Parenting / 27 February, 2018 / Dr Tom York
Seven weeks ago I became a father for the first time. Here are a selection of home truths and experiences which I hope will resonate with first-time parents and offer some insight for parents to be:
Something no one tells you about having a child is the feeling you get when you see them for the first time. Pregnancy, labour and childbirth is a long slog. It’s more arduous for the mother of course but it can take its toll on the father as well. It all comes to an end with the inevitable moment when you’re presented with your child for the first time. For me, the rush of emotion was completely overwhelming. I’d managed to stay fairly calm and resolute whilst supporting my wife through the pregnancy, the midwife appointments and the sudden, brief panics about venturing into the unknown realms of parenthood. But my composure fell away entirely the moment I saw my son for the first time. I’m not ashamed to say that I bawled my eyes out! I cried with enormous uncontrollable sobs of relief and happiness. As I peered through the haze of tears at my son, I realised that from that moment on, I was a dad.
Your baby has been born. Mum has somewhat recovered from the momentous effort of childbirth. Dad has relaxed after spending the last few days being head birth partner, midwife-to-baby-mama interface negotiator, eager-relative PR correspondent and general dogsbody. Baby is hopefully fed, changed and settled. The sun has descended. The midwives have checked baby is safely blanketed and the room is the right temperature.
Logic would dictate that it’s time for sleep. But the terrifying reality of suddenly having another life to care for does funny things to your brain. I would drift off to sleep only to wake minutes later in a panic, jumping out of bed to check if my son was still breathing. This carried on for most of the night and in the morning left me feeling even more frazzled than the night before. This level of anxiety is thankfully unsustainable and with time, a more appropriate level of complacency develops until nights become a little more manageable.
There’s something innate about the feeling evoked by a baby’s cry. You instinctively want to do whatever is necessary to ease their discomfort and replace the abrasive shrieks with contented burbles. However, if you’re anything like me, and sometimes find yourself at the mercy of schadenfreude, there’ll be times when the misadventure of your little darling will rouse a guilty chuckle.
Notable episodes on my parenthood journey so far include my son farting so loudly it gave him a fright, getting his jumper stuck on his head when I forgot to undo all the buttons and him trying so hard to drink the water whilst in the bath that he punched himself in the face. I’m sure there will be many more moments like these to come but I don’t anticipate finding them any less hilarious!
Spending time with your newborn baby is wonderful. When they fall asleep in your arms, when they smile as they make eye contact with you, when they laugh for the first time. These are all priceless moments. But for all the joy they bring, babies are hard work. When you’re willing your child to fall asleep at three in the morning, when they evacuate their bowels minutes after a nappy change, when another bout of hiccups begins and you know it’ll take at least an hour of holding and jiggling to settle them down.
For both parents, there will be times when you will feel overwhelmed. What I want to tell you is that it’s ok to feel like this. It’s ok to enjoy being away from your child for a while whilst you have a bath, read a book or just do nothing. The importance of the support from your partner, family and friends cannot be overstated. They will be the ones to give you the periods of respite which will help keep you sane and stop you burning out from the stresses of parenthood.
As a non-parent, I would see mums and dads at the GP practice and in the street talking to their children in silly childish voices and singing nursery rhythms as if this was perfectly normal adult behaviour. I would tolerate this grudgingly but secretly thought that I’d never stoop to this level of moronic noise-making when I had a child of my own. The truth is that when you spend any prolonged period of time with a baby, it’s very hard not to do this. I don’t know if it’s cultural or if it’s instinctive, but talking to a baby about the latest developments in the Middle East or what type of laptop you’re planning to buy just doesn’t seem right.
Long periods of silence also feel a bit odd. So inevitably you end up filling the void with nonsense noises, songs and ramblings. The current ear worm I have stuck in my head is a little self-composed ditty about the cleanliness of my son’s bottom, written to the melody of ‘the wheels on the bus’. It’s when I find myself inadvertently whistling this tune in Sainsbury’s that I feel my mind gradually unravelling and realise I suddenly feel a kinship with those parents I used to think of as idiotic.
One of the great pleasures of parenting is the opportunity to dress your child in ridiculous costumes. Our son arrived a week or so before Christmas so the inevitable assortment Christmas themed outfits gifted to us by generous friends and family filled my heart with joy. The photos are adorable and hilarious but also serve the second purpose of providing a fantastic way to embarrass my son in years to come!
The jewel in the crown of my photo collection comes from a picture taken on Christmas Eve. The year before, there was a beautiful picture of his cousin taken at four months old, smiling from ear to ear, sat amongst the presents under the Christmas tree. My attempted recreation of this scene with my son at one week old did not go so well. In the photo he’s wearing an oversized knitted Christmas jumper, a stripy hat with a bell on the top and looks like a confused elf who’s fallen out of the tree and crash-landed in a heap onto the presents below. Rather than embarrass my son, it may just highlight my poor parenting skills, but regardless, the photo folder labelled ‘my child in silly costumes’ is one I plan to add plenty more pictures to in the coming years.
These are my confessions after just a few weeks of being a dad but I’m sure there’ll be many more to come. I feel like I’ve learned so much already. Each day continues to provide different challenges and lessons, so inevitably there will some unexpected twists along the way. It’s all part of the fun, excitement, stress and madness of parenthood and I can’t wait to find out what comes next.