It’s four o’clock in the afternoon and I haven’t slept for two days.
I can hear our new baby screaming downstairs as her dad tries to comfort her. I close my eyes and sink deeper into the bath I’ve been looking forward to since giving birth 24 hours earlier.
When the screams get louder I run downstairs, naked and soaking wet, to check all is well. It isn’t. The (self-proclaimed) Northern Love Machine is pacing up and down with the tiny Frog on his shoulder, trying to calm her. He looks terrified.
This was just the beginning.
When I was pregnant, I remember being asked what most scared me about life with a baby. It wasn’t the nappies, or the breastfeeding, or the colic or the weaning. It wasn’t the new responsibility or the feeling I was going to be judged as a mum. I was prepared for all these things. I’d read the books and trawled the web. I’d been part of a big, breeding family my whole life so babies were nothing new. No, what really scared me – and I mean scared me – was how my partner would handle life as a dad.
It wasn’t that he was ill prepared. He’d come to the antenatal classes, read (well, skimmed) the books. His job as a teacher meant he was used to children. But he was so laid back about the whole thing. I had never seen him stressed before. And I couldn’t see how that calm exterior would survive a bawling new baby.
I was right to be scared.
Before Frog was born we had never really argued, not properly. Two weeks after her birth, cue the first argument. It started about five minutes after Frog began crying, when the NLM made a comment that she cried all the time. Immediately defensive of my beautiful baby (how could he say that? Couldn’t he see she was gorgeous? She’s just a tiny baby? etc etc) I rounded on him. I can’t remember what was said, but there were raised voices. This was completely new to us. We didn’t “do” raised voices. What was happening?
And then I started worrying. If the NLM was at his computer I’d thrust the baby into his hands for some “bonding” time. I would make excuses to leave the room so he could have time alone with his daughter, all the while trying to spy on them from the doorway.
Other dads didn’t help. We’d be out shopping and they’d be carrying their newborns round in slings, looking serene. We’d be in baby-changing rooms and it all seemed to be dads dealing with the dirty nappies. Baby swimming lessons and, surprise surprise, it was the dads in the pool – confident, laughing, happy. All the while the NLM shrunk deeper and deeper into himself, finding solace and peace at his computer.
Another row, this time with even more shouting. I was sobbing, clutching a sleeping Frog to me as I demanded over and over “why don’t you just hold her?” And he replied “What’s the point? She’s not interested in me.”
More crying and this time – honesty. The NLM admitted he couldn’t get the images of the birth out of his head. He was still shocked at the pain I was in and the way he was helpless to do anything. He felt pushed-aside, jealous almost, of this tiny thing that demanded so much of my attention. He didn’t know what to do when she cried. He missed me – missed “us”. He felt scared all the time. Scared of this huge weight of responsibility that sat squarely on his shoulders. He didn’t know it would be like this.
And, looking back, that was when his relationship with Frog really began.
It was such a relief for him – and me – to finally be honest. I knew what he was feeling and could understand it. He didn’t feel that he had to pretend to be the “perfect” dad anymore. He just had to work out his own way to be dad.
Now, when the NLM comes home from work, Frog’s face lights up. She cackles with laughter when his head pops round the door. She kicks her legs with delight when he’s in the room. They’re friends.
OK, so he doesn’t know all the words to Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. And he’s never worn her in the sling (he says it “gives him asthma”), but he’s fun and loving and protective. Frog is lucky to have such a wonderful dad. Even if he doesn’t always do things the conventional way…