* New father David Yehuda Stern writes about the dad's eye view of labour and parenthood
Blogs about becoming a parent for the first time are almost all written by mums for expectant mums and I asked myself, “Why aren’t first-time dads rushing online to share their thoughts on newfound fatherhood?! Well, as a ‘gushing’ new father I thought I would share my experience of the last two months.
I was always looking forward to the labour and birth of our baby. I expected it to be a unique bonding experience, primarily between my wife (Robin) and I, but also with our baby. Prior to the birth, people often asked Robin if she was feeling nervous about labour. Me, I felt quite calm with my only concern being for Robin and baby’s welfare (in that order). I felt confident in my wife’s ability to deliver the baby and knew that, even if there were complications, the likelihood was that our baby would be born safe and sound. The birth went smoothly and I was largely surprised at how quick the ‘final push’ was, imagining that it would take much longer. Robin gave birth on a birthing stool – a sort of chair with no bottom – whilst I sat behind her and she leaned back into me for support. This intimate embrace allowed us to share the first view of our daughter together (and I was able to cut the umbilical cord).
My first feelings were pure joy. I felt overwhelmed with emotion and, though I did not cry, I could feel my face buzzing with excitement. Feeling Robin relax back into my body as she held Aviva Clara (Chaya) was a very powerful moment and I will probably remember that embrace for the rest of my life. Holding my daughter for the first time was incredible! In my adult life I had spent little time around young children, let alone newborn babies, yet I felt instantly comfortable. I am naturally quite a confident person and was not worried about the way I handled Aviva. Yes, she was delicate but she had managed to survive the upheaval of birth so I was certain that my grip wouldn’t harm her.
The first six weeks were a total readjustment for Robin and I as we got used to sharing our lives (and home) with an additional person. A newborn is quite a demanding tenant and both of us had to contend with putting her needs before our own. Robin was particularly tied to Aviva during this early stage as she was breastfeeding exclusively. Prior to having a baby I often remarked at how amazing a bonding experience breastfeeding must be for mother and child and how we, aka dads, suffered from not being able to partake in this activity. Post-baby I still believe we men miss out on this special bonding time, however I also realise that breastfeeding can be very challenging. Assuming the mother has no problems with latching, mastitis – google it – and blocked ducts the demanding routine that breastfeeding requires is enough to make anyone lose their sanity. Robin did a phenomenal job nursing our baby but the round-the-clock, always-ready-to-feed lifestyle was not one I envied. In fact, my respect for Robin increased dramatically during these first weeks as I realised just how taxing being the mother of a newborn really is! Not only are their bodies recovering from the birth itself, they are also denied the precious sleep needed to allow their bodies to heal quickly.
This time was challenging on both for us in different ways: Robin was getting used to the new demands on her body and I was getting used to supporting her as well as looking after Aviva in other, non-feeding ways. (In particular, this meant changing lots of dirty nappies but luckily breastmilk poo does not smell too bad.)
People had told us that things would get easier at around the six week mark and this largely proved to be true. Aviva felt calmer, perhaps more familiar with her world outside of the womb. (We even got a couple of smiles around this time). Robin relaxed as we began to share the responsibility of feeding via the introduction of a bottle feed. I also felt content seeing the positive change in Robin as she regained control over her body, and how seamlessly Aviva adapted to the changes in her feed.
Aviva is just over two months now and things continue to run a little smoother each day. I love being a dad and feel fortunate to have such a sweet-natured daughter; she smiles often and rarely cries for very long. Fatherhood has been a tremendous experience and for the first time I feel like I begin to understand the term ‘unconditional love’. Having Aviva has meant that I have grown in my relationship, not only with her, but with my wife, family and friends, too. For any man who is considering whether or not to become a father, it is an adventure I highly recommend.
* David Yehuda Stern blogs at hereiswonder.com, where this post originally appeared