Frequently asked questions

I realise that I am letting the cat out of the bag a bit early but, at the time of writing, my wife and I have just one week until our second child is due.

As we’ve gradually told people over the last few months, the reaction has been lovely, supportive and sometimes rather amusing in its own way. So, I’ve compiled all the reaction in the form of some FAQs, plus the answers I have given – or would love to give…

“Was it planned?”

Well…as much as you can plan these things. There was no spreadsheet or PRINCE2 project flow chart because the laptop would have just got in the way.

“How has M reacted to the fact that she’ll be a big sister?”

I don’t think she’s quite clocked on to the full reality of the situation yet. Then again, she’s two and a half, so I’m not expecting her to help out her mum with breathing exercises or to know the symptoms of a Braxton Hicks contraction. She does know (and likes repeating) the fact that “Mummy has a baby in her tummy” but also asks if she and I also have babies in our tummies. I’ve explained to her that I don’t want to have this discussion with her for at least another 25 years and that any ‘baby’ I have is largely made up of Oreo cookies.

“How are you going to manage with a lack of sleep?”

I guess we’ll just have to sleep when we can and manage as we go along. The situation is going to be more complicated by the fact that our new neighbours have decided to fit a new kitchen the week after the baby is due. I’m hoping it doesn’t get to the stage where, in a sleep-deprived state of delirium, I believe that a dirty nappy through their letterbox is a perfectly sane and rational response to the noise.

“Are you having a home birth?”

No. In all seriousness, we weren’t without worry when M was born, so we are definitely sticking with the local hospital this time as well. The staff in the maternity ward were absolutely fantastic and made us feel incredibly grateful for the NHS. In less seriousness, I never managed to get to the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream vending machine on the adjacent wing last time around, so that remains a goal.

“It’ll be a breeze. After all, you know what you’re doing now, right?”

*nervous laughter*  I actually feel as though I have forgotten a lot more than I learned first time round and I’m now needing to frantically remember how to put up a crib, swaddle a small baby effectively and know what a TENS machine is (disappointingly, it is not a form of hospital-based bingo). The flipside is that there is almost a level of complacency that comes with a second child. Hence this attempt at writing a birth plan for my wife…

A plan...

“Can you afford a second child?”

It will be fine once we start sending M out for coal.

“What are you going to do with M if the baby comes in the middle of the night”

In all honesty, this is the question that is mainly playing on my mind as well. Being something of a worrier, I have now convinced myself that baby will commence his/her journey in the early hours of the morning. If, in the timeless words of Will Smith, it was ‘just the two of us’, this wouldn’t be so much of an issue but, as that’s not the case, I’m therefore fretting about what we do with M. My wife thinks it would be quite traumatic for her if we were to take her, but with my mother – at a good 30 minutes away – being our closest babysitter and no neighbours that we know well enough to call upon, I’m not sure we have much choice other than to bring her with us. The flipside is that M has a doctor’s coat and toy stethoscope/thermometer in her dressing-up box, so we could just turn the situation into a really realistic role-play scenario…

“I bet you’ll be pleased if it’s a boy?”

No, actually more scared. To be honest, but I’ve found it a bit strange (not in an unkind way) that people would assume I am more excited about the prospect of a boy. I know this is entirely my issue, but I feel as though there would be a certain pressure on me to teach my son the ways of the world etc. Those who know me know that I’m not really the alpha-male type, am terrible at DIY and never really got round to properly learning how to ride a bike. In other words, I don’t think any son of mine would turn out to be the next Chris Hoy or Bear Grylls. Having said that, I did once help to bury a dead sheep. I should probably just stop there…

“So, with two of them,  you understand everything there is to know about Isofix bases by now?

See above – hell, no.

“Where will the baby sleep?”

We have a two-bedroom terraced house so space is already a bit tight (although some space will be freed up once my wife’s planet-sized birthing ball gets deflated). The baby will sleep in our room initially so we’ll probably end up creeping around our own bedroom in scenes reminiscent of Mission: Impossible.

“What names have you decided upon?”

*tongue placed firmly in cheek* If it’s a girl – ‘Aphrodite’, because she was the Greek goddess of love and there is just SO MUCH love. If it’s a boy – ‘Vernon’, because we used to like watching Family Fortunes.

“How are you going to stop next-door’s cat from climbing into the crib/M’s bed etc?”

Well, my approach is quite unique in this respect as, unlike my wife, it involves NOT FULLY OPENING THE BEDROOM WINDOW SO THAT THE CAT GETS IN. Failing that, I have two words for you: Water pistol.

“Will you have any more children after this one?”

No – and just in case you missed that, NO. Regardless of whether we have a boy or a girl, the thought of being outnumbered by children terrifies me. Mind you, so does a potential visit to the vasectomy clinic.

Eternal sunshine of the toddler’s mind

What could she be hinting at?

As my daughter has got more independent, mobile and interactive, I’ve often found myself wondering exactly what is going on inside her head. For instance, she spends a lot of time just wandering around holding random objects with such a determined sense of purpose, but her motives appear amusingly unfathomable. Given that she can’t verbally express herself in the way she would like (and the fact that she’s not allowed to play with pens ever since the whole ‘drawing on her own face’ incident), I’ve had a guess at what her various thought processes might have been over the last couple of weeks:

Wednesday 30th April. Woke up, had breakfast, pointed at lots of stuff, walked around picking up objects, dropped them, repeatedly attempted to climb the stairs, pulled down various books and DVDs from low shelving, ate most of my lunch but threw the rest on the floor, had a nap, ATE A BANANA, drank some milk, went to the park, toddled around in random directions, came home, tried to clamber into the recycling bin, had dinner, had more milk, had a bath, used a sponge to soak the bathroom floor, had a book about owl babies read to me, kicked up a fuss when it was time for bed. Standard.

Thursday 1st May. WORST. DAY. EVER. I should have realised something was up because the parents had been nervously talking about something called the ‘Emmemmaarrjab’ and Daddy was working from home today. At lunchtime, they took me to a brightly lit place that smelt vaguely of TCP, where they lulled me into a false sense of security by letting me play with different toys to the ones I have at home, whilst they sat around reading magazines about property and gardens. However, I was then taken into a room to be held tightly by the parents whilst two people I’ve never met before put injections into my legs. They hurt, so I screamed, wriggled and sweated A LOT. Post-injections, one of the people I’d never met tried to put my discarded sock back on me, so I shouted and kicked out at them. Telling me that I was “stronger than a lot of boys” didn’t help. Afterwards, the parents looked rather upset and kept saying to each other how hard they found the whole experience, whilst cuddling me and telling me it will be ok. So, THEY found it hard? Well, TRY HAVING THREE SHARP OBJECTS STABBED INTO YOUR LIMBS IN QUICK SUCCESSION AND SEE HOW YOU LIKE IT.

Friday 2nd May. I’m still not over the trauma of yesterday, so I refuse to engage happily with the parents or even make eye contact, let alone give them a smile or a cudd…wait, is that their breakfast? Hi!

Saturday 3rd May. Went to a big party today with the parents and my auntie. The birthday boy was 5 and there were lots of older children in bright items of clothing called ‘superhero costumes’. Not to be deterred by this, I announced my presence by repeatedly walking right into the middle of the fun and games, often dragging a large plastic chair with me (just to emphasise the point that I was there to be entertained). It was great fun and the food was good, especially the cheese-based stuff. For some reason, Daddy seemed very excited about colourful, edible objects called ‘party rings’. I can’t take him anywhere.

After food, we went outside where there was a large play area with swings and slides. I love these things, but the parents still won’t let me climb back up the slide. They’ve been funny about that ever since we went to soft play.

Sunday 4th May. Today’s goal: Pull out every possible item of my clothing from the box next to my cot, chew the sock-ons, drop the bibs through the gaps in the stair gate, put some leggings over my head and leave the rest lying at random intervals upstairs. Whilst I’m at it, I’ll also remove the plug-in air freshener, spilling the liquid over myself as well as everything I come into contact with. Nobody will want to go within a mile of anything that smells like ‘Evening Primrose’ ever again.

Monday 5th May. Today was a bank holiday, which appears to be an excuse for a massive skive. Anyway, I went for a long walk with the parents today and had a picnic in a large field. They let me have a run around as well. I thought I’d have a bit of fun by toddling towards piles of sheep poo, waiting for them to quickly try and catch up with me before veering away from the poo at the last second. I also kept pointing at the sky on random occasions. Fools – they looked every time.

Tuesday 6th May. I’ve got the sniffles AGAIN. It’s very uncomfortable and apparently I need to have drops put into my nose to relieve the snot. I hate those drops and I assumed that stuff was supposed to be coming out of my nose, not going back in? Anyway, I’m making my displeasure known by coughing loudly into the face of anyone who picks me up.

Wednesday 7th May. Still feeling poorly, although the viscous blackcurrant-flavoured liquid that the parents have been giving me has soothed the cough a fair bit. Memo to self: when older, develop a banana-flavoured cough remedy and, after I’m rich, use the proceeds to buy tonnes of actual bananas.

I did feel well enough to play with my wooden ‘Noah’s Ark’ toy, though. The parents like to keep all the pieces together, but I find it much more interesting to put Mrs.Noah and at least one of the giraffes on top of the radiator. I think they enjoy it there; it’s nice and warm.

Thursday 8th May. Today’s goal: Try and reach the remaining parts of the television screen that I haven’t yet managed to smear with my fingerprints. Problem: I can’t reach. The parents say that I’m due a growth spurt, so I hope that this happens before bedtime.

Update: No growth spurt before bedtime. The clean part of the television screen remains un-smeared. This is my Everest.

Friday 9th May. Today was the first day in ages that I’ve not had a single banana – disgraceful. The pear replacement service simply doesn’t cut it. I might call Esther Rantzen.

Saturday 10th May. Mummy had to work today, so Daddy put me in the baby carrier and took me for a walk in the countryside. It would have been lovely if he had managed to put my shoes on properly so that they didn’t keep slipping off. I’d also have preferred it if he had looked at the weather forecast and put our raincoats on before we left, so that we didn’t get drenched on the way back. Plus, the clambering over that gate (twice) was rather uncoordinated and awkward. At least the view either side of his head was nice.

Sunday 11th May. The parents were watching something called ‘The Eurovision Song Contest’ last night. According to the news this morning, this contest was won by a lady with a beard. So many questions…

In other (much less competent) singing news, the parents have been adding their own verses to ‘Wheels on the bus’ by using different noises and voices. As fun as this is, I can’t imagine a scenario whereby Elvis, a pack of seagulls and any number of elephants would be on the same bus all at once.

Monday 12th May. Why does society dictate that both feet should either have socks on or socks off? I find it much better to walk around with just the one sock on and I therefore laugh in the face of your draconian sartorial principles.

Tuesday 13th May. Daddy didn’t get home until well after midnight as he was out at a concert. Despite his pitiful efforts to keep quiet, my peaceful slumber was briefly disturbed, so I decided to wake up at 5.30am this morning. That’ll teach him.

Revisiting the due date

This Tuesday (9th April) marks the anniversary of our daughter’s estimated due date. Of course, she would eventually keep us waiting for some time after that date, but it’s amazing how quickly a year goes when you’ve been living in a whirlwind of nappies, feeding, disturbed nights, first smiles/giggles/walks and enough snot to irrigate a small country.

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Looking back, it was this time last year that I was making sure I was never more than 5ft away from my car keys, downloading a ‘contraction timer’ app onto my phone and shopping in Tesco for multiple bottles of hand sanitizer and one of those inflatable travel pillows that only seem to be effective if you can somehow crane your neck to a 90-degree angle.

So, whilst thinking of those currently in a similar position (it doesn’t have to involve Tesco – other supermarkets are available), I thought I’d share this brilliant and very amusing article from Buzzfeed about the 26 stages of childbirth from a man’s perspective. Yes, 26.

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Plus, here’s my post from March last year, when I was immersed in a lot of planning, a fair bit of panicking and also wondering whether it would be acceptable for me to go looking for ice cream once we’d arrived at the maternity ward.

Best wishes to all parents-to-be 🙂

The home straight

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At the time of writing, my wife is in week 37 of her pregnancy and the due date is looming. I’m not sure if there is an unofficial  ‘home straight’ in pregnancy terms, but it feels like we are in it.

This is probably because the baby has grown so much in the last few weeks and has been visibly kicking for a while now. When my wife sits down at the end of the day, the baby decides to wake up by having some sort of disco – it’s amazing and yet totally bonkers.

Also, we’ve started the antenatal classes, which are another landmark that has made the whole thing seem much closer.  In the session last week, our group leader asked us what we had been doing in preparation for the baby’s arrival…

Birth research:

The book reading has continued in earnest, although there is one book I wish we didn’t have. It’s quite an old journal, given to my wife by her shiatsu practitioner and has one particular picture of a birth that made me instantly regret turning towards it when my wife told me to. I won’t be too descriptive, for fear of traumatising you in the same way that made me wish I could replace my eyeballs.  So, I’ll just describe the picture in two words and then quickly move on. The two words are ‘face first’.

Now let’s never speak of this again.

Thinking about the birth plan:

I was surprised at how detailed the birth plan tends to be, as it incorporates factors that I wouldn’t have thought about other than how to avoid getting the car clamped for being in the hospital car park too long. Anyway, I’m told that it has to consist of a bit more than ‘Go to hospital, lie on bed, push a bit, deliver baby, high-fives all round, go home’.

Releasing ‘Rosie’:

This is not a euphemism, but instead the name of my wife’s childhood doll that has been dragged out of the darkest reaches of hell an old suitcase in order for us to practice cradling, changing etc. Anyone who read my last blog post may have noticed that I have a bit of an issue with dolls, in that they generally terrify me. Rosie is no exception, as she has a flickering lazy eye that suggests she’s plotting some kind of psychotic revenge after being trapped in the attic for 25 years.

Practising nappy-changing:

We used Rosie, a changing mat and a disposable nappy for this process. Mrs.D’s nappy changing was superb – the nappy was fastened securely and looked comfortable. My attempt was pretty poor. Because I was evidently wary of provoking a demonic plastic doll by giving it a ‘wedgie’, I left the nappy way too loose. Apparently, leaving more space for the baby’s poo to be collected is not considered a benefit of this approach.

Using the baby sling:

Our baby sling was kindly given to us by one of my wife’s close friends. Mrs.D forced me into it after about 30 minutes of strap-tweaking and before I knew it, I had the evil doll loosely tied to my chest. I briefly pretended to be a superhero and tried to find a mask to put on Rosie in order to a) pretend she was my sidekick and b) cover up the manic lazy eye, but sadly didn’t have one to hand.

Preparing the hospital bags:

As well as the basics, our group leader suggested comfortable footwear for mums, such as flip-flops and slippers.  However, she accidentally said ‘flippers’ instead of slippers, making me think for a minute that, in order to kill some time, you could have fun by scaring anyone who was hoping to use a birthing pool.

Visiting the hospital:

We have the pre-birth tour this weekend. Is it wrong that I’m excited about the Ben & Jerry’s vending machine near the maternity ward?

Putting the cot together:

My father-in-law and I assembled it (ok, he did the majority of the work but I held the instructions and spare screws).  It now takes up 50% of the room and is so immoveable that I’m convinced it would survive in the event of a nuclear explosion hitting south east England.

Learning about swaddling:

Ok, this is one we learnt in the antenatal group. Swaddling is a technique that I had previously only heard of in biblical terms and involves wrapping the baby up ‘strait jacket’ style in order to keep them warm and hopefully send them to sleep. A lot of babies seem to like this, despite the fact that it tends to make them look like a human burrito.

Attempting to get in shape:

I should point out that his one is just for me. Looking after a baby and carrying around an array of bags, travel systems and general ‘stuff’ is hard work, so I need to get fit again. My wife may be the one carrying the baby, but I’m definitely the one who’s put on the most weight.

Don’t hold it upside down and start swinging it around

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Since the turn of the year, our plans for becoming ‘baby-ready’ have really kicked into gear. In the last couple of weeks, we have put wallpaper on the remaining wall of the nursery, ordered enough equipment and supplies from Amazon to single-handedly keep them afloat for the next year (they might even be able to pay their taxes this time) and have even started looking at offers on nappies. I bought a couple of packs of nappies the other day after having a brief, but concise discussion with my wife about what type we should buy. It went like this:

Me: Do you think we should buy cloth nappies or disposable ones?

Mrs.D: Definitely disposable. I’m not washing shit.

Another part of the planning process was to learn how to cope in an emergency. So, last week I finally attended the baby first aid course that I had scrambled to get a place on.  I say scrambled, because these courses seem to get booked up very quickly and, given that our child is due in 3 months, I figured it best to get a place as soon as possible because I knew absolutely nothing about first aid – or babies, for that matter. My wife, being a teacher, is qualified in first aid so I was doing this on my own.

The course was held one evening in a local nursery (or ‘active learning centre’). I was the first person to arrive and was promptly led through a vast array of corridors that made me wonder whether I was going to somehow stray into a snowy forest and find myself talking to a eunuch. However, I instead ended up in a tiny classroom with the heating cranked up to its maximum – it felt somewhat appropriate that dealing with a raised temperature was going to be one of the topics.

As other parents-to-be turned up, it became clear that everyone else at least knew one other person there, mainly due to them all being members of the same pre-natal class. Having shown a reckless enthusiasm by positioning myself right at the front next to the demonstration tables, I was hoping that I wouldn’t end up getting paper aeroplanes or spit flung at my head by the popular kids, just for trying too hard and making copious amounts of notes all the way through.

Our tutor began by introducing the emergencies that we were going to cover. These were ‘unconscious (breathing and non-breathing)’, ‘choking’, ‘raised temperature’, ‘burns’ and ‘bleeding’. All of these instances have different methods, depending whether or not you are dealing with a baby or a child. I started writing, aware that there were no course handouts. Between the frantic scribbling, listening to the tutor and looking the slides on the wall, I felt like I was conquering the male problem with multi-tasking.

Having first learnt the steps needed to check if a baby/child was breathing and how to then administer CPR if they are not, it was time for us to demonstrate this ourselves. There were three of the demonstration tables in the classroom and on each lay a plastic model of a child’s head and chest, as well as a model of a baby. Our ‘baby’ had a name (Annie), presumably because having a limbless torso lying next to it just wasn’t quite creepy enough.

I was the second one to go forward, having craftily studied the man before me. He was in a suit and looked confident. I was in jeans and looked petrified. Yet, having examined my scribbles and engaged with the other people in the group as if it were a collaborative exercise, I managed to get the steps correct. I looked, felt and listened for breathing. I then open up the airwaves, covered the baby’s mouth and nose with my mouth and provided short, sharp breaths. I then started on the chest compressions, pushing down on the breastplate to the tune of ‘Nellie the Elephant’. This song (as well as ‘Stayin’ Alive’, which has the same tune) helps you get the correct rhythm for the compressions. It also makes you wonder how many other children’s songs that the Bee Gees plagiarised throughout their career.

Anyway, having said goodbye to the circus with a trumpety-trump (trump, trump, trump), I turned to sit back down and breathed a sigh of relief – before realising I had forgotten to put Annie’s head back into position and ‘she’ now had an arched back that wouldn’t have looked out of place in The Exorcist. I quickly amended this before cleaning the doll with the alcohol wipes that were provided.

The lady who was next stood up, examined Annie and then announced that she was “just going to wipe off some of the excess alcohol”. Whilst my resuscitation skills may have been up to scratch, my cleaning afterwards apparently bordered on the excessive. In my defence, the smoky bacon-flavoured crisps I’d eaten that afternoon had been repeating on me, so I figured I was actually doing her a favour by being thorough.

When it came to performing CPR on the torso, a little more force was required that just a short breath and a gentle press. Well I say ‘a little’ because a clicking sound on the torso told us how much pressure to apply and it is a surprisingly large amount. The tutor told me to just use one hand and to straighten my arm, with the end result being that I looked as though I was struggling to unblock a U-bend rather than save a life. By this point, everyone in the room was looking towards me and, for some unfathomable reason, I gave a Wallace and Gromit-style cheesy grin before pressing away and cursing myself.

During the choking section, we learnt the Heimlich manoeuvre, but the process for dealing with a choking baby is quite different due to the delicate nature of their still-developing organs. Despite having said this, the tutor was still at pains to point out that the procedure definitely doesn’t involve holding the infant by the feet and swinging it around, ‘Gangnam Style’.

The different ways of dealing with a raised temperature were quite varied and I learnt that Calpol is the must-have of the child medicine world. By the time we got to burns, I was getting almost a little cocky as I was able to proactively name the three types of burn, largely thanks to having watched 10 seasons of ER.

Surprisingly enough, it was the bleeding section where I came a little unstuck as the tutor pointed out that we should all know how to wash and wipe a small cut or graze. The question in my mind was, which of these comes first?  Having gone through the more complex stuff at the beginning, I felt it was a bit like a qualified engineer asking which way up to hold the spirit level. Rather than potentially embarrass myself in public, I settled for asking Mrs.D when I got home.

So, after 2 hours the course ended. I was a little disappointed in the lack of certificate or even a badge or sticker but the main thing is that I now feel a little bit more confident in my fledgling ability as a parent. Joking aside, I would certainly recommend the course to any parents-to-be as it was really well delivered and the skills that were taught are invaluable. But, as our tutor concluded, I’m just hoping that I never have to use them.

The NCT Baby and Child First Aid course was provided by the British Red Cross. Information on all of the topics covered in the course can be found by clicking here.