Chris Ryan hopes the lessons learnt from his first child will help him cope with the arrival of baby number two.
Two faint blue lines appeared on the pregnancy stick. They were very faint; if you squinted they blurred into the white background. A second test the following week confirmed what I was tempted to deny – another baby was going to come crashing into my life.
My wife and I planned it but I wasn’t ready. Our first kid, just over two years old, was finally as manageable as a well-trained house pet. He could eat without needing a hose down, would tell you when he wanted the toilet and could even fetch a beer (from an esky, not the fridge – he isn’t a genius).
There was a growing sense of freedom. Now I felt like a jailbird who had shivved a prison guard days before his release. I was facing another two years in the hole.
The weeks have raced past and our second child makes its debut in less than four months. One thing has quelled any panic caused by the prospect – we’ve gone through this before. I remind myself of five lessons I learnt the first time round…
1. Things won’t go to plan (and that’s alright)
Before our first baby my wife and I went to natural childbirth classes. We had decided we would use aromatherapy and meditation, mantras and music in a drug-free delivery.
Scratch that: the baby was two weeks overdue and had to be evicted from the womb. My wife was put on a drip and given oxytocin to bring on contractions.
The playlist we compiled, with tracks such as “I’m Coming Out” by Diana Ross and Salt-n-Pepa’s “Push It”, never got a run. If I had cranked up the stereo my wife would’ve strangled me with the cord of her IV drip – she was not in a joking mood.
The birth we scripted was a beautiful, spiritual experience, like yoga on the beach at sunrise. It ended more like a mountain stage in the Tour de France – a long hard slog made easier with drugs.
It didn’t matter that the original plan was ripped up. Our kid came into the world perfectly healthy, and in the end that’s all we could wish for.
2. This has been done before
Cradling a newborn there’s an overwhelming sense of joy, but for me there was also a sense of alarm. The squealing red-faced baby seemed so vulnerable. Would we be up to raising him? Then I remembered that there are more than 7 billion people on Earth – it’s obviously not too hard.
When you become a parent it is surprising how chores that are totally foreign to you quickly feel natural, whether it’s changing a dirty nappy or burping a baby with wind. Also, there’s always someone with more experience than you who will be happy share their wisdom, especially if you don’t want to hear it.
3. A good night’s sleep is priceless
The very idea of having a newborn baby makes me feel exhausted. Last time round I didn’t manage well. Five-coffee days left me wired but still tired. At work, words on my computer screen would appear as an indecipherable jumble of letters.
Once, lost in a mental fog, I found myself on a street corner with the pram, unsure of how I got there or where I was heading. Another time, lying down on a park bench while rocking the pram with one hand, I nodded off for 15 minutes.
It was only months later I realised how hard the sleep deprivation hit me. I was easily irritated and could be downright depressed.
This time I’ll make getting sleep a major priority. When my wife feeds the baby at night I’ll stay in bed rather get up and offer moral support she doesn’t need. When the baby naps during the day, I’ll hit the sack too (unless I’m pushing its pram through the park at the time).
4. The routine is relentless
Between feeding your baby, burping it, changing its nappies, putting it down and settling it through the night, having a newborn is all consuming.
Slipping off to work can be a welcome distraction but no real escape. While colleagues talk finals footy or Netflix specials, all you can contribute to the conversation are tips for sterilising baby bottles and treating nappy rash.
In the wake of the first baby I was desperate for a break from the monotony. On my first night out I drank with a fury only to suffer the hangover from hell. But the routine doesn’t let up because it feels like there’s a road crew working jackhammers inside your skull.
Rather than face such a horror again, I’m prepared to surrender to the boredom of caring for a baby.
Good mates won’t forget you if you go missing in action for a few months. And they really don’t want to hear your anecdotes about nappy explosions, anyway.
5. It will pass all too quickly
When my first child was a few months old I was trying to get him to sit up on his own. It’s one of those ridiculous milestones that you never knew existed before you had a kid, but seems so important once you have one.
My mother, who raised six children and had helped with eight grandchildren, told me to leave the boy alone. “Just let him be a baby,” she told me.
I understand now why she felt that. The first few months of raising a baby go faster than you expect and can never be recaptured. This time around I will try to appreciate it more. Sure it can be bloody hard work, but isn’t that the case with anything worthwhile?