On being a new father

Being a parent is an utterly exhausting experience. Long nights of fitful sleep with an ear cocked for gurgles, snuffles, whimpers and the occasional outright cry. Disgusting nappies and fountains of pee add to the experience. But the rewards are fantastic. Tom is already fixing his gaze on our faces when we hold him and displaying a definite sparkle in his eyes. Starting as we mean to go on, and following a tip from our midwife, we’ve succeeded in teaching young Tom to stick his tongue out at people. Next is the challenge of teaching him to blow raspberries. From there, it’ll be a short step to having him swear like a trooper.

I know that one or two regular readers are either expecting a child or considering parenthood, so here are a few handy tips from our experience:

  • You will get more advice than you can handle. It will come from family and friends; from books and health professionals; even from total strangers. Most of it will be contradictory. Much of it will be totally useless. Nearly all of it should be ignored. Everyone is being genuinely caring and trying to be helpful – I do appreciate those sentiments. But after a while, you will be totally overwhelmed and wish that it would stop. With this in mind, I’ll try to keep the rest of this post concise and truly useful.
  • Don’t waste too much time and money on books. We had a good pile of books about pregnancy which were obtained at not inconsiderable expense. Most are still unread, even though the pregnancy is now complete. The most useful book that we had is the free one given out by the NHS – it has got all the essential information presented in an unvarnished style. It answered most of the questions that we had.
  • Ante-natal classes are well worth attending. We tried to get on to the NCT classes, but these do involve a not insubstantial fee – as it was, they could only fit us on a course that started 14 days before the due date. If Tom had come early, they would have been useless. They also tend to have components related to breathing (I practice every day, so I’m quite proficient) and vocalizing your pain (a.k.a.: screaming). Instead, we went to the classes held by the NHS at the hospital where Tom was born. These were run by the midwife team there, were informal (and irreverent), free and, like the NHS book, told us what we needed to know in a concise and unvarnished manner, including a tour of the facilities (knowing your way around is vital). The NCT classes are reputed to have a social element which we found was also present in the NHS classes – we’ve made friends with a couple who had a son two weeks before Tom, with whom we can now share experiences and, more usefully, a pint.
  • Birth plans are useless. Mostly. Most books will advise you to make a birth plan. We had a plan that extended to a whole sheet of A4. When it came to the crunch, everything on the plan went out the window – the only thing that actually came to pass was that I was present at the birth. However, making a birth plan does serve the purpose of forcing you to research all the things that might happen and understand what the choices are and what they might mean. That knowledge was very useful on the day, at least for me, as I was able to guide Hels through the process and choices as we went (she was a little distracted to be able to think consecutively – I can’t imagine why).
  • Mothers – do not expect to have a shred of dignity remaining after more than 5 minutes in hospital. Any air of mystery that you have tried to maintain around your partner will also disappear. Let’s face it, you’re going to be in agony, shouting and screaming, with all your bits on display. Get used to the idea – once you do, you’ll relax a bit more. And you’ll need your sense of humour.
  • Fathers – be warned that midwives will size you up in seconds. I had what can only be described as a very hands-on role in the delivery of my son, acting as the midwife’s assistant throughout the entire process. This did mean rolling my sleeves up and getting my hands dirty. It was only afterwards that we learned that, when you arrive in the delivery suite with your partner, the midwife will use her experience to quickly get a measure of you. If she thinks that you are the type who is going to sit in the corner and pass out at the sight of blood, then you will be given a seat and a corner and left to it. If, on the other hand, you come across as being made of stronger stuff, then you’d better be ready for some hard work. If you can, try to get the latter result (if you think you have the stomach for it) – helping our midwife deliver Tom is going to be an experience that will be with me for the rest of my days. It also means that you are too busy to pass out!
  • Be prepared to be very, very scared. When we got to the end of labour, one or two things started to go a little awry. Tom was born at 5.18pm, with the midwife cutting the cord and then turning to her assistant (the official one, that is, who was present only for the final few minutes) and saying “Theatre! Now!”. Tom disappeared through the doors and was gone and we were left wondering what the hell was going on and if our child was alive or what. As it turned out, Tom was not breathing and needed to go to theatre (the next room) to be given a bit of a kick start in that department. A minute later, the nurse came back and held the door of the delivery room open so that we could hear him crying. I don’t think I’ve ever be so relieved in all my life.
  • Post-natal wards are the noisiest places on Earth. You think your local bypass is noisy? Or that nearby building site? That’s got nothing on the post-natal ward. Twenty mums, twenty newborns, twenty partners, perhaps twelve staff. You will not find a quiet corner. Mums should not expect to get much sleep.
  • Keep the number of visitors to an absolute minimum. Everyone will want to see you and your baby. Both parents will be utterly exhausted and will want the baby to sleep whenever he/she can as it gives them a chance for a little shut-eye. Even your parents can be told to hold-off visiting for a while. The only person you will welcome into your home will be the community midwife.
  • You will end up with three pushchairs. Fact. Get used to it.
  • You will go around grinning like a loon. Assuming you’re not fast asleep at the time. And your child will be the most beautiful baby in the world. You will turn into a baby bore. It’s fantastic, though you may seriously consider whether you would ever wish to put yourselves through it for a second time.

12 Replies to “On being a new father”

  1. Ahhh, that brings it all back! Some very good advice there, don’t be afraid to do things your own way and everything will work out (I think you know that anyway).

    The next few years will be incredible, enjoy.

  2. Additional amusing anecdote – we had been told to expect a boy, judging by what looked like the presence of “tackle” in an ultrasound scan. But these things are never 100% accurate, so we were braced for a surprise.
    After all the excitement of the non-breathing of the newborn baby, we were rather distracted. When he was returned to us from theatre, wrapped in a swaddle, we sat holding him for about ten minutes, slightly shell-shocked. We were calling him “Tom”, but then realised that we weren’t sure. So we asked the midwife – “You know, with everything going on, I didn’t even have time to look!”. So we had to unwrap the bundle to check – definitely Tom.

  3. I was, and continue to be, amazed at peoples’ ability to offer unasked for advice or information.

    The best one was a woman, who having asked my wife how pregnant she was, said “Ah, 22 weeks – my daughter had two miscarriages at that stage…”

    Even now, with my boy at 9 months (and so, one would think, my abilities as a parent well established), I had a woman telling me that I should not maintain his vegetarian diet, because he will grow up stunted.

  4. There is only one bit of advice you need according to my brother.

    Calpol and Brandy.

    I say no more. Although Tom needs to be a little older, say, after you haven’t slept for three years.

    (BTW: Not to be outdone I’ve given birth to a new blog).

  5. Oh, thank you, this is useful – will point it out to Pete later. We have signed up for the NCT classes but haven’t got round to sorting out NHS ones (meant to do it today but forgot the phone number). It’s creeping up and I’m starting to think about brith plans – I suspected that it would be a pipedream anyway; the books seem to be advising you based on some dream hospital in the air, where you can take your own music and have the baby quietly on a beanbag somewhere.

  6. Actually, our hospital *did* have a CD player in most of the rooms, so that much is not a fallacy. However, you can’t hear the music above the screaming vocalization.

  7. I was amazed not only at the endless advice and horror stories complete strangers were eager to share, but also the number of strangers who would try to touch my stomach, then became offended when I objected.

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