My Baby

Contrary to the uninformed opinion that new born babies are personality-less little blobs, they’re actually all individuals. Take my two, for example. Now that my second baby has been with us for five weeks – long enough to see some of her individuality, not long enough to be numb to it – I figured it was about time I said what she’s like.

She’s an asshole.

Yes, I know, we’re not meant to call our kids that – babies are all moonbeams and unicorns and magic fairy dust. The reality is that some are perfect little bundles of joy who bring light and life to all who see them, like my first daughter was; and some can be whinging, whining, needy little assholes, like my second is now. An asshole with character and spirit, but an asshole nonetheless.

And I love her for it.

I love her for every time I find myself staring into her eyes at four in the morning, saying in an exasperated tone, ‘Why the hell are you so awake? Why won’t you go to sleep?’

I love her for every time I’m bouncing her on my shoulder, crying out, ‘Why are you still screaming!? I’ve fed you, changed you, burped you, cuddled you, massaged your belly, rocked you, taken you for a drive – for God’s sake, what’s the problem?’

And I love her for every time she cries on other people and then immediately stops when they hand her back to me. That’s my girl.

While her sister was a very easy baby and full of the joys of spring, Rosie is demanding, unsettled, noisy and determined. She’s happiest when lying on somebody, and starts to moan the second you try to move her to pram or cot or chair. She’s constantly asking for milk then refuses to drink it, takes the dummy only to spit it across the room, and sleeps only when you’re at your most awake, saving her wakeful times for when your eyes are propped open with matchsticks. She screams on every car journey for the duration of the trip, has a sixth sense for finding and pulling out clumps of your chest hair when you least expect it, and will feed as and when she chooses, even if that’s a single ounce every thirty minutes, thank you very much.

She’s quirky too. From the moment she was born – and I mean literally the moment – she’s been pulling funny faces and making funny noises. She has the Elvis sneer down to a tee and I’m constantly having to check if the cat’s got into the Moses basket, such is the caterwauling she makes – when she’s not snorting like a pig. She just seems to miaow and grunt away to herself while screwing up her mouth and sticking out her tongue, glaring about with one eye wide and the other just a slit like an infant Popeye.

In fact, that’s not such a bad comparison – she’s short and stocky and instead of the feminine grace of her sister, who looks like her mother, Rosie looks like me minus the beard – and I’m hardly a supermodel. That’s not to say she isn’t cute as a button – the other day a lady said she was ‘very bonny for a four-week-old’ – but it’s not an immediately obvious beauty. I mean, I think she’s adorable, but more in the manner of an owl than a falcon – or more like a middleweight boxer than a decathlete. Woe betide anyone who gets in her way when she’s learning to walk!

And that is my baby at five weeks. My adorably difficult, grizzly little bruiser, a perfect little asshole.

I wouldn’t change her for the world.

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A New Little Sister

I was regularly told that having two kids wasn’t twice as hard as having one – it was exponentially more difficult. I can’t say that I’ve found this to be true as of yet. Sure, it can be a little tough supporting the baby with one hand, holding the bottle in the second, and then fending off the over-eager attentions of a toddler with the third, but overall I’d put the addition of another member to our family at around 1.5 times more difficult than before – so it’s not all that bad.

Of course, that’s probably because Rosie is four weeks old, so she mostly only sleeps, feeds, poops and cries. When she’s just as mobile, inquisitive and determined as her 28-month-old sister, I imagine I’ll revise that figure upwards, but for now we’re certainly coping.

But that’s not to say it hasn’t been bloody difficult.

When Izzie came to the hospital to meet her little sister, she was so excited that the first thing she did was to slap the bed twice. And then, without missing a beat, she grabbed the nearest bottle of milk and tried to ram it down Rosie’s throat.

You see, to Izzie, Rosie is a doll – a flesh and blood doll she wants to cuddle and kiss and feed and change and do all the things to that a parent does. Which is all well and good, except I’ve seen how Izzie treats her dolls, and Rosie wouldn’t last thirty seconds without a dislocated shoulder or worse. It’s a sobering thought that the greatest threat to my second-born is not the dog, not the cat – it’s my first-born.

It has been difficult convincing the wider family of this basic reality.

‘Well I trust Izzie,’ said one with great pomposity in response to this statement, as though trusting a toddler with a baby is a sign of virtue instead of gross negligence.

‘I think she’s lovely,’ I replied, ‘but you never know what a toddler might do.’

‘Only a child with mental health difficulties would harm a baby,’ this person went on to say, clearly believing toddlers are in complete control of their emotions, have mastered fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination, and fully understand cause and effect.

There’s no cure for stupid.

So the past month has involved extremely careful supervision alongside the usual aspects of baby care. We’ve had to keep a certain distance between the two girls until Izzie can understand how to be gentle, which has caused plenty of tears and tantrums. Izzie wants to hold Rosie, and rock her, and get in the pram with her, and stuff her dummy in her mouth, and open her eyes when Rosie isn’t awake, none of which we can allow. But we have taken steps to alleviate this tension.

I instituted a rule from the word go that when people come to the house they have to greet and make a fuss of Izzie before allowing her to introduce them to her little sister. Furthermore, we involve Izzie in all aspects of childcare by encouraging her to fetch the changing mat and nappies and wipes, and she sits with us during feeds, and we make sure we spend plenty of time hugging as a group.

It’s had the effect of avoiding any jealousy, giving Izzie some sense of ownership of the situation, and encouraging her to love her little sister.

And, without a doubt, love her she does.

When Rosie cries, Izzie tries to comfort her – well, on those occasions she doesn’t put her finger to her lips and shout, ‘Shush!’

She’s also rather conscientious about keeping Rosie involved, telling us to take Rosie with us, to give her a hat, to give her milk, to change her nappy – which is lovely.

And Rosie responds to Izzie in ways she doesn’t to us. Now that Izzie is finally cottoning on to the fact she’s not allowed to touch the baby, when Rosie lies on the floor or sits in the bouncy chair, Izzie often lies and sits in front of her and tells her stories and sings and giggles, and you can see that Rosie is being stimulated by it. They have a connection to each other, as siblings and as infants, that we don’t seem to have with them as adults.

I mean, there are some teething troubles – Izzie doesn’t want to go to bed because the baby’s still up; she wants to be carried because the baby’s carried; when I’m rocking the baby in my arms I find Izzie clinging to my legs; and whenever Rosie is out of the car seat, Izzie climbs into it and makes it her own – but these are all normal, I think. Other than the clumsy roughness, Izzie is the very model of a doting big sister.

Although tere has been a really weird development: Izzie has become incredibly squeamish about poo.

Every time the baby poops, Izzie says, ‘Me not touch it, daddy, me not touch it.’

‘You don’t have to touch it,’ I reply. ‘Nobody’s making you touch it.’

‘Not touch it, daddy.’

The most hilarious manifestation of this was the first time Izzie held Rosie on her lap. I surrounded her with cushions, including one across her thighs, sat close beside her, and gently placed Rosie down. Izzie looked like the cat that got the cream, the happiest I’ve ever seen her.

And then Rosie did a noisy poop.

I’ve never seen Izzie move so fast. ‘Not touch it!’ she screamed as she somehow slipped out from under the cushions and over the arm of the sofa and off in the blink of an eye.

We think it’s because she went to her mother’s baby shower shortly before Rosie was born where they played a game involving putting strange substances into tiny nappies – peanut butter, chocolate, Marmite – and getting people to sniff and taste it to correctly identify the substance.

And now Izzie is traumatised.

Thanks mummy.

The Hidden Disability and the Hands-On Dad

I’m a pretty placid guy, I think. I take as I find, try to treat others as I’d like to be treated myself, and generally endure massive amounts of abuse before I fight back. I can be irritable, sure, and I can be a dick, but I try to make the world a better place by being in it.

All that being said, there’s one thing that drives me freaking insane: when people assume I’m somehow less of a parent because I’m a man.

Yesterday, I arrived home from nursery at around 6pm with my little girl in tow and unloaded her from the back of the car. A neighbour was out in the street and asked me how I was.

‘Knackered,’ I replied.

‘Well, if you’re knackered, imagine how your wife feels,’ she replied. ‘It’s harder for her – she’s the mother.’

Wow. Considering we’ve only ever exchanged a couple of words before, it seems awfully forward to express such derision for my physical and mental state.

Allow me to respond.

‘Well, actually, my wife has autism and a learning disability and I’m practically her carer; I can’t leave her alone with the kids more than an hour or she becomes overwhelmed; she goes to bed at 9pm and sleeps right through till morning, so until 8am, I am a single parent; and every time the baby cries, she passes her to me.

‘For every five nappies I change, she changes one; I cook four nights a week while she cooks twice, unless she decides she’s not in the mood, in which case I have to throw something together or we go hungry; I look after the dog, the cat, the chickens, the fish; I do all the driving; and if I try to nap in the afternoon, I’m told I’m selfish and don’t care about the family.

‘When the baby cries, my wife cries; when my wife cries, the toddler cries; and then the toddler tells me I’m naughty for making mummy cry. So I soothe the baby, then soothe the toddler, which soothes my wife.

‘I’m the only one who baths our toddler; I put her to bed every night, even when she’s screaming to stay up because the baby’s still awake, which is every night; I take her to nursery twice a week and pick her up; I hold her hand when she wakes crying in the night; I cuddle her because since her sister arrived she needs three times the love and reassurance; I console her when mummy’s too busy playing with her phone to pay her any attention; and I’m the only one who disciplines her, gives her stability and clear boundaries, and remains consistent in my behaviour.

‘I haven’t had a good night’s sleep in two years, while my wife gets ten hours a night; haven’t had more than a few hours in a row ‘off’, while my wife goes out several times a week; bear the full responsibility for everybody in this household; and I am not allowed to get ill, or feel tired, or have a headache, or else everything falls apart.

‘If I go out, I have to arrange for someone to come in and sit with my wife; and everywhere I go, everybody asks me how my wife is coping, and how we can make things easier for her, and whether she needs more time away from the children.

‘My life revolves around my kids, as though I’m in a bubble of childcare; I don’t have the time, energy or inclination to do any of the things I used to do; I eat all the time and am so tired I barely know the day of the week; I feel as though I’m just going through the motions; and I read a pamphlet that said these are all signs of postnatal depression in women, but, damn it, this is just normal for me.

‘And now let me tell you why I’m knackered today. Between feeding and changing the baby last night, I worked on my speech till 1am. The baby was up at two, four and six this morning, an hour each time, and then my toddler once again got up at seven. I have had three hours of sleep in snatches of 45 minutes a time, and that’s the way it’s been for a month.

‘After breakfast I took my toddler to nursery, where she spent all day because I was out this afternoon and my wife wasn’t capable of looking after them both. After making lunch, I packed everything up for my wife and drove into Bournemouth. I then set up the pushchair, loaded the baby into it, and bid my wife adieu as I headed for a hotel.

‘Upon arrival, I was seated at a table beside best-selling author Kathy Lette and her son, Holby City actor Jules Robertson, and across from comedienne Rosie Jones. I was both overwhelmed and terrified, but I hid it well.

‘After a bit of chit-chat, I got up and gave a speech to 140 local business leaders, the mayors of Poole, Bournemouth and Christchurch, an MP and a Lord, encouraging them to provide work placements for people with special educational needs. After my speech, several people approached me and told me they had been sufficiently moved by my words to offer employment to people with autism.

‘Oh, did I forget to mention that I’m autistic too? And that I’m also susceptible to depression and have been on a high dose of antidepressants for fifteen years? And that nobody seems to give a damn about whether I’m coping?

‘So, my speech over, I picked up my wife, loaded the baby and pushchair into the car, and drove home. The baby apparently hadn’t woken up at all, but she was wet as my wife hadn’t changed her. I changed her clothes and nappy and fed her, then went to pick up my toddler from nursery.

‘On the way back, I thought how exhausted I was and how desperately I needed some rest, but I knew I still had to make tea, put my toddler to bed, and then, after my wife went to bed, get up up at least three times in the night to see to the baby.

‘And then I saw you, and you asked me how I was.

‘”Knackered,” I replied.

‘”Well, if you’re knackered, imagine how your wife feels,” you replied. “It’s harder for her – she’s the mother.”

‘Now, I’m not going to tell you how offensive your assumption is that my wife works harder at parenting than me. I’m not going to harp on about how while from the outside we might look like a nice, normal family, you have no freaking idea what goes on inside. And nor am I going to roll out that old adage that to assume makes an ASS out of U and ME. No.

‘To assume makes you an ass, period. And that’s all I have to say about that.’

That’s what I could have said. Instead, I dug deep, took it on the chin, and said, ‘Yep, it’s much harder on the mum.’

Because the situation in my household is the situation in my household. It’s not ideal, sure, but I’m surviving, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to allow my neighbours to know what’s really going on, and talk about it among themselves, and judge us.

They call high-functioning autism the ‘hidden disability’, and it really is – in every way that matters.

My Life With Autism

For anybody in the Dorset area, I am doing a talk tomorrow night for DAAS (Dorset Adult Asperger’s Support) at the United Church in Dorchester (49/51 Charles Street, DT1 1EE).

The same talk was very well received in July at a similar event at Bournemouth University. Doors open at 6.45. It would be great to see some of you there.

Gillan

 

Baby care: what you should know

Looking after my second baby girl, now twenty days old, I really feel I have a handle on what this baby-rearing thing is all about. While all babies are unique, it seems to me to be a difference of degree rather than of kind. As I’ve said before, baby care is mostly a case of putting stuff in one end and cleaning it up when it comes out the other, and in the interim making sure she isn’t too hot or too cold. If you keep that in mind, and don’t sweat the small stuff, you should do fine.

That said, becoming a parent for the first time is an incredibly scary, difficult thing. I know that some of my readers are planning on having children, and some are soon to become parents themselves, so for your benefit I thought I’d share my take on parenting – all the facts you need to confidently raise a baby. At least, the facts as I see them, and the things that I’ve found invaluable in my own life.

The General Stuff

  1. There’s a lot of sentimental guff spoken about babies. You hear people on the way out of the delivery room saying, ‘I love her so much, she’s perfect in every way, it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me.’ There’s this expectation that you’re going to feel an instant connection. In my experience, new born babies look like asthmatic Smurfs – blue-skinned, gasping for breath, and stuffed into oversized hats. You look and think, ‘What on earth have I done?’ If it takes you a few days to warm to the little creature, a few days to work out how you feel, a few days to get your head round things, that’s okay. You’ve got a lifetime of emotions to come – don’t expect too much too soon.
  2. New born babies feed every couple of hours, sometimes for a couple of hours. If it feels like you’re always feeding your baby, you are – their stomachs are very small and with all the growing they do, they use up what they’ve drunk very quickly. Luckily, it settles down and they get into a pattern, sometimes having a big feed and a three hour sleep, sometimes cluster feeding every thirty minutes before drifting off. And when they’re finally asleep, I have one word of advice: sleep!
  3. Baby poo changes rapidly over the first few days, from black tar to green whole grain mustard to yellow mush. This is normal and nothing to worry about.
  4. Babies aren’t made of porcelain. They’re designed to make it through the birth canal, so unless you’re really clumsy, you’re probably not going to break them. But don’t put that to the test!
  5. You might not think of yourself as a particularly violent or jealous person, but you may find that when people pick up, touch, or even look at your baby, you feel like scratching out their eyes. This is normal, but try to remember you’re not the only one excited about your child, and you’ll have more opportunities for cuddles than anyone else can ever hope for.
  6. Even though they seem to prefer lying on their front, when you put your baby down to sleep, always put her on her back. If your relative tells you that the advice in their day was to put them on their front, ignore them – the advice was wrong. Babies on their front are eighteen times more likely to die of cot death than babies on their back.
  7. Though it is lovely to let your baby fall asleep on you, and such cuddling is to be embraced, be sure to transfer them to the cot or Moses basket for a proper sleep – you don’t want to get to the point where they will only sleep on you, or you’re setting yourself up for a very tiring couple of years.
  8. Babies communicate. Try to learn the little signs that they’re hungry (rooting, poking out tongue) or need burping (fidgeting, gasping) or need changing (a slightly shocked facial expression accompanied by the smell of sour milk), and deal with these things before they start to cry – it makes life much more peaceful.
  9. Babies cry as a form of communication – mostly because you haven’t met their needs quickly enough (i.e. within about thirty seconds!). It can be distressing for a parent to hear their child wail, seemingly in despair, but don’t take it to heart – it’s how she’s talking to you. It’s your job to figure out what she needs.
  10. Babies only have a handful of needs. They need to be fed; they need to be winded; they need their nappy changed. Do these things and they are normally happy.
  11. Babies are sometimes unhappy. When they have belly ache or a non-disclosed need, or simply want to hear their own voice, they can cry and keep crying. This can be upsetting for you, but there’s not really a lot you can do about it except rock them and hug them until they fall asleep.
  12. If you suspect something more serious is wrong, don’t be afraid to get advice or seek help. If you go to an out-of-hours doctor or A&E, they’re jam-packed full of new parents with young babies. It’s part and parcel of being a new parent, so don’t ever feel like you’re being neurotic.
  13. In the womb, babies are lulled to sleep by movement, light and noise (i.e. during the day, when mum is busy), and come awake when all is still and quiet and dark (at night, when mum is exhausted). Why, then, do we expect them to sleep in a dark, quiet room? If you’re struggling to get your baby down at night, a Moses basket on a rocking stand at the bedside, a night-light and some quiet music or a radio tuned to static can really help give you some well-earned rest.
  14. Make sure you have plenty of everything. Taking off a poopy nappy at 3am to discover it was the last one is nobody’s idea of a good time. That said, there will be occasions when you need to buy something in a hurry, so be sure to locate a good 24-hour store long in advance of actually needing it.
  15. You’re going to be tired, you’re going to be crotchety, and the baby is going to push your buttons. That’s just the way it is. If you ever feel yourself at breaking point, put the baby into the cot or Moses basket – somewhere safe, at least – and walk away. Take some deep breaths. Make a cup of tea. Ask for help. Don’t keep going until you break.
  16. Forget the housework. Sure, do enough to keep the place ticking over, but you don’t need to live in a show home. Provided it’s clean, don’t get too hung up on it being tidy or spotless, unless you’re prepared to add extra stress to your life in pursuit of perfection.
  17. Babies are better off being too cold than too hot. Older people are paranoid that your baby isn’t warm enough, but being too hot is actually dangerous for babies as their brains are vulnerable to increases in temperature. In fact, the recommended temperature to keep your home with a baby around is 19 degrees centigrade – colder than we like it.
  18. Eat. Drink. Sleep. You might think you can keep going forever, but trust me – if you neglect your own needs, eventually you’ll be good for nothing.

 The Controversial Stuff

  1. Breast is not always best. Since breastfeeding has become something of a sacred cow these days, you might be treated like a pariah by the sisterhood if you shun its self-evident benefits. But not everyone can breastfeed, despite their best efforts, and you shouldn’t be made to feel a failure because of that. Faffing about with nipple shields while you’re tired, the baby’s tired and hungry, and you’re both crying does not help either of you. It can harm your self-esteem and mental well-being, and make it more difficult to bond with the baby. If you don’t feel you can cope breastfeeding then switch to the bottle – it’s as easy as that.
  2. Dummies (pacifiers) shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand. Like bottle-feeding, these simple tools have earned the opprobrium of the ‘all-natural’ brigade, but unfairly so. It’s not a means of making a baby shut up but of meeting her needs. Sometimes, between feeds, a baby needs to suck to soothe, and giving either the nipple or the bottle is inappropriate. As with anything, it’s a personal choice and nobody has the right to judge you for what you decide is best for your baby and family.
  3. Never underestimate the utility of swaddling. A fidgety, unsettled baby can be transformed into a contented sausage roll by wrapping her in a blanket and gently rocking her.

The Little Everyday Stuff

  1. When a baby breastfeeds, if done right, the first part of its body that comes into contact with its mother’s boob is its nose. If you’re breastfeeding, using a bottle or trying to keep a dummy in, and having little success, rub the baby’s nose – it often triggers the baby to latch-on.
  2. If your baby is distressed, has a rock-hard belly but isn’t able to poop, sit with your knees up in front of you and rest her in your lap, facing you and leaning against your thighs. Using two fingers, rub her belly in a clockwise direction centred on her belly button. After a few minutes, switch to gently pushing her knees up towards her chest. Alternate between the two. If this fails to work, pick her up under the armpits and allow her to stretch out in the air – oftentimes, gravity will cause the world to fall out of her arse.
  3. Whether male or female, while changing nappies you will get explosions from front and back. Before removing the nappy, be prepared: make sure you have cotton wool, water, nappy bag, clean nappy, and toilet paper. Keep them out of the way so that if things do go flying, they don’t get soiled too.
  4. Urine has a chemical in it that can’t simply be scrubbed out of the carpet with soap and water. I’ve tried. A couple of days later, you start to smell stale wee and go mad trying to locate the source. If there’s an accident and baby champagne goes everywhere, you need to use a proper cleaning product. I recommend the spray cleaners sold in pet shops as they contain enzymes that neutralize the odour while also disinfecting the area.
  5. When bottle-feeding a baby, an armchair or a sofa with a cushion – or even putting your knee beneath your elbow – prevents you getting a dead arm. Make sure you’re in a comfortable position that you can maintain before you start feeding or you’ll regret it.
  6. Always burp your baby after feeding. Babies have immature digestive systems and inefficient swallowing reflexes, so gulp down a great deal of air along the milk – air that causes wind and discomfort. It’s sometimes tempting in the middle of the night when the baby falls asleep at the breast or bottle simply to place her gently down and return to bed. Don’t. You’ll be getting up again in 5-10 minutes to burp an unhappy baby, right when you’re falling asleep, making both of you grumpy.
  7. Check out Dunstan Baby Language. This is the idea that all babies are born with five ‘words’ that they use for the first three months – ‘neh’ (I’m hungry), ‘eh-eh-eh’ (I need burping), ‘eairh’ (I’ve got belly ache), ‘heh’ (I’m uncomfortable/please change my nappy), and ‘owh’ (I’m sleepy). Though this hasn’t been scientifically scrutinised, it has undoubtedly worked for both of mine, especially the first three words. It makes it so much easier to know what she wants, and this leads to a calmer household.
  8. Make a record of every time she eats, poops, sleeps, for at least the first couple of weeks. You can very quickly spot patterns to her behaviour, and knowing when she last ate or had a bowel movement is very reassuring. It’s also helpful to be able to tell to doctors, midwives and health visitors, in case there is anything wrong.

The Annoying Stuff

  1. If you’re female and you go out with the baby, nobody will bat an eyelid.
  2. If you’re male and you go out with the baby, you’ll be stopped by every old woman you see. But they’ll only ever ask you how the mother’s coping, and then congratulate you on ‘doing your part’.
  3. People will give you advice. Lots of advice. Much of it will be wrong and directly contradict what you’ve been told by the midwife. Much of it will be against your principles. Luckily, advice is free and is not mandatory. You might as well listen, smile, and say ‘I’ll think about it.’ And then do what feels right for you.
  4. People will give you opinions. Lots of opinions. You will feel judged, because they are judging you. But the only expert in your baby is you, and everyone else can bugger off, because opinions are like arseholes – everyone’s got one and they’re mostly full of shit.
  5. People will make out like modern parents are useless because when they were parents, they never had car seats and parent/child parking, or washing machines or paternity leave or Perfect Prep machines. They’re just resentful they didn’t have these conveniences, and criticising us makes them feel better about the fact that their infant mortality rate was about ten times what it is today.
  6. You will feel patronised because people will be patronising. This is my second baby, yet I’m still told to ‘make sure she’s warm enough’ and ‘support her head’, as though without these instructions I would somehow flush my baby down the toilet without realising I was doing anything wrong. Unfortunately, there’s no way I know of not to get annoyed by these ‘helpful’ comments.
  7. Your family and friends will no longer talk to you, except about the baby. They’ll come to see the baby, but not you. And they won’t listen. You can break off mid-sentence and nobody will notice. You’re not going to have a grown-up conversation for a while.
  8. Unless you’re really weird (or single), you and your partner will argue. You’re both tired, you’re both under stress, you’re both trying to adjust to this new life you find yourselves in, so don’t expect your relationship to be perfect. In my experience, you’ll have a crap time for a few months but it’ll pass. Don’t take your disagreements too seriously. Don’t throw in the towel too quickly. It all works out in the end.

The Good Stuff

  1. Being a parent is awesome.
  2. Looking after something that is entirely dependent upon you for its very existence is an honour as well as a responsibility.
  3. You get to use parent/child spaces.
  4. When you hop about, sing, dance and act like a clown, you can say you’re doing it to ‘entertain’ the baby.
  5. You gain a new understanding of your own parents.
  6. You watch more sunrises than you ever knew existed.
  7. You get the morning news before anyone else.
  8. You realise it’s the best thing you’ve ever done and you’re grateful to experience the ever-changing miracle that is your child.

And that, mums and dads, is baby care in a nutshell. Here endeth the lesson. Now go forth and multiply!

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.

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.