent than a cat, so the attention the cat got was limited to filling the food bowl and letting her outside, when we remembered.

But on those first few days, as we all had something new to get used to, the cat didn’t attempt to get our attention as she usually would, in fact she displayed a behavior we were not at all expecting. One time early on, when the baby began to cry, her nappy due for a change, I laid her on the changing table and the cat followed me into the room. In the beginning a nappy change was traumatic for our daughter, and it was invariably coupled with screaming, something that we thought would be distressing to the cat. Did the cat run away as expected? No. The cat stood up against my legs, peeking over at this tiny person who weight just half of what she did, and expressed an attentiveness we had never seen in her before. Following that, whenever the baby cried, the cat will bound in from the other room to make sure everything was okay.

We subsequently learned that all mammals young cry at the same frequency, and that what the cat was displaying was an instinctive reaction to her “kittens” in distress. It was, in a way, quite heartwarming to see this maternal instinct in her.

Weeks have passed and the reaction from the cat has mellowed, in much the same way ours has, as we have gotten used to life with a baby. The cat will sniff her now and again, have a look at what she’s doing, and I hope, feel proud of her new family member in the same way we do.

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The Answer to Your Questions

How is she sleeping?

I’m not sure why this is the default question but it usually is. In fact, sleep is the primary topic during the pregnancy too. You are warned to catch up on sleep before the baby comes, and once the baby has arrived you are asked how you are dealing with sleep deprivation. At first you might think that this is concentrated on because it is something that everyone can relate to. Everyone has been tired before right? But there are so many more questions that I want people to ask me, because these are things I want to tell people about. Has she started smiling? What colour are her eyes? Has she started making any new sounds?

Irregardless of whether you have asked me these questions or not, I am now going to give you the answers.

A few weeks ago there was nothing more than the occasional and brief curl of the corners of her mouth, but now we are treated to smile festivals each and every day. No one really tells you how it feels to get a smile from your child, or if they do it is not something I absorbed. But what I can say is that it is such a wonderful thing that countless hours drip away as I work harder and harder to catch a glimpse of just one more. They become addictive each one hooking you more than the last. Some are of joy, some amusement. The best one I have had so far was just this morning. She was lying awake in her moses basket ready to start the day, I lent over, looked her in the eye and greeted her with a good morning, this was received by a heart melting smile. The kind of smile that an old friend gives you when you have a surprise meeting, like that, only ten thousand times more.

Her eyes. What started off as two giant, dark, and mysterious pools, have now settled as brilliant, bright blue eyes. Since the day she was born there has been three comments that people make about her. “Isn’t she tiny!?”, ” She looks like her dad!” (either a shame for her, or a compliment for me I guess), and, “She has such big eyes!”. She does. Her eyes have been such a significant feature of hers since the first day. They are big and inquisitive, and now this incredible blue that just shines so much that any grey day is lit up.

She has started to do what can only be described as talking. Not words of course, but her own interpretation of what talking is and what she has taken from us. To have seen a change from cries, shouts, and wails to garbled vowels is nothing short of amazing. Even those cries and wails have taken a new form, with ever intricate intonations appearing as often and sudden as the days that go by. It shows she has listened and learned and wants to mimic our chatter and singing. Looking at the swinging tortoise on her bouncing chair, she lets him, and us, know that she is happy to notice him. It is one of the biggest indicators that she has started to exchange the simple and instinctive newborn existence for something far more advanced and complex.

It’s too easy to focus on sleep, or the lack there of, when there is a new baby around, but I tire of telling people my stock response of “sometimes good and sometimes bad”. Next time you see me, ask me if she can grab things, or if she likes rock music, or if her eyebrows have changed from looking ginger to blonde.

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Size Matters

It was heartbreaking, having to leave the hospital when the clock struck 9pm. Visiting hours for fathers was 9am to 9pm, and apart from running the odd errand to get some more appetising looking food from the local shops, I was spending the entire day with them. Watching them sleep, attending appointments, sitting and waiting. Each day we were told that “today might be the day” that they would get to come home with me, but as the days went by they weighed her, took her blood-sugar levels and told us she needed to stay until she had gotten big enough.

We felt positive however, the baby was healthy and feeding was going well, so it hurt even more each time we were told they couldn’t yet come home. As we hugged before I left for the evening my wife held me tighter and longer each day that passed, she so desperately wanted to come home and I wanted to take them with me rather than going back alone, to an empty house, my feelings echoed by the bare walls.

The day finally came that we got to all go home together. Our daughter was gaining weight, albeit slowly, but it was enough for the doctors and midwives to take pity on us and let them free.

It’s been nine weeks since we left the hospital as a family, and since then we have been constantly reminded that we have a small baby by everyone that meets her. “Oh, she’s so tiny!!!”, “Ten weeks?! I wouldn’t have guessed more than six!”, are invariably the calls we hear from good natured well-wishers. But what people don’t know of course, is how much hard work has gone into ensuring our baby is growing as she is expected to. At the hospital and subsequent visits, we time and again heard that the baby was “too small to go home”, or “too small to be discharged”, so when someone asks us if it is our first outing with her, or proclaim that they haven’t seen such a new baby, we smile along knowing they think she’s cute, but at the same time get taken back to those feelings of anxiety we had in the beginning.

She is small. And she is perfect.

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The Seven Stages of Dad

Now that our daughter is two months old, there are a few distinct stages that I have gone through as a dad. From when you first find out you are going to be a parent to the chaos and uncertainty when labour starts, to the point where you are getting on with the new normal, these are the seven stages of dad.

1. I’m going to be a dad!

For a few weeks after finding out that you have a baby on the way, you start to do research and make plans. You look at what pushchairs are on the market, you read about how the pregnancy will go, you feel panicked and excited and proud and happy, but what is ahead is completely unknown. All of this passes and you reach a steady state. Your wife is pregnant and glowing, you get on with life, and this new dynamic, having people congratulating you and tell you to get as much sleep while you can.

2. Labour

The steady state you reach during the pregnancy, begins to dissipate as the due date nears. The feelings of normality are replaced by a mild panic again which builds to the crescendo of full on labour. Throughout the labour you have moments of clarity and rationality that see you through making the right decisions, but there are also moments of pure terror and feelings of absolute helplessness as your partner goes through the later stages. You think that you will lose everything you had expected of your future, which then out of nowhere becomes a feeling of pure elation as your child is eventually born to the world. Nothing can describe it.

3. Proud dad

Now the baby is in the world you walk around the hospital insisting that you push the crib around and hoping that everybody sees what an amazing baby you have. You’re not just proud of the baby, but you have this new found level of respect for your partner for what she went through. You beam every time you hear someone say what a cute baby.

4. Coping

You’re back home and feel left some what out in the cold. Isolated with a new baby that has no instructions book. The first reaction when you walk through the door is, “what do we do now?”. As the days go on you lose focus on everything else in your life, you have one pure and simple responsibility which is caring for your partner and child. Something new and something scary happens everyday. Is she still breathing? Are her eyelids supposed to be red? Is she pooing too much or too little? Should we wake her for a feed? You lose all concept of normal time and everything now takes about four times longer than it used to. You are completely reactive to everything that happens, fighting the fires as they ignite. But you love it.

5. Back to work

The worst thing that could possibly happen happens. You have to pull yourself away from this amazing new person you have spent her entire life so far with. The things you do feel meaningless, and have lost any degree of appeal they had. You want to be home with them. You try and rationalise quitting your job so you can spend more time with your new family, only to slip into a reluctant submission, sulking as you realise that you need to work to make sure that the three of you can be cared for and comfortable.

6. Self doubt

At work all day, only getting home when it’s bedtime, limited to being an evening and weekend parent, you feel like you are losing touch with the baby and her development. She seems to stop crying when you hand her over to your wife. You question if you know what you are doing.

7. Dad

You have finally gotten used to being back at work. Routines between you and your partner and you and the baby have formed. You look forward to, and cherish the time you spend with them. You engage with your baby in new ways and see that she loves listening to your voice and that she recognises you when she sees you. You begin to know how she is going to react to you and the environment. You now expect the unexpected, and embrace the chaos and the unknown, because these moments reveal more about what it all means. You’re doing it; you are a dad.