This time last week, I became an uncle.
Technically I was already an uncle – to the delightful Olive (4), Violet (3), Audrey (2) and Ruby (2 months) – but they’re my wife’s nieces, so I’m only their uncle through marriage. They still call me uncle, obviously (along with various interesting suffixes – my personal favourite being ‘Uncle Egg’), and I love them all dearly but, strictly speaking, to them I’m only an uncle in the same way Camilla Parker-Bowles is a member of the royal family.
But now I am a proper bona fide uncle, because last Friday morning, my brother and his wife welcomed Darcy Isabella into the world, and we are very much besotted with the latest addition to our family.
I remember those first few days as a new parent fondly. Well, I say fondly, but I do of course mean ‘with a bone-chilling terror, that I do not wish to encounter ever again’.
My wife and I have endured those first few days of parenthood twice now, and they were very different experiences indeed. I half-expected that the second birth would be easier, as I thought I had a better idea of what to expect, but no two births are the same, and because Isaac was so poorly for the first month or so of his lifetime, it was even more traumatic than with Ollie. Fortunately, Isaac overcame his illness, and is now very much a normal child (well, apart from the fact he is clearly possessed by some malevolent demon).
Becoming a father for the first time is daunting as hell, and no amount of ante-natal instruction can prepare you for certain aspects of parenting in those first few days. In fact, if I could go back and give my childless self a ‘heads up’, there are three issues in particular that I would raise. So, to expectant fathers everywhere, here are my top three pieces of advice, that they don’t warn you about in the classes….
Everyone Hates You
Not generally, and not permanently, but throughout your partner’s labour, most of the people in that room will openly despise you.
She will hate you, because it was you and your stupid penis that got her into this state in the first place – even if she was the one who was desperate to have children (don’t, for God’s sake, point this out to her though). She may not say/scream that she hates you, but you will see it in her eyes.
The midwives and other medical staff (who, without wishing to sound sexist, will be predominantly female), will hate you and your penis too. The very fact that they may have children of their own, and if it weren’t for penises everywhere they would be out of a job, will not spare you from their vitriolic glares. You got her into this situation, you horrible little man, and for the next few hours you are the enemy.
If there are any men in the room (assuming they are part of the medical team, and haven’t just wandered in to see what all the commotion is about), they will also hate you. It matters not one bit that they also have a penis, because they are at some point going to be required to get up close and personal with your partner’s lady area, and they probably feel just as uncomfortable about this as you do.
Sure, they may exude professionalism, and they may even try to smile in your general direction, but under the calm exterior, they will be extremely conscious of the fact they are at conversational distance with your partner’s foof. Even though this was their career choice, it’s your presence in the room which is making the situation so bloody awkward. Besides, all of the women in the room are very much ‘anti-men’ at the moment, so they know that if anything happens to you, the chances are the women will turn on them for also having a willy, irrational as that sounds. They’re a secondary target now, and that’s your fault too.
In short, just accept that no one will like you, until your son or daughter has safely arrived into the world (at which point, the mood in the room will miraculously change, and you will be offered hearty congratulations from everyone involved).
The ‘Push Present’
Buying your new son or daughter a gift, is most probably something you have already given thought to (and may have it ready in your bag, for when the big moment arrives), but one thing I had not contemplated before becoming a Dad for the first time, was the concept of a ‘push present’.
A push present, is exactly as it sounds – a gift to thank your partner for pushing a tiny human out of her body. Crass as it may seem, this is a real thing, and one which you sure-as-hell better honour. Do not, under any circumstances, use any of the following lines to try and circumvent buying something:
- “but it was only Christmas / your birthday / our anniversary / Valentine’s Day / Easter* a few weeks ago” (*delete as applicable);
- “oh, come on, it doesn’t count if you have a C-section, you never pushed”;
- “is our son/daughter* not present enough for you?” (*delete as applicable);
- “and what do I get out of this?”
Basically, any sentence other than “I got this for you, to tell you how amazing you are, and how much I love you…” (or something along those lines) is best avoided.
As a general rule-of-thumb, a push present is most commonly jewellery, but it will depend on your own personal circumstances and finances. Just make sure it’s thoughtful and appropriate. Items to avoid would be: something for the kitchen; gardening or power tools; sexy underwear (the last thing on her mind right now, is letting you anywhere near her bits ever again); and something which you clearly want more than her. “Look sweetheart, I got you a Stockport County DVD….”
Ok, if you have become a father without knowing what a nappy is, or the fact they are often filled with baby shit, then you probably shouldn’t have had children in the first place, but those first few nappies can still come as a shock.
Forget the stereotypical ‘toffee-brown explosion’ that you were expecting (oh, don’t worry, that’s coming soon enough), as the first few days of dirty nappies will take on the colour and consistency of bitumen. This is normal, so don’t run screaming from the house, assuming that your child is possessed by a demon (most children aren’t, we were just unlucky), or that something is disastrously wrong with their bowels.
This substance is called ‘Meconium’, and there is no stickier substance known to man. In fact, it is so adhesive, and so vile-looking, it should really feature on the Periodic table, somewhere near Plutonium. Don’t be fooled by the fact it doesn’t necessarily smell that badly either, because the sheer memory of it will haunt your dreams for weeks, and will put you off treacle toffee for at least the next three bonfire nights.
Thankfully, the presence of Meconium is fleeting, as it is basically a combination of everything your baby ingested while in the womb, being flushed out of their system. Within that first week, whether they are being bottle or breast fed, the yellow-brown liquid nappies you were expecting, will arrive, and there will be times (usually as you wipe some of it from your clothes and face), that you will want the Meconium to return.
This will be one of your very first experiences of the golden rule of parenting: whatever shit you think you are going through (in this case, literally), everyone has to deal with this shit, and there is worse shit just around the corner, so make the most of it.
As the days progress, your nappy changing routine will alter. What will begin as a military-style level of concentration, whilst securing a clean nappy, will gradually lapse into a resigned ‘that’ll fucking do’ half-hearted affair. Essentially, as the poos become increasingly loose, so will your attention to detail, because soon you will realise that babies love nothing more than to immediately soil themselves following a change. As a result, you will take less and less time to ensure the nappy is perfectly secure, because you know full well you will be removing the damn thing again shortly. Why waste your time?
Naturally, you will then reach a stage where your concentration will lapse so much (or, through exhaustion, you will care so little), that you will leave the nappy just that little bit too loose, and it will leak. If you are lucky, this error will only cost you a set of clothing (yours, and your baby’s), because the alternative is that you will need to completely re-carpet, or re-decorate, whichever room you were in at the time.
Conversely, while your standards in fastening clean nappies may slip, you will hone your removal skills to those of a highly-trained bomb disposal expert. You will begin to mentally ask questions like: should I remove the left or right sticky tab first, to minimise the risk of an explosion?
However, unlike bomb-disposal experts, who don’t necessarily get to make too many mistakes (usually a maximum of one), you will only learn through your errors, as you bath your son or daughter, and put the washing machine on, for what feels like the tenth time that day.
Still, it could be worse. Wait until they move onto solid food – those nappies really stink.
Good luck – you’re going to need it.