Flying Solo

Sometimes things don’t go how you imagined. Sometimes life veers a little off-road, and you just have to steer around the worst of the bumps and forge a new path through the undergrowth. Sometimes a list of aphorisms becomes tedious and trite.

Sometimes mummy unavoidably has to go away for 36 hours and daddy has to look after the baby and the dog on his own for the first time.

The three of us do day shifts together plenty of times, but this is the first time we’ve done nights without mum at hand, and the first time we’ve been away from mum for this length of time since birth. Emotionally it’s hard for me, but nowhere near as hard as it is for her, being away from our little bundle of joy and poop.

There’s the practical side, of course, the care of a two month old baby without support, without reprieve, without assistance. Nobody to watch the baby while I quickly have a shower in record time, or to grab a nappy if they’re too far away, nobody to take a go at trying to soothe the poor mite when she’s gone into a random meltdown. Nobody to make a cup of coffee or a quick snack or run to the shop to buy some wipes.

These trials aren’t new, every stay-at-home parent, of any family arrangement, finds themselves in this situation at one point or another; maybe even every day. But for me, for all of us, it was all new. Without nearby family or a support network of any kind, flying solo with such a young baby was an emotional trial. Missing mum, all of us, every moment, but also knowing that if things went south, there would be no cavalry; no backstop, and no reprieve until mummy got home.

The diaspora of our modern lives often means those most able and willing to help are scattered around the country or even the world. NCT groups, when they work, are honestly more geared around new mums than stay-at-home dads. Society still sometimes has a point-and-stare response to a man walking around town with a tiny baby in a sling without a suitable maternal chaperone. We have to get better at this. There has to be more support; not necessarily for anything specific. But just to feel that even when flying solo, there’s a wingman somewhere out there to stop us using too many euphemisms and similies.

In Praise of… The Sling

I’d long been a theoretical convert to the idea of carry our daughter around in a sling, rather than fighting for space on pavements and public transport with a pram, and a trip to a sling library at a local children’s centre only solidified that. However, the theory in no way prepared me for how amazing it is. While there are many kinds of slings, I use a simple wrap sling, essentially about 2 miles of cloth wrapped around you and baby. It take some help to figure them out initially, but with some help it’s an absolute doddle to put on, put baby in, and get on with your day. I’ll have to change the type of sling when she’s around 6 months old, but a wrap sling can be used from birth.

What are the advantages?

  1. Having both hands free. Whether to do something around the house, cook a meal, walk the dog, or update your blog.
  2. YMMV, but Elodie drops to sleep instantly when she’s in the sling. If she’s in full meltdown, it might take two or three minutes of walking about and singing to her, but even then: Zonko. From crisis to coma in less time than it takes to make a decent cup of coffee, and now you might even get to enjoy it while it’s still hot.
  3. Prams on public transport are a nightmare. If there’s space amidst the people, the allocated space is primarily for wheelchair users. No such problem exists with a sling and, bonus, someone’s bound to offer you a seat.
  4. It’s a great bonding exercise for you and the baby, who enjoys your smell, warmth and heartbeat.
  5. It’s great exercise in general.

I can’t emphasise enough the feeling of calm and safety. Our daughter is calm, I know exactly what’s going on with her and her needs, mum gets to have some rest and I can do some long overdue chores. And it feels like the whole house relaxes.

“Simply” Cook

Now, I’ll be the first to admit, right up front, that I really should have read the details of what I was buying. But, if the offer is being marketed to new parents, surely there’s got to be an assumption that I’m too tired to think, never mind read, comprehend and act on said information?

Simply Cook markets itself, alongside HelloFresh and Gousto, as a meal delivery service. A boon, I thought, in these busy early days when cooking is harder because of the above alluded-to cognitive failures.

What I was expecting was a box of ingredients with which to make tasty meals. What I should have noticed was that SimplyCook wasn’t billed as a meal delivery service, but a recipe delivery service. Each delivery, costing £20 or so, contains four recipe cards and three little pots of spice blends per dish to help you make the meal. Spices I probably already had in the cupboard, but temporarily lack the nous to assemble into food. 

This will then mean a separate shopping trip to buy ingredients, which will mean leaving the house, potentially with a baby in tow. They do have a link with Ocado to help you buy all the ingredients you need, but by this point these ‘simple’ meals have become expensive as well as complex. And I’m strictly on a Lidl budget these days. 

I don’t doubt that there’s a great market niche for SimplyCook. But for new parents trying to make their life a little easier whilst adjusting to a new tiny human in their midst? Not so much. 

Farewell, sweet dreams

Sleep is not something I really worried about before; I was always a light sleeper and able to make do with very little sleep. Sleep became something I resented, a necessary unpleasantness, like pooping. Of course sleep and poop are the two main things we talk about these days, the dearth of the one and the excess of the other.

We thought we were so smart, splitting nights so that we’d each only be half exhausted. However, it appears we miscalculated a little: half of ‘infinitely tired’ is still ‘infinitely tired’, it’s just that now there’s two of us that are sleep deprived. Of course, realistically, it’s not really that bad, we do both get a little more sleep than if there was only one of us seeing to her little ladyship’ whims in the night. But you can’t not feel the strain on your body and sanity. 

I have no idea how people do it, night after night being the sole responder to the cries and wails of discontent. Eternally adding to the sleep deficit, with seemingly no end in sight. Never mind those who also have additional children and/or try to hold down regular work at the same time. My hat is very firmly doffed to them!

I’ve come to appreciate sleep, am even coming around to the idea of a nap; at least the theory of them. Better get what I can, after all people have told us this phase will last about three months. Except for those who’ve told us it’ll last six months, a year, two years, three or until they’re twenty one and moved out. Some say never.

I’d say that sounds exhausting, but adding more tiredness on top of ‘infinitely tired’ is still just ‘infinitely tired’. 

Feeding Time At The Zoo

The benefits of breastfeeding are extremely well documented, and in some instances hammered home to the point of infuriation. But, for any number of reasons, sometimes it’s necessary to replace or supplement that with bottle feeding. What isn’t necessary is the shaming and pressure put on women who, for one reason or another, do not exclusively breastfeed. Because of this shaming and pressure, it sometimes takes a bit of work to garner reliable and sensible information about bottle-feeding using formula. The best guide I found was from Health Challenge Wales,  who provided this guide to bottle feeding.

One key fact from it, which isn’t generally mentioned, especially not on the infant formula packaging, is that you can keep made-up bottles in the back of the fridge for up to 24 hours.

Again, I’ll emphasise that there’s no doubting that there are tremendous benefits to breastfeeding, and there’s a dad’s guide to breastfeeding here. But one benefit of bottle feeding the baby? Dads can help, especially at nighttime, allowing mum to get some much-needed and all-too-rare rest.

Naming Conventions – Part 2

So, when I last spoke about naming conventions, it was pre-birth and there’s always an element of doubt. You might have a name, or a shortlist of names, fixed in your mind, but then reality is a very different thing. The name(s) you pick will be attached to your little one for life, or until they change it by deed poll. I’ve heard plenty stories of parents changing their mind on names, or waiting for weeks after birth to settle on a name. Thankfully, we were lucky. We had a clear frontrunner for weeks, and there was nothing that made us change our mind.

Welcome to the world, Elodie! Now we just have to figure out how to get your grandparents to learn how to say the name…

Registering the birth

While this should be fairly straightforward, there are a few things to remember: If you’re not married, it’s best, if you can, to have both parents present. Don’t forget to bring passports and a proof of address. That’s about it.

The one thing I was a little concerned about was that we wanted a double-barrelled surname for Elodie, an amalgamation of mum’s surname and mine. Thankfully this wasn’t problematic at all, as far as the registry office was concerned. I have heard tell that there may be issues in future, in that mum, baby and I all have different surnames, but that’s a temporary situation…

Yes, you may buy a hat.

Understanding Your Baby – A Video Series

All the antenatal classes in the world can’t really adequately prepare you for the difficulties of those early days. But there are plenty of sources of help and information. We’ve had some success by contacting someone via the local Children’s Centre, which I’d certainly advise. One recommendation that came from that was this video series about understanding your baby, created by the Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust. They haven’t created it as a playlist and the links between videos don’t really work well, but it’s a good series to start us off. I’ll link them all below. They’re only short so can be consumed piecemeal.

Chapter 1: Attachment and Bonding

Chapter 2: Baby Brain Development

Chapter 3: Building A Relationship

Chapter 4: Baby States

Chapter 5: Soothing a crying baby

Chapter 6: Playing and talking with your baby

Chapter 7: Baby time out signs

Chapter 8: Feeding your baby

Chapter 9: Coping when things are difficult

Chapter 10: Having a sick baby

The Health Visitor Commeth – And They’ve Brought Some Boxes To Tick

When previously we went to the initial meeting with the health visitor, it was perhaps a mixed experience. But after birth, you actually get a proper visitor coming around to your house. I must admit I had decent expectations of the visit, after all, health visitors are the primary port of call for baby’s health concerns for the next five years, and an early days visit to your home seemed like a good way to go.

The first attempt at a visit didn’t work out; mum was still in hospital and apparently dad + baby wasn’t worth checking in on. So today we finally had the rescheduled appointment. What. A. Waste. Of. Time. Other than one questionnaire and an abrupt question as to mum’s health, there was nothing that couldn’t have been dealt with last week with just myself and the baby. There was an avalanche of paper thrust at us, a barrage of quick-fire questions so boxes could be ticked. The only thing of any use whatsoever was weighing the baby, which is due to be done tomorrow by the midwife anyway. The mental health and postnatal depression questions were handled with all the delicacy and empathy of a bull in a china shop.

“Here fill in this questionnaire as to whether you’ve thought about self-harming, while I write some other notes”

That should not be the extent of mental health provision for an issue that affects up to 20% of women and 10% of dads in the UK. And if that questionnaire is the way they’ve come up with those statistics, I’d probably say that the real numbers are much higher.

Overall, that first encounter with the health visitor proper was the most bureaucratic experience of my life; and I’ve dealt with the HMRC. This should not be the full extent of postpartum care for parents and young children.

News: Midwives will cease to promote ‘normal’ births

According to a Guardian article, midwives will end their campaign to promote ‘normal births’. I mean, that’s not strictly true, they’re basically just changing the terminology from ‘normal’ to ‘physiological’, but that doesn’t really change what they’re promoting. But the aim is to minimise ‘mothers feeling like failures’ for having a birth that’s anything other than normal. That means a vaginal birth with no epidurals, no inductions, no caesarean, no medical intervention of any kind.

Prof Cathy Warwick, the chief executive of the RCM, denied that the decade-long campaign had compromised the safety of new mothers but admitted it had created the wrong impression. “There was a danger that if you just talk about normal births – and particularly if you call it a campaign – it kind of sounds as if you’re only interested in women who have a vaginal birth without intervention,” she told the Times.
[…]
“What we don’t want to do is in any way contribute to any sense that a woman has failed because she hasn’t had a normal birth. Unfortunately that seems to be how some women feel.”

Our experience, shared with 60% of all births, was very much not ‘normal’; we pretty much hit every medical intervention apart from forceps or caesarean. But while some few midwives in the hospital might have used this now altered terminology, there was certainly no shaming going on, which was a huge relief. It’s a stressful time for mum, physically, mentally and psychologically, and the last things anyone needs is someone endangering her life by shaming her into avoiding the help she may need.

However, I must say that NCT provided antenatal classes were certainly less subtle about their campaign in our experience. The terminology of ‘normal’ vs ‘medical’ births was heavily emphasised, the benefits of one lauded, while the downsides of the other exaggerated. It meant that when events drifted towards the realm of intervention for us, we felt insufficiently prepared for everything going on.

I’m not going say that one way is the right way for giving birth, nobody can say that. It’s entirely up to, primarily, the mum, whilst being as well informed as possible. Maybe changing the terminology to add less pressure, less emotional blackmail will help a little.

In Praise of… The Kettle

Sure we owned a kettle, even used it semi-regularly. Tea, coffee, pre-boiling water for pasta, nothing out of the ordinary. But I don’t think I’ve used the kettle in the last year as much I have in the last 10 days! Obviously a huge uptick in caffeinated beverages, just to get us through the night feeds and the sleepy days. There are foods that are so much simpler when they simply involve pouring hot water on things rather than cooking a full meal. And then there are the baby bottles. The formula requires boiling water, then boiling water to sterilise the bottle and nipple, boiling water to bring the refrigerated formula back up to room temperature quicker, before her little ladyship has a full-on melt-down. Since we brought our daughter home, I don’t think our kettle has had a chance to cool down to room temperature once…

So, I’d like to praise this simple household convenience, and sleepily raise my coffee mug in salute to the humble kettle.