If anyone has any doubts about how to raise a baby, they are living in the right day and age. It seems like there are more resources, studies and products available for expecting couples than ever before. This is a far cry from my parent’s time when Dr. Benjamin Spock’s book on baby care covered all the bases and mom would treat the rash caused by my reusable cloth diapers with a grayish cream (later found to cause skin cancer), while my dad smoked Marlboro Reds a few feet away.
In the years that followed, awareness for a baby’s well being increased, and being the progressive people they were, my parents kept up with the trends. In preparation for my sister’s arrival, they were quick to repaint my old crib with a thick coat of oil-based paint to cover the chipped up lead-based layer I had gnawed on while teething. And there would be no toddlers standing in the front seat of dad’s truck waving at passing cars as I had. Instead, my sisters would be safely strapped into something referred to as an “infant car seat,” a contraption that resembled a torture devise used by Dr. Mengele in the Nazi death camps.
Ah, how things change. Disposable diapers with built in aloe can be tossed out and carted off to huge landfills; babies can chug down formula from bottles made with Phthalate plasticizers; and car seats actually entertain passengers with a multicolored array of blinking lights that induce seizures while fostering early onset ADHD. Yet, as a soon-to-be father thirteen years ago, such concerns were beyond my scope of comprehension. All I understood was that my level of responsibility was about to increase, beyond that, I was one of those guys who looked at his wife in all baby-related matters.
Let me say here, gentlemen, do not do this. Regardless of how well you and your significant other get along, at some point during the pregnancy she will blame you as the source of her discomfort, and in turn she will seek retribution, most likely as soon as the labor pains begin. To be ignorant about all that happens next is to make yourself one big target for revenge. For my three boys, their mother employed a different trick for each occasion all of which, I swear, were intended as retribution for relying too heavily on her, rather than educating myself.
With my first son, she had me take her to the hospital early so I could atone for my sins by watching her suffer through an excruciating thirty-six hours of labor pains. That someone should be in that much agony for so long just seemed inhumane. I had no idea that childbirth could take that long, and as such, a sense of guilt crept up in me, a feeling only compounded by her insistence that I leave the room’s TV set on the Lifetime Channel for the entire time. At the very least, however, I now believed myself fully prepared for the next go around. Yeah, not so much.
For son number two, his mother switched things up on me. Unlike before, the labor seemed be going smoothly, except for the fact that the little guy didn’t want to come out. When his heartbeat started to drop, the doctor decided to go in after him. Yeah, do that, I remember thinking. Then I noticed the doctor brandish what looked like an ominously large set of metal salad tongs. What the hell are —oh, you gotta be shitting me doc!
Having grown up on and around farms, I’ve seen things even the Discovery Channel won’t air, but nothing compares to what I was about to witness next. Through some combination of an anatomical anomaly and voodoo witchcraft, the doctor shoved those what appeared to be six feet of chrome up inside a five-foot, one-inch woman and then proceeded to pull a baby out. Ta-da It’s a slimy, crying crouton! And then I made the mistake of peeking over the curtain for too long. Once again, I was unprepared for the unforeseen circumstances that can occur during childbirth, and it almost cost me a vending machine egg-salad sandwich my stomach had been holding onto.
By the time my third son was born, I felt pretty confident about the inner workings of a delivery room. Naturally, that did stop boy’s mother from pulling one more Houdini-esque beat-the-clock stunt. Rather than go to the hospital as soon as her contractions reached the recommended interval, she decided to hold off a bit longer. “No point sitting around for hours waiting for him to come,” she reasoned.
Okay, you’re the expert. Now, I’m not sure if some sort of contest was being sponsored by Good Housekeeping to see who could come the closest to perfectly timing the arrival of baby after tying on the hospital gown, but if there was, she had to have won.
“Oh. So you’ve had a baby I see?” the doctor said walking into the room where a nurse cleaning goop off my son. Guess what, Doc? I delivered something too. Yeah, that happened somewhere between the five-second spans when my wife went from, “we’ve got time,” to “GET THERE NOW!”
My newborn baby days have been over for a long time now, and, thanks to my recent vasectomy (a story unto itself), I’m pretty sure that’s how things will remain. Since then, I’ve become much more confident in my parenting, and sometimes I’m even asked for advice by fathers-to-be. It’s flattering, but I am up front in telling them that I’m not the best guy to be doling out wisdom here before citing a few of my many mistakes. I do however, share with them a story about my middle son and his trouble sleeping due to stomach reflux.
First of all I had no idea what reflux for babies even meant. To me, I had always associated it with portly, middle-aged men who ate too much spicy Italian food and drank Pepto-Bismol in six-packs. In that context, finding out that newborns could also have reflux made me wonder if they were also susceptible to some form of infant gout. They say that you look pretty much the same way at 7 months as you do at age 70, so to some degree this sounded logical.
One night after being woke up by my son’s crying, I went to his bed to calm him down realizing along the way that I wasn’t entirely sure what sort of mommy miracle to perform once I got there. The only thing that did come to mind was to pick him and let his head rest on my shoulder so the stomach reflux would stay down. Then I started patting his back and rocking in the glider chair; thirty minutes later he was a sleep. I didn’t know where this course of action came from, but it was a routine that repeated itself many nights afterward, the eventual result of which lead to a level of trust I could have in my baby care decisions.
The point I try to make in relaying this story to guys is don’t buy into the hype that dads don’t know anything. Sure, there’s a wealth of information available on caring for babies, but it won’t make you a great parent or answer every question. That’s why mothers have their intuition to guide them. Dads, though, have guts and they should learn to trust them.
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Ron Mattocks is a father of five (3 sons, 2 stepdaughters) and author of the book, Sugar Milk: What One Dad Drinks When He Can’t Afford Vodka. He blogs at Clark Kent’s Lunchbox, and lives in Houston with his wife, Ashley, who eternally mocks his fervor for Coldplay.
Photo Credit: Wiki Commons