Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The scream of death

Getting things done takes on a whole new dimension once you have a baby. Simple things that you used to do in a few minutes can take hours. My rule of thumb is to allow three times as long as you did before - and hope for the best.

Under these circumstances, cultivating a reflective, zen-like acceptance of things as they are, sounds like a sensible strategy. How exactly you do so at three in the morning when confronted with a small screaming thing is an entirely different matter.

The vocal utterings of babies are specifically designed to reach parts of you which no other sound is capable of. Heaven help us if Daniel suffers badly from colic. This daily pattern of unstoppable screaming can go on for hours at a time. Apparently the word itself comes from the German 'karlech', which translates as 'scream of death' - nuff said!

Saturday, October 28, 2006

In search of the big sleep

'Sleep while your baby sleeps' is a very good maxim - especially for mums recovering after childbirth.

One of the great things about being on paternity leave was being able to go bed at any time of day. Now that I'm back at work the 'paternal siesta' is a thing of the past. Thankfully, I haven't yet had to resort to crashing out on a nearby bench.

Still, today being Saturday it was like being on leave again - and after a bad night last night I think we earned a very late lie in. The other great thing about today was a cracking 3-1 win for my team - things are looking up!

Talking of toys

Naturally dads use babies as an excuse to buy new toys and kit.

Don't tell Liz, but I'm already planning a giant Scalextric set, with all the flashy pit stops and other extras that I didn't have with my modest, two lane, figure of eight track. Still, some things don't change, not least the enduring power of childhood heroes. You can keep Senna and Schumacher - I'll still be pretending to be Jim Clark!

Daniel is all of 21 days old today.

It's been a remarkable and eye opening three weeks, full of highs and the occasional 'oh my god am I ever going to get a decent night's sleep again?'

One of the great things about having a baby is the response of family, friends and colleagues. The house has been filled with cards, flowers, chocolates, toys and baby clothes. At work people I rarely speak to normally, stop me and ask how it's going. Everyone reflects a collective sense of joy, optimism and support.

Of course the 'babymoon' doesn't last for ever, but these first three weeks have certainly been very special. And he's making great progress. He was weighed yesterday and is now 6lbs (2.7kg), which is a very healthy gain on his birth weight of 5lbs 2oz (2.3kg). All that guzzling at the 'milk bar' appears to have paid off. He'll be measured for the first time next week, which will please my danish relatives who can't understand that we no longer measure babies at birth over here. Apparently they wriggle too much!

Being proud parents Liz and I have been avidly following his progress and noting those 'firsts' that parents always bang on about. I shan't bore you with all the details, other than to say that when he was born his Apgar scores (Activity, Pulse, Grimace, Appearance, Respiration) - taken at one minute and five minutes - were nine and ten, which is pretty exceptional. ;)

Friday, October 27, 2006

Children's TV - not what it used to be!

So Daniel may be too young to enjoy children's tv, but that doesn't stop his dad indulging in a bit of nostalgia. Here's the intro to one of my all time favourites. If you enjoy this look for the youtube clip of Mister Ed surfing off Hawaii - I kid you not!

Bargain home entertainment system

Here's Daniel enjoying his very own 'home cinema' system. For a few quid he gets a choice of twelve 'screens', a mirror to admire himself in, it's all completely portable and it goes most of the way around his Moses basket.

Who needs multiplexes and surround sound when you've got this?!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The milk bar is always open

Being breast fed, Daniel is fortunate to have food available on tap 24/7 - subject to mum being awake of course (and if she isn't he knows exactly what to do about it!). Dad's role in this process is somewhat limited - making encouraging noises off and supplying mum with tea, cushions and words of encouragement before rolling over and going back to sleep.

Hopefully we'll get underway with expressing soon so I can also do the milk thing.

The main thing is he's getting lots of healthy nutritious food - so there's no cause for Jamie Oliver to complain about his diet just yet.

Daniel's transport policy

Being something of an environmentalist, I feel a responsibilty to ensure that Daniel gets a good grounding in being a green citizen. So, where better to start than ensuring his personal transport has a minimal carbon footprint? The pram and the sling certainly pass the test.
As you can see, he occasionally has to do a few miles in his car seat - albeit in a relatively modest and energy efficient, family saloon.

If you want to do something about climate change - not least for the sake of children like Daniel, please sign up to the I Count campaign, co-cordinated by the Stop Climate Chaos coalition.

For more news about fun action to save the planet from global warming do take a look at my colleague Mairi's entertaining and informative blog - Climate Counts.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Daniel and the three bears

Daniel has already acquired three, rather special teddy bears.

The largest - bigger than Daniel - is getting on for fifty years old and is the one that I had as a child. The other two - a Steiff and a limited edition Gund - were both given to him by our dear friends, Paul and Liz (another of those coincidences).

It is thought the very first teddy bear was made in the US in 1902. The first Steiff bears were made later the same year and had their debut at a toy fair in 1903. For more about teddy bears see here.

Oh, and as you can see Liz's Sweep also joined in the fun.

Back to work

The 'babymoon' is nearly over. It's been a fantastic couple of weeks and I'm back to work tomorrow.

I'm lucky. I work for the RSPB, a wildlife conservation charity supported by over one million members with a shared interest in saving birds, wildlife and the environment. Here are the grounds of our HQ at Sandy in Bedfordshire - not a bad place to go to work every day.

We'll be signing Daniel up to the RSPB's junior section, the Wildlife Explorers club. If you want to encourage your kids to take an interest in the natural world this is a great club for them to join, with quality magazines and lots of activities.

What's in a name?

So, amazing coincidences aside, why did we opt for Daniel Jensen Lewis?

Lewis of course is a given. Jensen was my mother's maiden name and therefore carries on the family line from my danish grandparents. It's also the name of a world famous danish jeweller and this classic seventies sportscar. Not to be confused with Jenson as in the racing driver, Jenson Button. We figured Daniel was pretty versatile - Daniel for a professional, Danny for a footballer and Dan if he wants something plain and simple. And of course, if he's suitably cool we can simply call him DJ.

Sex, names and coincidences

We chose not to find out whether we were having a girl or boy. There aren't enough surprises in life and I wanted this to be one.

Liz was convinced from the outset that we were having a boy. So, we gave 'him' a working title of Stevie Gerrard. Some of my family and friends were worried that if it did turn out to be boy he'd be named something ridiculous like Stevie, Kenny, Rafa. Ok, I am a keen supporter of Liverpool FC, but even I recognise that you can take a good thing too far.

We did the usual thing of trawling through a book of baby names and shortlisting our favoured options for a boy and a girl. We'd pretty much decided on Daniel Jensen Lewis for a boy, but that we'd see how it felt before confirming it. Then something rather amazing happened.

We arrived at the hospital at 5.30am, Daniel was born at 1.45pm and I left the hospital at 9.30pm. I got into the car - exhausted but elated - and switched on BBC Five Live. There was a football commentary on Denmark v Republic of Ireland - and the first danish player to touch the ball was called Daniel Jensen. Now I'm half danish and I like my football, but I'd never heard of this guy before. That's what Liz calls a 'sign' - and who am I to argue?

The other remarkable coincidence that day occurred in the delivery room, when the midwife asked to check Liz's full name and address. Her patient labels carried her maiden name -Elizabeth Rose - since when we'd got married. Turns out there was a woman called Elizabeth Rose giving birth in the next door delivery room. You can imagine we kept a close eye on baby Daniel to ensure there were no mix ups!

Incidentally, I see that Daniel Jensen joined his current club two years ago on 15 July - the same date as our wedding...

A special gift for special babies

Because Daniel weighed in at under 2.5 kilos, he was obliged to spend his first night in the Special Care Baby Unit - 'skiboo' for short. While you wouldn't elect to have your baby go there it does have some advantages. It's very quiet, the lighting is minimal and the staff are wonderfully attentive. Best of all skiboo babies get a special gift when they leave.

The lovely ladies at Cambridge Quilters supply the unit with their colourful, baby quilts. Daniel is pictured with the one we chose for him. It was made by a lady called Sue Morris.

Thank you Sue - it's beautiful and such a lovely idea.

The scariest night of my life

Is how one of my colleagues described his first night at home with his first child.

Thankfully, bringing Daniel home wasn't quite so frightening. However, lying in bed at night listening to him snuffling like a hedgehog (well they are both in constant search of milk ) makes you very aware of the responsibility you've taken on.

Because he was low birth weight, he and Liz spent four days in hospital. This isn't such a bad thing as you have 24/7 expertise to draw on. In my experience hospitals aren't exactly fun - hot, noisy and depressing are words that spring to mind.
The staff at the Rosie Maternity Hopsital were tremendous, both during the delivery - not straightforward - and afterwards.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Taking your baby out

Today we went for our first proper outing with baby Daniel - other than a brief visit to work a few days ago. This time we we took the shiny, new pram - a lovely Silver Cross Freeway. Getting the carrycot, chassis and car seat in and out of the car takes a bit of practice.
You soon realise that you can't do anything in a hurry.

We had a lovely walk around the delightful Moggerhanger Park - designed by Sir John Soane, who among other things designed the exterior of the Bank of England and the dining rooms of 10 and 11 Downing Street. The house boasts an excellent tearoom and we enjoyed a very tasty lunch under the autumn sunshine in the courtyard.

The art of changing nappies

I'm sure there must be an art to this - or is it just a question of practice making perfect? Or at least more bearable to both parties?

Getting up in the middle of the night, half asleep faced with an unhappy - indeed possibly screaming - baby, is not hugely conducive to effectively manoeuvring around delicate and fragile parts of your precious child's anatomy.

And of course if you have to organise a complete change of clothing as well...?

Those tiny arms and legs are waving around, your little darling is screaming and you can't manage to get the poppers done up properly. Surely there is an easier way, or am I just an incomepetent, cack-handed, dad who needs to work on his co-ordination skills - and develop a zen-like acceptance of the here and now ;)

Perhaps you've mastered this particular art? Perhaps the boffins at Mothercare are about to come out with an easy change, one-piece babygro and nappy that requires a couple of simple strips of velcro and magically reduces the risk of squashing those delicate baby limbs.

Not to mention soothing the nerves of anxious, tired parents. Do let me know if you have the magic solution.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Three great baby books

It's really helpful to read up in advance and to have some quality reference material. Here are three very different books that I've found useful -

Peter Downey's So you' re going to be a dad (Simon & Schuster) - very funny and informative. Promoted as 'The bestselling book for new dads.'

Jack O'Sullivan's He's having a baby (BBC) - great photos, great layout and very easy to dip into with lots of helpful anecdotes.

Penelope Leach's classic Your baby & child (Dorling Kindersley) - according to Claire Rayner 'There's only baby book that really works - this is it.' Looks pretty comprehensive to me.

Please do add your own recommendations.

Five things you should know about childbirth

Approach it with an open mind - whatever you anticipate and plan for be prepared for things to be different on the day.

Trust the experts - they've done this hundreds of times before. This isn't to say you should relinquish all responsibility to them, but the delivery room is no place for improvisation!

It's OK for dads to cry - and what's more it's good for you.

It hurts - and not just for the mother!

Leave the camcorder at home - at times it was scary, bloody, distressing and exhausting. Yes it was a fantastic experience, but I have no desire to re-live it, nor does my wife.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Birth of a baby...blog

It's nearly two weeks since baby Daniel weighed in at 2.31 kilos - or 5lbs 2oz for those of you who like me are more comfortable with using 'old money'. It feels timely to reflect on an amazing experience and share it - especially with other first-time fathers.

I hope to provide some helpful advice, maybe some reassurance and certainly a place where you can exchange ideas, questions, and concerns. I'm hoping that those of you who've been there and done it already will make it easier for us by sharing your top tips and helping to put things in perspective.

Let the adventure begin...