24 Hours of Fatherhood

Here is an unabridged, not untypical day-in-the-life of an Aspie Daddy.

06.00 – get up and feed baby.

07.00 – wake Lizzie to look after baby while I walk dog.

08.00 – feed dog, feed cat, open hen house, have breakfast (porridge oats and coffee).

08.30 – resume looking after baby. She scratches my left eye with her fingernail – very painful.

09.00 – autism support worker arrives. Continue to look after baby and chat about issues until Lizzie is free to take over.

09.45 – tidy hall, clean kitchen, clean bathroom.

11.00 – autism support worker leaves. Feed baby while supervising erection of Christmas lights.

11.30 – prepare and eat lunch (rice and tuna).

11.45 – prepare a bottle.

12.00 – pack car and head off as family to swimming.

12.30 – arrive at swimming, change and get baby ready.

13.00 – father-daughter swimming lesson with baby.

13.30 – dry and dress baby and self, go home.

14.00 – feed baby.

14.30 – put baby down to nap.

14.40 – baby wakes screaming.

15.30 – baby pokes me in right eye.

16.00 – hand baby back to Lizzie and go online to enter short story contest.

16.30 – power cut, world turns black. Phone electricity company who think power will be restored by 19.35.

17.00 – send Lizzie to her dad’s with the baby, bottles, formula and Perfect Prep machine.

17.15 – feed cat and dog by the light of a headtorch.

17.30 – light mango and pomegranate candle and cook bacon and eggs for tea. Boil water on stove for cup of tea.

18.00 – go join Lizzie and baby at her dad’s. Play with baby; cuddle baby; feed baby; watch Lizzie eat lasagne.

21.00 – return to cold house. Power still out. Phone electricity company who think power will be restored by midnight.

21.15 – Start to put baby to bed. She is excited by my headtorch. Thinks it’s a funny game.

22.15 – baby finally settles. Run bath for Lizzie. Shut up hen house.

22.30 – Lizzie goes to bed with runny nose and cough. I wash up baby’s bottles and fill dishwasher.

23.00 – batteries run out in baby monitor. Find one new AAA battery (it takes four). Replace one battery.

23.15 – check on baby. Put extra blanket over her.

23.45 – try to settle horrendously unhappy screaming baby who seems to have developed cough.

00.30 – battery in baby monitor runs out. No spares. Wake Lizzie to listen out for baby while I take steriliser out to electricity engineer’s van and sterilise bottles.

00.45 – dress in onesie and lie on floor of baby’s (freezing) room as no monitor. Lizzie back to sleep.

01.20 – power back on. Make up two bottles of boiled and cooled water, just in case. Turn off Christmas lights, let dog out to toilet, turn up heating, fill and put dishwasher on, eat bowl of cornflakes and drink coffee.

02.15 – go online to finish entering short story contest (see 16.00).

02.35 – check on baby and finally go to bed.

03.00 – baby sneezes and coughs, but still asleep.

05.00 – kick bastard cat out of the bedroom.

06.00 – get up to feed baby. Baby has runny nose and cough.

The moral of this story is to expect the unexpected. And if you’re planning on having kids and think it won’t utterly and irrevocably change your life – hahahahahaha!

Advertisements

Travels With Baby, Part 1: Facilities

The main thing I’ve learned from taking Izzie on holiday to the Isle of Wight is how baby-unfriendly the world can be. And that’s not just the occasional person muttering, ‘F**king babies,’ as you squeeze the pushchair past their rotund frame on the pavement – it’s the facilities, or lack thereof. If you’re a parent in general, or a dad in particular, they sure don’t make it easy.

Arreton Barns, for example. I asked about baby change facilities in the pub. They had them, but only in the lady’s. So can I go in? No. They brought out the changing mat and I was obliged to take it into the men’s loo and change her on the floor of a cubicle. Not the cleanest or most hygienic place to put my knees, or, for that matter, my baby.

Cowes: the baby change was in the public disabled toilet, which was locked with one of those special keys disabled people have, but that parents don’t have. Not overly helpful. So I went to the nearest pub, which didn’t have baby changing facilities but allowed me to change her on a bench out the back. Very good of them.

And Sandown is clearly still stuck in the 1960s since there are no baby changing stations in the men’s loos, forcing me to change her on the passenger seat in the car in the rain – not much of a problem except the seat slopes towards the rear of the car, meaning she keeps face-planting into the upright. But that’s better than Whitecliff Bay, which has no toilet facilities whatsoever, and doesn’t seem to mind you getting sand in your baby’s bits.

I’m starting to sound like a bit of a moaner, but in addition to the above, in the past week I’ve changed my daughter’s nappy in a doorway down an alleyway, in a lady’s toilet, in the boot of the car, on a grass verge beside a car park, and on the floor of a tent – though the latter was admittedly kind of unavoidable since we were camping. It’s not so much that I mind  changing Izzie in random places – after three months you’re a dab hand at changing a nappy – it’s that if people object to something as discrete and inoffensive as breastfeeding in public then how will the crowds of shoppers and tourists react when I pop her down on a bench in the High Street, whip off her clothes and proceed to wipe oodles of smelly green and yellow poo out of her creases? I’m going for ‘unsupportive’ at the very least.

I know there are people out there who’ll say, ‘There weren’t changing stations in my day, we had to make do with broken glass and rusty nails,’ but just because they suffered doesn’t mean everyone has to or the situation can’t be improved. Sometimes you’re quite a distance from the car with the baby in a sling when she drops a bucket of gloop in her nappy that starts to spill out and soak through her clothes and you just can’t wait. And it’s incredibly awkward trying to change a baby when you’re on a slope and it’s blowing a hoolie, with one hand holding her ankles, a second cleaning her up, a third hand trying to keep leaf matter out of her bottom, a fourth preventing her from sliding off the changing mat and rolling down the hill into a ditch where she’ll never be seen again – you get the picture.

So top marks to Osborne House for having an entire room in which to change your baby, and a large one at that, without a toilet in the corner and piss on the floor. Unfortunately, they lose points for their dashedly rubbish bottle-warming arrangements.

For those of you that don’t know, you make a baby’s bottle by mixing cooled boiled water (boiled water that has been cooled, yo) with some scoops of formula (powder) and either heating or cooling the resulting liquid to body temperature, since we’re trying to fool kids into thinking the milk comes from a breast and not an udder with additives.

But here’s the rub – the mixture is apparently only safe to drink for two hours and it’s impossible to keep stuff at the right temperature until you need it. So before heading out for the day you boil the kettle, fill a bunch of bottles with water, pack the powder and leave the house weighed down like a freighter. When little one needs a drink, you take a bottle of water, pour in the powder, shake vigorously and ask a nice waitress or waiter to bring you a small jug of hot water into which you can place the bottle until the formula is the right temperature. Simple.

Except when I asked for a jug of hot water, the man at Osborne House looked at me like I’d asked him for a mug of pure, unfiltered urine. He went away, came back and told me he couldn’t bring me hot water because of ‘health and safety reasons’. But he offered to take the bottle out the back and heat it up for me.

Now, the reason you see us splashing milk on our wrists is not because we like the smell of dairy – it’s to check it’s not too hot and going to scald her, or too cold and going to make her gripe. While there’s no real evidence that cold milk is necessarily bad for a baby, their digestive systems are still developing, and if from an evolutionary viewpoint we’ve evolved to drink milk at body temperature, at least for the first few months, then why mess with nature?

Yes, daddy, why?
Yes, daddy, why?

So how on earth was Mr Waiter Man going to get my baby’s bottle to the right temperature? Splashing it on his wrist? No thank you, sir, she’ll just have to drink it cold.

He then proceeded to serve us our teapots of boiling water without a trace of irony. Health and safety, my ass!

But then, perhaps he had a point. Two other places gave us boiling water in wine coolers. Great for the heating, but when it comes to getting the bottle out, it bobs up and down like a fishing float and burns your fingertips while red hot steam scalds your hand. But even that was preferable to the place that gave us a cup of hot water – a cup that was smaller than the bottle!

So, restaurateurs and city planners: you have the power to make the world a much easier place for us parents. A plastic changing table that folds down from the toilet wall, and half a jug of hot water – not a cup, not a wine cooler, a jug. That’s not asking too much, is it? Is it?

Knowing What’s Right

As a new parent, you want to get things right. You want to do the right kind of feeding, whether breast or bottle, the right amount, the right products, the right process. What kind of teat, how fast the flow, normal or anti-colic, two-hourly, three-hourly, on demand? You want the right sort of nappies, the right size, the right comfort. Sleepsuit or outfit? Woolly hat or sunhat? Is she warm enough? Too hot? What’s the right thing to do?

Unfortunately, ‘right’ is a fluid concept. It changes depending on who you talk to, which books you read, the websites you consult. It changes from child to child, and no matter how much you weigh up the evidence for one thing against another, the answer remains ever elusive. Short of turning your baby into a test subject as you experiment on them with various methods and tools to see what works, which not only makes you and your child confused but damages your bank balance, you have to find some way of navigating through all this mess.

The answer seems to be a little esoteric.

I have known a few psychics in my time, mostly teenaged self-proclaimed witches and middle-aged divorcees with ‘the gift’ who go on to prove it by telling me I’m sensible when the situation calls for it, but also fun in the right circumstances, that I’m extroverted at those times when I’m not being shy, and that I am confident except for when I’m not. Wow, you should charge money for that. You are? No wonder my wallet feels so light.

Anyway, as an endlessly inquisitive and sceptical sort of fellow, I wanted to know more about the process of being, ahem, psychic. They told me they received ‘impressions’. Well then, what form did these impressions take? Did they see visions? Did they experience it as feelings? Did they hear it as voices? Thoughts? Some other sense that those of us on the non-psychic plane of existence couldn’t understand?

And how clear were these impressions? Were they vague and poorly formed? Were they a tangled jumble of thoughts and feelings? How did they sort out this bundle of interconnected data streams? How did they interpret them?

Apparently, that’s not how it works. You don’t ponder, you don’t analyse, you don’t question and evaluate and formulate. You just know.

As someone with Asperger’s Syndrome who has to think his way through everything, the idea that you can ‘just know’ is an alien concept. Like those other cliches ‘follow your heart’ and ‘go with the flow’, I can’t select a course of action without first weighing up all the available options and comparing the possible benefits and repercussions. My world is a rational world of thought.

At least, it was until last week. Lizzie and I were always averse to dummies (pacifiers for my American readers). Then one day we looked at a horribly unsettled, colicky baby, looked at one another and said in one voice, ‘Let’s get her a dummy.’ Neither rhyme nor reason, no analysis, no evaluation or assessment. We just knew, intuitively, in that moment, that it was the right thing to do.

And it was. For the past week, Izzie has been a calmer, happier baby. It isn’t lazy parenting, it’s doing what your child needs. I wouldn’t recommend it for every baby, but Izzie needed something to soothe her between feeds more than cuddles, rocking, burping and going for walks. In spite of the censure of people who don’t matter anyway, I know we made the right decision.

Loathe as I am to admit it, having a baby has made me realise you can overthink things. It is hardwired into our DNA to know what is right for us and our babies. If you’re faced with an impossible decision, switch off your brain and allow your instincts to take over. You might find that your intuition already knows the right thing to do.

But take my advice: if your instincts tell you to try the baby’s milk, they’re not to be trusted. You’ll be tasting that warm sour yoghurt tang the rest of the day.

The best-laid plans…

After three years of trying for a baby and finding out the odds were stacked firmly against us, we gave up and decided to get a puppy instead. We still wanted a baby, and if it happened one day, it would happen, but in the meantime we would move on with our lives.

The meantime didn’t last very long. Two months, in fact. Then Lizzie was pregnant.

I hadn’t planned to have a one-year-old puppy and four-week-old baby at the same time, but these are the cards we’ve been dealt and the hand we have to play. It’s hard, stressful, and exhausting, but Izzie will grow up with a devoted companion and within a couple of years our spaniel Ozzie will have a friend to play with who has roughly the same ball control skills and ability at maths. Who is to say that the way things have worked out aren’t better than the plans we made?

When you’re having a baby it’s normal to make plans. What I’m discovering, however, is that plans don’t survive contact with babies. The tranquil water birth turned into an operating theatre, the baby harnesses that worked so well with a teddy bear are rubbish for real babies, and ‘sleep when the baby sleeps’ is only good advice for people who can afford cleaners and endless takeout.

The biggest change we’ve had to face is over breastfeeding. Everywhere you look you see posters exhorting that ‘breast is best’. There are countless books, support groups and websites providing practical advice and encouragement; midwives congratulate you for choosing to breastfeed as though you’ve decided to donate all your money to help build a new birthing unit; and random strangers slap you on the back and tell you, ‘Well done.’ Well, not strangers so much as acquaintances – if strangers came up to a breastfeeding woman and slapped her on the back, it would probably end in handcuffs and a public apology.

Though it isn’t explicitly stated, the flipside of all this focus on breastfeeding is that women who formula feed are looked down on as lesser individuals, unworthy of praise. Worse, they are failing their children by giving them an inferior product. Before the birth, we were warned that not all women could breastfeed, and with typical arrogance we pitied these unmotherly wenches who couldn’t feed their own children because, of course, we would be breastfeeding ours. Problems happen to other people.

We have stopped breastfeeding. It was a long, arduous journey to come to the decision, but it is what’s best for all of us. There were many reasons that it wasn’t working, not least that, after losing so much blood during the birth and having two transfusions, Lizzie’s milk doesn’t have the fat content to give Izzie the calories she needs. We had to top up with formula after every feed, and once Izzie realised she could get more milk with less effort from the bottle, she treated the breast as the appetiser before her main meal. Less stimulation meant less milk being produced. So that was that.

From an objective point of view, it is the right decision. Mother and baby were becoming increasingly stressed by the whole thing; Izzie is now putting on weight; I can feed her any time of the day or night and give Lizzie a rest; it’s easier to feed her in public; and she got the colostrum, the important stuff, in the early days so Lizzie did her job.

But you cannot look at breastfeeding objectively. It’s an emotive issue, and regardless of how much you know it’s for the best, it’s impossible not to feel that you have failed.

Lizzie is taking it particularly hard. We had always planned to breastfeed, and the fact we are using formula makes us feel like poor parents. As I keep trying to explain to Lizzie, and myself, the odds were always stacked against us: her mother didn’t create much milk so there might be a genetic basis; Izzie had a traumatic birth and forceps babies don’t feed as well; she spent four days being fed formula through a naso-gastric tube so was used to a full belly with no effort; Lizzie has to use nipple shields, which make it more difficult for Izzie and provides less stimulation to the breasts; mother and baby were on different wards for four days after the birth so everything was delayed; and this is before we mention all the trauma Lizzie suffered. Under the circumstances, that she managed to breastfeed at all is commendable, let alone for over three weeks. There really is nothing to feel bad about.

I think the key to surviving a baby is realising that ‘plans’ are actually ‘preferences’. Then, if things don’t go as expected, you haven’t failed: you’ve simply had to adapt to reality. And that is the best that any man, or mouse, can hope for.