I felt like I had jetlag, yet the only travel I’d done was walking outside to put the rubbish out; I had, however, journeyed into fatherhood. Ever since Zane descended gracefully into the world, everything Jas and I did and thought about for the first few weeks was for him, looking after a little person who was unable to do anything but fill nappies and sleep. Even when he was asleep there was something to be done. And when we were asleep, well...it wouldn’t be for long!
Our first look at our little man was amazing; finally meeting our blue-eyed bump was something unforgettable. He didn’t cry as new-borns do on TV, but he calmly looked about, looked at us, probably wondering what the hell was going on and who we were. I held him, almost disbelieving what I had in my arms and then thought: “He’s beautiful. Er, what do I do now?!”
So we were a bit zombie-like in the first few weeks. At one point I was so tired that I didn’t notice the blue hippopotamus that had appeared in the spare room. I walked in to get something, turned around and walked out. Sensing that something was different, I walked back in and looked at the new erection in the middle of the floor: Zane’s bright blue hippopotamus-shaped activity mat that Jas had unpacked. I had walked right past it without giving it a glance.
Who is this person?
It was hard to believe he was ours. There were times when I looked at Zane and thought: “Is he mine?” Not questioning Jas’ fidelity of course, but I think I was expecting the little chap to look somehow different, perhaps more like me, though perhaps with a less prominent snout. Sometimes it just felt like someone had visited our house and forgotten to take their baby with them. In the first days I even had moments of forgetting I had a son; I’d sleepily walk into the room, pass the cot and not look into it, momentarily forgetting the little person who had entered our house and taken over our lives.
Ok, ok, so there were times I would look into his cot and just gaze at him in wonder, at the perfectly formed being that had filled our home. There is something mesmerizing about just watching babies sleep, eh? Something that is even more captivating than the hypnotic action of the head forming on a Guinness. But as a parent you worry about sleeping new-borns: he hasn’t moved for a while...is he breathing? I can’t see his chest moving. Zane? Poke. Hmm, I can’t hear his breath. Zane? Poke. POKE. POKE. He flings his arms up and bawls. Oh, he’s fine. Good. Ah, but now he’s awake. And crying...
It’s the cutest thing, watching my tiny son wake up, his hands come to his face, his curled up body slowly unfurling, his legs straightening and stretching...and then pushing out a little fart. There’s something highly humorous about babies boffing, it’s so innocent and unintentional. What is funnier is that, as we laugh at his bodily functions, he maintains a serious look on in face, as though he is a teacher looking at a couple of immature children. One day, he will learn the funny side of the fart.
“Skin on skin” was a term we’d heard much of during pregnancy, it being the best way for a baby to get to know its parents by laying on their bare chest, finding comfort and security in feeling mum’s or dad’s heartbeat and becoming familiar with their scent. I found this brilliant; it was very enjoyable to have tiny Zane napping contentedly on my chest, feeling his breath and his sleepy little grunts. I made sure he always had a nappy on, though: baby boys have a propensity for getting erections and then peeing. I didn’t want that kind of business putting a dampener on our bonding.
I was momentarily worried in one of our early bonding sessions. I suddenly felt I had a huge sneeze coming on as two-day old Zane slumbered on my chest: an image of the uncontrollable convulsion ejecting him onto the floor flashed though my mind, and before I could do anything it came, and Zane was airborne. He landed back where he was. Phew; I froze. Looked down at him, and waited for the scream. And then he sneezed! Before I could do anything else, I sneezed again. Zane bounced again. And he sneezed again. The sequence repeated once more. I looked down at him, and wiped my chest down. He was happy. We were sneeze bonding.
You can lead a horse to water...
“My boobs are mountains.”
There had indeed been some pregnancy-induced seismic activity in Jas’ chest. Yet when Zane arrived he didn’t know what to make of them, or perhaps he was a bit lazy and couldn’t be bothered sucking. We had to spoon-feed him in the first few days! We learnt that babies lap like a cat, and Zane thankfully didn’t disappoint when presented with a teaspoon of milk. He soon learnt how to help himself though, and now has a very healthy enthusiasm for boobs that probably won’t be surpassed until he’s about 13 years old.
He doesn’t quite know what is good for him yet, though. If I hold him and he’s hungry, it’s a bit hilarious. His head bobs about clumsily, as he snorts and snuffles around my chest and arms, trying to find a milk supply, a bit like a crazed little piglet hunting for truffles. And if he finds something he can get his little gums around, he’ll give it a go; he actually bruised my upper arm when he managed to find a soft bit of flesh, and sucked on it with enough power that could have sharpened a pencil.
Input = output
What comes in must go out. Life throws up many anxieties, but all fade in comparison to making sure one’s newborn is healthy, and producing the right output in his first week. Given that Zane wasn’t able to speak yet, the main indicators of his healthy development were that he was eating enough, and that what filled his nappy was of the right quantity and colour. Our priorities had drastically altered to the point that our primary concern had become the hue of Zane’s poo. To go into some (perhaps too much) detail, it basically had to change from black to brown after three or four days. Zane kept us guessing...
Meconium was first. Essentially, for the first day or two, it looked as though Zane had filled his duds with the contents of a jar of vegemite. I’d never liked vegemite, thankfully; if I did, Zane would have surely put me off it.
Secondly came what seemed like muddy, algae-filled pond water. I don’t think I’ve ever smelt anything so bad, perhaps even surpassing the occasion that I shared the back seat of a car with a large and very flatulent dog.
Finally he produced what we were waiting for: the satay. It was a relief to see it as it represented a fully operation digestive tract; however...I used to quite like satay. I think now it’ll be easier for me to make a choice the next time I see a Chinese take-away menu.
Zane dislikes clothes and nappies intensely. He bawls whenever they go on, and quietens when they all come off. I’ve heard that dressing a baby is like putting a live octopus in a string bag and then trying to keep all the flailing legs inside it.
I think a major parenting challenge for us will be to ensure that the internal surfaces of our home remain free of pee, poo and spew. This was illustrated none too vividly during one of the early midwife visits. During Zane’s weighing – for which he had to be naked – Zane piddled. He didn’t just quietly moisten the blanket he lay on, oh no: as he slowly rolled from one side to the other he peed, creating a delightful golden arc, an impressive fountain that marked his territory several feet from the scales, somehow keeping himself completely dry.
Zane has yet to discover the purpose of the bath. He loves them, he becomes relaxed being naked and wet; as he floats, he unfurls and stretches out his little bowed legs so that – with his bobbing fat white belly - he looks like a frog in a pond. Unfortunately, he also likes pooing in the bath, which defeats the purpose somewhat. I think we’ll wait until he develops the right etiquette before we take him to a public pool...
One of the few things I recall from University physics is work of Bernoulli. He was a chap that studied fluid dynamics, and one of his theories was based on the increasing velocity of liquid when passing through ever narrower channels. During one of his regular nappy changing sessions, at precisely the moment I had removed the used nappy, Zane projectile pooed on me. As if to make a point, he then pissed to the side, covering the wall next to his change table. A spectator to the event would have found it hugely comical; unfortunately, Jas was a spectator and she duly collapsed in laughter at the hilarity of the situation, as I stood in shock and in splattered clothes. I’d never seen projectile poo before, and certainly hadn’t thought a week year old child had the ability to do it. But then I thought of Mr Bernoulli: that satay was being forcibly squeezed through a very small orifice.
What does he want? Is he thirsty? Parenting a baby is mostly about trying to decipher his movements and his sounds. When Zane wildly flails his arms and makes noise like a bat, what does it mean? What about when he kicks his legs like crazy and sounds like a dolphin, or like one of those ululating raptors from Jurassic Park? To be honest, I’ve little idea. If he’s not hungry, his duds probably need changing.