To make a long story short, before Kit was born I had very little experience of babies – I suppose I am similar to many guys in that respect. I had a younger sister, but only two years younger, not enough of a difference for me to have ever really thought of her as a baby and myself as a grown up.
Basically, I had never changed a nappy or soothed a crying baby or played peekaboo. I was a total novice!
On top of that, I had a “life” – I work 12 hour days at a dairy and I was (still am) an on-call firefighter, which meant that I was often called out at night, to the sound of a very shrill pager. Would we be able to cope, I wondered? And what would be the cost to my relationship with my partner – it was stressful enough without a baby to be dragged away for hours at a time in addition to my full-time job.
Being Dad: Expectations
Despite all of the above, I had always wanted kids – totally inexplicably, I just did. I thought it would be cool to have a little minion to do my bidding (hah!). You can tell how inexperienced I was, right?
We weren’t sure how we would cope, but my partner is amazingly supportive, and we get along really well. The one thing that bugs her about me is my lack of a desire to form a plan. I tended to think “it’ll all work out, she’ll be right, no worries“. She needed to know HOW it would work out.
What did she want?
Mum was also really looking forward to having a baby. She really wanted a natural birth, with no pain medication. She felt like it would allow her to be “there” for the experience. Although pregnancy knocked her for six, she was strong throughout. She never despaired or freaked out. I like to think that I had some part to play, by supporting her as best as I could. Talking, listening, massaging, really trying to get myself involved in the process.
Some other couples I know are completely different in this regard – often the male partner seems to want to distance himself from the situation. He might put off going to ante-natal classes, for instance. Or not want to read up on what to expect.
I can’t speak for their experience, but I certainly feel that in our case my being involved helped to strengthen our bond and prepare us for what was to come. The “it’ll work out” sentiment started to feel more real, perhaps…
Being Dad: Reality
When the day came, to be honest I was still pretty much unprepared for it. We had bags packed and knew where to go and what to do, of course. But emotionally, it was REAL this time!
Watching my partner in pain wasn’t fun, but she dealt with it incredibly well (although I think we have different memories of what it was like!).
Then when Kit appeared in the pool I cried – I never cry, of course, but I did anyway.
From there on out it was all learning. The first nappy change was a challenge – who’d been feeding the little guy Marmite!? Honestly, prenatal classes could never have prepared me for this. Heck, I think even if I’d had the chance to work with a real baby it wouldn’t have prepared me for the feeling of “for-goodness-sake-don’t-break-him”.
And those first few… well, many months – the lack of sleep is real. Combined with some of our parenting choices and my work, it has been tough. But, as I thought – it’ll be alright! In fact, as I write this, I am functioning (barely) on 1 hour and twenty minutes of sleep. It’s all good! If you’re expecting a baby, buy coffee.
And that is what I found most striking about bringing home a baby – we just did it and got on with it. I’m sure we have been lucky to some degree, but pretty much as soon as we got him home, and once we’d gotten over the amazement, we couldn’t remember what our lives had been like without him. It was entirely natural to be up several times a night, changing nappies became a breeze, entertaining a baby became second nature.
We have made some fairly unconventional choices as parents. I guess it was bound to happen, given that we are fairly unconventional people. Before having our baby, I have to admit I didn’t really know that there were “choices” as parents. I’d watched Super Nanny; it was pretty clear that raising a child was very much like training a dog. Don’t reward “bad” behaviour, only “good” behaviour.
That this sort of agency can’t be applied to dogs, let alone tiny babies, never really occurred to me. So when Kit is “bad” I can’t assign that sort of moral judgement to his behaviour – he is more likely sad, frustrated, hungry, cold, hot, whatever. Not “bad”. Soothing and comforting seems to work better than anything else (apart from feeding!).
I don’t know if our way is the right way as such, but it works for us.
Before Kit was born, I read a couple of books – one great one by a male midwife called Mark Harris really stands out – and what I took away from it was that we had to present a united front. And also, that little kid will tear us apart if we let it. The stress, the sleep deprivation, the uncertainty – all of this is inevitable. At least we can agree on agreeing!
So my parenting style has been: whatever Mum wants, to make her feel better as a parent, I tried to accommodate. Co-sleeping? Deal. What’s co-sleeping?
My analytical man mind went searching for answers – co-sleeping is thought to be dangerous, I read. But mum’s instinct is that it is right. Hmmm… I dug a little deeper, and it seemed like there is no consensus on whether or not it is dangerous – especially if a few conditions are met.
Again, as before, I got involved – I started babywearing. This was great – it really gave me the opportunity to help out around the house in a big way. Not only was I cooking dinner or doing the dishes or laundry, but I was also giving Mum a break from looking after the baby. After all, she had more than likely been up through the night with him.
And quite apart from the practical considerations of having a hands-free kit for the baby, I also got to be close to him and hopefully give him the opportunity to associate me with comfort and security rather than just making fart noises and bouncing him around.
When I wear Kit around town, I invariably get stares of wonder and amazement. I know, a dad and baby huh? I feel bad though because Mum tells me she gets nothing of the sort – mum and baby is just expected. This is part of what I want to achieve with my website – to normalise the idea, at least for a few people, that dad can be close to his baby too.
Other aspects of our parenting come under scrutiny sometimes too – it affects Mum more than it does me. As I said, “it’ll be alright” – but when someone questions my partner about whether it’s wise to be co-sleeping or suggests that breastfeeding will be a rod for our backs in future, or says that we should just leave the little one to cry, it does get to her. We’re secure in our decisions, but everyone has an opinion on how to raise a child, and pretty much anything you do is wrong according to someone.
What we have settled on works very well for us. I think whatever you decide to do will work for you too, so long as your goal is to raise a well-loved child.