Early Lessons of Fatherhood
Where do I begin? What an adventure! Being the father of a newborn isn’t easy, but that is rather hard to appreciate until experienced directly. Here’s my list of things that I have discovered in my first month of fatherhood.
1. Sleep is a precious thing
I used to sleep easily. I got my eight hours every day. I used to have a cup of tea and do some reading before bed, but not anymore. The days where I could pour a cup of tea and reliably start drinking it ten minutes later are over. Now I am lucky if I can get to that cup of tea 30 or 40 minutes after it is poured, so I have more-or-less given up on hot drinks for now.
Well meaning people have lent us books that they thought would be helpful, but there is no time to read them. In fact, it took us a full fortnight and a stroke of good luck to have the opportunity to sit down at 7pm and watch a full 30-minute ABC News bulletin on the television and actually find out what was happening in the world. Relatives and friends seem shocked that we cannot find the time to watch the final series of Game of Thrones. Seriously.
Why? Because sleep is king. Honestly, in between preparing bottles, feeding, washing bottles, changing nappies and trying to persuade a sleepy baby to actually sleep in a cot (and not our arms), the only thing we want to do is sleep for ourselves in those first few weeks.
When we undertook our new parents’ course (prior to baby’s arrival), they key take-home message was “when the baby sleeps, you sleep”. How true that is. It took a month for us to approach a point where afternoon naps (for the parents) could be dispensed-with. Far out!
At this stage, a good night will consist of several 3-hour blocks of sleep, punctuated with hour-long feeding intervals.
Game of Thrones, you can wait!
2. Babies can’t talk, but certainly communicate
The first few days is just loud crying for everything. “I am hungry” – cry. “My nappy is wet” – cry. “I am lonely” – cry. “I am too tired to go to sleep” – cry. But very quickly it changes. Within days, the automatic cry changed to what can be described as a short wail. Sure, we had about 45 seconds to get the milk flowing before the full cry would recommence, but it was a more sophisticated (and energy-saving) way to let us know something is wrong.
Now it has changed again. There are different cries for different situations, ranging from the angry “you are taking way too long to feed me” cry to the sobbing “I wouldn’t mind being in your arms again” cry. Understanding these cues has been a help, but it’s also fascinating.
Interestingly, I have noticed that cries tend to be for the following concerns in this order:
- I am hungry
- My nappy is wet
- I want to be held
- I am sleepy
- I am cold/hot
Work down the list and the problem is usually resolved.
3. Baby formula is a real taboo
“Do you give your baby formula?” “Do you breastfeed”? My wife gets asked this all the time and I cannot count the number of judgy faces and comments that we have received from healthcare workers, many bordering on the rude.
Curiously, whilst we now live in a world where women are encouraged to make informed choices and do what works for their personal circumstances, this courtesy doesn’t seem to apply when it comes to the use of baby formula. No way. There can be an extraordinary nastiness towards those who don’t conform.
Current thinking from certain crusading ideologues in the healthcare industry seems to be that every woman can produce sufficient breast milk to feed her baby all of the time. Unlike every other aspect of biology where there is variability between individuals, there is apparently no deviation from this rule unless the woman is not trying hard enough. And if a woman is not trying hard enough, then the implication is obvious: she is failing. That’s right, she is failing her baby. Surely the very definition of a bad mother?
I do get it. I understand that breast milk is best. I do understand that the benefits of breastfeeding far outweigh the use of baby formula. It’s convenient, it’s free, it contains way more nutrients and other goodies that a tin of powder could ever hope to provide. But then no-one is arguing with this proposition.
What is the alternative? Should a mother just let a baby starve whilst she waits for the milk production to kick in?
I am just the father, but I have got to the point where I won’t even discuss this matter with people anymore. It’s too controversial.
4. Everyone wants a piece
Everyone wants to come and visit when there’s a new baby. It’s really nice to have that support from friends and family and it makes a huge difference to the parents, it must be said. Having some help around the home is awesome when there’s hardly time to do anything.
The problem is that babies can quickly become overstimulated. Being handed around from one person to another for 30 minutes is the baby equivalent of a 5-hour rock concert. After all that stimulation, it’s not easy to settle back to sleep.
Things get tricky when – as a parent – rules have to be set for visitors. We learnt very quickly to institute a policy that we won’t wake the baby for anyone. Sure, if the baby wakes up for a feed and nappy change, friends and family can have a hold and a cuddle. But if she’s asleep, she will remain thus. Visitors can wait.
Dinners out are another problem. Newborns seems to have a pattern of being unsettled in the early evening. In our case, it is from 7pm to 11:30pm. If we go out for a dinner, we can guarantee that we’ll get no sleep from our baby for the entire arsenic period. Lunches out are fine, but no more dinners out for the foreseeable future.
5. The small joys are worth it
It really is difficult to appreciate how difficult it is to look after a newborn without personal experience. There is so much work that has to go in, but there are many small joys that come from it.
In the first few weeks, I was really happy when my girl started to look people in the face. Her first tummy time revealed an immediate ability to lift her head. She was able to latch onto a bottle and breast after just two attempts. What a star!
Sometimes the stress can become too much. There was one night when I lost it, turning from my normal placid and patient self into a frustrated sobbing mess. At a single moment, my poor wife had to console a crying baby and a tearful husband. These things happen.
In these situations, it’s important to remember is that these are the normal struggles of new parents. As we come to know our daughter and she us, things ease. There is a routine now which makes things a bit easier. During those trying times, it is best to talk it over, take a break and remember that the good far outweighs the bad. It really does.
6. Single parents are heroes
Raising a newborn is such hard work when there are two of us. I have no idea how single mothers (or fathers) do it solo.
I have a newfound respect.
7. Nothing stays the same
“Yep, I have this all worked out now. This isn’t as difficult as I thought”. How often I have thought this before the parameters suddenly change and I am back to where I started. Babies seem to be good at this sort of thing.
Sleeping patters, feeding patterns, behaviour patterns…. they seem to shift as the weeks pass by. Hence my last lesson…
8. Go with the flow
There are so many things that happen. In the end, I have realised that the best strategy is to go with the flow.
We can’t control everything. We have to learn as we go. I can’t schedule a baby. I can’t plan activities in the same way as I used to be able to. That’s just how it has to be for now. It won’t be like that forever, but I just have to learn to take it as it comes.