What kind of Dad are you going to be?
The truth is, the baby isn’t the only thing that’s brought to life on that magical day that you’ve waited for more or less patiently for 9 months. Two other people are born at the same time: a Mum and a Dad, and you’ve got to figure out who they are, too.
For me, when our new baby opened her eyes and gave a little squawk of hello I suddenly ceased to be the Ian that I knew so well. The first thing I became was a mess of tears, pathetically grateful for the tissues the anaesthetist had on hand (obviously not his first time). But suddenly, where seconds before my whole focus had been on whispering to Georgie trying to keep her focussed and calm, I was no longer only a husband, but the father of a brand new family.
So suddenly you’re the co-head of a family that didn’t exist seconds earlier. There’s a new person in your life looking to you for direction and comfort and expecting you to know what you’re doing. And at first you don’t have any idea at all, but you’ll find you already have some basic instincts that allow you to get through those first precious hours.
The rest takes effort as well as time – and you’ll continue to develop over the weeks and months ahead. You’ll learn as much from the child as it learns from you.
The first hours and days are crucial
A new Dad needs time to develop almost as much as the child – and those early hours and days are crucial for the future bond you two are going to have.
Little swimming eyes, our child had on that first day, but still she locked on to my face as I held her close in the recovery room, this little fragile body that blinked at me and already seemed to know who I was.
Having a child will change you in ways that are impossible to fully appreciate in advance. In an instant your priorities are upended, your emotions are tossed into the air. Your life as you knew it is over – but it’s not only that the baby changes things: I swear that you yourself are changed. Things that seemed so important a day earlier suddenly become irrelevant. Other things take on new urgency. You’ll change your life and your plans not just because the child requires it, but because you want to, because suddenly nothing matters so much as getting another smile or another laugh out of that little bundle.
Take time to bond with your child – and guard that time jealously
Especially if this is your first child, the likelihood is you’ll be inundated in those early days with family and friends and well-wishers who want to congratulate you, support you and to see and hold your new child.
All of this is a wonderful part of the experience and it’s natural to want to share this joy with as many people as you can – but be careful. You’ll never get this time again and your precious early moments with your new child could easily be lost in a blur of family with the baby being passed from hand to hand.
Stock your freezer, and take three days to become a family
Those first few days are invaluable and you’ll never get them again. Someone suggested to us that we took the first three days, just us as a family, and kept ourselves to ourselves before we invited the world in.
Make sure you’ve got a freezer full of meals you can cook in an instant and spend those first days together – curled up in bed or collapsed on the sofa. You’ll all be exhausted and overwhelmed, but this quiet time will help you and the baby to be calm. It will start your child learning who the most important people are in its life, the people who represent the core of its family.
Let everyone else wait a while. You’ve got a new family to take care of.
Taking this time will give you a precious opportunity to build your own confidence before you’re surrounded by people with opinions and suggestions and advice of their own. You need to learn to trust your own instincts – to develop your own skills and techniques which will be different to anyone else’s.
If you can take those first three days – just you and your partner and your new baby – and just be together figuring this whole thing out, then I think you’ll be a lot calmer – and you’ll have made a great start connecting with your child – and at becoming a Dad.
If you don’t take that time now, you can never take it again.