Friday 25 February 2011

Sleepless nights


The more astute amongst you (Hi Chris) may have noticed a glaring omission from my list of new born baby achievements. Yes, they can sleep, eat, wee and poo but they can also cry; boy can they also cry! This is what worried me the most; the idea of sleepless nights.
I cope with sleep deprivation in much the same way as Colonel Gaddafi copes with civil unrest. I mightn’t resort to guns and aerial bombing quite so quickly but, if I’m perfectly honest, that’s more down to a lack of ordnance on my part.
Fortunately it hasn’t turned out half as bad as I was expecting; yes Marty wakes me up crying occasionally and yes, I’m not getting a full and regular 8 hours sleep but it certainly hasn’t been a nightmare.
Part of the reason for this is because Leanne is exclusively breastfeeding. This can occasionally make me feel a little left out of the loop but - and here’s the real bonus -  I’m still being left out of the loop at 3am in the morning! No bottle feeding at some deathly hour for me, nope I just wrap a pillow around my head and go back to sleep.
Apparently this relative luxury is going to be short lived as Marty can start drinking expressed milk after a month or so, but in the interim I’m being terrified by the parents of older children with statements along the lines of:
 “Our Jack didn’t start to cry until he was 3 weeks old.... Then he didn’t stop until he was two.”
“Yes, they’re lovely when they’re new born aren’t they..... just wait!”
These are usually said with a malicious gleam in the eye and I’m beginning to understand that terrifying fellow parents, especially those with younger children, is just what parents do to each other. I think the underlining message is “Yes a child is a wonderful gift but don’t get too happy or you’ll piss us all off.”
Sadly, we are happy, deliriously so. I even enjoy it when Marty cries... sometimes. It’s not because I like having my ears assailed, it’s just the faces he pulls when he's really going for it. He goes from this perfect cherubic little darling, all peaches and cream and soft goo-goo-goo’s, to a bright red, wrinkled mass of noise pollution within a fraction of a second. It’s astonishing really, you put a sleepy little angel into his cot, take one step and “Pow”, the cot is now occupied by something that looks the spitting image of Yoda: “Hungry for milk I am”
The only bad night I have had (Leanne’s had a few more) was last week when he just wouldn’t settle and I was daft enough to volunteer to change his nappy and rock him to sleep. He cried like he was fit too burst until about 7:30am. Then he dropped off to sleep in the blink of an eye, just as my alarm went off. I got dressed and peered red eyed into his cot. There he was; eyes shut, his little face wholly relaxed and utterly beautiful....
“You little bastard!” I thought, as I trudged downstairs to make myself a strong coffee.

Sunday 20 February 2011


You know how it is when you buy a new car and all of a sudden the world is filled with people driving exactly the same car? Well either the same happens with babies or ASDA are giving them away with every £50 spent on shopping; I have never seen so many kids in one place before.
I’ll grant you that I usually do my shopping in the evenings, when the queues are shorter and the bargains more frequent, but on this occasion it was 4pm and we were shopping for an emergency supply of nappies.
When we were expecting Marty to arrive at any moment Leanne suggested we prepare in advance and buy a few packs of nappies. At 48 nappies per pack I couldn’t see why we needed to buy multiple packs; for some reason I had it in my head that 48 nappies would last the best part of a month! How wrong was I!
The thing with new born babies is that they only do four things: drink, sleep, wee and poo. The upside of such a limited repertoire is that it leaves them with plenty of time to practise each task. And practise, so they say, makes perfect. In fact Marty is now so good at the “big four” that he can manage them all... simultaneously. I kid you not!
This of course means that instead of a mere 6 hours of the day set aside for mission critical bowel movements he can now cram in at least 10, occasionally 12, full hours. Now I dare say young Marty is as pleased as punch with his new defecating skills but it’s a sad time for his parents; by the time I’ve removed the old nappy, tidied up the area and put on the replacement I’m left with roughly 5 seconds to admire my handywork before he releases an almighty fart and I have to start the process all over again. To make matters worse little boys are also armed and extremely dangerous throughout this entire process.
The midwives did warn me about this but it was sheer luck that got me through the first attack. I was happily wiping away at the young ones derriere when I heard a tinkling noise. As a plumber my ears are very attuned to the sound of running water so I stopped and had a look around the room; nothing. Yet, there was defiantly this noise and it was definitely the sound of running water. In the end it was Marty’s cries that provided the clue. He had quietly unleashed an astonishingly powerful stream of pee that was arching high up above him and falling down full into his face. I thought it all highly amusing. He was not best pleased. As luck would have it I managed to bathe him before he released another ‘movement’ but I have since taken precautions when he is in the all-together. Leanne thought putting a big pad of cotton wool over his willy was a bit excessive, right up to the moment he got her!

Wednesday 16 February 2011

Baby Weight

I didn’t realise how important the weight of a baby was, all I was interested in was the number of fingers and toes and other essential “bits”, how much they all weighed was largely an irrelevance. I mention this as we appear to have had a problem during the initial “weigh-in”.
When he first hit the scales Marty was 5lb and 13.5oz, which seemed surprisingly light for a fairly robust looking fellow. Mind you, at the time we had a total of 4 minutes parenting experience between the two of us so we just went with the flow; if the experts say he’s a light weight then who are we to argue?
Two days later and the midwife popped over to check us all out and weigh Marty again. This time he was 6lb 11oz. Apparently babies lose a little weight in the first few days -  judging by Marty, they achieve this by round the clock bowel movements – but our little one had gained almost an entire pound! There were a number of possible explanations; either the hospital scales were wrong, the midwife’s scales were wrong, or Leanne was producing ‘super-milk’’, milk of such sustaining power that young Marty would be 6ft 4” and fit to line up against the All-Blacks by April.
The fact that Marty was up to 7lb 2oz by day 5 of his life suggested that the Hospital scales had been in error and that the odds were that he’d been 7lb, more or less, when born.
Again, I didn’t think this was a big deal, yet Leanne was pretty upset by it. I put this down to the fact that she was well into the post-natal blues with her emotions set to ‘hair trigger’ mode, but it turns out she had a point; the first three questions everyone will ask you are: what was it, how much did it weigh and what have you called it? The order may vary from time to time but the questions remain... and we didn’t have hard and fast answers. From what I can gather, to a post-natal women, this is the equivalent of admitting that you’ve forgotten the name of your child; it is a crisis, with a touch of drama and hint of damnation. For me? I’m just thinking of having a badge made up with: “Boy. Marty. 7lb”, writ large upon it.

Friday 11 February 2011

The first night

Some of the first advice we received after the birth was from a mate in Spain saying ‘don’t let them throw you out of the hospital too soon. Stay for at least 3-4 days’. Sadly, this is austerity Britain and, whilst they weren’t exactly holding the door open and saying ‘here’s your coat, what’s your hurry?’ there was an underlying feeling that everyone thought we’d be better off at home. Fortunately we shared that feeling so, after they’d checked Leanne and Marty for wear and tear, and made sure the little one was feeding ok, we packed our bags and came home, a brief 18 hours after the birth.
When it comes to preparing for the arrival of a baby there are two schools of thought; the “Boy Scout, be prepared, dib-dib-dib” approach and the “Yer,yer,yer.Wotever” school of advanced preparation. Needless to say, I am no Boy Scout.
I’ve no idea why but I thought things would just figure themselves out as and when required. Hence finding myself in the nursery at 4am with a disposable nappy, a pile of cotton wool, warm water and not even a glimmer of a clue what to do with it all. Fortunately Leanne was a girl guide, so between the two of us we managed to remove the old nappy....
Have you ever wondered how common phrases came about? You know, things like “as cute as a button”. I use this phrase a lot around Marty yet I cannot recall ever seeing a button and saying to myself, ‘Wow, look at that button! Cute or what!” Well another common phrase that I never really understood was “Sticks like shit”.... right up until the moment when we peeled back that first nappy!
Apparently the black gunk we revealed is called “meconium”. According to Wikipedia this is Greek for “Opium-Like”, which is bizarre because I imagined it was Greek for “OhmygodwhattheflyingfuckisTHAT???”
Meconium is a black-green, tar-like, substance that a baby excretes immediately after birth in order to frighten the fuck out of parents. It’s astonishing stuff and it’s amazingly tenacious. I think we started trying to wipe if off about 4:10am and finished about 5am. It was like trying to remove dry concrete with a cotton bud! I was strongly tempted to dip the entire child in white spirit at one point but I suspected that this approach would be frowned upon in midwifery circles, so we tried again but with a really big bit of cotton wool.
Having finally removed all traces of meconium from Marty’s arse we had to dispose of it. At this point my lack of preparation came back to haunt me yet again.
We had bought this really neat bin that you put the nappies in and then twisted to seal everything up nice and air-tight. Terrific idea and dead easy to use but at 5am it was still in its box and even the simplest of tasks becomes horribly complicated when you’re dead tired and trying to read installation instructions whilst balancing toxic waste in your hand.
So he’s my first bit of advice for fathers-to-be; prepare! Buy a nappy and have a look at how they work. Give all your purchases a go before the big day arrives and when you first encounter meconium make sure you’re wearing elbow length rubber gloves.... or better still give them to your wife and just stand well back.

Thursday 10 February 2011

Baby Names

I can’t quite recall why but we had it in our heads that ”it” was going to be a baby girl. Since we couldn’t agree on any names anyway that didn’t much matter but as “B” day approached we started to get a little anxious.

After much argument and discourse Leanne decided we were going to call her “Amelia Rose”, which was a terrific name... right up to the moment she gave birth to a boy.

A number of mates had told me not to worry about the name, the theory being that once he/she/it had arrived a name would just pop into our heads. This worried me a little as it seemed to explain perfectly why the name “Winston” was not as uncommon as you might suppose. I therefore had an image in my head of the baby arriving, Leanne and I taking one look at our sweet, cherubic little child and then crying out simultaneously, “Yoda”.
Fortunately this is not what happened. I suppose I might be ever so slightly biased but I must admit that I took one look at his little ginger locks, shed a tear, and thought him the most beautiful child I’d ever seen; not a bit like Churchill - although if I’m absolutely honest, if you handed him a light sabre whilst he was crying there was a passing resemblance to a certain ‘Star Wars’ character.
As it turns out my mates had been absolutely right. I looked at him, remembered that he now shared a birthday and red hair with one of my best mates and asked Leanne what she thought of ‘Martin’.
On reflection, I think you could ask a woman pretty much anything immediately after they’ve given birth. They’re so overcome with a mix of joy and relief that “yes” is pretty much the only word you’ll get out of them. It’s a crying shame that I didn’t realise this until much later when the opportunity had passed but, for any other guys out there; on the run up to labour simply write down a wish list and be ready to read it out within 5 minutes of the baby arriving! Remember, this could be the last time you ever get your own way, so don’t hold back.
Alas, all I got out of it was a name. So ‘Martin’ is was, or ‘Martyn’ as we finally decided, with a middle name of ‘Laurence’, after my own dad. As it happens ‘Martyn’ is derived from Mars the God of war and Laurence means “victory”, so he’s going to be war-like but he will at least win, which is a handy combination.
I think it sounds quite grand; “Martyn Laurence Blackwell”. My only nagging doubt is that it reminds me of the opening lines to the TV series ‘Porridge’ – ‘Norman Stanley Fletcher, you are an habitual criminal who accepts arrest.....’

Wednesday 9 February 2011


Having experienced the dubious ‘joys’ of childbirth from the spectators point of view I think it’s fair to say that God is a man and, what’s more, he’s a man with a fairly bizarre sense of humour. That the child should exit via the route it does is enough to warrant a bemused shaking of the head but that the mother-to-be has to wait until the child has first developed a head the size of a cannon ball is, quite frankly, a joke too far.
Mind you, the shock of realising that God and Frankie Boyle share the same sense of humour is nothing compared to the astonishing realisation that women will still line up to go through it all! That they might opt for it once is vaguely understandable; they are after all being swamped by hormones and bedazzled by newborn babies. What I truly can’t understand though is why on earth they would choose to go through it all again. Yet they do!
Apparently we had a fairly easy time of labour, in fact I barely raised a sweat. It all started about 1am in the morning - I woke up about 5am - and we were both fully expecting to be back from hospital in time for lunch and nappies. Sadly, that time table proved far too optimistic and it wasn’t until 10pm that evening that the lure of “gas & air” finally persuaded Leanne to head into hospital.
My wife had set her heart on using the birthing pool and that all seemed to work quite well for the first few hours. Then she was given a choice between the pool or better pain killers. I’m sure I’ve seen people make faster decisions but I can’t recall any and we were out of the pool, onto a table and away with the fairies faster than you could say Pethidine.
Finally, at 5:40am the baby arrived, much to everyone’s relief.
Leanne was of the opinion that knowing the sex of the baby beforehand was going to take away some of the joy of the moment, so my first real task of note was to sex the child.
I had imagined that this would be a hit and miss affair but as it turned out it was fairly straightforward, largely on account of our little baby boy possessing testicles the size of dinner plates – at least by comparison with his size. Thank God our proportions change as we grow to adulthood, if they didn’t men would be walking around the streets carrying their balls in wheelbarrows and women would have headed for the hills long ago.
So, having established that he was a he, my next task was to cut the cord. I can’t say I’d been looking forward to this, in fact, to be brutally honest, I’d have been perfectly happy pacing the hospital corridors and smoking the occasional cigar, suitably distanced from the gory details. Sadly, this is regarded as very old fashioned and, whether we like it or not, the man is now obliged to remain in close proximity for the entire event, no matter how gruesome it gets.
As it turned out the cord cutting wasn’t that bad. It was just like cutting through a bit of gristle, although I felt strangly obliged to mumble “God bless this ship and all who sail in her”.
And there we had it, one child expertly delivered after 30 odd hours of shouts and screams and umpteen cylinders of nitrous oxide.

Tuesday 8 February 2011


For many, the act of conception involves soft lighting, softer music and copious quantities of sparkling wine. For ourselves it involved test tubes, microscopes and the occasional Petri dish. It is a sad reality but IVF brings with it all the whimsical romance that you'd normally associate with an outbreak of cholera... without the exotic locations. This is hardly their fault but it does take away something, especially for the bloke who is often made to feel like a pork saugage at a Jewish wedding. Everyone there knows that you have a role but you can't help but feel that that fact is regarded as an annoyance and that there are scientists beavering away in the lab determined to circumvent you altogether.

Fortunately the IVF was ultimately sucessful, although it took 3 attempts and played merry hell with our emotions, but after seven years of trying, it finally kicked in and Leanne fell pregnant.

I must confess that I found the whole pregnancy lark distinctly underwhelming. The scans were all very interesting and watching Leanne get bigger and bigger until she started walking like a duck was a source of mild amusement but the rest was all a bit too intangible for me; a moving bump and a noise that sounds like a wet heart beat are all well and good but it was hardly going to set my world on fire.

Leanne on the other hand seemed to love it. She was perfectly happy to spend an entire evening sitting on the sofa watching her belly move up and down as the baby moved and couldn’t understand why I was failing to grasp the joy and wonder of it all. I tried to point out that, from the outside, it just looked as if she had really bad wind, but apparently that was just me being an unimaginative grump.

Anyway, the big day arrived... then it went. Apparently this is nothing unusual and sure enough, 4 days after the due date Leanne started getting contractions.