Tom Briggs shares the ten things he wishes he knew before becoming a dad.
While I was patiently waiting for my son, Dylan, to be born there were several hundred questions going through my head. By reading the odd book here and there, asking friends and relatives who had recently become parents for the first time and browsing a few websites, I managed to swot up and find the answers to a lot of them. But there are, of course, always a few things that you don’t think of until the moment is upon you. So here, without further ado, is the benefit of my experience of year one as a new parent. I wish I had known the following:
1) You’ll never know tiredness like it
Ok, everyone tells you this and you will almost certainly have received numerous ‘witty’ remarks alluding to your impending lack of kip. But if you’re anything like me, you have probably been quite blasé about it and inadvertently ignored them. So, in the hope that reading this message will help it stick in the memory, seriously, get some sleep while you still can!
2) Good things come to those who wait
Films and television teach us to expect a picture perfect little bundle of joy immediately, but when Dylan was born I was surprised that he seemed to have a complexion resembling that of a stroppy teenager. It is quite likely that your baby will have a few blemishes on their skin when they are born, but unless the midwives or doctors tell you otherwise, they’re probably nothing to worry about and will clear up soon enough. It’s also worth pointing out that labour can go on and on in some cases – my wife, Kate, was having contractions for three days – so be prepared both to support your partner through it and for a long wait!
3) Time gentlemen, please!
You know the bit at the start of 28 Days Later when the main protagonist is wandering around a deserted London in a bewildered fashion? Well depending on what time your child is born, you may get to experience something similar. Lucky you! Of course, this will also depend on the hospital, but be prepared to be sent home after you’ve become a dad. This is certainly something I wasn’t expecting. Dylan was born at 2.16am and, although I was allowed to stay with him and Kate while they were in the delivery room, I was told I had to leave as soon as they were taken to the ward as it was outside visiting hours – and, therefore, outside public transport and taxi hours too. Joy.
4) Day three is evil
People don’t seem to tell you about it so consider this my gift to you. Basically, this is the day where the euphoria and adrenalin start to wear off after their manful efforts of carrying you through your sleep-deprived first couple of days as a dad. Your better half will also be knackered, of course, and will be experiencing some hormone changes as the colostrum is replaced by milk. She’ll feel all over the place, the baby will pick up on this and so will you. Just grit your teeth and get through the day.
5) Nappy days
This is a bit of a silly one really, but nobody of a normal mind likes getting faecal matter on them so here goes... you will probably be advised that you shouldn’t use baby wipes when changing your little ‘un for the first couple of weeks or so, due to the sensitivity of their skin. Instead, you’ll have to use cotton wool balls and warm water. This is a major faff and makes an already unenviable experience even more unpleasant. Just be mentally prepared for the fact that you will probably get a lot of baby poo on your hands at first. Urgh!
6) Your baby isn’t made of glass
We talked about cotton wool in the last point and here it comes again – you don’t need to wrap up your pride and joy in it. As your child starts sitting, crawling and climbing, it’s inevitable that they’re going to fall over and bump into things here and there. Naturally, the first time this happens will be a terrifying experience and you will, of course, be worried. It would be wrong if you weren’t. But, at the same time, you need to try and remain calm – babies are incredibly tough and there are usually a couple of seconds after a bump in which your child looks to you for your reaction. Hard though it is, it’s best to try and make them laugh. Even a sharp intake of breath is enough to set them off crying and a calm baby is easier to check over than a howling one! Of course, if you are in any doubt as to whether they may have done any damage, you should take them straight to A&E just to be sure.
7) The heat is on
Babies can’t regulate their own body temperature as easily as adults so this is a job for you! For the most part, this is down to basic common sense and the baby books will provide the guidance as to what you should dress them in for various temperatures. A thermometer, therefore, is a must and you can get a number of baby monitors that have them built in.
8) You don’t have to think in the present tense
If my friends and family are anything to go by, you don’t need to worry about buying too many baby things in the months approaching the birth. Nothing gets people quite as excited as the arrival of a new baby and you will probably receive a very generous amount of gifts, vouchers and money – particularly from those who have recently become parents themselves and bought you something really useful. By a similar token, there are some things that, although indispensible a little further down the line, you probably won’t need immediately so spread the cost of these items over a couple of months.
9) To your credit
I only realised very recently that we qualify for tax credits and am only in the process of applying for them now. If you are below a certain joint income threshold, apply for them as soon as you can. You’re entitled to these benefits so you may as well take them!
10) Time flies
I’m writing this shortly after Dylan’s first birthday and I find that very hard to believe. Yes, it’s an old cliché, but it also happens to be true – time flies like an arrow (and fruit flies like a banana). The first year will have flown by before you know it so just enjoy it – being a dad is the best job in the world. Over to you!