In the pre-dawn light, I sit with my new-born, my first-born child. He is curled like a wrinkled cashew nut on my belly with his hands tucked up under his chin. He gurgles, a bit of milky vomit drips out of the corner of his mouth, and he smiles as he lets out a little fart. He is, in his father’s eyes in these grey hours of the night, the image of perfection.
For the last three weeks, I have been on paternity leave. This time has been invaluable. It is time when I spend hours cuddling my boy on the sofa feeling like I can never be close enough to him for long enough. I know this time will never be repeated and so I breath in every moment we spend together. It absorbs my every being as I consciously and subconsciously devote myself to him. At this stage, it seems to take my all just to respond to his basic needs but I daydream as I hold him. I daydream about supporting him through his life ahead, helping him shape his own future, live his own dreams, fulfil the potential of this whole new human life that sits in my arms.
The moments not taken up by cuddling, nappy changes and feeds are spent with a never-ending rotation of domestic chores. The clothes washing cycle never stops, the house is seemingly never tidy and the babygrows at hand are always too big or too small and need sorting by size. These domestic rituals though add to a profound sense of connection as everything I do somehow feels connected to his wellbeing.
I constantly search for the balance between being caring and just common sense. In one moment, I find myself crouching down on the cold tiles of our kitchen floor. Seconds later in a tired daze I find myself still staring at the new array of washing powders in my cupboard wondering if you really need different washing powder for babygrows?
I still have no idea. There is a lot I still have no idea about.
The last three weeks have been an unprecedented learning curve for me but one that I feel somewhere deep inside me that I have spent 30 years preparing for. It feels natural to be so out of my depth – a billion first time parents all lost at sea.
I imagine first time parenthood as something that equals us all as we all wallow in this strange mixture of cluelessness and powerful natural guiding urges. We stumble through the late nights following snippets of information we garner from friends, family, and increasingly the internet as we continue to learn from our mistakes.
I realise that before anyone has children (time I now refer to as B.C) nobody tells you that a ‘Newborn’ babygrow by one brand might be bigger than an ‘Up to 3 months’ babygrow from another. Why would they? Thus, I now find myself fumbling around for a clean babygrow in the middle of night after he has invariably spilt a bodily liquid or two on his last outfit. I curse the ridiculous, baffling array of poppers that fail in their very specific raison d’être of making it supposedly easier to take a babygrow on and off.
Nobody tells you how are you expected to work all this out without caffeine?
But my wife and I muddle through. As most parents eventually do. And after the nappy has been changed and as the scrunched up ball of tears in my arms goes from a rolling boil of cries to a gentle simmer it feels like he finally starts to forgive my mistakes. He soothes his way into silence as he scrunches up his miniature fists and turns his body into mine. His weight sits lightly as he head nestles into the crease on the inside of my elbow and he gurgles softly and dribbles down my chest.
In these moments when he is fed, clean, and happy he moves into my body like the missing piece of jigsaw that I never knew I was missing. In those early hours when no one exists in the world except for us, I see how he completes me in a way I didn’t know I needed.
I realise as I sit in the early hours of the morning holding my baby boy, that he isn’t just a whole new human life but something that makes me twice the man I was before.