Thursday, 5 July 2012

New life and new beginnings

I say above that I am going to blog, at least in part, about the joys and demands of new fatherhood. Well, I am now in the position to start doing just this, because on June 30th at 3:20am my wife Julie delivered a beautiful baby girl, Elizabeth Rose. We couldn't be happier. For those who haven't seen the myriad pics on Facebook here she is with her very proud dad:

I guess the overwhelming emotion on the roller-coaster during the delivery was one of helplessness and impotence. Obviously I was excited and anxious, but really all I could do was stand by Julie, hold her hand through each contraction, support her and tell her what an amazing job she was doing. I was incredibly proud of her throughout the labour, and sharing this experience has brought us even closer together, something which those who know us well will probably find difficult to believe :) But in reality she was the one doing all the hard work, and experiencing the pain, discomfort and fatigue. While I wouldn't have missed it for the world, I still felt pretty useless, although I like to think that my support helped at least in some small way. It was a truly amazing and miraculous experience.

I know a few of my friends have talked about bonding with their newborns, and how this can sometimes take a little while, because the emphasis is usually on bonding between mum and baby. For reasons I won't go in to, following the delivery I was fortunate to be able to spend some time doing the skin-to-skin thing with our new baby, so in my case this bonding happened very early on. And wee Elizabeth seems to really enjoy dad cuddles, when she is being a bit grizzly a few minutes in dad's embrace seems to help soothe her. She is lovely to cuddle, really warm and soft and snuggly, and she makes the cutest little noises when she is feeling warm and contented.

So far being a dad is really rather enjoyable. I don't even mind changing dirty nappies, something I'd always kind of dreaded in the build-up to the delivery. Sure, for the first few days the poo is kinda nasty and sticky, but it doesn't take long before it starts to become less unpleasant. And having had pets for a number of years I've become used to cleaning up the odd mess. At least baby's poo is (usually) contained within a nappy. I have made one basic noobie error during changing, one which I trust will elicit some amusement for you. I cleaned Elizabeth's bottom and then picked her up to give her a wee cuddle before putting her clean nappy on. Of course she did the unexpected and promptly produced a second poo, all over my hand and t-shirt. I was initially stunned and a little horrified but, once I'd cleaned up, Julie and I had a bloody good laugh about it. So new dads, here's a tip for you - NEVER pick up your newborn without a nappy securely in place :)

There is one more challenging aspect to having a newborn, something which I'm sure fellow dads will sympathise with, and that is breast-feeding. Elizabeth can be a little fussy at times, and doesn't always latch on and feed well. This can be pretty frustrating, especially in the wee small hours when we're tired and she is crying up a storm. Once again I experience the same feelings of helplessness and impotence as during labour. I really want to help and get her feeding sorted, but there really isn't anything I can do. Our midwife assures us that we're doing everything right, but that in the early stages both mum and baby are learning how to make it work and we just have to persevere and be patient. Apparently by this time next week we'll look back and wonder what the hell we were worried about. That's nice to know, and intellectually one can take it on board, but at times it isn't easy. I think it might be a man-trait that makes us want to fix things, to find and offer solutions to problems rather than just sit and be supportive and comforting. It is this inability to rectify some situations which I find most challenging. Mostly, however, being a dad is a truly joyous experience.

One thing we've noticed is that Elizabeth seems to pick up our mental state and reacts to it, because when we are feeling a bit less certain about how things are going she seems to fuss more. As Julie said, even if you don't realise it you probably are a bit stressed so, if you can, take a few minutes for yourself and try to relax a bit.

Last, but by no means least, I'd like to extend my heartfelt thanks to our widwives and to the staff at Christchurch Women's Hospital. The quality of care we received was outstanding, and it was dispensed with a great deal of competence and professionalism. You made what was a potentially very scary and uncertain time much less intimidating for us. Thank you so very much.