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What I Learnt From Week 1 Of Fatherhood

Photo: Sally Anscombe/Getty Images.
This week Refinery29 has been talking about motherhood. Here we take a look at things from the father's perspective.

My name's Jack, I'm 29 and my first kid is two weeks old. Here are some things I’ve learnt so far:

Handle with confidence
“Support the head! Remember to support the head!” Give any well-meaning person a glimpse of you carrying a new-born child and chances are they’ll automatically scream this at you. People expect you to pick up a baby like you’re pulling a brick from a six foot pile of Jenga. Yes, support the head, but at the same time remember it’s your kid and you need to get to know him and how to make him most comfortable. I’ve discovered that ours calms down almost immediately when I lie his chest against my forearm and support his head underneath the chin. Unfortunately it does somewhat resemble a chokehold, and the first time my wife’s grandma saw it she almost had to be restrained. Have faith in your baby’s resilience. We dropped ours on the bed once during a bungled handover, and he burped contentedly and went straight to sleep.

On names
Ask yourself the following question: am I naming my child 'Everglade' because I think he’ll like it, or is it because I want people to think (/know) his dad is a badboy who smoked the rule book? I for one happen to believe that an original name can help a kid to distinguish himself and develop a unique self-confidence. But does your child really want to distinguish himself on the first day of primary school when the teacher is reading through the register, or might he at least like the chance to lie low for a day or two while he scouts out the opposition? Much to my, and her own, surprise, my wife discovered a penchant for ultra-macho names such as Hunter and Conan, and, since he was born in the middle of a thunderstorm, the name Thor was seriously debated for all of eleven seconds. In the end we gave him three simple names from our families, which is a lovely way of paying your respects to someone. If he wants to distinguish himself later he’ll be more than capable of doing so by himself.
Remember he’s just a kid
You worship your child. That’s why you’re up at 04:17 fumbling through a bleary-eyed nappy change. Sometimes your kid will assist by lying there placidly, but other times he’ll kick and scream and, yes, defecate, to the point where you start to feel he’s being at best ungrateful and uncooperative and at worst downright rude. Calm down and remember he’s just an innocent baby. He’s not doing it on purpose (apart from in our case, where he definitely, definitely is.) If he could tell you exactly what the problem is, he would. As I stoop over my son in the semi-darkness, wiping piss from my eyebrow with one hand and rubbing cream onto the moving target of his perineum with the other, I just try to focus on how much I’ll get him back for this when his first girlfriend comes round for tea.

Share the bed
There’s a lot of scary stories about this, but if you’re comfortable with the idea, and unless you’re a really heavy sleeper with a mattress the size of a kayak, don’t be averse to letting your kid sleep in the bed. Often ours is half asleep after night-time feeding, but putting him in the crib (note: ten centimetres from our bed) has him crying like Ronaldo after a mildly insensitive tackle. Most of the time now he rolls off the breast and goes to sleep in the middle of the bed, like a little lord with his attendants close at hand. We all get a better night’s sleep as a result.

Have specific night-time roles
My wife handles the breastfeeding. I’m rubbish at it. Instead, I’m the designated “burp guy”. I can make that thing burp underwater. I also change the night-time nappies when required. By agreeing everything beforehand, there are no “it’s your turn” arguments when you’re both in the middle of a really good dream.

Love your partner
Remember what your wife/ partner has put into this and be grateful for her. Even if she’s in rude health after the birth and has always dreamed of being a mum, understand that it can’t be easy for her to take all the things that were once priorities and subordinate them to the demands of a 55cm tall diva. Theoretically, you can take yourself off for some “me-time” whenever you feel like it, but she doesn’t have that luxury. Praise her and remember that loving your partner is one of the best things you can do for your child.

Choose the worst room in the house for your changing station
You may think you’ve never done anything so heinous as pissing on someone’s shirt or, heaven forbid, shitting on someone’s shoes, but chances are, if you were a baby at any point, especially a male one, you may be an offender. Ours has developed a ploy of biding his time while the old nappy is removed, twiddling his thumbs through the wet-wipe and the cream, and then, as soon as he feels the first caress of the new nappy against his skin, sending forth an almighty shower of piss and/or shit like a grenade going off in a slurry pit. I’m told it’s something to do with the change in temperature. Cast away any notion of buying an attractive fold-away changing station and siting it next to the bed, and throw down some old cardboard boxes in the garage!

Don’t whisper
There’s a tendency to treat a sleeping baby like a sleeping grizzly bear. We’ve been loudmouths around ours from the beginning, and as a result he could now comfortably sleep through a tsunami. Which sounded like a good thing, before I wrote it down.

As a default, ignore all advice (including this article)
You have a kid, and suddenly your mate’s Auntie Caroline’s postman has some urgent words of wisdom for you. They all mean well, but chances are they don’t really know you and they definitely don’t know your kid. Have the confidence to ignore non-medical advice until you’ve worked out whether you agree with it. Our baby likes to feed leisurely for an hour or more and then sleep for four or five hours. The midwives at the hospital told us we should wake him every three hours and only let him feed for ten minutes per breast. We have no reason to distrust them, but for now we have decided to ignore their advice and so far he’s still got all his fingers and toes. You’ll make mistakes, but have faith in your kid’s adaptability. Don’t read the books. I read more books when I was getting a dog. Raising a child should be something natural, based on instinct and tailored to each situation. If you’re lucky enough to have parents around and you like the way they raised you, then they can offer a helpful word now and again, but only if you ask for it. You’ll work it out. Human beings have made it this far.