Imagine a nice middle-aged woman walking up to you on the street. She hands you a baby girl and says, “She’s yours now, take good care of her!”
Standing there, holding that baby, you’d probably be feeling a few different things – baffled, confused and fundamentally, totally, out of your depth. That’s pretty much what I was feeling the first time I held my daughter, Elsie Brebner.
Now, to be fair, the nice middle-aged woman was a midwife in the hospital, and I’d been given 9 months’ notice that this event would be taking place. But that didn’t emotionally prepare me for being a new dad in the slightest.
WELCOME TO THE WORLD
Elsie Philomena Brebner was born at 12:03pm on Thursday 22 October, 2020. The days leading up to her arrival were a tad complicated. Babies, in the weeks prior to their birth, are meant to flip into an upside-down position, so that their head is down towards mum’s pelvis.
Elsie didn’t get the memo. Two weeks before her due date, she was lying sideways. We were informed that this was an unsafe position if Renée went into natural labour, and as a result, Renée checked into hospital for observation.
Over the next three days, Elsie flipped into the correct position, and then, after two failed attempts to induce labour, went back to being the wrong way up. Two days after that, our little gymnast was born by Caesarean Section.
C-Sections are balls-to-the-wall crazy. We were taken into a freezing operating theatre where eleven people were preparing for the surgery, eleven. Five minutes in, a doctor yells out ““I can see feet” and I look up to see two tiny legs coming out of my wife’s belly.
After Elsie was successfully evacuated, we were led into surgery recovery for our first bit of quality time as a family. An hour later, a nurse took us up to our hospital room and told us she’d check back in with us in a few hours.
“Woah, woah, woah, a few hours?!” She was gone before I could say the words, but my mind went into full postpartum freak out. “What do we do with this baby? Where’s the step-by-step guide?”
After a couple of nights at the hospital to recover, we checked out. I’ve never conducted a bank heist, but walking out of that hospital with Elsie felt like, I imagine, just strolling out of a bank holding a duffle bag stuffed with their $100 bills.
All the way down to the car, I’m just thinking “Really? You’re really just going to let us walk out of here? You’re not, like, concerned? Like, at all?”
These first few days of being a new dad have been pretty overwhelming. As someone who actively sought parenting advice on everything from which SUV to buy down to the best brand of diapers, I’m surprised I didn’t get a pep talk about this.
No one pulled me aside and said, “Hey Sam, the first few days of being a new dad can be pretty overwhelming. You might feel out of your depth and worry that you’re not up to the job. That’s totally normal.”
So, in the event there are any parents-to-be reading this: the first few days of being a parent can be pretty overwhelming. You might feel out of your depth and worry that you’re not up to the job. That’s totally normal.
ONE STEP AT A TIME
Whenever I’m overwhelmed, I’ve found the best strategy is to take things one step at a time. Rather than getting worked up about whatever big challenge lies ahead, I focus on doing what’s right in front of me.
Raising Elsie to be a morally upright, fully functioning adult is too much to comprehend. Heck, even thinking about what the next year is going to look like leads to mental overload. But I can change this diaper, I can help get her settled, I can tell Renée she is doing a great job.
When I was holding Elsie less than an hour after she had been born, more than anything in the world I just wanted to be a great dad. But it’s not enough just to want that. It’s not enough to just visualise being a great dad until I eventually assume the persona (white tennis shoes and all).
In my work with Real Talk, when I’m presenting to Year 7 and 8 students, I’ll tell them, “Our choices today shape who we become tomorrow.” It’s a cliché, but the point I’m trying to communicate to these young people is that their choices matter.
We don’t become the person we want to be by thinking about it. We become that person through the choices we make every day.
The challenge of being a great dad is overwhelming. But I can change a diaper. I can figure out why Elsie is crying (like, 70% of the time). I can wrap her up into a cute little baby burrito.