I was blown away. Shapes and colours in the hospital theatre seemed incredibly sharp and vivid, and all of my senses were singing. Holding the tiny, wriggling figure of my daughter Melanie for the first time, I finally understood being ‘high on life’.
I held her up so that my partner Rachel could see her from where she lay on the operating table. After all the work that Rachel had put in over the last 9 months and 24 hours, it seemed unfair that I was the first to hold our child.
Melanie squirmed and was silent for a moment before sucking a huge breath into her new lungs and letting rip with every ounce of her strength. I couldn’t believe that this tiny munchkin was capable of producing sound of such incredible volume. I smiled at Rachel: Melanie was definitely going to be a singer, and she was going to rock!
I asked the midwife if I could give Melanie ‘skin-to-skin’ contact and she cut a wider opening in the neck of my scrubs and slid Melanie inside, next to my chest. She stopped crying immediately and happily proceeded to poo in great quantity all over me.
Mel was born at 9.46pm and it was now approaching 11pm. Back on the maternity ward, I was told that I would have to go home and come back at 8am the next morning. Leaving my new family was very strange, and I couldn’t help feeling sorry for Rachel that she would have to cope with our new arrival all night without my help.
The next day, Rachel told me that for most of the night she had seen Mel’s wide eyes peering out of the Perspex cot in which she was lying, taking in her new environment. It must have been as strange a night for her as it was for us.
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After only two days, Rachel was deemed fit to return home. I triple checked our newly-acquired car seat and strapped Mel in. Not wanting to rattle our precious cargo I carefully dawdled home at a cautious 10 miles per hour.
Once home, we found that Rachel’s mum (a retired health visitor) has set everything up, from the changing mat to the Moses basket, which was extremely helpful. She had also put fresh flowers everywhere, which made our homecoming from the hospital feel really special.
I was amazed to find that the most seemingly straightforward baby duties became hour-long missions, taking a high degree of concentration and dexterity to complete. A baby bath would somehow involve a plethora of flannels, cotton wool and towels (mostly used for drying myself), while nappy changing was akin to human origami.
However, as the days progressed I began to grow in confidence in both the undertaking of my parental chores and the handling of my fragile baby daughter.
Having probably had quite a traumatic time during labour, Melanie had quite an unsettled and noisy first few days, making frequent use of her vocal chords. Dave, my friend who has 6 months previously become a father, shared with me the secret art of baby calming as taught to him by his mother. It all boiled down to one thing: the swaddle.
In the middle of a particularly loud and sustained period of crying, Dave took a blanket and made a small fold in the top corner. He took my protesting daughter, lay her in the centre of the blanket and expertly tucked and folded it around her in a few swoops and tugs. As he made the final fold, I cringed as he pulled the blanket tightly and securely around poor Mel, but within seconds she’d stopped crying and lay there peacefully, looking like a tightly packaged little parcel.
“Apparently, the feeling of tightness is really comforting for babies. It makes them feel all squashed up, like they did in the womb,” explains Dave. Only a year ago we would have been drinking beer and discussing guitars and gadgets. Now our male bonding would be done over baby swaddling and nappy-changing techniques. How times change.