A while ago, a friend said to me, ‘Until I had one of my own there was nothing more boring than other people’s babies.’
I felt the same until very recently, although I can pinpoint the moment I began to feel like a father-to-be. It was in Annecy, at the start of stage 10 of the Tour de France. We had arrived early and so I had time to wander through the Village Départ, the tented area reserved for invited guests, media, riders and so on.
I was browsing the boutique stall, where they sell Tour de France t-shirts and other merchandise, and without really thinking about it found myself queuing up and asking for two babysuits – one maillot jaune, one polka-dot – and handing over €30. It was, I thought, the first of many purchases made unquestioningly and in spite of the nagging voice in the back of my head telling me the price was a bit steep.
Since then there’s been quite a lot of waiting, frequent pangs of nerves that started in my stomach and, I’ll admit it, some dark fears which all began with the ominous question, ‘What if?’
And then, in the very early hours of Tuesday morning last week, I experienced in the blink of an eye some sort of personality transformation that I had not anticipated. A midwife came out of the theatre into the little seating area where I had been banished to wait worrying – panicking, really – after a series of complications had turned a stressful situation into a frightening one, and said, ‘She’s beautiful.’
The relief flowed over me and out through my tear ducts, leaving big wet splodges on my jeans. I squinted through the tears and composed messages for both sets of grandparents and aunties and then waited again for mum and baby to be taken into the recovery room.
Because of some complications, we had a difficult first week and when I’m able to think more lucidly in a few days or so I intend to write about our experiences of the NHS – an institution we should cherish and yet which seems, to me at least, to be on the brink. But I’ll save that for now because I have other priorities.
In the past week I’ve experienced the full range of new parent clichés. In time I’ll be able to laugh about the first night, when my partner was unable to get out of bed and I was left in full control. I felt like a contestant on the Crystal Maze, locked in a room with a sequence of tasks to complete in a critical but unspecified order while my partner passed on (mostly) helpful tips from a horizontal position. I changed baby’s nappy, watched helplessly as she did a wee like the Wembley arch all over her clothes (impressive, really), changed her into fresh clothes and then watched helplessly but just a little more broken as she gently spat milky vomit all over herself.
Last night I opened a nappy and was greeted with a sight that I can only describe as being similar to someone having dropped a tray of tarka dall all over the floor. And I didn’t even mind. What has happened to me?
I won’t go on, because I know that for many there is nothing more boring than hearing about someone else’s baby but we are all home now and doing well.
So there we are. Two have become three and the meaning of life has shifted significantly. Things I had previously fretted about will now have to play second fiddle to more pressing concerns like, where are the nappy sacks, are the bottles sterilised and will I get to sleep for more than two unbroken hours tonight?
For one reason or another, I’ve left it all a bit fashionably late for this, although not quite as late as some of my friends, and certainly not as late as the CEO of one of The Cycling Podcast’s sponsors thought. When he heard I was about to become a dad, he replied, ‘Grandad, surely?’
I won’t take that personally because I’m sure a merino wool babygrow is in the post by way of an apology.