Burning 2am new parent question? Ask Dr Google. Need help timing contractions? There’s an app for that. Nick Devoy negotiates the new-baby world with fast broadband’s help
Back in March 2019, my wife revealed we were going to be having our first baby. Within a second of her delivering the news, I experienced two emotions. One was absolute elation and the other doesn’t have a name but is likely the same feeling a large company gets upon learning it is going to be audited by the IRD.
Happiness met trepidation met excitement met unholy terror. I’d never had a kid of my own before and the last time I had been in close proximity to breastmilk was in the mid-80s. How was I going to pull this first-time dad business off?
The nerve-wracking trepidation soon dissipated however, when my wife and I remembered we now live in a world powered by high-speed broadband. Anything we need is literally at our fingertips.
We did all the standard doctor and midwife appointments of course, but what do you do when you want a burning question answered at 2am in the morning? Well, the answers are in the palm of your hand – if your palm happens to be holding a mobile phone or smart TV remote. There are thousands of apps and how-to videos available to the first-time parent, both for leading up to the birth and for once your little sprog has safely arrived. With all that lightning-fast assistance available 24/7, how hard could this parenting thing be?
Fast forward nine months. My wife was having little pangs (called Braxton Hicks or false labour pains). It sounded like the little man was gearing up for his journey out. I sprang into action, grabbing the car keys. “Right, let’s do this, I’m ready,” I said. I soon learnt my wife was anything but ready. Labour can last days and we were merely at the start of a very long week. If labour and childbirth can be likened to long-distance international travel, we hadn’t even arrived at check-in.
My wife then schooled me on the multitude of ‘Am I in labour?’ contraction-timer apps you can download. Don’t know when to go to the hospital? No problem. Whip out your smartphone, open your contraction-timer app and it will tell you. A green smiley face means you are fine for now, a yellow serious face means Dad needs to start loading up the car and a red worried face means things are about to get messy unless you get to the birthing suite ASAP.
The birth itself was a textbook one, no dramas. And he hadn’t even been towelled off properly before the first baby selfies were up on Instagram. Name and weight attached to photos of brand-new bubba were communicated to hundreds of people in a nanosecond. No need to text or call 37 different people, just tag whoever you need to in a Facebook or Instagram DM. Dads of old used to bring a bulky Kodak and several rolls of film to the hospital, then take the film to the local chemist to be developed, only to realise the flash hadn’t been turned on. All this Dad needed was a charger and decent Wi-Fi access.
The first few weeks of parenting are best described as a baptism of fire. You are in the trenches and your only option is to charge into the fray. My wife and I quickly discovered one life-saver however: you can Google everything you think may be wrong with your baby at any hour of the day or night. Questions can include: Why won’t my baby stop crying? How do I know if my baby has reflux? How long should my baby sleep for? And, how long before my baby is old enough to get a job, so it can start contributing to household expenses? Generally, the search results are reassuring – up to a point. Most googled baby advice concludes with some kind of disclaimer – for example, “if you are unsure, consult a medical professional.” This is another way of saying: We ourselves aren’t 100 percent sure what is wrong with your baby, so please don’t sue us if something bad happens.
My advice regarding googling anything health-related? Don’t. I once had a lingering pain in my neck, and Dr Google told me it could be many things, the most likely of which was a flesh-eating virus. I went to see a real-life orthopaedic surgeon and it turned out all I needed was a more supportive pillow.
LIVING IN A SIT-COM
There are the smart TV apps to help you out too – Netflix, Lightbox, Google Play, Spotify, TVNZ On Demand etc. All of which come in very handy during those sleep deprivation marathons you encounter in the first couple of months. Legend has it that while Steven Spielberg was filming Schindler’s List (because of the heavy subject matter) he took to watching episodes of Seinfeld in the evenings to wind down.
As fate would have it, TVNZ On Demand released the full Seinfeld series around the time our baby was born. I swear Seinfeld’s theme music can de-escalate the most stressful of situations (specifically that upbeat slap bass music played between scenes). We used to binge-play episodes during arduous feed-and-nappy-change sessions that happened at all hours of the night. Pretty soon it was like we were living in our very own sitcom.
YouTube is another treasure-trove of self-help for the budding parent: Nappy changing for dummies, therapeutic infant massage lessons, New Age acrobatic breastfeeding techniques. Then there was me thinking you had to have NASA-level accreditation to install a baby car seat, but it’s surprisingly easy once you watch a step-by-step video.
There are also lots of distracting Wiggles clips Mum and Dad can play on repeat while racing to eat some food themselves while baby sleeps – finally. There’s also the 10 hours of ambient lullaby music or white noise to gently coerce said bub to sleep… it’s all there. Sometimes you are that exhausted you start to question if there is a God. From my experience, there absolutely is, and He/She delivers at a speed of around 1000Mbps.
BOOMERS ARE OK
Almost three months in, I still ask myself those nervous parent questions that no YouTube self-help video or mobile app can answer. Will my kid turn out okay? Will I do a good job? And, how is it possible for so much faecal matter to come out of such a small human? Seriously, the ratio of breastmilk to poop doesn’t equate, in my opinion. If I didn’t know better, I’d say someone is tipping entire jars of whole-grain mustard into my son’s nappies when I’m not looking.
This aside, we have it a lot easier than our own parents. In the high-speed broadband, Wi-Fi world we now live in, we don’t have to wait for anything any more. It’s all there at the touch of a button or the swipe of a screen.
In my opinion, the whole Boomers versus Millennials biffo that’s going on at the moment... well, first, we should respect our elders, because they are the ones who invented and then built the telecommunications infrastructure that makes our modern lives so luxurious. They didn’t have contraction-timer mobile apps or Dr Google back in their day. If their baby was screaming all night for some ungodly reason, they had to wait until morning when the Plunket helpline fired up – and they had to use an ancient piece of analogue hardware known as a landline phone.
They didn’t have smart TVs to help pass the time during those long sleepless nights either. The Goodnight Kiwi used to come on late in the evening, wave tauntingly and say, “Sorry folks, I’m done for the day, you’re on your own from here.”
Boomers also taught us good old-fashioned parenting – you know, the real-life version that an app or smart TV can’t help you with. They read books to us, taught us how to use our imagination and play outside, cleaned and bandaged our scrapes and cuts, taught us to cross the road and ride bikes and kick rugby balls, and growled at us when we were cheeky. Good, solid, bread-and-butter Kiwi parenting that no app or self-help video can replicate.
We youngsters should count ourselves lucky that we can pass all that down to our own kids, but also eat some humble-pie because we have these fancy tech devices and fast internet which all makes modern first-time parenting a teeny bit easier.
Nick Devoy is a data integrity specialist at Chorus. He has been working in the telecommunications industry since 2015. He lives in Hamilton with his wife and baby son.