The first 365 days of Dad-ship: Part 1
Given that I have shared so much of my experience in becoming a mother, I thought it would be insightful to get Sam's side of the story. Fathers get little air-time in the crazy newborn world, and I am still gobsmacked at how Sam managed to hold it together with a new baby, a half-functioning wife and a full-time job to go to when a 'good' night equaled a total of five hours sleep. Here's his take on what it was like in those early weeks with George...
The first two weeks: My experience of becoming a Dad
Kate and I are planners. We are always trying to plot scenarios three steps ahead and develop contingency plans for all possible outcomes. George’s arrival was to be no different. A 40 week full term, 41 week likely arrival - too easy. Kate would finish work at week 38, allowing her two to three weeks of some well deserved end-of-pregnancy feet-up as the weather cooled down. Fluffy slippers, hot chocolates and netflix binging box sets all ready and waiting. The parents (or rather, grandparents) were to arrive a full two weeks ahead of d-day, ready and eager to help with cooking & cleaning while the new Mum and Dad caught up on much needed sleep. A well laid out plan with weeks of contingency built in - easy.
George arrived three weeks early. We didn’t plan for that.
I’d never held a newborn baby, I don’t think I’d even held a bubs under 12 months. From the jerking of his little limbs, to the concern that without supporting his head it would fall off, everything was going to be new. Luckily I had a naive confidence that we’d have the right support crew of family around us. So when Kate’s waters broke three weeks early, and fewer than 12 hours later I was holding our son George, I didn’t have time to process or panic, my full energy was in making sure George and Kate were ok.
It was at day three that the wheels started to fall off. Baby blues (mine) had kicked in full swing (Kate was getting over hers) and my energy levels were totally depleted following the adrenaline rush from the last 72 hours. It was at that moment that I realised what it was going to mean to be a Dad. George wasn’t going to say “guys take today off, you’ve been working so hard - you deserve that break you planned”. Being a Dad was and forever would be a full time role of doing your best, thinking ahead but remaining comfortable with rapid (and dramatic) changes in circumstances.
Being drunk at work: heading back to the office
Scientifically speaking time is a one directional, consistent dimension. Yet situationally it has this strange property of being able to speed up and slow down at will. Take, for example, holidays. They take forever and a day to arrive and then vanish in the blink of an eye. That first month with George was a shorter than a flash in the pan. Before I even knew it the time had come to go back to work.
It was a bizarre feeling to close our front door, walk out into the streets teeming with commuters and return to the ‘normal world’. Colleagues hounded me for photos and offers of advice before heading back to their desk and normal routines. I took my spot and simply stared at the static ‘lock screen’ of my laptop, requesting the characters that made up my password. I simply stared, well aware of what was being requested of me, but physically unable to complete the sequence of events to allow my fingers to type away. I was drunk, just this time without the alcohol. Sleep deprivation (or devastation depending on your point of view) had taken the same physiological effect as drinking half a dozen pints with a shot of tequila for good measure. Enough that you’re still standing but most certainly enough that basic functioning was a challenge.
The following week continued in the same manner, meetings to catch me up on the missing weeks, with my number one goal acting like I had everything under control. Here I was thinking ‘Don’t nod too much, stop looking sleepy, try keeping your eyes wide - no that’s too wide, you’re onto your fourth bottle of water in 10 minutes, not only do you look drunk now you’re on a come down’. When suddenly from the other side of the table I’d hear, “oh that was really important, make sure you follow up on that”. I busily scribbled in my notebook to at least pretend I’d heard something during the last 10 minutes. ‘Follow up on thingy Mark mentioned’ my eloquent notes would remind me later that day. Brilliant.
Over time the sleep devastation improved and the office once more became a part of my being. Balancing those first weeks back with an exhausted family back home (Mum, bubs and of course yourself too) is a challenge and I only have two tips to disseminate to make the transition easier. Firstly, be open and honest with your team, let them know you’ll be operating at a 75% capacity for the first few weeks you return. Secondly, and this is the challenging one, be strict on your timings. I was out the door at half five on-the-dot for the first two weeks back. Doing so allowed me to help Kate get George down at the end of the day. Any evening meetings could be pushed till later if necessary, but that hour of bedtime for George was hugely important to provide Kate some relief and me some precious time with George.
I’m not going to wash over and say that the early days were the best of my life, they weren’t. They were tough, sleepless and filled with anxiety of not knowing if you were doing things right. Is he too hot? Too cold? Is he eating enough? Is that a new cough? But the glimpses of time where he would be asleep in his cot, or make us laugh was enough to get through another day. And that’s how you get through those first two weeks - a day at a time. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed chatting to other new Dads on how they managed expectations (both at home and their own self expectations). If you have any tips or thoughts or even just found this useful please keep the conversation going in the comments below and keep an eye out for part two...being a stay at home Dad!