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.

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.

Baby Proofing Your Relationship – Part 1

This is a precarious subject to write for about, for a variety of reasons: 1) I’m no relationship expert, if there is such a thing, 2) If I ever claim to be an expert in relationships, I ought to be punched in the face, I’m an idiot, and 3) baby isn’t here yet. However, NCT do raise the topic of baby-proofing your relationship in their classes, but don’t really give any answers, so I’m going to give it a go, from a dad’s/husband’s/male co-habiting partner’s perspective. But, because I want a chance to laugh at myself and illustrate how wrong I was, I’ll write Part 2 after baby’s been here for a few weeks and I’ll let you know how I got on!

Communication

That’s got to be a pretty big one, right? If you don’t talk to each other, discuss your hopes and fears, your wishes for the birth and raising of your child, your aches and pains, anxieties and general state of mind, you’re pretty much sunk. Sure, it’s general advice for any relationship, and one I’ve disastrously failed to take in the past. But the need for it is amplified tenfold during the emotional time of pregnancy, and I can imagine hundredfold after your tiny human is with you. Make decisions together, air your fears and grievances. Tell her you love her and that she’s beautiful, not because she needs to hear it (though she does), but because it’s true and that truth will shine from you. Tell her you’re excited, what you’re looking forward to, speculate with her how your baby will look, act, develop, what foods it will like, whether it will get on with the dog or be academically gifted. Discuss your own childhoods, and what bits you thought were great, and which you as parents never want to inflict on your child.

Get Out

This is an important one during the pregnancy: Get out and do stuff. Go to the theatre, the cinema, go out for meals, meet people, go to galleries, see beautiful things, take walks along the river. It could be all too easy to stay inside with a tub of ice-cream and her favourite soap, but going out, doing things together, seeing new things or things that are beautiful and calming is good for all three of you. Despite what everyone tells you, life doesn’t end as soon as the pregnancy test shows positive.

Positivity

Speaking of ‘Positive’: Positivity is going to help. She feels massive, can’t see her feet, struggles to waddle down the street, Facebook and her friends will shower her with unhelpful anecdotes, and she’s about to try and push something the size and weight of a watermelon out of her vagina. If she can’t do that, they’ll cut it out of her, then expect her to figure out breastfeeding, then you have a small fragile human you now have sole responsibility for, for about 20 odd years. By the gods, don’t be a misery guts. Don’t add to the potential negativity, don’t ruminate about all the things that can go wrong, don’t scare her. Make sure you’re informed, sure, but don’t terrify her. Or yourself for that matter, you’re of no use to anyone as an anxious wreck. (No offence to anyone with actual anxiety). Be a beacon of light and positivity, in a maelstrom of uncertainty.

Get Involved

Seriously, don’t be that guy. Go to the NCT, Daisy or other antenatal classes. Read the books. Read the websites. Get the apps. Whenever you can go to the midwife meetings. Definitely go to the scans. Talk to other dads and don’t let them brush you off with embarrassed banalities. You’ll be able to help make informed decisions, you’ll feel part of the process rather than divorced from it, and you just don’t want to be that guy. You know the one I mean. That stereotype of the clueless dad, uninvolved, disinterested, baffled by the ‘womanswork’ going on around you. That guy that’s the reason so many mummy blogs and pregnancy books write articles extorting dads to maybe once in a blue moon maybe try helping out a little bit during pregnancy. Please. Don’t be him.

Preparation

Okay, you’re involved, you’ve ready the books, you’re supportive, open and positive. What else? Well, good news, there’s practical things you can do. Obviously there’s the dishes and general housework. But if you have a few favourite dishes you’re adept at making, make a ton of them and freeze them! Nobody will feel like cooking in those first days after you come home with baby, so having something you both love that you can make with zero effort is a win. Research! There are about 80,000 different baby products being released every half an hour, and the choices are bewildering. If you can help narrow the choices as to which pram to buy, or what the benefits of different cribs, cots and moses baskets are, it will be a big help. Assemble the pram and the cot. If you’re going down that path, decorate the nursery. Pack your own bag for the hospital! (I’ll write a separate article for that). You can’t grow a child, and when it’s here you’ll likely not be able to help feed it for a while. But with a bit of prep, there are practical things you can do, to ease the way.

That’s it, that’s all I have for now. I hope it helps!

NCT and Antenatal Clases

We’d heard a lot about antenatal classes run by the National Childbirth Trust; mostly that they were madly useful in terms of providing some information, but essentially they were a way of paying some money to meet local-ish parents with a similar due date. They were described to us as a necessary evil to garner a support network, by getting to know parents in a similar situation as you, and setting up a WhatsApp group for them.

After one session so far, that very much seems to have been a fair description. They’re a little thin on content, and the little exercises and games to teach you things, whilst interesting, are mostly there for the parents to get to know each other and make friends. It’s a bit of a shame that the catchment areas are so large, making future local-area meet-ups inevitably rare, but contacts are contacts. I know parents who’ve made friends for life via the NCT, and it’s really encouraging that there were so many dads present. This has actually been the case for all the classes so far, there’s been a pleasing lack of shirking of responsibility, and plenty of game involvement.

As well as the NCT classes themselves, the local hospital also arranged for a full day antenatal class, provided by an NCT teacher. The emphasis is totally different here, it’s about delivering lots of information and dispelling as many myths as possible in the time available. While friendships may arise, after all the catchment area is much smaller, and even the window of duty dates is narrower, but that’s really not the main focus and up to individual parents. There was a wealth of information here, in some cases shedding new light on things, or suggesting a new avenue for research.

I say ‘a new avenue for research’, because regardless of how authoritative the NCT trainer sounds, they don’t necessarily have any medical training themselves. They are not required to be doctors, midwives or nurses; they do have to go on extensive courses, but don’t think like I did that they are all practising midwives. They tend to deride a birth with any element of intervention as ‘medical’, vs the holy grail of the ‘natural’ birth. Now, in some cases this has provided new food for thought which I’ll cover in a different post, but it can feel a bit heavy-handed. Back in 2013, Kirstie Allsopp made her own complaints about the NCT about this public, to the dismay of some.

Overall, antenatal classes of some kind are useful, and I’d totally recommend them. Build your network of fellow parents and get what information and discussion you can. But, only use it as a base for information, by no means should you let yourself get bullied into a childbirth philosophy that may be at odds to your actual needs.