Stephen Corby was unsure about the whole baby thing, and didn’t even like children ... until he held his boy for the first time.
People tell you that the moment your first child is born will be revelatory, life-changing and unforgettable, but then “people” are not a particularly trustworthy source.
“People” also told me that nappy changing wouldn’t be that bad, and that somehow you magically get used to the smell of your own child’s faecal matter and it really doesn’t bother you. All lies.
Personally, the lead-up to my son’s birth was such that I wasn’t buying this poppycock about having my life irrevocably improved by the arrival of a squealing, mucus-covered proto-human.
I wasn’t so sure that I really wanted children at all, but I was definitely aware that I didn’t really like other people’s kids, or babies — holding them, talking about them, pretending they were attractive, none of it.
And then He arrived, in a few moments that combined emotions like panic, fear, regret, anxiety, overwhelming joy, erupting love and, most of all, surprise, into quite a unique cocktail.
I’d heard phrases like “instantaneous bond of love”, of course, and dismissed them as particularly nauseous nonsense, but then I saw Him. And held Him, still sticky and gross, in my arms, gazed upon Him through eyes filled with tears and felt my heart filling with not just a new level of emotion — like all the greatest romantic moments of my life pouring into my brain at once and totally effervescing my endorphins — but what felt like an entirely new one.
“I wasn’t so sure that I really wanted children at all, but I was definitely aware that I didn’t really like other people’s kids, or babies.”
This, what I was feeling for my son, the most beautiful-ugly thing I’d ever seen, was a new kind of love. A more intense, more frightening and more physically powerful love than anything I’d ever felt before, and one that I knew would be with me from now until I leave this planet.
All my fears about whether I actually wanted to be a parent, whether this was a good idea, all of them evaporated as soon as I saw his enormous, needy and wildly unfocused eyes.
It sounds like a cliche, and in retrospect it really did feel like one. How could anything happen that quickly? How could I be so overcome with unexpected, undreamed of emotion? Serious examination of this has only led me to the thought that we humans are designed to be parents, it’s a pretty big driver for us at some basal level and this is how it’s supposed to work. It’s admirably clever, frankly, this bonding thing.
And yes, I know it’s not like this for everyone, but it sure was for me. And I have no doubt that holding him — which I did at every opportunity, even when he was making those horribly new, velociraptor-like squeals — helped with the process.
Science, finally, has had a look at this idea of dads bonding with babies, and how important it is, and it turns out that, as I’ve long suspected, those previous generations who avoided being there for the birth were really missing out, in more ways than one.
Baby hormones — not just for Mums
It turns out that, as far as being a good, or at least involved, dad goes, you really need to be in the game from the kick off.
A new study — remarkably the first of its kind — has found that there are big benefits for fathers who are present at the birth of their child, and in holding said bundle of joy close as soon, and as much, as possible.
Published in Hormones and Behaviour, the study found that men’s bodies are affected by hormonal changes, and those changes in turn are affected by cuddling with your child in the first days. And that those who are involved, and physical, early are more likely to be more hands-on dads later in that first year.
“Studies like this give us an understanding of the value of having the dad present at birth and engaging with the baby,” said University of Notre Dame assistant professor of anthropology Lee Gettler.
“What we see in the special days around birth is that dads’ hormones — how much dads are producing overall, and how their hormones quickly change when they hold their newborns — are linked to what fathers are doing months later.
“This relates to how men establish bonds with their newborns — as well as with their partners — and how they will co-parent.”
The study analysed levels of both cortisol and testosterone in almost 300 new fathers in the two days after their child’s birth. Labor and delivery nurses collected saliva samples from participating dads who held their babies approximately an hour after birth.
Those who showed elevated cortisol levels during skin-to-skin contact, or even clothed cuddles, were found to be more likely to be involved with caring for and playing with their babies in the first months of their lives (the study followed up four months later).
Frankly, I’m not surprised at all about the high levels of cortisol — which is often called the “stress hormone” — on the day of the birth, because I was pretty stressed about the fact that it looked, and sounded, not unlike my wife was going to expire.
What I’d like to see measured is just what’s going on in your brain in those first few minutes, or hours, because I reckon it’s more extreme than any drug trip. And a lot better for you, in the long run.