The Truth About Fatherhood: Giles Alexander, blogger

Giles, you the daddy blog

“I found the birth exhilarating. Exhausting. But at the same time, it filled me with complete amazement and pride at the strength that my wife showed during the labour and at the sight of an actual human emerging from her lady parts.” Dad-of-one Giles Alexander on fatherhood… 

Giles Alexander, 32. lives in Collier Wood, south west London, with his wife and their son, Teddy, who is eight months.

“Coming from a large family (I have a brother, two sisters and 20 cousins!) I always knew I wanted to have a bundle of kids of my own. But I suppose my first signs of proper broodiness came after the birth of my first nephew (and godson) Barnaby, ten years ago. I babysat him from just a few months old and was amazed by the immediate love I felt for this little dude, who was my own flesh and blood. I knew then for certain that I wanted to be a father… although it took me another eight years to find the right girl for the job.

The conception was way too easy… worryingly so. Literally the month we decided to start trying – BAM – we were pregnant. I since found out that my boyish looks may have had something to do with this, as apparently high testosterone (which, if you’ve seen my attempts at facial hair, I’m clearly lacking) negatively affects the strength of a man’s swimmers. Who knew?

I found the birth exhilarating. Exhausting. But at the same time, it filled me with complete amazement and pride at the strength that my wife showed during the labour and at the sight of an actual human emerging from her lady parts.

Not to mention relief that Teddy (who arrived nearly a month earlier than planned), was happy, healthy and a decent weight. Despite his prematurity, he was a whopping 7lbs at birth. Lord knows what damage he would have done if he’d gone full term…

From a personal perspective, I also felt an extreme sense of achievement in myself for making (what I think was) a real, tangible contribution to the birth – mainly through constant massage, words of encouragement and incessant counting out loud during each contraction.

We were lucky that we’d had a really excellent NCT instructor, who taught us so much (and only scared us a little). Plus, we had some time too with a seriously lovely doula who taught the free new parent sessions at our hospital, giving us a great alternative perspective on birth. Don’t get me wrong, we read a lot too, including a hypnobirthing book (which really resonated with both of us) as well as a book of positive birth stories, to take away all the negativity that surrounds labour. Highly recommended, to cut through all the horror stories that so many parents love telling first timers.

In the early days, I just remember being an absolute machine, more efficient and productive than ever, surviving on a combination of Ribena, ready meals and pure adrenaline. My wife had to have surgery straight after the birth (which went wrong) so she was in a lot of pain and needed constant love and support. So all of a sudden I became head of the household; cleaner, cook, washer, dryer, carer, nappy changer, pharmacist, amateur gynaecologist, expert steriliser… the list goes on. It was a crazy time but I loved every minute.

Don’t get me wrong; it wasn’t all plain sailing. During our first community midwife appointment we learnt that Teddy had dropped too far below his birth weight, and needed to go on a strict three-hour feeding schedule (on the boob followed by an expressed milk top up) to fatten him up. That process was incredibly stressful for both my wife and I, as every feed took both of us around an hour and a half to complete… all day and all night. It was utterly exhausting.

But once we got him back above his birth weight (after about three weeks), things definitely calmed down. However I’d say it wasn’t until about the 12-week mark, when he started sleeping for longer at night, that things finally settled down. That extra few hours of sleep every night did the world of good.

Unfortunately I went back to work after the standard two weeks. While I would have loved to stay longer and even do shared parental leave, when we looked into it, it just wasn’t going to work for us financially. Those first few days back at work were totally knackering (particularly as we were both still feeding Teddy throughout the night) but my colleagues were really supportive and didn’t overload me straight away. For the first week, at least.

I would say that my wife and I are both very independent people, with our own unique interests and different tastes (particularly when deciding what to watch on Netflix). But I think becoming parents has turned us into an unbeatable team, sharing every responsibility and working together, better than we’ve ever done before.

Plus, seeing her transform from a wife into the most incredible, nurturing, silly, amazing mum, has filled me with a whole newfound and even deeper love and respect for her.

Fatherhood in one sentence: the best thing any man can do

To be honest, parenting has been so much harder than I ever imagined. I thought, having babysat all my nephews and nieces countless times, changed hundreds of their nappies over the years and eaten multiple Christmas dinners with a baby in my arms, I would have a head start.

But, despite all the warnings, nothing can truly prepare you for the exhaustion that you experience during those first few weeks with a new baby. Adding to that the feeling of absolute helplessness when your little one is crying or in pain but, despite trying every trick in the book, nothing you do will calm them. Breaks your heart…

Before embarking on parenthood, I wish I’d been told to read more about actually being a parent to a newborn and what to expect in the first few weeks and months. Don’t just focus on the birth. While this is, of course, the most daunting part (for new mums especially), in the grand scheme of things, it’s also the shortest. Take it from me; frantically reading your baby books and pouring over Google, invariably at 3am, to try and figure out why your baby won’t feed/sleep/stop crying, is best avoided.

If I could go back in time, I would be ready (like actually ready ready) for the birth at least a month before your due date. We thought, as is often the case with firstborns, that ours too would arrive late. But in reality, due dates are (more or less) a finger in the air estimate, with your baby just as likely to come anytime within a 37-42 week range. When we went into labour at 36 weeks, we were only half way through our hypnobirthing book and still had so many jobs we wanted to get done before the birth. Needless to say, next time we’ll be ready a lot earlier!

My advice to expectant parents: first up, do actually sleep when the baby sleeps. Despite everyone giving you this advice, it rarely happens in practice. Don’t put too much pressure on yourselves… the washing/ ironing/ cleaning/ gym/ Instagram scrolling can wait.

Second, during your pregnancy or in the first few months of parenthood, if someone offers you help, say YES, and ask them to make you a few meals for your freezer. These will be a total lifesaver and give you two of the best gifts that all new parents need… food and time.

And finally, don’t buy everything new. So much of the expensive baby kit you’ll need can be found second-hand online (most of the time, in tip top condition and at a fraction of the price). In particular, you don’t need to buy loads of clothes in the beginning (you’ll get a bundle of these as presents when the baby’s born). Instead, just invest in loads of baby grows and vests for the first four months or so, and for larger items, head to specialist charity shops like FARA Kids to pick up amazing bargains.

The greatest challenge I face, as a father, has got to be life as a working dad. Juggling a seriously busy job in the City while trying to be the all present, all singing, all dancing father I aspire to be (and also blogging on the side) is more than a full time job… it’s three! Plus, leaving every morning for work, knowing that I’m missing out on all of Teddy’s firsts, is a real killer.

But what makes it all worthwhile is that feeling when I pick up a crying, unhappy or just unsettled Teddy, and with nothing more than a pat on the back or a little squeeze, he instantly settles. Like he knows I’m his dad and that he’s safe in my arms. It doesn’t happen every time but when it does, it really is magic.”

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