Step 8 – “No man is an island…unless his name is Madagascar.”


I borrowed the title of this blog from an old TV ad for Whyte & MacKay whiskey.

However, if you think you’re losing your bottle, it’s best for Dads to step back from the single malt and find comfort instead in knowing that YOU ARE NOT ALONE!!!!

Of course, when I say those words I don’t mean them in a Fox Mulder kind of way. Nor do I mean that there’s someone creeping up behind you as you read this, closing on you with heavy breathing and a wobbling handheld camera. I’m talking about support.

Don’t worry, I’m not getting into the great ‘Briefs vs Boxers’ debate either. I mean that there are plenty of new Dads going through the same things that you are – the same highs and the same lows. Right now, there are lots of men all over the world embarking upon the same journey. Even if you don’t know your fellow travellers by name, it’s reassuring to know that you’re all huddled together in the same boat – and that it’s not the Titanic.

Still, if you feel like you’re all at sea, being battered by your responsibilities, then there are plenty of ports in this storm.

Why not join a regular parent’s group? Often organized by local councils, they allow you to share experiences, frustrations and tips with other ‘P-plater parents’ in a judgement-free zone. Parent’s groups also give you the chance to make friends and maybe even score a new babysitting option!

How about reading some parenting books? I know some guys don’t like to ask for help. Consequently, they may not make it to the bookshop because they got lost and didn’t want to ask directions. Still you can buy books online at sites like The Book Depository where postage is free worldwide. Books that are written by Dads for Dads, often in a humorous and quirky… step by step…DIY manual…format…

…OK, it appears someone else got there before me.

(Sigh)

Oh well. Since originality is officially dead, why not go ahead and write a WordPress blog? Even if you have no audience, it’s a great way to let off steam. Think of it as digital primal scream therapy and let those fingers flail!

However, if you don’t have the time, or can’t unclench your fists long enough to key in your thoughts, then just follow some blogs. You’ll pick up ideas and perhaps get a welcome laugh. To get you started, I’ll leave you with two parenting blogs that have caught my bloodshot eye:

Dad Down Under is a series of humorous and uplifting posts subtitled ‘Confessions of a Stay At Home Dad’. Charting the everyday adventures that all parents can relate to, this blog is good for fathers who want to feel a sense of ‘solidadity’.

I Made A Human, Now What? is a more general discussion about hot parenting topics and useful products. This blog is also a great source of ideas about what works and what doesn’t.

Advertisements

Step 7 – Man about the house


A man needs to be doing something. Babies, however, don’t really do very much for at least the first 6 weeks. When they do… guess what?… they want to do it with Mum!

So what’s a Dad to do?

The first few weeks of life is when milk matters most and all little sprog wants to do is suck and sleep, leaving Dad feeling as obsolete as his nipples. However, if you’re able to spend time at home in the weeks after the birth, then there are lots of little jobs you can do to feel useful again.

Cooking

Some women have a strong nesting instinct when approaching the end of their pregnancy and so your freezer may be bulging with pre-cooked meals. If not, strap on that daft apron with the muscles and get your hands (and the stove) dirty making dinner. Like many modern folk, you may be unaware of where your food comes from. You may have wondered how your food gets on that ceramic disc. Wonder no more! It is the product of an ancient art form known simply as… ‘cooking’. Now, don’t worry if this is your first foray into the kitchen. Your partner will be so relieved about not having to lift a finger that she’ll inhale what ever ill-formed slop you’ve scraped onto her plate.

Changing Nappies

This can summed up as: Mum deals with the input, Dad looks after the output. You may think you don’t take shit from anyone, but you won’t mind your own kid’s poo. After all, it’s a part of a part of you. Well, not anymore. Still…later on it’s fun to guess what the solid bits are.

Getting up in the night

My wife and I operated a shuttle system when our first child woke in the night. I would spring from the sheets, fresh as a daisy, and bring the crying child to his mother with a doting smile. Then I would wake up, drag myself over to the cot, grumbling and bruising my shins on numerous obstacles, and carry the police-siren back to our bed with gritted teeth. Once the hand-over was complete, I would keel over and snore while my wife fed, wrapped and patiently put him back to sleep. This seemed to work well.

Bathtime

Aside from obvious personal hygiene benefits, this is an enjoyable activity for Dads. Most kids love floating in warm water and they’ll instantly quieten down and gaze up at you with their cross-eyed stare. Meanwhile, you are free to rattle off your warbling shower-renditions of Tom Jones in an environment where no-one can judge you.

Obeying all commands given by your partner

Business as usual.

Apart from these odd jobs, an easy way for Dad to bond is by making eye contact and holding it until baby looks away. You may know this as ‘staring out’…

…but it actually makes the little one feel secure and loved.

NOTE: This does not work with dogs, so no loving gazes in the direction of the neighbour’s mastiff.

Step 6 – The Crying Game


Take a look at this little fella on the right here. What do you make of him? Is he hungry, a little bit lonely, absolutely knackered, or is he just a whingeing little b*****d?

It may surprise you to learn that the answer is…all of the above!

Babies cry for a variety of reasons: hunger, tummy pain, lack of cuddles, tiredness, birth trauma, or even for no discernible reason. For the new parent, however, it’s difficult to concentrate on finding an underlying cause when getting the hairdryer treatment from your little bundle of joy.

Fortunately, there are a host of experts (parents with one more kid than you) willing to pass on their knowledge for the price of a paperback doorstop. What novice parent at their wit’s end wouldn’t want to learn the ‘365 Ways To Stop Your Baby Crying’?! Ok, so the individual tips might appear more effective if there weren’t so many of them…

There are plenty of other books on taming babies to choose from though, if you’re contemplating earplugs. It seems as though there’s one written every minute. However, most authors only write about their own experiences with their own kids. Limited scope you may think. Not that this stops the writers of these tomes doling out general advice like sweeties. Frustratingly, however, these words of wisdom are commonly offset by a thinly disguised disclaimer that is the mantra of many a baby guru – “Every baby is different.”

So what are your options?

Two of the most influential names in the crying game are Dr. Benjamin Spock and Dr. Truby King, both sadly sleeping the big sleep.

Dr. King had a dream. His dream was that little children, black or white, would grow up to be strong characters – eating sleeping and pooing regularly. Leaving babies to cry themselves out via ‘controlled crying’ would achieve this. King published ‘Feeding and Care of Baby’ in 1913, advocating that mothers should avoid picking babies up or hugging them as this may teach them to cry and turn them into softies. This approach became surprisingly influential.

Dr. Spock arrived after Truby King. Initially considered a bit too left-field, he had tone to down his technique a bit for the newborns.

Oh…BENJAMIN Spock? Right! …Well, this Spock relied less on nerve pinches and more on understanding a baby’s needs. A far cry from Dr.King, he encouraged mothers to be affectionate and treat babies as human beings. Commonsense stuff. In fact, Dr. Spock’s message to mums was “You know more than you think you do”. Despite this, he published a volume titled ‘Baby and Child Care’ in 1946. Just in case…

That was a brief peek at two competing philosophies. On a more personal note now, I have something to share from my own experience with my two children. Let me introduce you to a couple of good friends who’ve helped me to conquer the crying… Koala and Tiger! Do bear in mind though…every baby is different!

Step 5 – Million Dollar Baby


According to some reports, raising a child can cost upwards of $1,000,000. The simple way to avoid this crippling cost is to:

a) not wipe their bum with $100 notes

b) read this list of what you really need.

When you become a parent it’s a bit like when you forget to tick that box at the bottom of a form – suddenly everyone wants to sell you something. Here’s the twist though, the products aren’t for you, they’re for your baby. Only… they’re marketed at you!

A whole host of gadgets and gimmicks are thrust under your nose, and in the next few lines some of them will be given the sniff test.

1) Baby Carriers…  Two categories. The ‘carriers’, like those made by BabyBjorn or Ergobaby, are expensive but enable you to wear a child on your front or back in mutual comfort from a few weeks old up to about age 4. The ‘wraps’, like those produced by Hugabub, are particularly good for cradling newborns – despite the smothering fear-stories. Modelled on the way that mothers carry children in developing countries they’re low-tech and pretty cheap. However, as they consist of one long strip of fabric that must be tied around and around the body, wraps are an absolute pain to get on, get off, or re-adjust.

Verdict – Very handy to keep baby close and free up both hands. Opt for a carrier that allows for front and back usage to get the most out of it. Wraps are good for newborns, but after that all you get out of them is Northcote street-cred.

2) Prams… shouldn’t cost over $1,000. The difference between wants and needs is the difference between the vastly overpriced Bugaboo and Stokke ranges, and the perfectly suitable selection from Emmaljunga or even Steelcraft. The price tag may lead some to say ‘bugger off’ to the $1,600 Bugaboo Donkey pram. Brand loyalty aside, as long as your pram is easy to steer and has a generous basket and sun-shade, then you’re good to go.

Verdict – Look at features, not the brand. As much as you may think you need a swanky, 3-wheeled ‘jogger pram’, trust me, you don’t. After 18 months your kid will probably want to walk everywhere!

3) Nappies… are important for obvious reasons! The question is whether you go disposable or re-usable. The choice for a lot of parents is ethical. Some disposable brands, like Naty, do produce disposable nappies that degrade quicker to avoid landfill nappy-mountains. However, the most environmentally friendly nappy is still the re-usable. Re-usable nappies also save money and have moved on from the ‘toweling and safety pin’ model, but the downside is that you have to scrape the poo off and wash them.

Verdict – If you have the time to wash, go re-usable as they save you a fortune – being adjustable to fit newborn to toddler bums. The Babyland brand has good elastic seals to stop leakage and inserts that can be removed, as well as a range of colours. Sadly, though, nothing for the smell…

Step 4 – Opening Night


If I can tailor the the words of Swedish playwright Henrik Ibsen to suit this important step: “You should never have your best trousers on when you go out to fight for freedom and truth… or help a woman through labour.”

The plays of Ibsen tell us a lot about giving birth, concerned as they are with stresses, inner pressure and self fulfillment. They have much in common, and so give Dads a peek through the curtain at what to expect on opening night. For example, the dialogue in both cases is a mixture of sentence fragments and exclamations, and what’s on view is potentially shocking to a conservative audience. However, the most obvious similarity between the two is structural – each is comprised of 3 ‘Acts’.

Act 1The Cervix Opens

The longest stage of labour, it sets the scene for the action and can itself be split up into three parts.

Scene 1.1 – Early Labour

The cervix thins out and opens up to a diameter of 3-4cm. Contractions can be gentle and more than 5 minutes apart.  To avoid discomfort, encourage your partner to move around, take a shower/bath, and try different positions.  For some women, early labour starts and stops, lasting for days. Others progress smoothly towards…

Scene 1.2 – Active Labour

The plot speeds up from this point on. Powerful contractions, coming every 3-4 min, rapidly open the cervix in this stage – but it can still last for hours. Employ relaxation techniques and back massage with your partner, and in between contractions give fluids and snacks to eat to keep her energy levels up. Also, cycle through the phrases “That’s it”, “Well done” and “Breathe”.

Scene 1.3 – Transition

A labouring woman’s waters will commonly break during transition, so change into your trackies. Covering the period from 8-10cm dilation, this can be an overwhelming stage for many women. Contractions come in double waves and your partner may become irrational – saying horrible things to you. She doesn’t really mean them. Still, write them down for later…

Interlude

After the transitional phase there may be a lull as your partner’s body gathers itself for the task of pushing baby out. You just might be able to nip out for a Choc-Top.

Act 2 – Down And Out

Now there’s a big enough gap down there, the uterus changes gear and starts pushing baby down into the birth canal. This is not a series of locks, but one of many euphemisms that refer to the vagina. Use gravity as an aid by helping your partner up.

Act 3 – Enter The Placenta

Once baby is out, smaller contractions deliver the placenta – a dinner-plate sized organ which has been nourishing your child over the last 9 months. You may want to have a look but there will probably be no resemblance.

THE END

There you have it. ‘Labour: A Three Act Play’. Now you’ve seen it, work with your partner to push your child out into the world – it’s good practice for when you have to do it again in 25 years time!

Step 3 – Coming to terms with the terms.


When a man’s got a job to do, he needs tools. But you won’t need a hammer or saw for this labour. All you need are some handy jargon words and definitions.

It’s time to run through some of the things a Dad needs to be aware of when his partner goes into labour. This is necessary because, unless you time-warp back to the 1950s, you will probably be there to see the show. Suffice to say : like a spectator in the front row of a stand-up performance, you will inevitably become part of the act. So know your stuff!

These are some of the terms that my wife suggested (insisted) I learn:

Dilation – From time to time in the hospital, a nurse will check your partner’s dilation, by seeing how many fingers she can fit through the opening in the cervix, the muscle wall that holds a baby in the womb. The goal is a gap of 10cm. That’s ten fingers. Two hands. Yep.

Epidural – At some stage during labour, your partner may shout this word at you, the midwife, or even the hospital janitor. An epidural is a potent anaesthetic administered into the spinal column. Like absinthe, it numbs from the waist down and usually has no lasting effects apart from involuntary shaking as its influence wanes. While a popular form of pain relief, epidurals greatly increase the chance of further medical intervention during the labour.

Oxytocin – Amazingly, this naturally produced chemical is referred to as “the hormone of love”. It is created as a result of such actions as kissing, lovemaking, hugging or watching ‘Love Actually’. What’s also amazing is that this description is not only used by people who sleep under dreamcatchers, but by doctors and scientists. Keeping oxytocin levels high during labour relaxes the mother and helps speed up the process – so why not put some Barry White on the iPod labour playlist?

Perineum – The stretch of skin between the vagina and the anus – not the ancient Greek who slew the gorgon Medusa. That was Perseus. You may have to summon some of his courage, however, if called upon to massage this area during labour to prevent it tearing during the final stage. If this does happen, perhaps follow Perseus’ example and don’t look, else you be turned to stone…

Episiotomy – If, when the baby’s head pops out, the attending doctor suspects that the mother’s perineum is likely to tear, then he will make an incision, increasing the diameter of the vagina. This is promptly stitched up after the baby has been delivered. NOTE: It is accepted practice for the father not to ask the doctor to put an extra stitch in.

Crowning – The baby’s head is beginning to come out. When you hear the phrase “The baby is crowning”, that is your cue to stop fiddling with the camera settings and get down there to greet the new arrival!!!

 

Step 2 – The Changingman


Mod muso and ‘Dadrock’ legend, Paul Weller, might not have written “The Changingman” in honour of the new father – but that’s what you’ll need to become unless you want to end up in a Jam.

We’re not just talking about the changes that involve wipes and bum-cream.  A child plopping into the mix can transform everything. Not only your fudge cake recipe. It’s arrival can create mere ripples in your previously smooth life, or you may feel like you’re facing down a tsunami. Either way, the best thing you can do is embrace it, prepare yourself and learn to ride the wave

Outlined below are some of the ways in which these baby-changes commonly manifest themselves:

Lifestyle

Dinner dates may increasingly be staged in restaurants whose ambient noise will drown out piercing cries. You’ll find that there are some places, perhaps even your former haunts, where babies are not welcome. Fair enough. No-one wants a sharp pain in the ear, while sampling the nose on their Shiraz or pouring a well earned pint down their throat.

There might not be as many pubs, clubs or live gigs on the cards as there used to be. That’s understandable. If the bouncers didn’t let the other guy in the door because of his Nikes, how can you expect your baby’s ribboned booties to elicit anything other than a “Not tonight mate. Not in those shoes”?

While these changes may seem restrictive, they are actually doing you a favour. No-one wants to have to deal with a child while nursing a hangover. A baby’s cries have been designed via the process of evolution to be impossible for its parents to ignore and, unlike mobile phones, you can’t switch their profile to silent and disappear back under the covers.

Physical

Do not operate heavy machinery in the early days of being a Dad. A lack of sleep can initally produce to a manic and slightly enjoyable mental state, but once that passes it’s all downhill and eventually it can kill you! As a new Dad, you’ll feel the effects of broken sleep.

You usually notice the change through other people’s behaviour. Women typing their PIN at the ATM may glance nervously over their shoulder at the the bloodshot eyes of the new Dad behind them. You may attract the attention of shop assistants more often, as you dither in the centre of a store wondering what the hell you came in for. You may even find that you have, like Mr.Magoo, wandered unknowingly through various life threatening (and comical) near-miss situations in your new Dad daze.

On the plus side, however, your status as a new Dad will endow you with almost superhuman abilities. Abilities that will allow you to:

  • Walk in complete silence on any surface and in any footwear.
  • Detect the rustle of bedcovers at a distance of 500 yards.

And, most importantly…

Fall asleep, when you do get the chance, absolutely anywhere!