This is part of a series of blog posts under the title Fatherhood Diaries, which will be published here every Monday (for the foreseeable future). Enjoy.
A new baby boy joined our family a little more than four months ago. My job’s generous paternity leave entitlements enabled me to spend precious time with him during the first month of his birth. Being at home during this critical adjustment period gave me an insight into the exhausting affair that is taking care of a newborn and made me appreciate all of the hard work that my wife is putting in whilst I sit comfortably in my office.
The day-to-day tasks required to keep a baby clean and happy are easy to master. Really, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out how to change a nappy, neither does it require a PhD to bathe a baby and prepare a bottle of milk at the right temperature. Individually, these tasks are manageable, easy even.
But when you are in the thick of it, particularly with days or even months of sleeplessness, these seemingly simple tasks seem overwhelming and at times unmanageable. It’s not just sleeplessness messing up with your brain, it’s also the endless worries buzzing at the back of your head.
Is he feeding enough? Why is he waking up so many times during the night? What is that red spot on his chin? Why is he making sounds as if he can’t breathe properly? Are we sure he’s OK? Is he reacting appropriately to visual and auditory stimulation? Will he respond well to the vaccinations?
These trivial concerns are on top of day-to-day tasks such as putting him to bed, which can take up ton an hour; washing and sterilizing his bottles and dummies, which happens multiple times a day; not drowning him during his bath, which is trickier than it sounds; washing and ironing the many daily changes of clothes he needs; doing the exercises the doctor recommended, which are apparently ‘necessary’ for his development; and generally making sure that all his needs are addressed in a timely manner.
Then you have what I call ‘the infrastructure’ concerns. Is his mattress thick enough? Do we need to have his crib at a slight incline? How long should he stay in the car seat? Is this how to use the sling? What’s the ideal angle for the pushchair? Do we have sufficient/correct toys for his developmental stage?
Of all the concerns that new parents have, the most exhausting relate to breastfeeding. Is he getting enough milk? Why is he falling asleep mid-way through the feeding? Why is he waking up every hour? Is he gaining weight as he should? How to use the breast pump to increase the supply? How will his mum manage to simultaneously pump and take care of the baby when dad goes back to work? He is obviously not eating enough, should we supplement with formula milk? What type of formula and how much? Will the bottle make him lazy leading to him giving up on the breast altogether? What to do to make his mum realize what a great job she is doing now that she feels like a failure because she is not producing enough milk?
I’m not complaining. The little one is so adorable that it’s worth it multiple times over. That said, and although it wouldn’t change anything, I would appreciate if a more realistic account of new parenthood was conveyed to us prior to the birth of our son. Of course, I appreciate the triviality of most of these concerns. I am very well aware and very grateful that I don’t have to worry about how to pay for all the items, food, and care, including doctors and medicines, that the baby needs. I am also aware how lucky I am for having a support system of family and friends who are visiting us frequently, listening to us, distracting us and taking care of the baby when we need a time-out. Others are not as lucky as we are, and I don’t fathom to understand what they may be going through.