Dave Rose discusses the delights and exhaustion of life with a newborn
Often when you watch a film, you can’t help but relate to the characters. Sometimes it’s because they’re going through something similar to an experience you have had. Occasionally it’s because they look exactly like you. Not just a passing resemblance, but as if you were separated at birth.
So it was when, as a new dad nine years ago, I settled down to watch a classic: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. My spitting image wasn’t the dashingly handsome Harrison Ford, however much I smeared dirt on my chops or wore a grubby brown fedora. Nor, before you ask, was it the grey-bearded Sean Connery. No, I had a key role, albeit briefly, towards the end.
In this scene, Indy witnesses someone drinking from a golden chalice he mistakenly thinks is the Holy Grail. His skin gruesomely decays and falls from his body, until only his skeleton remains and he dissolves into dust. It was as I accidentally lent on the pause button, somewhere between the start of decomposition and full-on skeleton that I was pretty sure I recognised the vision that had looked out at me from the bathroom mirror that morning.
In my defence, I was the new dad of a beautiful, healthy baby girl. I was so lucky to have this bouncing little bundle of joy in my life, as my friends relentlessly told me. What they didn’t know was that my gorgeous little offspring had decided that, rather like some kind of chinchilla or Eastern European lemur, she looked sweet and adorable but had decided that she rather enjoyed being awake at night. And noisy. So very noisy.
She had a severe dose of colic and would very rarely sleep. This was most problematic at night, of course; the traditional period when we decide unconsciousness is preferable. So I spent many, many hours wandering the rooms of the house, my daughter over one shoulder, willing her to sleep. The moment she did and I put her down, she would scream again. In this way I passed many nights with barely an hour’s sleep.
My wife was also exhausted. She was feeding a lot, and was so tired at night from looking after our daughter during the day while I was at work that taking on a lot of the night-time duty seemed like the right thing to do. Plus, I was determined to be hands-on. I was going to be there for my little girl when she needed me right from when she was the smallest baby.
The exhaustion, though, is overwhelming. No-one really prepares you because, truthfully, no-one really can. I have never been very good at sleeping and even now spend vast portions of the night wondering whether that crack in the ceiling was there last night, so I’m used to tiredness. This, however, is a different level. One night of not sleeping you cope with. Two nights you’re very tired but you manage. What if it becomes three? Or four? Or a week?
Back to work
Often, after a couple of weeks, dads find themselves back in the workplace, which, depending on your job, could be operating heavy machinery, catering at a posh restaurant for the masses or, as in my case, trying not to drool over my keyboard while composing an email to a PR company. On one particular occasion, I’m pretty sure I accidentally slammed my face into my keyboard and sent a series of random characters to a press organisation. I may have inadvertently written a Justin Bieber single in the process.
It’s awful. You try and pick things up and keep going, but you can’t focus. Your heart feels like it’s beating out of your chest and you start to get the shakes. You can’t wait to go home to see your new family and to hold your baby, but you are simultaneously terrified that that night will be the same as the previous night. If it is, how bad will you feel tomorrow?
You can’t complain, of course. You can never moan, or at least if you do you feel terribly guilty for it. You have been blessed with this glorious bundle, and besides, the mum is working just as hard and getting equally as exhausted and stressed about life with a newborn. You are aware you’re not just supporting a new baby, but a new mother, and you must be strong enough to do both, no matter how tired you become.
A little advice
So, how do you cope? To be honest, I don’t know. But you do. You will. You can. The truth is, it doesn’t really matter how you do it, as long as you do. Looking back, here’s how I think I got through holding down a job and holding up a family:
- Lower your expectations. If you can’t do absolutely everything you used to for a few weeks, most employers and colleagues will have your back.
- Stimulants! Now, look. I’m not proud of this, but I was known for always having a crate of Red Bull under my desk. If it gets you through, it gets you through!
- Ask for help. If family live nearby, can they come and stay over and be responsible for the baby at night occasionally? It’s only one night for them, and they might value spending some time with the little one. Plus, it’ll give you and your partner a clear night’s sleep, guilt-free.
- Remember that it won’t last forever. There will come a point when this screaming baby is 14 and you won’t be able to get him or her out of bed at all. So remember, even though it feels like it’s never-ending, it won’t always be like this.
- So hold on tight! You can do it! If all else fails, tell yourself that one day, if you play your cards right, this child might have to look after you at night. What goes around comes around…
Dave Rose is programme director at Premier Christian Radio