Becoming a dad for the second time

Having become a dad for the second time a grand total of four hours after my last post, I would like to announce the arrival of Rosie Grace Drew into the world. Weighing in at 7lbs 13oz, she was born in a blisteringly quick six hours from start to finish, meaning I was finishing my blog while my wife was in labour – shh, don’t tell her! In my defence, I thought it was another false alarm, such as we’d had the day before, during which we’d spent eight hours in ‘labour’, including five in hospital. Also, I was timing the contractions while hiding on the landing to write, so…no. No excuse. My bad.

Anyway, becoming a dad for a second time, and in such a quick and easy fashion, has given rise to a number of observations.

Firstly, your understanding of birth clearly relates to the manner of birth you experience. After the traumatic arrival of our first daughter, my impression of birth was as an incredibly stressful, dramatic and terrifying ordeal, a medical process involving tubes and tools, a score of specialist personnel, massive aftercare, and the ever-present fear of death. Indeed, whenever I heard about people giving birth at home, I’d think: are you freaking nuts!?!

This second birth couldn’t have been more different. When we arrived at hospital, my wife was 3cm. Ninety minutes of sweating, shivering and grunting later, the midwife said, ‘You know what? I don’t think you’re in established labour yet. I think we should probably give you some pethidine, you go have a sleep, and then we’ll resume this – it’ll be hours yet.’

Here we go again, I thought. But she decided to check before administering the drug.

‘There’s your show, and there’s your waters, and you have no cervix so you can push anytime you want.’

And four pushes later, out plopped Rosie. These experiences don’t really give you confidence in NHS midwives, do they?

As a result of this birth, which was quick, easy, and entirely carried out under my wife’s own steam, I now see childbirth – the uncomplicated kind, at least – as a very natural, everyday process. An incredible process, to be sure, but a biological function rather than a medical intervention. Having a baby at home? Why wouldn’t you have a baby at home?

In fact, she arrived so quickly, we weren’t ready. We were waiting for something to go wrong – for my wife to be rushed off to theatre by people in blue scrubs, for our daughter to be put in a perspex box and dragged off to NICU, for weeks of eating petrol-station sandwiches and trying to sleep in hospital chairs – but we had none of that. Instead, we sat in a room with a baby that only a few minutes before had been inside my wife’s abdomen, and were left alone. We’d only been in hospital two hours. We could have gone home after another hour. It all seemed rather surreal.

After the first birth – at least, one the way we had it – you see childbirth as an awful thing. After the second, we saw it as a beautiful thing. As with everything, I imagine the truth is somewhere in between.

As we’re a high-risk family, we had to stay in for 48 hours for the baby to be monitored, lest she develop respiratory problems (she didn’t). It was on the postnatal ward that I realised that having a second child is completely different to having the first.

It’s amazing how chilled you are the second time round. You really notice it when you’re surrounded by first-time parents hovering over their babies, stressing about every little thing, treating them like porcelain dolls that’ll break whenever they touch them, constantly checking to make sure they’re still alive, struggling to feed them, agonising about whether breast truly is best or if they should switch to the bottle, and being thoroughly unprepared for being up half the night, every night. You know, all the stuff I did first time round.

I did none of that this time. Other than ensuring she’s neither too hot nor too cold, looking after a baby is mostly a case of putting stuff in one end and cleaning it up when it comes out the other. So while we were in hospital, I fed little Rosie, burped her, and put her back in her cot, waited three hours, changed her nappy, fed her, burped her, and repeated this for two days. In between I’d watch the other parents fussing around their kids, freaking out over every cry, and fretting through lack of sleep, and think: I’m so glad I’m a second-time dad!

Having experience makes the return home that much easier too. The first child, it’s like someone swings a wrecking ball through your life. Everything changes, and until you manage to adjust, you get caught in a baby bubble where the baby and your status as a parent are the only things that matter. No matter what you do – driving her in the car, bedding her down in the Moses basket, taking her out in the pram, giving her a bath – it’s the first time you’ve ever done it, so it seems like a massive obstacle you need to overcome.

Taking Rosie home was no big deal, because we’ve done all of that hundreds of times before. Nor do we worry so much. Having been a good feeder, she’s suddenly grazing every hour around the clock and is incredibly unsettled, but instead of panicking, we simply carry on, aware it’s just the day-ten growth spurt. It’ll settle down, as it always did with Izzie. (Note to first time parents: watch out for growth spurts, and try not to worry!)

In fact, coming home with a second baby is something of an anti-climax. Partly this is because instead of the mountain of cards, banners and balloons that greeted your first, your second is met with widespread indifference, but mostly it’s because you’re expecting hell, ready to march through a field of flames for the foreseeable future – but it isn’t anywhere near as bad as that. The only real hardship I’ve encountered is that the nights seem to take more out of me now than they did two years ago, probably because two years ago I was fresh, while this time I’m starting on the back of around 800 nights of broken sleep. But hey ho, I’ll adjust.

But there’s one thing that is exactly the same no matter how much you worried about it – the amount that you love them. You don’t love them the same way, because they’re not the same, but you love them just as much. It took me a couple of days to get there, I’ll admit – I didn’t feel as strongly for her the moment I set eyes on her – but your fatherly instincts kick in soon enough and you realise you’d die for the second just as you’d die for the first.

And like the first, she’s already a daddy’s girl, and beautiful to boot. What can I say? I make great babies.

Toddlers, on the other hand…but that’s another story.

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Number 2 – uh oh! (Part 3)

So why did somebody who professed in a series of posts that he didn’t want another child decide to have another child? It’s a reasonable question to ask and certainly requires an explanation – both for my readers and for the little sprog who will one day grow up and read it (who could be here in six hours or could arrive in six days – who the hell knows?).

For those of you who aren’t aware, I was averse to having a second child for a number of reasons – disruption to the first child’s life, not being sure I’d love it as much or be able to give it the same input, the intellectual approach to having the child (how much gap do you want between your kids?) rather than an emotional or spiritual one, and, most importantly, the fact I didn’t feel a pressing desire for one the way I did with the first.

That last one is the most important because it underpins all the others. If you do desire a second child, the clinical discussion of when you want it isn’t nearly so distasteful; you see the disruption to the first child’s life in terms of the positive effects it can bring; and despite a background dread that you’ll someone fail to bond with something new, you move forward with the faith that you will. Which goes to show that, while we see ourselves as rational beings, our arguments and the conclusions we reach are based as much on emotional factors as pure logic.

Why I desired a second child – that’s the real question.

It started at my wedding. Well, after my wedding, if we’re going to be technical, but it began in response to a conversation my mother had with a member of my wife’s family. See, my wife has always wanted a second child – even before the first – and nor is she averse to a fourth, sixth or eighth (however many we have, it apparently must be an even number, because reasons). She wanted more kids because it was unconscionable to her that Izzie should be an only child like she was.

I was always a little dismissive of that argument. Everybody wants what they didn’t have, and while the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, when you get there you find it still needs cutting. Having grown up with a brother, the presence or otherwise of siblings has never been an issue of much importance to me, and so I didn’t really understand where she was coming from.

Until a few weeks after the wedding, when my mother told me of this conversation that she’d had. My wife has always been rather coy about her childhood, and so I had never heard the stories of her growing up alone on her father’s farm after her mother left. I had never heard how she would wake up in a big empty farmhouse, her father already out with the cows; never heard how she was too far from the village to mix with the other kids; of how she’d sit alone as darkness fell, the only sounds the distant lowing of cattle or the wind breathing through the cornfields.

I certainly hadn’t heard that whenever people used to visit, she’d beg them to take her home with them, tell them she wouldn’t make a fuss, she’d sit in the corner and be quiet, if only she didn’t have to be quite so alone.

It was also a very confusing time. Growing up autistic, without being diagnosed, and with a father who, though doing his best, had no idea what to do about it, was clearly an emotionally crippling experience. And without someone to talk to, to share experiences, to discuss how she was feeling, my wife felt the lack of a sibling in a way few people probably ever do.

It was only then that I really understood my wife’s deep psychological need for a second child and her absolute terror of Izzie ever feeling anything like she had growing up. Of course, if we didn’t have a second child, Izzie’s childhood would be nothing like her mother’s, but even so, I started to wonder what she might miss out on.

I didn’t want to have a second child simply to benefit the first – I wanted to want one in its own right. But having a second child doesn’t simply benefit the first – it benefits both. They both get to share experiences, memories, good and bad; they have someone to moan to about their weird parents; and they have someone else who can teach them another aspect of what it is to be human.

And gradually, after having these thoughts, I started to feel a change in myself. I started seeing babies and becoming broody; started seeing families out and about with their little ones and wondering how big a gap there was between their ages; and ultimately started to feel as though I would like to go through the whole terrifying, exciting, exhilarating, life-affirming experience again.

And that is what it is – life. That’s about the best and only reason to have a second child.

I’ll close with the words of Kahlil Gibran:

Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

Number 2 – uh oh! (Part 2)

The fact that pregnancy is one month too long might be the most convincing argument for intelligent design. Women seem to spend eight months dreading the labour and birth, and one month going, ‘Oh come on, hurry up and get this thing out of me already!’ If that’s an accident of nature, it’s a damned good one.

And it doesn’t just affect the women – most of my anxieties about the birth have been crushed beneath the elephant seal that’s taken up residence on my sofa, barking at me whenever it wants food or attention or a foot massage. It’s no fun being a heavily pregnant woman, but nor is it fun being a heavily pregnant woman’s spouse. Seriously, she snores so bad at night it’s like sharing a bed with an obese eighty-year-old asthmatic. Give me back my wife, damn it! I’m not sure how much more I can take.

We still have three days till the due date, but we’re aching for the birth. And it’s not just us – my twenty-two month old daughter has been looking forward to meeting her little sister for months now.

‘What’s in mummy’s tummy?’ I ask her.

‘Baby,’ she replies excitedly. ‘Baby girl.’

‘Yes,’ I say. ‘And how’s she going to get here?’

‘Mummy bigger, bigger, bigger POP! Hello baby girl.’

‘Yes. Well, sort of.’

If only it was that easy…

Of course, she probably has no idea of what’s going to come – a pretty dolly she can play with, I think – but we’ve tried to prepare her as best we can and included her as much as possible along the way. She’s come to scans (nightmare), midwife appointments (nightmare) and to see the consultant (nightmare); she’s seen the baby on the screen, heard her heartbeat, and helped us pick out the layette; and she talks to her in her mummy’s tummy, hugs her, and kisses her goodnight.

But currently, her little sister is nothing more than an abstract concept. When she arrives, when Izzie faces the reality of a crying baby who monopolises mummy and daddy’s time, that’s when we’ll see how she really feels.

And there have been a couple of signs of potential storms to come, both concerning the sleeping arrangements. When the new cot arrived – after I spent several hours wondering why I’m so much better at baby ballet than assembling furniture – she climbed into it and decided it was hers. When I told her it belonged to the baby, her face fell.

‘My bed,’ she said quietly.

‘You’ve got your own bed, sweetheart. This is the baby’s bed.’

‘My bed.’

After half an hour of this, and plenty of hugs and reassurance, she finally admitted it was the baby’s bed, and the crisis was averted.

The second difficulty was when she discovered, a few weeks later, that the baby would be sleeping in our room for the first few months.

‘Me, mine room; mummy daddy, mummy daddy room; baby, baby room.’

‘She has to sleep next to mummy and daddy because she’ll be very small and we need to look after her, like we did when you were small.’

‘Mummy daddy, mummy daddy room; baby, baby room.’

And that’s that.

That one wasn’t quite so easily resolved. It took a long time for her to get her head around the idea, though she eventually seemed to accept it. Clearly, she understands the concept of fairness and isn’t going to like that the new baby is likely to have certain benefits that she no longer enjoys.

This might explain why she has become rather clingy of late; she’s trying to keep her dummy with her during the day when she’s only allowed it at night; and she wants to be carried everywhere. Certainly, she is aware that a change is coming, and she is insecure about just what that might mean.

On the one hand, a second child entering the house is a rival, if we look at the family unit as an economic model. She has to compete for limited resources – namely, her parents’ attention – and she will no longer be the centre of the universe, which are both difficult lessons to learn.

On the other hand, I’m not so sure this either/or allocation of love and attention is entirely accurate. We fully intend to involve Izzie in every aspect of our child-rearing – she can help fetch nappies and wipes, hold the bottle during feeds (with close supervision, of course), and she can sing and dance and entertain the little one. It’s not so much about the new baby coming and stealing her place as it is adding another member to our already happy family. So long as she can feel included around the new baby – and if we all work together, there’s no reason that she shouldn’t – then I don’t think there’ll be much of a problem.

But even if there is, we’ll deal with it. That’s parenting.

I sat her down the other day for a chat. I told her not to feel scared about her sister coming, or how strange things might be. I told her that even though things might be different, it wouldn’t change how much she’s loved or how special she is. I reassured her that we’d still have bath times, I’d still read her a book at bedtime, and that no matter what, I would be there for her when she needed me.

I’m not sure how much of this she took in, being as she’s only two-years-and-two-months old, but I’m continually surprised by what a toddler is capable of understanding. You give your child love and patience, there’s nothing that can’t be overcome.

But I really hope this second baby comes soon – if mummy gets any bigger, she really is going to pop, and I don’t want to be anywhere near when that happens.