There are times in those first few months when you think what the hell have I gotten myself into.
I will happily admit that when I became a dad for the first time, I freaked out. A lot.
A lifetime of growing up with a mum who was, for want of a better phrase, ‘a bit of a worrier’ had instilled in me the vague sense that something, somewhere, was always about to go horribly wrong.
Having a baby amplified that feeling by about 1000 per cent – and it wasn’t long before I was experiencing some top-shelf new dad anxieties.
New dad freak outs are unsurprisingly common. Here are the ones that stumped me and some handy tips to help stall your Holy-Shitometer from jumping 0 to 60 in 3.5.
1. The baby being crook
I’ve got mates who lost children when they were very young. It played on my mind every time Blake got sick. Every slight fever worried me.
It didn’t help that I’ve got a few years of nursing training wedged in my brain – not enough to be useful, though… just enough for me to put “night sweats” and “runny poo” together and come up with “it’s probably the early stages of Ebola”.
I was clearly wrong.
The one that caused the biggest freak out was when I was changing his nappy one afternoon, and it looked like he’d been pissing blood.
Now… as adult men, we’re taught that blood in your urine is a Very Bad Thing – and that you’ve either had your kidneys pummelled in while playing footy, or a highly regrettable sexual encounter with a lady of loose virtue and unclean nether regions.
Or it could be something simpler, like cancer.
Either way, seeing your old fella fountaining claret is definitely a ‘run to the doctor’ moment. So you can imagine my panic when I saw blood in Blake’s nappy.
I was halfway to the car with Blake under one arm, when cooler heads prevailed. My wife told me to look through one of the many, many books we had bought on the topic of ‘how not to kill your child’.
It turns out that babies commonly excrete urate crystals, which turn their pee red. Crisis averted – but it was a good lesson for me to cool my jets about every little thing I feared could go wrong.
2. LOUD NOISES!!!
It’s a well-established fact that babies are f__king loud. A kid with even a halfway decent set of lungs is capable of cranking out up to 130 decibels.
To put that in perspective, a running lawnmower is around 100 decibels, and a loud rock concert is somewhere around 110.
130 decibels is the same as a “military jet aircraft take-off from aircraft carrier with afterburner“, experienced from a distance of 15 metres.
Fun fact: decibel levels aren’t measured on a linear scale. 110 decibels is twice as loud as 100 decibels – which means 130 decibels is eight times as loud as a lawnmower.
But hey… you might get lucky and have a kid who’s only as loud as a chainsaw running right next to your head (120 decibels).
It’s a lot to cope with, especially if junior’s doing his rag while you’re holding him in your arms at two in the morning, with your eyeballs hanging out of your head from lack of sleep.
Unfortunately there’s sweet f___ all you can do about this one, bar investing in a quality pair of noise cancelling headphones, taking a time out if it all gets too much (simply doubling your distance from the baby reduces the sound intensity by 75% or 6 decibels) and negotiating an arrangement with the missus for the occasional ‘night off’. (More tips on that here).
3. Eerie silences…
The flip side of this is when things go creepily quiet.
Again, it’s late at night. You’re almost asleep – and your brain starts playing tricks on you:
“He hasn’t cried or fussed for a while … oh shit … is he okay? Should I go check on him? … I should go check on him … Nah, he’s just asleep … but what if he’s not? … dammit … shit!” – and you’re out of bed to check on him.
If your baby’s a light sleeper, this is around the time they’ll wake up, start with the screaming – and suddenly you’re in the middle of Top Gun, with a front row seat to see Maverick take off to murder a few Russkies.
Dad pro tip: Get yourself a baby monitor. There are loads of different ones on the market, including the very simple sound-activated ones so you can hear when they cry or fuss.
Next level up are the video monitors, so you can peer into your baby’s crib in the dead of night while the infra-red lighting makes junior look like he’s auditioning for a Paris Hilton sextape.
Top of the line set-ups include those two options, plus a mat that goes under the mattress, which will sound an alarm if they move too much, or if they’re not moving enough.
Related: DAD Guide to choosing a baby monitor
4. Poo explosions
Nobody likes dealing with shit.
Except, of course, a small sub-set of the community whose bedroom predilections extend towards the more exotic end of the spectrum – and who use blue tarpaulins instead of bed sheets.
However, being a dad means dealing with shit. And there will be lots of it.
If your baby’s on the boob, expect anywhere from two to five crappy nappies a day. If yours is on the bottle, because formula’s harder to digest, the frequency will drop.
Now the good news is that, in the beginning, it’s entirely tolerable, as milk fed baby poos don’t really smell much. (Perhaps Nature’s way of easing dads into the job).
But, as your baby moves to solid food, this will change. Big time. There were days when I smelled like baby crap all day, even if I’d only changed one nappy in the morning and hustled off to work.
And then there’s the dreaded ‘poo explosion’.
I love both my boys, but my god if I didn’t nearly give them back the day I witnessed my first ‘number three’ – when for reasons defying the apparent laws of physics – bub unleashes every horror that has ever lurked in the bowels of the Bangladeshi sewer system.
One of my boys once shat so hard, and so heavily, it came out of the top of his nappy, up his back and out the top of his onesie. I kid you not, he actually managed to shit on the back of his own head, while sitting up!
I was torn between high fiving him and hosing him off in the backyard.
5. Pooey vaginas
The good thing about boys is, when they soil themselves as comprehensively as that, they’re relatively easy to clean. Everything ‘down there’ protrudes from the body – a handful of wet wipes, a fresh nappy and you’re generally good to go.
But girls… they’re built differently – and that’s something that a lot of new dads struggle with, especially if their daughter has gone Number Three and it’s ended up ‘inside’ them.
Some practical advice:
Firstly, don’t go sticking anything in there to try to clean it out. It’s a vagina, not your nose.
Second, if it’s a major mess, it’s bath time – warm soapy water will do all the hard work.
Lastly, always wipe from front, to back. Always.
And when in doubt, ask your missus. She’s been blessed with the same equipment, and she’ll know how to deal with it.
6. Spiraling baby costs
We’ve all seen the stats about how much it costs to raise a child – and unless you’re James Packer, those numbers are properly terrifying.
Add to that the stress if your missus is taking an extended break from working to look after the baby – because that lumps all of the burden to bring home the coin on your shoulders.
But that’s part of being a dad. I worked a full-time job and two part-time jobs when my first baby arrived. I’d leave the house at 7.30 in the morning, and three nights a week I wouldn’t get home until 10.00pm.
It sucked. It made me irritable. I’d come home and see some shiny new thing my wife had bought for the baby, and I’d get upset… I’m working my arse off over here, and you’re buying shit we don’t really need?
It took me a while to get over that mind set. I did it by focusing on what mattered – providing for my kids as best as I could.
Couples argue about money all the time. Everyone knows it’s a relationship killer.
But what a lot of people don’t know is that arguing when you’re tired – because you’ve just done a 12-hour day, and your missus has barely slept a wink in the past few days – is pretty much the same as arguing when you’re drunk.
And arguing when you’re drunk is a terrible, terrible idea. Trust me, I’ve been there.
If money’s tight, and it’s causing problems, then you may need to bite the bullet and get some help working out how to budget properly.
We’ll be putting together a really comprehensive baby budget in the near future, which we’ll link to when it’s published – but in the meantime, the good folks at CommBank have a few tips to help you get started.
7. Being a good dad
Okay, I know I said 6, but I just thought of another big thing that used to (and sometimes still does) freak me out.
Every now and then, when the baby was quiet long enough for me to hear myself think, I would ask myself “am I a good dad?” – and then spend a few minutes (or hours, or days…) going around in circles about it.
Now, I’m sure I am not alone here, but rather than try to condense everything we have on the site into a few pithy paragraphs, I’ll simply recommend you have a good look through some of the articles we have published already. For example:
Part of being a good dad is learning what your role in their development is, and – of course, enjoying some playtime or just having a conversation with your new bub. It also, believe it or not, means taking some time for yourself.
Being a good dad can be hard work, but armed with the right knowledge, I found it got easier and easier as time went on, which meant I could start to relax – and quit freaking myself out.