5 things I wish I knew when I became a father
For the new born dad – dedicated to K&J on the arrival of baby T...
I was asked outright to write this maybe 2 months ago, I said no. I thought I had nothing to really say, and who would want to listen to me anyway? But as I sent congratulations to friend of 30+ years who just joined the club of fatherhood I thought of how little I knew when we first had a baby and what I wished someone could have told me. So yes, maybe the lovely wife was right (as she often is) and men should talk about this stuff and share more to help each other out, so, here goes!
Our story - The short version
Natural parenting, babywearing, breastfeeding, maternity pads.
I had no idea, none, NO IDEA.
We had a birth plan, we had everything set – car seat, clothes, work leave, all we needed was the baby. Two weeks late, induction, about 30 hours of labour, blood (so much blood), epidural, a doctor with full body weight (unnecessarily) levering a child into the world. Our lovely birth plan went to hell.
But then, there she was our baby. The fear of my wife being left paralysed was passed, the event was moving to memory and now we could move forward.
We got home and reality hit – they let us take the baby, what were they thinking? I've been around babies a lot, made bottles, all sorts, I wasn't a newbie. But the responsibility and road ahead felt huge and scary but I knew deep down we could do it together.
Did you know that sleep deprivation is considered torture and so against the UN declaration of human rights? Newborn parents would not question why for a second.
So the first week got worse, mastitis (infection of the breast), serious hormone shifts, family tried to help but I remember about a week in after a rough day and serious struggles thinking my marriage was on the brink. I was just meant to be happy. But how can you be happy with all that going on?
How we got through it
Some people never have these problems but we learned what works for us, hopefully it can be helpful. Everyone tells you to plan for a baby by getting the right car seat and stocking up on nappies but I really wish someone had given me some of this advice too
1.Talk. You must communicate – this is not optional. Listen, express yourself, you are entitled to your feelings and how you're feeling isn't a criticism of the other person.
2. Be a team. If you're in a good enough relationship to have a baby you've hopefully got past the “keeping a record of wrongs”. The baby needs stuff, it doesn't care who does it – try not to make a big deal of it. You will both be wrecked, do not make it a competition of who is more tired, you're BOTH allowed to be tired. Help each other out – remember you love each other! Now is not the time to see each other as an opponent to be beaten, being a team means you can use the energy you have for the good of everyone.
3. Reassure. This is SO important. Keeping it up through labour is almost easy as a dad to be, “great job”, I”'m so proud of you” – it comes naturally. I was even told that reminding her to breath properly was helpful as labour was so overwhelming. Being told she was doing well was just as important and made her more relaxed – we got better each time and the last labour was something I would even call positive – I'd have bet you thousands that wasn't even possible after the first. But it doesn't stop there. Criticism from family/friends is devastating to any mother but especially a new one. If this is your first she will question everything and be loaded with self-doubt. You know how the apple watch tells you to move if you're sitting around too much – set that your maximum for telling her you are proud of her and that she's doing an amazing job and she will believe you and trust you – even if you feel like you haven't got a clue yourself. I felt like I was being patronising and all I could think to say was “you're ok”. She might not be, she may be sore and in pain and worried and stressed and overwhelmed and that doesn't change in 5 minutes – tell her you love her and she's doing great – at least you're being helpful and a new mum can't be told that too much.
4. Protect her. As a new dad – you will be proud you will probably have more energy and feel the demands of family commitments and feel it's good to have the baby meet people. This is massive pressure on the new mum to have the house look right for visitors or brings the stress of getting everyone out of the house and messing sleep/feeding cycles and can consume more energy leaving them more drained. Go back to #1 and talk about what to do and what you're feeling up to. If avoiding people for a week and making them wait is best – do what's best, I'm not trying to go old fashioned man in charge but if you just had surgery 2 days ago or did a workout that lasted 20/30 hours you would be pissed if you were being wheeled out to the in-laws a day later. Grab what rest you can and look out and protect your partner from doing too much, it will pay off in the long run. Alternatively if they want out of the house – try to muster up that energy and get out of the house with them
4.Nutrition. The difference in energy levels and even the quality of milk production was noticeably impacted by food. My wife will tell you that one of the best meals of her life was steak when Bethany was about 3 days old (Bethany still LOVES steak). Her body has been through loads and you can feel almost useless as a new dad, especially if she's breastfeeding, what you can do is make sure she eats right. My wife would on some days when I went back to work be so caught up with baby routines that she would literally forget to eat and not drink enough. Then the baby would fuss and not eat well and as soon as mummy was taking care of herself things got back on track. For me this was a job I could do that was practical and helpful. Helpful hint – frozen fruit packs are great for smoothies and you can even throw in loads of extra goodies like seeds, coconut mils etc, you have google, get on it.
5. Bad days exist. There are some particularly standard “bad days”. By baby 2/3/4 I put them in our shared google calendar so they would pop up on the phone.
Day 3 Milk comes in – hormones are a mess (longer if C-section)
Day 5 For some reason this seems to be accepted among mummies as a super emotional day – possibility the reality of everything is just being processed, I honestly don't know what the science is to it. What I do know is I had a wife who thought I was going to desert her and the baby because I took too long to take the bins out.
Growth spurts are real and include massive increases in feeding. Do not starve the baby and let it cry – sometimes you have hungry days – the baby will follow fairly standard patterns on this, it's science at work – don't fight it.
Here are the ones I put down and while these are somewhat accepted norms, remember that they are not exact and hungry days happen outside of these times too.
Here's the list – get it in your phone so you're ready.
Day 3-5, days7-10 days, 2-3 week, 4-6 weeks, 3 months, 4 months 6 months 9 months
Just remember, it's easy to do any job badly, but to do any job well, in particular being a mum or dad is hard work. You're allowed to find it hard without being a failure, take care of each other and ask for help if you need it. There isn't a simple key to success but no one system anyone has come up with has worked fully for us, we picked and chose what worked for us so don't tie yourself to one way of working or think that someone else's solution will work for you too – no matter how much they insist it will. Find your way together and it will be the right way for your family.
Hopefully that'll do it for now, there is much more after the early days like the return to work, developmental leaps, injections, check-ups, growth charts, teething and that's all before they can crawl... but maybe that can be the next instalment...
When it gets really hard, go back through 1-5 and make sure nothing has slipped, remember, we got through yesterday, we can do the rest of today, we can get through tonight, tomorrow morning, afternoon.... The days do get easier and they do eventually sleep more. Though your life will never be as it was you'd never want it any other way.