Being a first time father has been a roller coaster of emotion from total happiness to self-doubt of what I am embarking on. On 3 March 2017, my wife and I were blessed with a beautiful baby girl weighing 6lb 13 oz. I had a feeling of overwhelming relief and happiness when the midwife handed me over this new life in my hands.
That was three months (and 102 days depending on when this is published) ago and like the president of the United States I would like to share with you my thoughts on the first 100 days as a father. According to CNN ‘The first 100 days of a two-term US presidency amount to about 3% of an eight-year span, but for decades the opening stretch of an administration has become the barometer of a commander in chief’s governing power, or lack thereof’. In the context of a Trump administration I’d like to think that I’ve set a stronger and productive tone for my child in bringing them into the world but these are the three milestones for me and the things that I have learnt in these early times.
Week 1-3: ‘Oh so this is what a new baby does!’
In my 30+ years of being on this earth, I had never changed a nappy or fed a baby but yet I was expected to take care of this little baby. I also always never used to hold any newborn babies because of my fear that I would hold them in the wrong way or break them. When it was my own child I soon learnt that all of those reservations had to be thrown away!!
One of the first pieces of advice that you will get is that you will have to feed your baby at least every 2-3 hours at home. This is to ensure that they are given all the nutrients to grow in these early stages. Unfortunately, my wife was ill for the first two months of the pregnancy so I had no option but to bottle-feed my baby. Having a strong partnership with loved ones was also very important at this stage as we all had to rely on each other when tired. Between me, my wife and my mother-in-law we had to feed, change and soothe baby during all hours of the night. I felt like I literally lived to feed my baby as sleep was sometimes reduced to 2-hour stints. At one point, my living room was like a teenager’s slumber party with this little Moses basket the central campfire that we all attended too. In this scenario, marshmallows and sing-alongs around baby were exchanged for dirty nappies and arguments about whether we should give baby water or turn up the heating to keep her warm.
Although challenging there were also intimate moments where you learn that your child has their own ways that it likes and you are privileged to witness how they explore the world. This was how I bonded with my child through having her on my chest and teaching her how to stick out her tongue.
Week 4-8: back to work and you may not have all the answers yet
Before I write anything further, I have to say that my mother-in-law was the most important support for us during this time. She was our rock and took care of baby when we could not. After 3 weeks off, I had to return to work and my wife was, still unwell.
Thankfully feeding was reduced to between 3-4 hours, however the baby’s demands slightly intensified. You no longer have a baby who eats and then goes back to sleep you now have a baby who wants to Play!! How do you play with a 4 week old baby!?? My best guess is to talk to them about your day, rock them and play them old school reggae/lovers rock music. Other growing ailments also develop such as eczema, Colic (don’t ask me what it is all I know that it makes them cry …a lot!!) and possible reflux vomiting.
After going back to work from paternity leave I found myself constantly thinking about how baby and home was doing; suddenly work did not matter. I felt like I had a double life; researcher by day and father by night. This was physically draining and induced doubts about my ability to raise a child. The intense induction of attending to baby which I understand everyone goes through had me doing crazy things in my house. At one point, I was rapping like the Migos whilst walking her up and down the stairs to put her to sleep. Despite this, to see my little baby interacting with the world made me understand so many things about my baby girl such as her favourite sleeping position, Music that she likes me playing and drinking habits.
Week 9-12 – Baby’s Kicking up a storm and actually recognises you as their parents
By week nine life had significantly changed for me. I was a nappy expert, I knew how to soothe baby and could no longer leave my house swiftly with just my keys, wallet and phone!! I felt like I knew my baby’s personality and she was more recognised me than just the supplier of milk and hugs. The interactions with baby were much longer in between distractions of what is on the TV and random tiredness.
If you read guidelines of raising your baby at this stage many suggest that you should try to establish a routine with your baby for sleeping. I would use the term “routine” loosely as a newborn baby will sleep whenever they feel like it. To this day, I cannot tell when ‘bedtime’ is, all I know is that it is between 8pm and Midnight. We established more of a ritual of changing into pyjamas and lowering lights to indicate bedtime. After speaking to friends who were parents I started to feel a bit disappointed that we didn’t have a strict military routine with precise times for sleep but I just remind myself that it is still early and this will come in time.
Within the last two months I was constantly arguing with my wife about introducing a soother to help her sleep (and also reduce the amount of time and energy used walked her up and down the stairs. Luckily she learnt to self soothe by sucking her hands to sleep….result!! As time has gone on I have gained confidence in knowing what my child’s needs are… most of the time.
Overall its been a crazy experience which is best described as the way Will Smith spins on the throne on the introduction to the fresh prince of bel air (warning 80s baby reference). Equally it has been so rewarding to see my little baby girl grow and feel it is a privilege to have an investment into this development. People are always telling me that this is only the beginning so there is no doubt that I’ll have many more reflections.
Written by Jonathan Johnson