It’s been about 6 weeks since my wife gave birth to our wonderful twin girls. The dust has settled and I’ve started to get into the groove of the whole “fatherhood” thing, but some of it has been an uphill battle. Here’s a few tips and tricks I’ve picked up along the way that hopefully will help someone else out in the future. This is all based on our experiences, your mileage may vary. (Keep in mind this was written in the Canadian health system, some of this may not apply to you)
Aww, aren’t they cute? :D
Night 2 sucks. Night 2 is the 2nd night after your child/children are born; they start to become hungry (they don’t eat that much the first 24 hours), begin to wake up, and start to realize that they’re probably not going back in that warm comfortable womb they were so rudely removed from. The thing I hated about Night 2 was how everyone – our family, friends, the nursing staff, everyone – told us before that evening “you’re not going to sleep tonight!” and other similar comments. Nothing helpful, just “You’re about to be screwed”. Here’s two hints that we learned at about 4 AM when we finally gave up and begged a night nurse to help us.
- The hospital has soothers. And despite whatever new-age parenting book you have says it won’t kill your child to use one on Night 2. Ask your nurse for one; they’re free, and they’ll prevent you from trying to feed your newborn every 60 minutes because they won’t stop crying and they look like they want to eat something.
- It’s okay to supplement with formula for the first few days. You will probably hear otherwise from all sorts of people – your family, some of the nursing staff, a lactation consultant, perhaps your prenatal classes. The fact of the matter is your wife’s breast milk probably won’t come in for at least a few days (usually somewhere between day 3 and 5), and your kid simply won’t be able to get enough to keep them calm. Yes, it’s important that your child gets whatever little they can get from your wife (colostrum or whatever it’s called), but it won’t fill them, and they’ll be up within the next hour looking for more. (I believe the term they used was “cluster feeding”) Again, ask the nurse – they have formula and bottles, its free, and they will gladly give it to you, show you how to use it, and/or feed your child for you.
In the 3 days we were in the hospital, we probably heard from 8 different sources of information, and most of them didn’t agree. For example, we had concerns about breastfeeding our kids. The lactation consultants said “you shouldn’t need to formula feed, and if you do you should use this complicated supplementation system so they still breastfeed”. Some, not all, of the nurses said that if we have to use formula it’s available. Our OB said “Of course you should be supplementing, your milk isn’t in, and even if it was there wouldn’t be enough (for two kids)”.
One of the most frustrating parts of our hospital experience was the conflicting information. You’d think by now, with the decades of hospitalized child-rearing we’ve done as a civilization, we’d have some sort of consistent information. Having different people tell you different things just leaves you confused and helpless. What saved us the few times we didn’t know what we were doing was the nursing staff – whether it’s a question about changing a diaper or you simply can’t get you kid to sleep, they will be there to help. Do not be afraid to call on them – that’s their entire purpose.
This part comes with a huge #FirstWorldProblem tag, as I know not that long ago the mother-baby unit consisted of a few rooms shared between 4 to 8 mothers and their children. It’s hard to complain when you compare with that, but it needs to be said – that hospital room was the most uncomfortable room I’ve ever been in. When you have to adjust to this new lifestyle, completely uproot any sleep routines you may have had from the last 20 years, and care for a brand new life which you have no idea how to do, having a comfortable place to sit down and relax (even just for 5 minutes) can mean the world. That place is not in your hospital room.
We found a separate public room with gigantic reclining chairs in the mother-baby unit at the beginning of our 3rd day that made a world of difference. Find one of these places, even if it’s off-ward, to recharge. It can mean the difference between sanity and crazy town.
Hobbies, or the lack thereof
One of the biggest things I struggle with is the change in lifestyle. It was my biggest fear going into fatherhood, and remains one of the struggles I deal with. Before the big day, I consistently got anywhere between two and five hours a night to do whatever I wanted – video games, brushing up on technology, working on apps, running in a leadership development program at work, organizing events and fundraisers. Now, not so much – I’ve probably got a grand total of 10 hours of video game time in the past 6 weeks, and little to none of the other stuff.
This is a big change. The part I struggle with is trying to manage my old identity amid all this new responsibility – I was the guy who can juggle organizing a few events at a time while keeping up to date with the latest Hacker News and finishing Super Mario World 3D. Now I’m a Dad, and those things don’t happen anymore. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it is a thing, and it needs to be dealt with. I haven’t found the answer yet, but I’m going to try a piece of advice I got from someone at work – “You will have time for exactly one hobby.” Pick the one that’s most important to you and make time for it.
This came as the biggest shock for me. I’m normally a pretty calm and collected guy, I like to think I’m of the “let it slide” persuasion when it comes to a lot of things. Frustration isn’t an emotion I experienced a lot pre-fatherhood. Yet, when it’s 4 AM and the only thing that gets your kid to sleep is rocking back in forth in a dimly lit room in your arms, and the instant you do anything to the contrary she wakes up screaming, it’s hard not to be frustrated.
My only solution to this so far has been to give up expectations. The times I’ve been frustrated usually correspond with me wanting to do something instead of look after the kids – whether it’s play a quick hour of video games, have a shower, or even just go back to bed after a night time feeding. As bleak as this sounds, if you give up the expectation of being able to do these things, the fact that you can’t do them is a lot less bothersome. If you don’t expect to go back to bed immediately after they eat, you won’t be as upset when you have to stay up for another 30 minutes. It will feel like your child will time their fits to line up exactly with any free time you may think you have (I swear, the instant I turn on Skylanders one of my kids will wake up screaming) – as soon as you drop your expectations, you realize how ludicrous this sounds.
Our health care system is amazing
One of the things I was most impressed with was our health care system. Once we left the hospital (which gave us a bunch of free stuff including formula and diapers), we were given a 60-page manual of common things to look out for and ways to care for your child from the health region. We were immediately visited by a home nurse to make sure we were set up at home, the kids were doing well, my wife was recovering fine, and we were both coping with our new lifestyle. We were also able to call her at any point in the following two weeks regarding any questions or concerns we may have, and she would come back to the house at our request.
After that two week period, we’ve also been assigned a public health nurse who plays more or less the same role – we have a direct line to her, and she’s available for house calls whenever we’d like it. In addition, we have a toll-free line open 24 hours a day populated with registered nurses giving out health care advice. I find this absolutely amazing. I tip my hat to the Regina Qu’Appelle health region, Saskatchewan Health, and Canada’s health care system in general.
You’re not the only one going through this
Despite all this crazy stuff going on in your head, you need to remember you’re not the only one. Your partner is also experiencing his/her own flavour of these new experiences, in their own way. Having that other person to lean on will help you through this new phase of your life, but keep in mind they’re going to need that support right back. No matter how frustrated, how tired, how worried, how mentally exhausted you might be, your significant other is experiencing those same things. You need to tackle this new life as a team, and be there for each other when it’s needed no matter what you may be thinking or feeling.
And don’t forget about that newborn! They were just removed, rather violently, from a bubble of water where they floated for the last 9-ish months, in a mostly sensory deprived environment where they got everything they needed constantly. Imagine if you went from resting soundly in a sleeping bag, to being squeezed out / dragged out by your feet into a hailstorm with blinding spotlights on you? Keep this in mind when they’re screaming in your arms; having a bit of empathy is a good idea, even if it’s hard to do.
- Umbilical cords can bleed when they come off. No one told us this, and you can imagine how I felt the first time I saw blood coming out of my child unexpectedly.
- Diaper rashes suck. Keep your kid dry as often as possible, use preventative cream, and as soon as they start to flare up (a good sign is broken skin), see a doctor. They’ll probably prescribe you some cream to help out.
- Related to the above point, you will go through way more diapers than you expect. With twins we go through roughly 20 diapers a day (at the 1 month mark), which equates to roughly $40/week.
- My favourite website for baby information is babycenter.ca – it consistently provides valuable information on pretty much every question we’ve had so far
- The best pre-fatherhood book I had was The Complete Pregnancy Guide for Expectant Fathers – my wife read this book as well, as it had more relevant information than a lot of her baby books
- The best post-delivery book we’ve had is What To Expect The First Year – they take every question that almost every parent has at various stages of your child’s life, and answer them. Very handy.
- One of the best gifts for new parents is a gift card for take out. We got one for Boston Pizza and it was one of the best meals we’ve had in 6 weeks.
Normally this is the part of the article where people use cliche phrases like “it’s the best thing in the world”, “I wouldn’t give this up for anything”, and “everyone should be a father”. And yes, it is a great thing. But don’t forget – it’s hard work. It will force you to change, and it might not be a clear transition from one state to the other. You will have shitty moments. You will probably cry. You will probably question why you agreed to this. And that’s OK.
(Important note: if you or your significant other consistently feel like crap for more than a few days, you do need to reach out to someone. It’s still OK, but it’s important to make sure you get the support you may need – the best way to take care of your child is to take care of yourself.)