To be honest, in the past seven months I have probably forgotten what the period just before parenthood is really like. Those days feel like a distant memory already and that is not entirely surprising, given the enormity of what has happened since. There are, however, certain things that stick in my mind. So I will focus on those in this post.
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- The overwhelming sense of unpreparedness
My wife and I are the first of our generation to have children in each of our families. We have not had the benefit of watching nephews and nieces grow up around us. Sure, we both did a lot of reading. Books such as What to Expect When You’re Expecting by Heidi Murkoff and Sharon Mazel, and Eat, Play, Sleep by Luiza DeSouza were particularly useful in developing a basic understanding of the stages of pregnancy and the core requirements of parenting in the days and weeks after birth. For Christmas I asked my dad for a book on parenting from a father’s perspective – a challenging task to set. He did remarkably well in finding First-Time Father by Dr Graeme Russell and Tony White. We also attended antenatal classes (more on those later in this post) and we browsed numerous blogs and parenting forums, often in search of fairly specific information (what type of baby monitor should I buy? etc.)
None of this made me feel truly ready for the arrival of our little girl. There were moments of absolute crippling panic as I wondered whether I was truly cut out for parenthood. I had genuine concerns that I was too selfish, that I enjoyed my freedom and independence too much to easily let it go. Then there was the knowledge that I had only once in my life held a baby, and on that occasion I had been so worried about breaking it that I quickly gave it back to the rightful owners.
However, as they big day drew nearer I became more confident that we could manage. I knew I had a partner who was rock solid. I also knew that I had a small but entirely devoted support network of family who would do anything to help us transition successfully into family life. We gradually collected the core necessities of baby care (much of it given to us) and our daughter’s space in our home began to take shape. And I suspected that my self-centred approach to life would change with the arrival of our baby.
- The generosity of people
This was our experience and I realise it may not be the same for everyone. I recognise that we are extremely lucky to have such wonderfully generous people in our lives. My hope is that you too will have similar experiences, and also that, as your children grow you will have the opportunity to help others by passing on the things you no longer require.
Almost as soon as we had told our family, friends and colleagues about the pregnancy, the offers started rolling in. Bags upon bags of baby clothes began to arrive (many of them much fancier than anything we would have bought). People that we had never met (friends and colleagues of our parents) started offering things that their children had grown out of and we gratefully accepted. One colleague of my mother gave us their used cot, steriliser and bottle warmer. A colleague of my wife gave us their Bugaboo stroller with bassinet attachment. Yet another friend loaned us a bassinet, so that our daughter could sleep in our room for the first few months.
All of this we happily and gratefully accepted. Altogether it saved us thousands of dollars, but just as importantly it saved us huge amounts of time and effort. We were given things that we never would have thought of buying (steriliser and bottle warmer), but that became hugely important from the moment we brought our little girl home. The condition didn’t matter – some people were very apologetic about giving us things that were less than pristine, but the wonderful thing about baby products is that most of them are designed to be easily cleaned. A mouldy stroller was no match for thick bleach (this worked for me, but please spot-test first, results may vary!) and a few chips of paint off a cot did not bother us even slightly. The old saying is well and truly applicable to second-hand baby products – never look a gift horse in the mouth (one caveat to this – make sure the product meets current safety standards)!
- Baby names
This was challenging. Because of my profession I am able to put a face to many common names. At the same time, we really did not want something unique. We were also highly conscious of providing our daughter with a name that suited her as a baby and small girl, but that would enable her to fully function as an adult in a professional environment. On top of all that, we had to both agree on the name. We got there eventually (good luck to us if we ever have another girl), but it took a lot of discussion, thinking, compromise and reflection to get to that point. I think we did well and I sincerely hope our daughter agrees! (Hannah is not our daughter’s real name. I have changed it because I wanted to write honestly about my experiences, while at the same time protect my daughter’s right to live a private life. For the same reason I write under the pseudonym “James” and use “Emma” for my wife.)
- The general feelings of helplessness
This one is probably more specific to the dads-to-be. No matter how supportive, attentive and prepared you are, there is no compensating for the fact that it is the woman who has the monumental task of carrying the child. For me, Emma’s strength and independence was always something that I deeply admired and respected. She handled daily vomiting and constant nausea throughout almost the entire pregnancy extremely well. At one point I would pick Emma up from the station after work each evening. I would wait by the car outside the station exit and watch as the steady stream of people walked up the stairs. I knew each time that she would be the last person to come out, and I knew that the reason was that she’d had to find a quiet corner for a vomit. I can’t even comprehend what it would be like to feel that way for so long. I haven’t even talked about the other struggles – the strain on the body, the being pummelled in the ribs from the inside, foetal hiccups, the super-sense of smell, food aversions (often related to the super sense of smell) and many others that I’ve no doubt forgotten. I did what I could (which was not very much), but my main piece of advice is to be as supportive as possible at these times.
- The anxiety as the big day approaches
I think I managed to keep this pretty well in check. We lived just a few minutes’ drive from the hospital, so I knew that even in heavy traffic we shouldn’t have any problems. Emma’s parents live close by and they were willing to help out in whatever way was needed. Emma finished work a few weeks before the due date and she was at home resting up. We attended antenatal classes (more on that below) so we felt well informed. I felt that we were in good hands with Emma’s obstetrician, who came across as very calm and capable. We had booked in for every scan and test known to man (thanks to the GeneSyte test we knew the gender of the baby after just twelve weeks) and all was looking good (always consult with your health professional about what is appropriate for your circumstances. This is merely a recount of worked for us). It helped that Hannah decided to come over a week early, because I think my anxiety level would have grown steadily in that last little bit.
- Antenatal classes
Emma and I attended antenatal classes for two Saturdays in a row, about a month before Hannah was due to arrive. They were run by the staff at our chosen hospital, so becoming familiar with the facility was a good enough reason in itself. The two days were run by a midwife from the hospital. Thankfully, she had a sense of humour and she was engaging. I learnt a lot about the fundamentals of parenting (how to hold a newborn, how to put on a nappy, how to wrap a swaddle) and gained some information about what might happen during the birth. I highly recommend attending classes if you are a dad-to-be.
One moment during the antenatal classes stood out above all others. As the parents-to-be became less nervous, they all began opening up and honestly sharing their thoughts and experiences (a credit to the wonderful midwife who facilitated it). One father shared his story of a couple they knew who had recently lost a baby while co-sleeping. I could hear the heartbreak in his voice as he spoke about his friends’ loss. It was an awful, tragic story, and it made my hyperaware of how fragile our little girl would be. The story motivated me to read the sidsandkids.org website extensively. It was also probably to some extent responsible for the recurring nightmare that I had in the weeks after Hannah was born – that I had been holding her in a swaddle while lying on the bed, then I’d fallen asleep.
- The excitement of it all
The time leading up to the birth of your child is extremely exciting. Don’t forget to make some time to appreciate that. For all the stress that comes with it, there is also the prospect of a tiny human being entering your word, and all the potential that holds. Chances are that if you are reading this, you are doing so because you’ve gone in search of parenting advice. That makes you exactly the sort of parent that your child will need! So go on, take a few moments to yourself and soak it all in!
- Unsolicited advice
You have come here seeking advice. And for what it’s worth, this is all purely based on my experiences. There is nothing scientific about what I have written on this page and I fully understand that your experiences may be completely different. I suggest you take what works for you and discard the rest.
You will probably find that advice also finds you. Often from the moment you open your mouth and tell someone you are expecting. Sometimes even from complete strangers (we one had a lunatic of an old woman drive past and scream out the window “it’s a boy!” She was wrong). The people who offer this advice will almost always do so with the best intentions. However, often they don’t have the intimate details. They don’t know what you have been through to get to this point already. They don’t know what you already know and, if they are older, they may not comprehend that things have changed since they were parents. I found the best way to deal with these situations was to nod politely and say nothing. You may find a better way that works for you.
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