The First Few Days, and Paternity Leave

“Allah, Allah, Allah” Elsie screamed. For the first few weeks her cry resembled a high pitched and very loud call to prayer. In our exhausted state we found it funny. Seeing the funny side of things definitely helped keep us as relaxed and calm as possible during those turbulent first few days. Getting back home from the hospital was a huge relief and i’ve now realised (writing this at Week 15) that this marked the beginning of the neverendingness of chores and things to do. 

Prior to Elsie’s arrival we had both discussed and agreed that we wanted the first two weeks to be just us and Elsie – to use it as precious bonding time. So we agreed on no visitors, a blanket ban (Mum, you would have been an exception!). This worked really well, it felt liberating to be just the three of us, relying solely on each other and bonding closely as a result.

Kirsty is super disciplined and was determined to get good food in her as soon as we got home. We had prepped and frozen a few meals after almost everything we’d read/heard warned us we’d be in pure survival mode for the first few weeks; no time to shower and in no fit state to cook. It was no where near that bad. Fed up of reading blogs and hearing statements like “you won’t leave the house for weeks”, we were keen to get out for London-fresh air asap. Sometimes nothing beats a positive can-do attitude. Some big milestones for us were:

  • Day 2 – home from hospital at 6pm, Tesco shop at 6.20pm, freshly cooked vege spag bol by 7pm, marvelling over our new addition
  • Going out for our first walk 4 days after Kirsty’s c-section
  • Satisfying a huge urge of Kirsty’s to pop a bottle of champagne asap, feeling properly pissed after 1 glass. That was Day 4 too, big day. 
  • The ultimate refreshment, a March dip in the lido on Day 6, followed by a pint 
  • A walk to Balham so Kirsty could fulfil her dream of going to The Wine Tasting Shop for a glass of her favourite white before Elsie was 1 week old. Followed by our first family trip to Franca Manca for a Number 1 with Olives and a Number 4 with no mushroom but extra tomato instead

With Elsie’s circadian rhythm not yet established days and nights just became consecutive periods of 24 hours. While we were determined to stay positive, not stress and support each other, those first few days were definitely the hardest of the journey so far (as at week 15). We were utterly exhausted – the first 9 nights we did shifts on the sofa as Elsie did not like being in the bedroom, and at many points I felt confused, worried and very tired. 

Breastfeeding – Pain, Determination, and Help!

Day 3 was the low point. After heroic levels of effort and determination Kirsty was reduced to tears trying to breastfeed Elsie. We had no idea that breastfeeding would be so hard. After 3 awful nights where stress levels would peak around 4am as Elsie cried uncontrollably, Kirsty’s nipples were blistered and her boobs almost rock hard, we hit the low point. It was really tough. We needed to get help and I found the Lactation Consultants of Great Britain website which lets you search for Lactation Consultants by postcode. I sent desperate texts at 6am on a Sunday to the 3 closest consultants, and will be forever grateful to Sharon for her response and offer of same-day help. Within a few hours we’d had a video call with her, and after a home visit the next day we were all sorted, and haven’t had any problems since. 

The stats surrounding breastfeeding in the UK are staggering and saddening. There is limited data; a 2010 UNICEF Infant Feeding Survey found that across the UK, 69% of mothers were exclusively breastfeeding at birth.  At one week 46% of mothers were exclusively breastfeeding, while this had fallen to 23% by six weeks. By six months levels of exclusive breastfeeding had decreased to 1%. It turns out that the UK lags way behind other countries too:

After our experiences these stats do not surprise me. While the midwives at St George’s were all happy to offer their advice and tips, the time they could dedicate to us was minimal – a couple of minutes at a time. There was zero consistency in their advice. We did have a home visit from a community midwife on Day 2 but again, the advice was not consistent and she was in our flat for a total of 5 minutes. Along with the endlessly diffuse advice available online we felt bewildered and confused. 

Our two sessions with Sharon weren’t cheap – £45 for a 45 minute video conference call and £120 for a 90 minute home visit – but in the longer run that £165 total has been way cheaper than buying formula milk. A November 2018 report by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Infant Feeding found that the cost of infant formula ranged from £6.44 to £13.52 per week for powdered varieties, rising to £24.47 to £32.20 for ready to feed products. A key recommendation from the report states that “the UK should invest in better support for breastfeeding following internationally agreed methods to ‘gear up’ and become a more breastfeeding-friendly nation. All mothers across the UK  should have access to breastfeeding support from health professionals and peer support.” 

This is spot on. If the Government dedicated more resource to supporting new mothers in the first few days the breastfeeding rates would surely increase and babies, mothers, families and society would reap the rewards. As a side note, I know the subject of breastfeeding can be emotional and very personal; breastfeeding is not for all mothers and shouldn’t be forced upon families who cannot/do not want to breastfeed for whatever reason. I totally see why mothers have no choice but to formula feed. That being said, I do wish that all new parents could spend just two hours with Sharon in their first days with a new baby. 

This post is already getting quite long and there’s way more I’d like to cover.  I can’t finish with discussing the poo!

So Much Poo!!!

It’s incredible really, how much poo a 3.8kg baby can produce. From googling “how to change a nappy” on Day 1, to over 100 nappy changes by day 10, i’d now call myself a ninja nappy changer. I swear that Elsie was asserting her power and control over me – on Day 15 between 00:50 and 00:55 she filled 3 nappies, one after another, each time, just as I was wearily putting her down, she did another one. 3 in a row. Lucky she’s cute. 

I also wanted to go in to more detail on baby’s sleep, a topic I find fascinating, but I will save that for a future post. 

Paternity Leave – Get With The Times

One topic I now feel strongly about is Paternity Leave. The basics of which are… most new Dad’s, should, if all the prerequisites are met get 2 paid weeks off work to spend with their brand new, screaming, confused, hungry, time-vortexing, life changing and utterly helpless & dependent newborn baby, and their exhausted, oft-injured, potentially emotionally unstable, worried and, at times, totally irrational wife/partner. The Dad, too, will definitely be exhausted, probably emotionally unstable, worried, and also totally irrational at times. Those two weeks were the most grown up i’ve ever felt, I felt like a proper adult for the first time. Shit gets really real. Time becomes a total blur, and, if you’re lucky – we were, I think – just as you’re starting to come to terms with it all, just as you feel like things will be OK if you can just keep this up, the two weeks are over, quick as a flash, and one of you has to go back to work. 

It’s too soon. The family unit is not ready to be broken up yet, with Dad likely having to be away for 10-12 hours each day. In 20 years time, and hopefully in much less, we will all look back and think that 2 weeks paternity is madness. Just like smoking on aeroplanes was fine not that long ago. It will change, i’m sure, because the wider, difficult-to-quantify benefits of allowing the family unit to stay together for longer in those first all-so-important days are significant and large. 

I think it should be at least 8 weeks full pay, with more time available if it’s needed, especially if there were birth complications. In a sign that positive change will hopefully come, David Linden MP is sponsoring a proposed Bill through Parliament in the hope of seeing changes to the law to extend entitlements to parental leave for parents of babies born prematurely or requiring neonatal care. Well done to David for pressing on this issue. In a further sign of positive change Aviva announced in 2017 that all new fathers will be entitled 26 weeks leave on full pay. In the first full year of Aviva’s policy change, 67% of new fathers took their full entitlement, demonstrating that, when it’s possible, fathers are keen to spend significantly more time with their newborns. Both my parents ran small businesses, so I know how difficult this is for smaller enterprises, but i’m sure solutions could be found with the right government support. 

Oxytocin Overides It All

The first few days feel like a distant memory now. They were definitely the hardest part of the journey so far, mainly as a result of the sleep deprivation coupled with our inexperience of dealing with new and confusing situations. All of this was overridden by the waves of love we were feeling for the little human that is now living in our flat with us.

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