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.

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.

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.