Tuesday, 19 November 2019 – Happy Birthday
0 days old
There exists no human experience that will elevate you higher than the first time you hold your newborn baby in your arms. I am certain of this. Hopefully, you will experience it for yourself one day.
A few minutes ago, at 4.26 p.m., you were born. I’m sitting, holding you in my arms. Time has reached a standstill.
You are the CPR machine that I never knew I needed.
You’re awake, staring into my eyes, alert for someone who’s minutes old. Your gaze is filled with endless curiosity.
Mine is filled with wonderment.
I could spend the rest of my life trying to etch this experience into words, but a lifetime’s commitment to such a task could only ever result in failure. What I will say is that at this exact moment my life is in a state of impenetrable tranquillity.
It’s difficult to see it, but you have an almost transparent, cloudy film over your left eye. I’m not sure what it is: possible remnants of your former lodgings perhaps.
Your arrival in our lives has been dramatic. It’s why Mummy is lying on a bed nearby while doctors repair the incision that was made below her tummy to retrieve you, by way of an emergency C-section. Don’t worry about Mummy, though, her durability makes diamonds seem like the biscuit base of a cheesecake.
Until 4.26 p.m., we called you Dory – your pre-birth name. Now we know you’re a boy, we’ve named you Arlo, and you are the most beautiful baby boy – a biological marvel. People say parents are biased about how cute their babies are. I agree they are, but that doesn’t mean that some parents don’t make beautiful babies, and you are one of them, Arlo.
The midwife, who also happens to be a friend of ours, Rebecca, says you look like your mother, but I can’t recognise either of us in you yet. In my defence, you are only a few minutes old, my eyes are misty and my emotional state is packing enough energy to fuel eight return trips to the moon.
I stand up so that I can lay you on Mummy’s chest. As I do, I catch an unwanted glimpse behind the curtain (called a ‘sterile drape’) that was erected over Mummy ahead of the surgery. The curtain had a dual purpose: it helped keep the operating environment (Mummy’s tummy) sterile, and it prevented the soon-to-be parents from seeing the doctor slice Mummy open – you risk seeing more than you need or want to if you stand up, which of course is what I’ve just done.
The surgery team are progressing through their repairs, but they still have a long way to go. In my peripheral vision I can see silver instruments flashing under high-intensity LED light bulbs, quick-moving hands wrapped in blue surgical gloves, and blood. A lot of blood.
I avert my gaze before the image can solidify, and I focus my attention instead on my family.
My amazing family.
And to think we were told that the chances of making a baby naturally were slim to none.
More time passes. Nothing can penetrate this bubble. But then …
‘Would Daddy like to get Arlo changed?’ says someone in the room.
Imagine you’re Sleeping Beauty. You’ve woken up and experienced love at first sight – you can’t describe the sensation, but you feel like you’re connecting with the world on a spiritual level. And then someone severs that connection by swinging a spiked mace right up into your nether regions.
We don’t jump right into this parenthood gig … do we? Isn’t there some sort of transition phase for new parents?
Before I can begin listing reasons why this is a terrible idea, someone lifts you away from Mummy and gently lays you down in a cot, which is then wheeled over to me while someone else hands me your nappy-changing bag.
I now have a baby and baby clothes. I have everything I need apart from confidence and experience.
My hands are shaking. I try and hide it. It’s not that I don’t want to do this – on the contrary, nothing would give me more pleasure than being the first one to dress you. It’s an honour, and there exists only one opportunity to dress your first child for the first time, but I’ve hardly slept in three days, I’ve watched Mummy go ten rounds in the ring with life, I’ve just held you myself for the first time and I’m an emotional wreck. I’m surprised that I’m being allowed to operate a few-minutes-old baby, given my serious lack of qualifications and current mental state.
But everyone in the room is smiling at me – encouraging me. I can’t comprehend if they’re all sadists or if they’re unable to appreciate what’s going on inside my head.
Surely they know what I’m feeling. They see this every day.
Am I a terrible person for wishing a patient in another room to go into cardiac arrest so that the population of spectators is thinned out a bit? Probably.
I guess this is it, then.
Fatherhood begins today.
There’s no transition period, no trial run, no supervised training, no e-learning module you can consult, and no simulation that you can fuck up as many times as you need to until you get it right. This is now my life. I’m a dad, and your upkeep is my responsibility. Besides, how the fuck can I bow out of something like this when I’ve just watched Mummy go through what she’s gone through over the last hour, three days, nine months?
So I mentally sign the employment contract that’s hanging in front of me, and then I mentally travel to the offices of Dadding Inc. I meet a friendly smiling receptionist, Julie, who confirms I’ve been successfully registered on to the system, and that I’m now an official employee of Dadding Inc. She tells me not to be nervous, wishes me luck, and then she hands me my work-pass badge. I swipe it through the scanner. It beeps and the turnstile clicks into place, telling me that access to my new office has been granted.
I pass through and officially commence my dadding job, the one I’ll have for the rest of my life, and one that begins immediately as I exit the world of the metaphorical and return to the land of the literal.
One baby, one nappy-changing bag. I can do this.
Here we go.
I put your outfit ready to one side. Then I extract from the bag a clean nappy that’s marginally bigger than my passport.
‘Remember, the animal goes on his bottom,’ Mummy slurs. Despite being out of her head on enough drugs to secure world peace for twenty minutes, she is still in my corner, cheering me on, waving an imaginary sign that reads: ‘You can do it!’
I flounder my way through the entire process of putting your nappy on but I somehow complete that part of the task. Next, I slide your Babygro underneath you. I’m OK-ish threading your legs through, but not your arms. They terrify me. Actually, threading any infant’s arm through the sleeve of a Babygro terrifies me … let alone a newborn baby … my newborn baby. Why aren’t gilets mandatory attire for infants?
A few minutes later, you’re dressed, which means I’ve completed my first task as a daddy.
One down, ten trillion to go.
Soon after, you and Mummy are relocated from theatre to recovery ward, where you both settle in before receiving a speedy breastfeeding tutorial.
Unsurprisingly, you guys nail it.
I use this as an excuse to take my leave and visit the bathroom, even though I don’t need to. I walk in, lock the door and burst into tears. I can’t remember uncontrollably sobbing like this since I was a child.
After I’m done having my moment, I return to my family. Now that you’re dressed and fed, I can relax for a second and maybe see about returning to that cloud in the sky.
And return I do. It feels like only minutes have passed but in reality it’s a lot longer. One of the midwives approaches and says, ‘Hi. Just to let you know, it’s almost 10 p.m., which is when visiting hours end.’
‘I have to go home?’
‘I’m sorry, but yes.’
Now that you’re here, following a successful delivery, NHS regulations stipulate that partners can only be at the mum’s bedside between the hours of 10 a.m. and 10 p.m.
This doesn’t sit right with me, Arlo. Mummy can’t move, and you’re a newborn baby. I want to stay and look after my family, I want to cuddle my son and I want to remind Mummy how amazing she’s been through all of this.
I do not want to leave.
I’ve heard staff complain many times about how busy the wards are and how they don’t have enough midwives to look after all the mummies and their babies. It would make sense, to me at least, to allow partners to stay so they can help with the care.
But my view is irrelevant, and I have to go.
And so, with great reluctance, I say goodbye to you and Mummy for the night.
Fortunately, I’m leaving you in the care of yet another extraordinary midwife. She will watch over my family tonight: she will look after you, and she will look after Mummy.
Sleep well, my boy.
You’re gonna need it.
Wednesday, 20 November 2019 – My First Day At Work
1 day old
I set two alarms for this morning, but I must have turned them both off in my sleep. Your Granny Smurf – my mummy, who’s temporarily living with us – wakes me at 8.40 a.m. with a coffee.
After a few seconds, it dawns on me that I’ve become the thing I’ve spent over two years dreaming about, the thing that doctors told me wouldn’t happen, the thing that I’ve wanted more than anything else in my history of wanting stuff.
I am a daddy. I am your daddy. I have a son.
What a feeling.
I drink my coffee and snap to it. There’s work to be done.
Mummy has sent me a summary of the first night. Apparently, you have excellent jaw functionality – a little too excellent. Mummy’s food factories already have several mechanical fault issues, which translates to ‘they fucking hurt’. She requires nipple shields.
Fast-forward thirty minutes, and I find myself in the vastness of an unknown wilderness – without a map. I’m sitting on the shop floor of Boots with a staff member, a young girl: my guide, I suppose, though she’s never been to this particular wilderness either. Together we’re trying to wrap our heads around the various nipple-shield products that are available. Neither of us has the foggiest about them so I hedge my bets, buy two different versions of everything, and then make my way to the hospital. Worst-case scenario, I can suction the spares to the fridge and hang a couple of cute baby photos from them.
I tiptoe into the ward to find you and Mummy having a cuddle. Mummy has a smile on her face that, until 4.26 p.m. yesterday, I’d never seen her wear before. I savour the sight before making an entry.
‘Fancy a cuddle?’ she says.
Do I ever.
I lift you up and into my arms, and once again, I find myself transported to a place of deep serenity.
I could do this forever.
I debrief Mummy on my mission to acquire nipple shields without taking my eyes off you.
Soon after, a member of staff arrives to tell us that Arlo’s grandmothers are here to see him, but staff have refused them entry because it’s not visiting hours – something I know they’re aware of because I told them myself. I head out to meet your Granny Smurf and Mummy’s mummy, Granny Feeder.
‘I thought a box of chocolates would work,’ says Granny Feeder, living up to her nickname.
‘Ten points for effort,’ I say. ‘But you need to come back at four.’
I’m back in the ward with Mummy, and it’s time for me to change my first dirty nappy. The contents resemble that of thick black tar. Don’t worry, this is normal and expected. Your first poo is a meconium one, made up of fluid and cells that you ingested while in the womb. It’s one of the most freakish sights I’ve ever encountered, which is not an insubstantial claim given that I’ve just witnessed childbirth.
A natural I am not. My movements are clunky and uncoordinated, and I have little confidence. You’re crying as well, which does not help matters. The pitch is like a thousand tiny pins rapidly and repeatedly stabbing at my eardrums like the needle on a sewing machine.
Mummy fails to conjure up even a particle of patience watching me fumble through a task that she could perform in mere nanoseconds, thanks to ten years of experience working in childcare. In her defence, she remains beyond exhausted from labour, and hearing your baby cry in distress is not a pleasant feeling.
‘Do you want some help?’ Mummy says.
‘No, stay where you are. I need to learn how to do this.’
I’m ignored. Mummy hobbles over and prepares to take the reins. But as she does, she accidentally knocks the cannula embedded in the back of her hand on to the side of your cot. And now her hand is bleeding. Several droplets of blood land on you, making the entire scene look like some sort of voodoo ceremony. Mummy starts crying, which allows me to keep hold of the reins until I’ve changed your nappy, for which I score a D-minus at best.
‘Did you bring the right-sized vests with you?’ Mummy says.
Shit! No, I didn’t. ‘Yeah … about the vests … you know, I was really hoping you’d bring that up. I sort of forgot them.’
‘Sort of forgot them?’
‘I did that funny thing where I meant to pack them to bring them with me but then I didn’t. Because I forgot.’
‘But the ones we’ve got here are too big.’
Damn it, Daddy will need to be better organised.
After things calm down, Mummy and I have a cuddle and we agree to take it an hour at a time. Once we’re all at home, and Mummy recovers from her surgery, we’ll have both space and time to adjust to being a family. Until then, we’ll have to stumble forward.
We spend the afternoon watching you sleep. The cot is made of transparent plastic, so we can see you at all times. I’m transfixed by the rise and fall of your chest. It’s hypnotic. As are the subtle movements in your face, creasing ever so slightly at intervals. Your nascent feet, legs, hands and body. Everything about you is brand new. And your tiny newborn fingers: they grip my index finger, telling me that you need me – as a guide to take you through the early years of your life. I will be that for you. And more. Your new life is a blank slate, an empty canvas, a chance to grow into something awe-inspiring and to achieve something astonishing. Everything is a possibility to you. Who will you become, what will you accomplish? None of us knows the answers yet, but the journey we will all take together in discovering them will be an incredible adventure.
At 4 p.m. the grannies return, accompanied by Grandad Tools (Mummy’s daddy) and your Auntie Lisa (Mummy’s sister).
The introduction is extraordinary. Not for the first time in the last twenty-four hours, I watch another person – in this case four people – fall instantly in love with you.
Soon after, I change your nappy for the second time today, and you urinate all over me. I’m neither surprised nor bothered, which is a good job, as I presume this will be happening often.
It’s evening, and you’re asleep. Today has zipped by quicker than a rabbit fleeing from a hungry fox. It won’t be long before I have to leave you again.
But not yet.
There is just enough time for Mummy and me to enjoy date night.
In the past, our dates have consisted of trips to the cinema and meals out.
But we’re not doing anything like that.
Tonight’s romantic activity sees us undergo a fun little exercise called colostrum harvesting. Colostrum is the first milk that a mummy produces after giving birth. It is full of nutrients and contains a high white blood cell count, equipping a baby’s immune system with enough heavy artillery to ward off any early nasties.
The harvesting process is simple: Mummy applies pressure to certain regions of her food factories, teasing out prized colostrum, while I arm myself with a sterilised syringe and linger nearby, ready to capture every precious drop.
Despite the simple mission brief, this is a delicate affair. Remember, Mummy underwent major surgery a little over twenty-four hours ago. In addition, you have done a number on poor Mummy’s milking parlours. I think the breastfeeding specialist referred to you as having ‘an aggressive suck’.
Nevertheless, Mummy begins to extract the first drop. She winces in pain, but I can’t see any colostrum.
‘There. Quickly, this really hurts,’ Mummy says
‘Where … oh, I see it! Come here, you little fuck.’
‘Stop talking then, dickhead!’
The droplet, in a desperate attempt to evade capture, constantly alters its speed, but it’s no match for my determination and skill set as I successfully suction the first drop in the syringe.
‘Why are you pulling that face?’ Mummy says, trying not to laugh.
‘I think it’s because shut up and stop questioning my methods, woman. Now, how about you get back to squeezing those tits? This syringe ain’t gonna fill itself.’
After a successful date night (we harvested 3 ml), I change your nappy for the third time today. I’m already getting better. I’m more relaxed. I even manage to avoid you pissing on me.
It’s now 10 p.m. and it’s time for me to leave. My first day of being a daddy is over. Only the rest of my life to go. To an outsider, it probably doesn’t amount to an event deserving global media coverage, or even a cursory one-liner mention in the back of the local paper, but to me, it’s a day that I will never forget. My first day of dadding.
Thursday, 21 November 2019 – A Curveball Of Boob-Shaped Proportions
2 days old
Your jaw action has gone Super Saiyan on poor Mummy’s boobies. The damage has left a sight that I can only describe as two miniature erupting volcanoes with molten magma pouring over the summits and flowing down the sides. In case you haven’t made the link, the magma in the volcano image represents the blood you’ve drawn from Mummy. You’ve drawn so much of the stuff that you’re now throwing up blood clots.
Imagine our fright when we witnessed that for the first time.
The breastfeeding specialist advises that we book you in to see a cranial osteopath. She says that the shape of your skull is causing your jaw to operate in the way that it is, and that a cranial osteopath may be able to do something about it. Just don’t ask me what. She also says that, for the time being, we should accept feeding support from a bottle to allow Mummy time to heal. Mummy is gutted, but I tell her that it’s all but physically impossible to continue this way. On a brighter note, I’ve managed to bring the correct-sized vests in for you today, so at least your clothes fit.
I’m still struggling to thread your little Arlo arms through the sleeves of your Babygros. While we’re on the subject, I don’t like working with hats or mittens either. They’re so fucking fiddly, and it’s stressing me out.
The Matriarch is supporting my anxiety by laughing uncontrollably – or partially uncontrollably – because of the pain she’s still in from the surgery. Instead of suspending laugher altogether, she’s changed her style of laughter to reduce the convulsions that so often accompany a good giggle. The result is that Mummy now laughs like Eddie Murphy, which then makes Daddy laugh.
Another nappy change for Daddy, Arlo, and it’s my most challenging yet. I’m contending with the following variables: you being sick, you shitting, you pissing and you flailing both legs. Oh, and also crying. All of this is happening simultaneously.
This is frustrating because if you stop doing all these things at once or even some of these things, then these episodes will pass quickly and I can return you back into the loving arms of one of your parents.
But you’re unable to grasp this. I guess that’s understandable, considering you are only two days old.
The afternoon passes much the same as yesterday, with your parents smiling, cuddling you or watching you sleep. It would have been a perfect afternoon, save for Mummy receiving some blood-test results that were not what we wanted. In short, they’re still indicating that her blood is ‘deranged’ (Mummy had pre-eclampsia before she gave birth to you). I have no idea how the NHS defines deranged blood, but I know that it means you and Mummy need to remain in the hospital again tonight.
For the third night in a row, I begrudgingly say goodbye and leave my family.
Friday, 22 November 2019 – Home Is Where The Heart Is
3 days old
Please come home today.
You’re three days old, but I don’t feel like we’ve properly begun parenting yet. We’ve changed nappies, clothed you, fed you and cuddled you a lot, but it doesn't feel authentic with all this taking place in the hospital.
Mummy tells me that you guys had a rough night and that she didn’t have as much support from the midwives as she had the previous two nights, resulting in Mummy climbing in and out of bed to check on you on many occasions. No easy feat given her present condition.
During one stage, you may have urinated on your face. If you’re proud of your accomplishment, then you are in good company.
Breastfeeding is still a no-go area. Even the specialist winced when she examined Mummy, telling her that she needs to rest for a few days before perhaps hand-expressing milk if she wants to continue on this route, which she does.
Mummy’s empathy towards Daddy’s ineptitude remains AWOL. She laughed so hard when you projectile-vomited over me that I had to ask a midwife to check Mummy’s C-section stitches.
Her stitches were fine, by the way, but I’ll tell you something else: that Eddie Murphy laugh isn’t as fucking funny as it was yesterday.
It’s the afternoon, and the on-shift midwife arrives to check Mummy’s blood pressure. We’ve been waiting all day for this. If the results are normal – or non-deranged – then Daddy can bring you and Mummy home.
Please come home today.
I worry how Mummy will handle having to stay another night in the hospital. Last night was tough on both of you.
The blood-pressure machine takes a few seconds to do what it needs to do before a beep signals completion.
The results are in …
You’re coming home.
Two facts about Daddy and cars: I’ve never owned one, despite holding a licence since I was seventeen, and Mummy likes to do all the driving in our relationship. I only drive when I’m without Mummy. Keep those facts in mind as I place you in your car seat and then lower Mummy, who is wincing in pain, into the passenger side of the vehicle.
One of Mummy’s many complaints about our car is that the ‘suspension is shit’ – a view I’ve always dismissed as ‘it could be worse’.
Until now, when I realise I have to drive my three-days-post-op partner, along with my three-day-old baby, home. Suddenly, the suspension issue seems more of a pressing concern, especially as the hospital is overpopulated with speed bumps. I calculate the best possible route to limit the bumps and Mummy’s discomfort.
Almost home, Arlo.
I don’t recall ever taking a corner in first gear, but I count at least four on this journey. The drive is like an adult’s version of the egg-and-spoon race, but with cars, newborn babies and an in-pain mummy. Luckily, we live close to the hospital, so it’s a short trip, one I spend the entire duration of shitting myself. At least I can blame you for the smell.
The last time Mummy and I walked across the threshold of our house, it was as a two-person family, when we left to go to the hospital seven days ago. We return as a family of three.
Now our parenting adventure can truly begin.
And begin it does, as you wake up and use your lungs to tell us that you’re hungry.
SHHIIITTTT – we don’t have any formula!
I’ve been blindsided, Arlo. I thought Mummy was content with breastfeeding, but she can’t breastfeed while substantial food-factory repair works are undertaken.
Luckily, it’s Granny Feeder and Auntie Lisa to the rescue, who soon arrive with your first tub of formula. Auntie Lisa conducts a quick bottle-sterilisation training session for your clueless parents.
Crisis successfully averted. I fear there will be many more to come.
Saturday, 23 November 2019 – Night Feeds
4 days old
It’s midnight. Time for me to step up my dad game and commence my first night feed.
I drag myself downstairs, fill your bottle up with 2 oz of hot water, add two scoops of formula, and then I place the bottle into a jug of cold water to bring the formula temperature down.
I return to our bedroom, gently scoop you out of your Moses basket and lay you down on our bed to change you.
You scream as soon as I remove the dirty nappy, but the pitch reduces once I dress you.
Bottle temperature check …
Hang on a sec, how do I check the temperature? How do I know if it’s too hot still? I don’t have a fucking clue what I’m doing.
‘Here, squirt some on my wrist,’ says Mummy, who’s obviously awake as well.
I do as she says.
You and I get comfy, and I begin the feed.
You devour the two ounces.
Winding happens quickly as well. I barely sit you up before you release a great big belch. It’s quite comical given your size.
Thirty minutes later, I put you down, and you immediately drift back off to sleep.
And now Mummy and I need to follow suit.
But I can’t. I’m tense – unable to relax my shoulders into the mattress. Every sound you make prompts me to check on you, which entails crawling to the end of the bed where your Moses basket lives.
Eventually, I reach that place in between being asleep and awake.
I check the time. It’s 3 a.m.
I drag myself downstairs, fill your bottle up with 2 oz of hot water, add two scoops of formula … you get the picture.
It plays out the same way: thirty minutes start to finish. Mummy tells me when the temperature has cooled enough, you gulp down the feed, burp immediately after, and you don’t complain when I put you back in your Moses basket.
Once again, I flitter in and out of something that, at a stretch, could be described as sleep, while regularly checking on you to make sure you’re OK.
I check the time. It’s 6 a.m.
‘OK, buddy, Daddy’s getting up.’
I’m shattered, but I’m pleased with how the night played out, all things considered. You fed, burped and went back to sleep – performing all three actions quickly.
Keep this behaviour up.
The quicker you feed, the quicker we can get back to bed and fall asleep. And the quicker we fall asleep means we sleep more, which then means we’ll wake up in a better mood, replete with greater energy reserves that we can all draw on to aid us in piloting ourselves through the day.
Thankfully, it seems you’ve grasped that concept. For now.
If only I could relax in between feeds.
Post has arrived.
I walk to the front door to find a brightly coloured parcel addressed to you. The sight of your name written in full on the label hits me in an unexpectedly emotional way.
Mummy insists that the wrapping paper be sedulously unfolded. ‘It’s his first present with his name on it, I want to keep it in his memory box.’
Next, we announce your arrival on social media. The response is swift. Everyone appears to like both your name and your appearance. I think they’re telling the truth, though you never can tell. No one is going to write, ‘Congrats guys! Shame it’s an ugly munter of a rat, with a shit name to boot. Not exactly leading with your best foot, are you?’
But I don’t care what other people think … OK, I do a bit.
Mummy and I have agreed to open the doors to visitors this weekend, but then we’re shutting them again for a week so we can have some downtime and get to know each other. Granny Smurf is staying in an Airbnb so it really will be the three of us.
But for now, visitors are welcome, and a steady stream of callers arrives throughout the day to admire you. The house is a mess, but no one gives a shit. They care only about meeting you and holding you. Mummy has a huge extended family. The number of cousins runs seemingly into the thousands. You are spoilt: people have brought you clothes, books, soft toys and keepsakes.
Mummy’s spoilt as well: she’s been brought alcohol and beauty products.
There’s nothing for Daddy, though, which is fine. I mean, IT’S NOT LIKE HE DID ALL THE FUCKING NIGHT FEEDS LAST NIGHT, IS IT?
I’m often curious to know what goes through the mind of an adult when they gaze into the eyes of a newborn baby. What do they see? Is it beauty, possibility, potential, promise? Or perhaps there’s envy. Envy that a baby’s life is just starting out while theirs has been shaped, twisted, battered and scarred by their environment, their experiences, and by the choices they have made thus far. Perhaps there’s regret: at opportunities not taken, expectations they held but were never realised, at easier roads they pursued instead of taking the harder path.
Maybe they find inspiration – a spark that alters the course of their destiny in a single brief encounter, one that ends with a promise, ‘From this day onwards, I will …’ Or maybe there’s peace and love, and faith in the next generation who will inherit the earth and, hopefully, leave it in a better place than when they found it.
Who knows, but whatever they see when they stare into new eyes, I’d wager it’s always poignancy that stares back.
What I do know is that the day passes at a rapid pace, and I’m shocked to look outside and see only darkness. In between making cups of tea, recounting the story of Mummy’s labour to visitors, and feeding and changing you, time has raced by. But I’ve loved every second of it.
Now, I wonder what night two of night-feed duty has in store for us both.
Sunday, 24 November 2019 – I Can’t Keep … My Eyes … Op—
5 days old
I don’t know what time it is, but it’s dark outside, and I cannot get you back off to sleep. We’ve both been up for what feels like hours. I’ve done everything I can think of: feeding, cuddling, changing and winding. All of this falls into a new category that I’ve made up, called the ‘Big Four’.
I’ve propped my pillows up in bed, and now I’m sitting gently bouncing you – desperately hoping your little eyelids will fall shut and your lungs quieten.
Finally … you drift off to sleep.
I nervously shuffle to the edge of the bed. Then I stand, pause, creep towards your Moses basket, delicately lower you in, and then slowly back away from the biological wad of C4.
Please don’t let the bomb go off, please don’t let the bomb go off, please don’t let the bomb go off.
It hasn’t gone off. Yes!
Now, back to b—
OK, buddy, back into Daddy’s bed we go.
I wonder what the matter is?
I strip you down so that you’re wearing only a nappy, and then I place you on my chest so we can have some skin-to-skin cuddles.
I’m utterly drained of energy. I check the time: 2.59 a.m.
Must keep … my eyes op—
My eyes snap open in panic. I fell asleep. But I’m in the same position, so I can only have been asleep for a few seconds. Once again, I check the time.
Holy shit. Fuck. Arlo, we’ve slept for three hours. It’s almost 6 a.m.!
Shit, shit, shit – what if something happened to you?
I don’t know much about the arguments for allowing babies to sleep in bed with their parents, but I know it’s discouraged, in case a parent accidentally rolls on top of the baby. I also know that most recorded incidents occur when the parent is under the influence of alcohol or drugs. I had taken neither, but that doesn’t get me off the hook. I need to be wary of this happening. It’s hard, though, as I’ve never been at my best when I don’t have enough sleep. I know most people aren’t, but I am a lamentably pathetic example.
I confess my mistake to Mummy.
‘It’s OK. I was keeping an eye on you both, and you didn’t move a muscle.’
She means well, but I’m a little shaken up. Again, I think to myself, what if something terrible had happened?
And why did you settle well the first night, but not the second?
After a while, we stumble upon what we think is the answer: heat. Or more to the point, we think the room was too hot. That’s why skin-to-skin contact eventually settled you. Adults can regulate their own temperature, but babies can’t. Skin-to-skin contact allows babies to regulate their temperature through the skin of their parents.
When I woke up from our danger nap, I put you back in your Moses basket, but with fewer layers of clothing. I also lowered the temperature.
You immediately went to sleep.
That’s the thing with trying to settle a distressed baby in the middle of the night: you can work through the more common symptoms like hunger, wind and a dirty nappy on autopilot. I’ve already grasped that in the short time you have been home. But things get progressively trickier when it’s none of those; when it’s something that requires a bit of creative brainpower to solve. Because doing that while tired is really fucking tough.
It’s another busy day for the visitors and I’m learning every minute: leave juice, biscuits and cups out on display for guests. Leave the bin out in clear sight rather than under the sink where it usually lives. Use dirty washing to clear up collateral baby piss instead of a clean muslin square. Use a portable basket with nappy-changing supplies that I can cart around the house. Move the outside bin to the back door so that shitty nappies can be hurled in easily. Fill your bottles up during the day with boiling water, so that when they’re needed it’s quicker to warm them up (we now have a bottle warmer) from room temperature than it is to cool them down from 98 degrees.
Get two dining-room chairs, put them together and wedge them between the party wall and our love seat. Then, get the buggy-bassinet attachment and place it on top of the dining chairs: we now have separate beds for you downstairs, and upstairs. Daddy no longer has to keep carrying the Moses basket up and down the stairs every day.
That’s how we need to approach parenthood, Arlo, as one giant learning experience. Every day, we’ll learn a little bit more and get a little bit better at it. I hope.
I’ve just realised that it’s Sunday. When God was penning the finer details of his bestseller, I don’t think he spent enough time focusing on individual circumstances for those expected to follow his resting-on-the-Sabbath-day protocol. It might work when you don’t have kids, but not when you do.
But hang on a minute, God did have a kid, didn’t he? Oh yeah, that’s right, he gave him up for adoption and then had him sacrificed for the ‘love and betterment of humanity’. I don’t buy that for a minute, big G, more like you weren’t stoked for night-feed duty – or having to pay your maintenance fees.
Monday, 25 November 2019 – Our First Difficult Decision
6 days old
The wonderful thing about forgetting to put the dishwasher on before bed is that – thanks to you, Arlo – I’m afforded several opportunities throughout the night to rectify the issue while preparing your bottle for a feed.
You slept much better last night. If it was the heat that kept you up the previous night, I’m relieved it only took us one night to figure out. From now on, the Gro-egg thermometer follows you around like an obsessive shadow. I wonder what a non-obsessive shadow looks like? Maybe Peter Pan knows.
We have no visitors scheduled today, and Mummy and I are looking forward to spending time with you, just the three of us. Unfortunately, you have other ideas. You’ve spent the entire day sleeping, waking only for feeds. I estimate we’ve had about fifteen minutes of your time when you were awake and alert, and not wanting one of the Big Four tending to. I make a joke about waking you up … except it’s not a joke. WAKE UP, GOD DAMN IT!
But you don’t. So, Mummy uses the downtime to check in on her food-factory repairs, and see if they’re ready to start production again.
It doesn’t go well. Mummy has tried expressing manually and with a pump, but she’s still in agony, and she’s getting herself worked up about the whole situation. She’s crying, and she keeps repeating that she’s a failure. Which, of course, she’s not.
Unfortunately, this is yet another component of the motherhood journey.
There’s a lot at play here.
Mummy is still exhausted from giving birth to you, plus she’s recovering from major surgery. She’s also ridiculously stubborn, so she’s putting undue pressure on herself to make breastfeeding work. To add to the pile of fun, she’s also mindful of research I carried out while you were still Dory about the comparative risks and benefits of breastfeeding and formula-feeding. In short, I was hoping that Mummy would be able to breastfeed you to give you the best start at building up your immune system.
But that was a linear thought process, based on one variable: bottle-fed versus breastfed. It didn’t take into account Mummy’s mental well-being, nor did it consider the shape of your head, which causes you to clamp down and suck unusually strongly. And it also didn’t account for Mummy’s hormonal changes.
I don’t understand why, from an evolutionary viewpoint, breastfeeding is difficult for women. Their bodies are insanely intelligent and intuitive when it comes to the entire baby-making process, apart from the breastfeeding element. Why does the female body time the rebalancing of its hormones, which is often responsible for the baby blues, to coincide with the mum’s milk coming in, when she has to learn how to breastfeed – a process which is often painful, exhausting and emotionally demanding? That makes no sense to me, Arlo, but then I’m a bloke, and I’m hardly an authority on such matters, or any matters really – except maybe Marvel movies.
After a discussion, we both agree to move you on to formula permanently. This is a joint decision. It might be Mummy’s body, but she needs my full support right now. Emotionally, she’s in bits, and me taking 50 per cent accountability for a big decision like this will help shoulder some of the psychological pressure.
I explain to Mummy that we can start using probiotics in your formula, and we can regiment the shit out of weaning and the introduction of solids. This makes her feel better.
Parental guilt is real, and Mummy-guilt is among the most potent varieties of it.
Tuesday, 26 November 2019 – Week One Completed
7 days old
It’s Mummy and Daddy’s fifth anniversary. Five years since our first date. It starts a little differently from the previous four years. It starts with Daddy helping Mummy walk to the bathroom so that she can go for a wee, followed by – and I’m not exaggerating when I tell you this – a huge celebration because you’ve done a poo. It had been twenty hours, and Mummy was beginning to panic.
We follow up the assisted wee and poo celebration with a family selfie at 3 a.m. to celebrate you turning one week old.
‘Can we take that again?’ Mummy says.
‘What, is our sleep-deprived-new-parent look not working for the camera? Maybe we just need to add in a bit more pouting.’
‘No, cock, you can see the cabbage leaves that are sticking out from my bra.’
‘Huh. You’re not wrong.’
‘So maybe shut up and take the fucking picture again.’
I retake it, but without the cabbage leaf infiltrating the mise en scène.
It’s later in the day, and we’re rounding off our fifth anniversary by heading to the last place Mummy and Daddy visited together before your birth. It’s a little coffee shop down the road. While there, we experience our first instance of a stranger walking up to us to admire you, Arlo. It’s sweet, and I don’t mind people doing it, so long as they don’t outstay their welcome.
I’ve been at Dadding Inc. for a whole week now, but I’ve not had a second to sit down and contemplate my new identity as a father. There just hasn’t been time. But it has been a memorable first week on the job, and what I can say is that I definitely made the right decision in coming to work here.
Wednesday, 27 November 2019 – The Nights Take Their Toll
8 days old
I slept dreadfully last night, Arlo. It’s not because of the night feeds, although – full disclaimer – they don’t help. It stems from you stirring in your sleep. You’re not necessarily waking up and needing something, but I never know that at the time. I’m on standby because I know I may need to go through the Big Four at any moment. Most of the time, your stirring amounts to nothing and you might only be dreaming or uncomfortable. I’m starting to learn the subtle differences in your movements and cries, but I’m hardly in a position to graduate with full honours in understanding newborn babies. And so sleep comes in an irregular and fleeting manner.
The silence is the toughest challenge because you become too silent. I’ve been up and down to the foot of the bed more times than I care to count to make sure you’re OK, and by OK, I mean alive. I’ve followed this pattern for the last four nights.
Hopefully, things will become easier when Mummy recovers enough from her surgery to begin splitting night-shift duties with me. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this a million times before, Arlo, but Daddy does not cope well without sleep.
Despite a restless night, there is still much to be done. First on the list is to try you out on probiotics which come in a powder and are added to your bottle. I’ve checked with midwives and healthcare assistants, and they don’t seem to know an awful lot about probiotics and babies. I expected this, but from the reading I’ve done I’m still confident it’s the right decision. Giving you probiotics is the first decision I’ve pushed for as a parent. Hopefully, I’ve made the right call.
The next step on today's agenda is to register your birth so the government can document that you’re a UK citizen / actual human. I contemplate asking Mummy if we’re married to the name Arlo, because we have four formidably strong Ninja Turtle names to select from as backup, not to mention one extraordinarily agile rat.
We arrive fifteen minutes late for our appointment. The receptionist tells me late arrivals are common.
I believe her.
We’re directed into a side room where we meet a kind, warm, smiling lady who’s waiting patiently to register your existence. She writes down all of our details on your birth certificate before handing it to me. ‘Please check the details very carefully because it’s a hell of a faff to update them once I press enter.’
I do. I check the form thoroughly three times. For anyone that’s counting, that’s one more than Santa.
Next, we register you for your library card and in doing so you get a free book. Mummy and Daddy register as well, but we don’t get a free book. I shrug when I learn this, but inside I’m gutted. Daddy loves his books, Arlo, and it all seems highly unfair because you can’t even see yet, let alone read.
On the way out, we retrace our steps to find the exit, bypassing the stairs and opting for the ramp instead. It dawns on me that we’ve become people that seek out ramps.
Thursday, 28 November 2019 – Changing Nappies? Easy!
9 days old
I’ve just fucking crushed a nappy change, Arlo. I got everything ready as I always do, but this time my actions felt automatic instead of a conscious decision process: when to remove the old nappy from under you, what side to wipe first, when to replace the old wipe with a new one. These are all decisions, Arlo; decisions that I agonise over every time I change you. I can usually drag out a sixty-second nappy change to the length of Gone with the Wind.
But no longer.
Something was different about this nappy change. It’s like I had an extra hand assisting me. My movements were calm, collected and fluid. Even when you decided to piss mid-change, my instincts rose to meet the occasion and I calmly collected every drop of urine in the old nappy. Then I wiped you, switched out the old nappy for the new one, strapped it up, buttoned your vest and Babygro and then finally lifted you for a cuddle – celebrating my victory at the same time.
For my efforts, I receive twenty dad-experience points.
Friday, 29 November 2019 – And Rohan Will Answer!
10 days old
For the first time since you came home, Mummy says that she feels strong enough to tackle a night feed. I cannot express with words how welcoming this development is to my life. Picture a broken, sleep-deprived spectre of a man, who, after having his spirit bent and contorted in ways that seem unnatural (because they are), has glimpsed the shiny prospect of hope, and he’s slowly reaching out with two shaky and desperate hands, wondering if it’s real, and if he can grasp it firmly enough to mould it into reality. That’s me.
‘Are you sure you’re up for it?’
‘Yeah, I think—’
‘That’s great! Thank you so, so bloody much. You’re so awesome. WHOOP WHOOP!’ I practically shot-put the parenthood baton towards her from my side of the bed, before getting comfortable and shutting my eyes.
Arlo, I’m clocking off!
Saturday, 30 November 2019 – Our New Names
11 days old
Mummy and Daddy have many different names for each other. We have our first names, middle names, surnames, pet names, and names for when we piss each other off. Yet, these days, we don’t use any of them.
Since becoming parents, we have only ever called each other Mummy and Daddy. It took me a few days to realise this, but we can’t seem to stop it. Every day, mundane lines of dialogue such as ‘Are you OK?’ or ‘Put the kettle on’ become ‘Is Mummy OK?’ and ‘Daddy, put the kettle on’. My favourite so far is Mummy saying, ‘Does Daddy want to think about taking a day off from being a cunt?’ It’s madness, especially when she knows I’d never take a day off from that.
I don’t know if this practice is unique to us, or if it’s common among parents.