The Conversationalist

My wife and I were discussing trivial and practical things, we have few things to plan and life needed some organising. Our daughter remained calm and quiet as we dried her off after a bath and got her dressed for bed. Just as we were talking about what size nappy we should use for her overnight she piped up with an opinion all of her own.

A string of vowels emanated from her mouth that was so well constructed it almost sounded comprehensible. A full sentence of whatever noises she wanted to try and make punctuated the air and my wife and I forgot what we were talking about altogether. She had obviously decided we weren’t paying her the attention she wanted from us, and so made her way of joining in with our conversation to let us know what she thought.

It was amazing. It was not the first time she has made more talkative sounds by any means, but it was the timing she delivered it with and how it then became a ten minute conversation with her with no agenda. We enjoyed the pleasure of having a chat. With no actual words to say, she had got her point across incredibly well, and it acted as a great reminder of the wonder it is to bear witness to the development of this counterpart of ours.

She hasn’t yet mastered the true art of conversation, and more often than not she will talk over us when we are trying to ask her questions to entice more babbling from her. But this baby of ours speaks, and she has a lot to say.

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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.

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.

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.

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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.

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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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