Bag it Up

No, this is not a column about Geri Halliwell’s (frankly dubious) former UK number 1 single.

This is a column about preparation, my friends. It’s about getting down to the serious business. It’s about packing a bag – and packing it like a goddamned champion.

Popular culture has been a constant reference point for me throughout our pregnancy experience. Since I was but a nipper, I’ve been conditioned by hundreds of spoken, written and televisual narratives to develop certain expectations about this epic journey. Some of the ideas which emerged from this process are buried in my unconscious, but some are front and centre in my mind… like the Hospital Bag.

You know the scene:

Our favourite sitcom characters are expecting a baby, which could arrive at any minute. Lady character wakes up in the middle of the night – her contractions have started!

She shakes awake her hapless partner, Male character, who tumbles comedically onto the floor, popping back into view with wild eyes filling the screen. “Get the Hospital Bag!” Lady character exclaims with rising alarm.

Male character stumbles around the darkened room, ramming clothes haphazardly into a canvas holdall. An incredulous Lady character yells: “You haven’t packed the bag? WHY HAVEN’T YOU PACKED THE BAG??”

Ladies and Gentlemen, let us be clear: there is no way on Earth that I am going to be that clown.

With the ignominious fate of Male character haunting my dreams, I have spent a significant amount of time obsessing about getting the preparation right. I’ve gotten pretty deranged at points, to be honest. At my worst, I announced to my partner that I intended to drive the route to our local hospital 15 times before we reached the 8th month; thankfully, her withering, tearful laughter was always at hand to keep such insanity in check. Still, as a person more accustomed to leisurely disorder, it probably does me good to err towards structured thinking.

As it turns out, driving the route 5 times was enough. With that cracked, I thought it high time to start work on the bag. Imagine my horror when I discovered that the Mother of my child had packed the damn thing already.

Of course, when I examined my feelings of surprise, of failure, even of jealousy, I started to realise how stupid they were. My baby bag would have looked like this:

  • A nightie
  • Some random clothes

My partner’s real life bag, according to www.babycentre.co.uk, should look like this:

  • Birth plan
  • Maternity notes
  • Dressing Gown
  • Slippers
  • Socks
  • …a nightie (I got that much right, folks)
  • Massage oil
  • Lip balm
  • Snacks
  • Isotonic energy drinks
  • A hairband
  • Books and Magazines
  • Extra pillows
  • Toiletries
  • Music

Pretty clearly, the experts in this scenario are the expectant mothers and their predecessors, not dads-to-be with a chip on their shoulder about looking like a twat. In fact my partner, diligent as she is, had already taken a range of preparatory steps – the hospital bag was only the start. Sitcoms, it turned out, had maliciously misrepresented my part in the birth of my child. I was pretty miffed.

Pop culture having failed me again, I went looking for some practical ideas: what preparation could I actually do to make a difference for us on the big day and beyond?

There’s a lot of mum-centric advice out there, but not a lot for Dads. Eventually though, I was able to create an action plan for myself, based around three central pillars:

  •  Things my partner would find annoying
  •  Things my partner would find difficult
  •  Things my partner would find too tiring at an advanced stage of pregnancy

First up, I can learn in advance to change a nappy.

This might sound daft to some people who can’t imagine why it’s worth mentioning – but my investigations indicate that it will sound equally daft to a large number of men who take no part in nappy changing and can’t imagine why they should. From a personal perspective, I’ve never relished the idea of changing dirty nappies, but my other half will have a huge amount on her plate once bump emerges. If I can’t manage the basics without coaching, it will do her head in.

For that reason, I’ll be seeking out an opportunity to practice on a live baby ASAP. Then, I’ll be reinforcing the lesson by practicing on dolls, soft toys and whatever else I can source (cut to shot of Dave desperately trying to attach an expensive, highly absorbent diaper to his writhing, wailing cat).

Second in line, I can work out how to operate the pram.

My partner has already raged at the baffling nature of the pram. She has growled, stormed from room to room, assaulted it… her unhappiness is well stated at this point.

I know she doesn’t need this kind of stress; I know that, between us, I’m usually the one with a knack for building things. So in the next few weeks, I’m going to work out how to build the pram, then practice putting it up and down a couple of times each week. This way, I can hopefully skip the traditional new-parent stage of struggling with the equipment and go straight to the effortless proficiency stage when baby arrives.

Thirdly, I can fit the bloody car seat.

I am reliably informed that some hospitals won’t let new parents take the baby home, unless they have a properly fitted car seat into which the little one can be snugly plugged. We have such a car seat – but we haven’t really thought about how it needs to be set up. Furthermore, the process of attaching it will probably involve lots of crouching, lifting and straining in the back of our new car – not exactly work for a pregnant lady.

A chance for me to make myself useful, then.

And that, in a nutshell, is what it’s all about. Some of the specific actions I’ve decided on will translate to other expectant fathers, whereas other elements will be entirely peculiar to us – and my little list is hardly exhaustive – but I reckon that the three basic rules above are pretty sensible, if not rocket science.

For those of you out there who, like me, want to feel useful as the due date approaches – and for whom the act of simply getting stuff ready will be therapeutic – I reckon they’re a decent place to start.

Until next time, may your Pram be simpler to arrange than a Rubik’s Cube.

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