Baby Blues

I got the baby blues, woo-oo, the baby blues, oh-oh.

Just imagine that sung by an itinerant black Southerner in the 1920s, Delta-style, and you’ve got how I’m feeling at the moment. Although in this context, my baby is an actual baby, and I’m not really in the mood for singing.

It started Monday when Lizzie’s mum looked after the little one for the day. I’ve been putting off accepting help from babysitters because I was afraid that if I got out of daddyship I’d struggle to get back in. Like when you make a New Year’s Resolution to go to the gym three days a week – you do it for months, and it’s easy because you get into a rhythm, but then you miss one day, through no fault of your own, and one day becomes two, becomes four, and wham! You’ve not set foot in a gym since 2010. That sort of thing.

Anyway, so Granny looked after Izzie all day Monday, then Lizzie took her out most of the day Tuesday, and suddenly every sleepless night, missed meal, repressed emotion and unfulfilled desire have caught up with me. I’m struggling to stay awake, can’t stop eating, bounce between wanting to cry and feeling completely numb, and can’t seem to motivate myself to do anything that I ought to be doing.

Before you know it, I’ll start menstruating.

And infinitely worse is how good it felt on Monday to have a day off. What kind of a dad spends a whole day thinking, ‘Oh my God, it’s sooooooo nice not having the baby here’? I mean, it was great getting to reconnect with Lizzie, just the two of us, even though it was just watching crap TV on the sofa. But it was bliss just to sit without keeping one ear tuned to the baby monitor, to know I wouldn’t have to suddenly jump up, that I wasn’t responsible for once, and I feel very guilty about that. If I enjoy getting away from the baby, then I can’t love her, right?

Realistically, it’s probably normal after the hardest six months of my life, but I’m not being realistic right now. I just feel a little lost, and very, very blue.

Basically, I’m wallowing in self-pity. I’m sure it’ll pass. Izzie’s currently using her dummy-lead and dummy as a pair of nunchucks and smacking the crap out of my head. She keeps it up much longer she’ll have knocked me senseless. But maybe then I’d wake up in a better mood.

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A total lack of sympathy

What’s really been getting my goat lately is that people won’t allow me to moan.

‘I’ve had five hours sleep in the past four days.’

‘Well that’s what happens when you’re a dad,’ they say in this incredibly patronising tone of voice, as if I didn’t know that.

‘All of my clothes are covered in snot and vomit.’

‘That’s called “being a parent”,’ they reply with smug self-satisfaction.

‘I’m completely exhausted and I haven’t eaten a proper meal in days.’

‘We’ve all been there.’

‘But you’re not there now! I’m the one bursting my baby’s snot bubbles and trying to clean it out of her hair at four in the morning! I’m the one sitting up all night listening to the mucous rattling in her throat in case it it develops into something worse! And I’m the one who’s tired, hungry, dirty, smelly, and more than a little volatile, so I’d appreciate a little more sensitivity to my plight from some well-rested, well-fed person standing in clean clothes, thanks!’

I have discovered, since the baby started with her cold, that if you complain about parenting you get no sympathy whatsoever. It’s weird –  I figured that, because other people have struggled just as you have, they’d be more empathetic about your situation, but it’s the opposite. Anyone who has raised a child of their own in the mists of history tries to make you feel like an asshat for saying that, God forbid, you don’t always enjoy the feeling that your brain is about to burst right through your forehead.

Maybe that’s because there’s this notion that not only are parents meant to suffer but they’ve chosen to suffer. And I get that. I knew going in that it would be hard. I knew that I would suffer, and I accepted that in order to get the good bits of having a child, I was going to have to face the bad. But when the baby has a cold and I’ve had so little sleep I’m hallucinating, for God’s sake let me have a little moan about it!

It doesn’t mean I don’t like being a dad, or that I’m such an idiot I hadn’t realised it would be hard, it simply means I’m letting off steam, which is human, and natural, and healthy. I’m pretty sure even the most positive of people come home some days and say, ‘Man, if life is a shit sandwich I’m the filling right now!’

What is not helpful is when, instead of people saying, ‘Hang in there, lad,’ and slapping you on the shoulder, which is really all you want and need to buoy you up, they shut you down, belittle your struggles, and marginalise your pain.

The worst thing is when you say, ‘This is so hard,’ and someone replies, ‘Well, just imagine how much harder it would be if X, Y or Z,’ as though you’re not allowed to complain, as though your difficulties don’t matter and aren’t important because other people have it harder, and that’s just so wrong.

One of the best things I was ever told, and something I firmly believe, is that all suffering is relative.

I was sixteen and on my first date – she was a scary girl with a nose ring, tattoos and leather jacket. We met by a pond in the February cold and huddled together on a bench as the world froze around us. And in the dark we talked about things that really mattered to our sixteen-year-old selves: dreams, poetry, UFOs, alternative history, magic, the Illuminati, emotions, spirituality, The X-Files, parallel dimensions, the faking of the moon landings, Nirvana, and what it means to be a human. Ah, those wonderfully naive days before I discovered her whole identity was based on Alanis Morrisette lyrics and Mia Wallace’s character in Pulp Fiction, and I found that I didn’t actually believe in UFOs, alternative history, magic, the Illuminati, or the faking of the moon landings. The mid-nineties: simpler times.

Anyway, at one point the conversation got round to problems, because we were teenagers, after all. I told her about my chronic loneliness, but qualified it by saying it was very minor compared to the problems other people had.

‘Don’t do that,’ she said. ‘Don’t dismiss your problems. All suffering is relative. A starving African’s need for food is his worst problem; your loneliness is yours. It doesn’t mean your problem doesn’t matter.’

And while she might have turned out to be full of it, she spoke a lot of sense just then.

So yes, in the general scheme of things, a few nights of missed sleep don’t amount to much; yes, other people have it much harder; and yes, I chose to become a dad and therefore any struggles I go through are willingly faced; but telling someone who has had five hours of sleep in four days and is wearing a T-shirt encrusted in dried snot and sick that what he’s going through is trivial and unimportant will get you knocked off his Christmas card list before the next patronising syllable escapes your condescending lips.

So next time you hear me gripe, please, pretty please, instead of marginalising my feelings, just nod sagely and say, ‘You’re doing a good job.’ That’s all I need to hear.

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!