While preparing for the birth of our son, the wife and I thought we had it covered. From hypnobirthing to half inflated birth pools, it was all under control. After the birth, Claire was gonna make cakes, drink sparkling wine and sleep for eight hours a night while our calm bundle of joy slept “right through.” Ah, to dream!
One minor issue we forgot to discuss, was . . . me. What was my job once he arrived? We planned the pregnancy, prepared for birth but we never discussed what it would be like for me. What type of dad was I going to be? What is a dad's role?
Leading up to the birth was easy. Feed the wife, scratch her back, and say nice things. Assist with difficult jobs like putting socks on and making cheese on toast, in that special way only I seem to know how. I also had a defined role during the labour; the knowledge gained during hypnobirthing gave me responsibility, meaning I was much more than a bystander. I felt useful because I was fundamental in assisting Claire and I hope I played my part successfully. I even caught the little purple, slimy alien when he popped out into the water like a torpedo from a submarine. That was a sight I’ll never forget. Passing Arlo over to Claire’s arms was a life enhancing experience.
Once the medical bits and bobs were sorted, Claire relaxed with Arlo, skin-to-skin and after a while it was my turn. Finally, I was able to experience the first snippets of physical entanglement with my son. Amazing. Beautiful. Not a crying moment, I was too happy to cry. You see, I’ve never cried through happiness. I’m not wired that way. I didn’t cry at our wedding and I didn’t cry on this night either. Maybe there's something wrong with me? I remember looking across at Claire and thinking, I wish I could cry now, I bet that’d make her happy. Then, and it was early morning at this point and I was knackered, I had a surprising thought, “What do I do now?”
He was too small to play Man Hunt and too young to drink wine. I pushed the thoughts away, we slept for a while and I woke three hours later feeling refreshed. My step-daughter, Becca, emerged from her pit and got in on the skin-to-skin action too and they shared some time together while my man duties began.
Clean the room, empty the pool and cook nice food. Crack open a bottle of sparkly and greet the few guests who came and went. It was a lovely, relaxed couple of days. Except Claire was struggling to feed Arlo. He couldn’t latch on and Claire’s breasts were becoming engorged. She was in pain, he was distressed and I felt completely useless. Eventually, when we were desperately contemplating buying formula, it happened. He fed and that boy has hardly been off the boob since!
However, doubt reared its ugly head again as I watched Claire struggle with this natural birthright.
How do I emulate a feeling that comes so naturally to her? How do I bond without boobs? I felt like an outsider looking in on something beautiful. Like George in It’s A Wonderful Life.
I changed nappies, wore Arlo in a sling, tried to comfort him during the night but the truth is, the only comfort he required was from Claire’s breast and that put me in a back-seat position. It’s one of those overlooked issues I think. A bottle fed baby gets passed around like a spliff at a party; everyone wants a bit. Breastfed babies are like those spoilt kids who make you sit and wait on the floor while they have extra turns on their Sega Mega Drive because, “It’s my game!” Nobs. You know who you are.
In my head, not being able to feed him seemed to take a bonding opportunity away from me. Was I being selfish? Immature? A bit of a dick? Jealous maybe? The problem was I wasn't educated in the ways of breastfeeding. I'd never been around it or considered that it would effect our lives so significantly. And it did. Claire was finishing her degree that year and when Arlo was six months old, he was with me for, roughly, four hours a day, three to four times per week.
Claire expressed, which wasn’t fun for her, but it provided Arlo with just enough liquid gold until she came home. So there I was, giving him a bottle of expressed milk like I'd wanted to and I realised, it wasn't comfort to him, it was just fuel . Once he was finished suckling, he'd discard the bottle like it was a toy he'd gotten bored of. I couldn't use the bottle in the same way Claire used the boobs and I had to find my own way.
This is where sling wearing really worked for me. And, being the master of distraction, I found myself doing things I never expected. Funny faces and fart noises, no problem. But what calmed him the most, was singing. I was self-conscious at first and what I mean by that is that I felt like a bellend, but I've smashed it now. I make up silly songs about poo, flowers, the weather, willies, you name it, I've got a lyric. I can sing Five Little Ducks in a variety of accents now, I even added a new verse with monkeys. As he crawled I could chase him from room to room, over and over and over again until my shredded knees could take no more. Now he’s a toddler weighing around 20st of pure chub, I get a free workout while throwing him in the air and dancing around the kitchen to Rage Against the Machine (a band he likes for reasons unexplained) while making tea.
He’s my son and I’m his dad and one day when he’s bigger I’m gonna tell him all about those feelings so that one day, if he ever becomes a dad himself, he’ll know it’s okay to be vulnerable. He can cry through happiness if he wants to and he can bond without boobs. I might leave out the toy smashing in the face bit though. Don't wanna ruin the experience for him. Little punk!