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 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?

Let's Talk Mommy

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.

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

Yesterday

Yesterday my daughter was born. At this point in time, all I can say is that it is the single most emotional experience I have ever had. I’d previously imagined how I would feel, and I thought I had some idea, the reality was quite different however. Of course I thought that when she was born, I would undoubtedly cry and feel proud, what I hadn’t realised was exactly how my emotions would hit me so hard through the entire labour, and into today.

Soon I think I will recount my experience of the labour and the birth of one of the most incredible people on this earth, but right now all I can think of is that whatever happens, whatever I do, I will now and always be someone’s dad. And I couldn’t be happier.