Saturday, June 11, 2016

Roll call at Maine Med's Boot Camp for New Dads

“My name is Jeff and I promise never to shake my baby”.

I delivered this promise to a room full of strangers early one Saturday morning at Maine Medical Center's Boot Camp for New Dads.

We went around the circle and each father-to-be spoke the same solemn words. It felt awkward, silly, and a bit dramatic, but it stuck in my head. Of course none of us planned to shake the baby. That was common sense. But it was sobering to hear just how close our instructors had come.

“There’s that moment,” they told us, “when you’ll be stressed out, you’ll be sleep deprived, the baby will be screaming and foaming at the mouth, and you’ll be on the edge of losing control”. One of the instructors implemented a creative solution: he ran outside and jumped into the snow. He also suggested screaming into a pillow, doing jumping jacks, or attempting to break dance. I knew babies were tough but I hadn’t considered “emotional break down” levels of stress. It was valuable advice from new Dads who had been there before.

After some serious conversations, we quickly moved on to lighter fare. During one break the instructor Dads, both in their 30s, disappeared and re-emerged with their real life babies. It was time for show and tell. I assumed the mothers were probably waiting outside, peaking through the blinds, making sure everything went smoothly. One baby was a squirmy 5-month old boy who resembled a cannonball with arms. The instructor explained that he had plumped up on breast milk. “Crying could mean any number of things”, he said, “but in his case it's probably not hunger. Just look at him”. We laughed. The baby flashed a knowing grin.

Next we were given a diaper changing demonstration. This was no traffic school horror show. The diaper was clean. However, they recounted cautionary tales of “diaper blow outs”. We learned that this phenomenon can occur when the baby’s output is so intense, so vigorous, that it can blow a hole through the diaper. Who knew that was even possible?

One of the instructors recounted his experience with a diaper blow out at a bowling alley. With no suitable changing table in site, he attempted a diaper change on the lanes. As the diaper was coming off his son exploded like a poop grenade, spraying the surrounding walls like a newborn Jackson Pollock. A heady silence fell over the classroom. Another knowing grin from the baby on the floor.

After a short break it was time for the main event: the ceremonial holding of the babies. “Who wants to hold him?” the instructor asked, extending his squirmy 5 month old. I glanced awkwardly around the room hoping someone else would step up to the challenge. The room fell silent. Being closest to the front of the room, the baby was gestured towards me. I accepted and soon the wiggly little cannonball was seated squarely on my lap. Suddenly I had tiny baby fingers probing my teeth and gums, gripping my fingers, and pinching my neck. If I ignored him for a few seconds he would twist and turn, flip on his back, and begin what I'd call an “alligator roll”. This was easily combatted by bouncing or swaying which seemed to put him at ease. When I returned him, the instructor flipped him up and over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes, holding him with one arm. It reminded me of an experienced waiter balancing multiple plates on his arms. I’m still the inexperienced busboy in that scenario, trying not to break any glasses.

It was clear that the instructors loved being fathers. Their enthusiasm and confidence was infectious. They reinforced what I’ve been hearing a lot recently: that modern fathers want to be more involved in childcare. This was reflected by the 15 new fathers who joined me that Saturday morning. It’s definitely true for me. I’m looking forward to changing diapers, reading books, giving baths, and mastering bottle feeding. I’m eager to hone my baby holding technique. I want to be the Dad who goes everywhere with my baby strapped to my chest. I’m sure I’ll have plenty of time to practice. For now it’s research, planning, and waiting.

See you in a few months!