On Becoming a Dad (by a Dad)
Don't judge me, but one of the first things I realised before becoming a Dad was that during pregnancy, it's all about the Mum. Now many of you expectant-fathers would probably see that as obvious. But I didn't. Sure, we don't have to carry the baby and go through labour - obviously. We don't have to carry the anxiety and responsibility that comes with having a growing baby inside us. OK, like I said - don't judge me. But I did feel a bit left out and while I didn't admit it then, I'm happy to now.
At the time, I didn't know why. The obvious stuff was obvious - obviously. But that didn't explain it for me, and it's only since we've had our baby and she's now a toddler that it's become clear - I was clueless. Completely and utterly clueless. When I opened my wallet, I saw three separate cards that had only been issued to me upon receiving training and subsequently passing the respective tests. But I was about to become a Dad and unlike my being allowed to drive a car, no one was there to tell me how to look after a child. Sob story over.
It became pretty clear, pretty quickly that I had a huge role to play, but like most men, I had to work it out for myself. Here's my thoughts - they won't resonate with everyone and some may violently disagree; but if you take anything away from reading this, it's that in the early stages, Dads need to remain flexible, helpful and dig out every ounce of emotional intelligence you may or may not have. I dug deep. Real deep.
The Labour - this may be a reflection on our relationship, but I was useless. Plan A, B, C and D may go out of the window and no matter how many massage techniques that NCT has taught you, your wife will probably tell you to f**k off. You still matter more than any midwife or doctor in the room (most of the time).
The first few weeks - it seems like the baby only needs Mum, which is true. But the baby needs a Mum that's in as good a state as can be. That's you again.
Sleep - You need it as much as Mum, so make sure you don't put too much on yourself.
Feeding Baby - if your baby is only breastfed, it's hard to help directly with the feeding routine. That was our plan, until we realised that was hard. Really hard. So I talked to my wife about me doing the late evening feed with breast-milk that we'd frozen. That made a HUGE difference to my wife and I did that. Looking back, that was my proudest contribution.
Feeding You and Mum - Batch cook, ahead of time and freeze it. Again, massively important.
The House - I cleaned, cooked and generally took on the role of house keeper. That made a big difference.
Work - I've got a stressful job and a demanding one in terms of hours. I made it clear that I was 9-5 for the foreseeable. No debate. I'm not sure we'd have coped without that and guess what - work carried on fine without me. Plus, I took a month's shared-parental leave. This is 2017. Do it.
Fun - In the spirit of being honest, I didn't massively enjoy the first few months. It was tough and I felt like my independence had been taken away. Some of my mates are appalled when I say that, but it was the truth. Don't beat yourself up. I played a massive role and now, it's fantastic hearing my daughter say 'Nigh nigh Daddy' when I put her to bed.
Bonding - Don't put too much pressure on yourself to 'bond' with your child. I didn't immediately, but it happens. Just different for different people. Again, go easy on yourself.
Routine - last one. Getting your child into a routine (for us at least) was the key to getting our sanity back. Mum may be too tired to be able to manage that - that's where you come in. She needs you to make that happen. If I could pick any of these points that I can still point to now, it's this one. This really is where you can make a lasting difference to the family unit. I did.
So that's it. The most scariest/least scariest, least fun/most fun, most tiring/most energising experience of my life. Have fun!
For balanced information and advice from a range of local specialists on pregnancy, birth and beyond, and to meet other new parents to be in your area, see our courses at www.bumptocradle.com or contact Miriam at firstname.lastname@example.org.