Raising Roo: Flying With a Carry-on Baby (Part 2)

…When the time for boarding finally came, Alex and I gave each other a quick pep-talk, sent a prayer to a god we don’t believe in, and strapped Roo to my chest in a baby carrier. 

This setup kept him happy for all the time it took to queue, scan our tickets, and make our way to the crowded gangway where we immediately came to a halt while the slow procession of passengers crawled into the confines of the plane. Stuck in the overpopulated metal tube, Roo vented the frustration we were all feeling and began to cry. Thankfully, as previously mentioned, my wife is an organisational queen and within seconds of his first sooky croak she had a tupperware container full of snacks out and three rice crackers stuffed into his tiny fist. As is so often the case with all of us, food turned his mood upside down and he was soon happily munching away while making eyes at anyone who looked his way.

Boarding further fed his need for attention as we picked our way down the aisle through the seated passengers, who, in desperate need of anything to distract them from their immediate discomfort, found the image of a little person strapped to a big person’s chest greatly entertaining. We moved down the length of the plane in a wave of smiles, partners tapping each other to point out the toddler at chest-height, and assurances of Roo’s cuteness from little old ladies who gave his foot a squeeze in passing like a worshipper grazing the fingers of a tiny cult leader.

We seated ourselves and, after three years of flightless lockdown, the illusion of the joy of flying that we had held in our heads was shattered as we instantly recalled just how little legroom a passenger is allotted. The sense of claustrophobia was only amplified by the baby on our lap who, in some weird M.C. Escher twisting of space, also didn’t have enough leg room despite his legs being the length of cucumbers. 

We were approached by a stewardess who provided a baby seatbelt and inquired if we were familiar with how it worked. I demonstrated through the carrier that I was well-versed in strapping my child to my body and we buckled Roo in, Alex’s turn this time, and then attempted to keep him that way and not squirming onto the young man who had the misfortune to be seated in the third seat of our row. 

We idled on the tarmac and Alex and I got to work jiggling keys, pulling faces, singing songs, plucking out vomit bags from the seat pocket to play with, and pointing out everything and anything that might serve to hold Roo’s interest for longer than thirty seconds. We were the jesters to the young prince and this juggling of distractions kept his lordship happy up until the big moment: take off.

Demonstrating once again that she is a force of forethought, my wife had prepared what is essentially a porous pacifier full of fruit that forces the infant to chew and suck in order to get the tasty treat into their mouth, meaning that as we elevated and the pressure shifted, Roo’s jaw was working hard, thereby avoiding the pressure build up inside his ears. Our little man was smiling and satisfied the whole way up, entirely unaware that he had just risen to a cruising altitude of 35,000 feet. 

Once we were up, we de-tensed a little, able to unbuckle our boy and pull out a tablet to mesmerise him with bright and colourful moving images. Roo climbed our bodies like ladders, peeking over our shoulders and some of the nearby passengers took over the load of providing entertainment, smiling and waving and falling under Roo’s cheeky spell.

Then the unthinkable, but what we prayed for to any god listening prior to boarding, happened. Roo leant back against me, Alex angling the tablet towards his eyeline, and he remained still. We held our breaths, equally as still as our son, and shared shocked glances as Roo’s eyelids drooped, and drooped further, then sprang open, then eased closed, and stayed that way. The patron saint of parents had answered our prayers and delivered up the holy grail of mid-flight transit possible scenarios – our baby slept. 

Our natural instinct was to holler and high-five, but we managed to restrain ourselves and instead whispered words of praise and congratulations to each other. While they gave no sign of the momentous event that had just occurred, I’m sure our neighbouring passengers were silently sharing in the victory. 

We spent the next thirty minutes grinning silently at each other and whispering how great we were at the whole parenting game while Roo dozed merrily on and we careened ever closer to Athens. My arm grew steadily more and more numb but I embraced the pins and needles, reasoning my limb was the sacrifice needed to appease the patron saints of parents and, if so, then it was a reasonable price to pay. 

Then, from down the aisle, we spotted the trolley. The metal cart jangled and clanked as it was pushed down the narrow thoroughfare, the too-smiley stewardess behind it speaking bubbly and loudly over the roar of the engines. We scrambled for a polite way to indicate for her to leave us the hell alone but any attempt at deflection would have meant matching her in volume and so, instead, we smiled as she approached and begged her with our eyes to be quiet. She provided the lunch options for the flight in her loud, syrupy voice and we whispered our responses and tensed around our boy, as if somehow we could cocoon him from all disruptions through sheer exertion.

The stewardess eventually trundled on and both our sets of eyes darted over Roo’s face, which remained soft and doll-like and asleep. We sagged back into our seats, wiped the sweat from our brows, and inspected what food we’d ended up with. To begin with, we tucked the sandwiches away, afraid the crinkle of packaging would be our undoing, but hunger and a growing sense of daring pushed us towards testing the limits of this blessing and sampling just a bite. 

Eventually we capitulated altogether and chewed merrily away on a surprisingly tasty hummus and sun-dried tomato sandwich while Roo continued to slumber across me.

After an hour in sleepland, his little head came up, hair in disarray, and we launched into long and detailed praises of what a wonderful boy he was as he blinked up at us before swatting at a vomit bag.

The captain announced the descent and we prepared for the final test of the journey. Alex had a second fruit pacifier ready and waiting, which at this point must come as no surprise to you, and so we descended as we ascended, with Roo chewing and slurping away and Alex and I acting nonchalant while tense from top to toes, ready for the re-pressurisation to kick in and our boy to transform into a howling monster. 

Thankfully, with the assistance of further snacks, inflight magazines, and adjoining passengers who mouthed sweet nothings at Roo from across the cabin, we touched down without seeing the Mr Hyde to Roo’s happily babbling Dr Jeckell. We had a few impatient grunts while waiting for the torturously slow disembarking (with us in the middle of the aircraft, effectively putting us the end of two lines as passengers shuffled to either end of the plane) but they were coming from Alex and I as much as Roo, so we couldn’t really complain.

A crowded bus took us to the airport, Roo held in my arms but with him dutifully holding onto the pole for added security, and then we had done it. We were in Greece. The sunshine was hot, the terrain dry, and both us and our fellow commuters had arrived without our ears ringing from two hours of a screaming child. A miracle had occurred in the skies that day and we hugged our boy and informed him that he was, in fact, an angel.

This opinion wavered on the three-hour drive from the airport to our accommodation where, in the final hour, our angel decided he’d had enough, that he was snacked out, that a second nap was out of the question, that no cartoon, no matter how bright and idiotic, could hold his attention, that any attempts of comfort were unappreciated, and the only way to express himself was to cry at top volume with tears and snot decorating his face in ribbons. 

Alex and I shared a look, shrugged, turned up the volume of the radio, and agreed that it was better that it was happening here, in the cabin of our car, with just us as an audience.

We arrived at our beautiful accommodation, our villa perched on the side of a hill with a view of the bay below us, exhausted, rung out, but essentially in one piece. Roo perked up once he was able to stretch his legs and made himself quite at home in the new digs, to the point that Alex and I almost could have believed the last hour was a shared delusion except for the tinnitus whining away just on the edge of our hearing.

We got Roo fed, dressed, and laid him in his crib, where, with some gentle encouragement, he finally succumbed to sleep, and then we called for some take away. We inhaled the gyros and chips on the terrace, the hummus and sun-dried tomato sandwich a distant memory, in view of our own private pool and with the lights of the bay blinking on, appreciating none of it and waiting only until we had digested enough to justify going to bed.

But when morning broke the next day, the sun painting the sky a rainbow of dusk colours and Roo waking at a time to ensure we could appreciate it, we reflected on the previous day’s success and sent out a final thanks to the patron saints of parents for having taken us into their fickle embrace.

We had done it, we had flown the two hours with a baby and had achieved the supreme victory of having had most of the other passengers oblivious to the fact that they had shared their journey with a pressure-sensitive bawling grenade.

We were able to replicate the experience on the return flight, complete with a mid-air nap, and Roo only crying in the final fifteen minutes as the pressure difference finally got to him and he became inconsolable. Thankfully this stopped the minute the pressure equalised and he returned to his previous activity of chowing down on a rusk stick.

In a week’s time we will once again take to the air and our new-found confidence will be put to the ultimate test. Rather than a two-hour jaunt across Europe, we will be flying to the planet’s southern hemisphere, to my home of Australia, a journey that takes two flights, a four-hour layover, and a total of twenty-four hours to complete.

Please pray for us and may the patron saint of parents have mercy on our souls.

Next week’s topic: The Fear that Comes With Fatherhood

My maestro of management, my force of forethought, and our angel/devil enjoying the tropical rewards of flying

Raising Roo: Flying With a Carry-on Baby (Part 1)

Having a baby in the middle of a global pandemic has meant that, for basically all of Roo’s life, our family of three have been home bods. Given that Alex and my preferred state of being is in tracksuit pants on the couch reading books, this has set Roo up with a realistic expectation of things to come.

Still, despite our love of burrowing down into a nest feathered with home-cooked meals, movies, books, coffee, chocolate, chips, and long chats on the couch, there’s a big beautiful world out there and we felt bad that our son had only seen a very small portion of it. We started to worry that we were raising a hermit and Roo would start school unable to identify basic landmarks and asking questions of his teacher such as “What is that big burning circle in the sky?”. 

With the objective of literally expanding our boy’s horizons, we booked a holiday to travel to the far off and exotic land of Greece. Which, given I now live in Europe and not Australia, is not actually as far off and exotic as it used to be when I was growing up, and in fact can be gotten to from Vienna in the same amount of time it takes to fly from Melbourne to Sydney. Alex spent her childhood summers playing on the white sands and in the blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea, so Greece seemed like a fitting location to take Roo on his first getaway. I spent my summers splashing around the not-quite white sand and not-quite blue waters of Portarlington Bay, which, ironically, on this side of the planet is seen to be far more exotic than the Greek Islands. Apparently exotisism is all about distance. I hope to take Roo to Portarlington in the future to really round out his maritime experience.

While the commute to Greece was far more economical from my current residence, it still required the use of an aeroplane to get there, which meant we voluntarily paid good money to climb into a cramped and crowded metal tube with a baby and a gaggle of strangers. This made us more than a little nervous.

Thanks to the supreme organisational skills of my wife, a turn on of mine and one of the many reasons I married her, we headed to the airport with an arsenal of goodies designed to dazzle and distract a one-year-old boy no matter his level of agitation. We went into the experience ready to bribe, weasel, beg, and proffer any and all of our possessions in order to ensure Roo’s equanimity. Were we ready to debase ourselves to appease a one year old? You bet. Did we care if it meant avoiding hours of a wailing infant confined to our laps and two-hundred odd people glaring at us from the corners of their eyes? Not in the slightest.

Thanks to Roo being an unerringly early-riser, to the point that I’ve disabled the alarm on my phone as I now have a baby that performs the same function — the clock clicks over to five and you can be guaranteed that his little sleepy cries will soon come wavering into our ears via the baby monitor —we were up and about well before our scheduled flight of ten am. Alex had yet again earned her title of maestro of management and had all items packed and post-it notes on the back of the front door listing those last few possessions that needed to be tucked inside the suitcase. Roo contributed to the preparation process by graciously accepting the food we hand-fed him and then deigning to allow us to remove his soiled diaper and wash away his mess without too much fussing. He’s a real team player.

Thanks to my father-in-law, we made it to the airport right on time, bade farewell to Opa, and then waded into the mass of humanity that seems to fill an airport regardless of the hour. Having sequestered ourselves away from humankind like devout monks during the pandemic, this was our first foray back into the fray of society and, to be honest, being around so many people freaked us the hell out. There were so many of them, packed in and moving in all directions, and Alex clung to the suitcase while I clung to Roo held in my arms like buoys in a turbulent ocean. 

We found our check-in line and wove down its undulating length to the end, far from the counters, and watched a man in line berate anyone who hesitated by the express check-in, unsure where to go, barking at them that the line starts back there and that that counter wasn’t open. Alex and I shared a look and, without needing words, agreed that we hadn’t missed this aspect of our community.

Thankfully, the mass of people that so exhausted us was a novelty for Roo and staring directly at strangers, unblinking, a contemplative scowl on his face, kept him relatively entertained as we painstakingly inched towards the counters.

Once we had shed the suitcase and secured our tickets, our next challenge was getting through customs. This is already an unnecessarily complex procedure, what with electronic devices needing to be removed, pockets emptied, boarding passes presented, and potentially deadly bottles of hand disinfectant and deodorant safety secured in plastic ziplock bags. We learnt that adding a baby and a fold-away pram into the mix made it even more of a juggling act as we hustled our possessions and offspring around between us, ending up sweaty and frazzled but with the backpacks and pram on the conveyor belt and the child in our arms. It could have easily been the other way round. 

When it was determined that neither our items or toddler posed any potential explosive risk, we entered the interior of the airport with a sign of relief. We had made it to the waystation between the madness of the exterior airport and the claustrophobia of the aeroplane and so celebrated our temporary respite with sugared doughnuts, as is only proper. While discovering the joys of deep-fried dough coated in sugar, Roo put his also newly discovered art of flirtation into action with everyone and anyone in our proximity. Given we were in a capital city’s primary airport, this gave him a lot of people on which to practice. 

Roo has a bluntness and confidence to his flirtation that I’m a little jealous of. His tactic is to just walk up to his target until he’s about a metre away and then stop and stare until they acknowledge him. For people who like babies, this is almost instantaneous as they turn to coo over his fluff of blonde hair or cherub cheeks. More entertaining is when the quarry is clearly unaccustomed to small people and do their best to ignore the unblinking toddler at the edge of their eyeline, despite the invasion of the normally respected personal boundaries. Eventually, Roo wins this battle of wills and they turn and give him an awkwardly formal greeting, and this is when Roo sinks in the hook. After waiting all that time, he locks eyes with them for one heartbeat and then gives a coy smile and adverts his gaze, waits another beat, and then looks up through his lashes with a shy grin. The man is a pro. Once this little performance has played out, they’re putty in his hands. 

Of course, this entire recital makes Alex and I extremely uncomfortable as we are torn between not wanting to bother other people with our offspring, not wanting to constantly have to collar Roo as he learns about the outside world, and, perhaps most importantly of all, not wanting to make awkward conversation with the collection of random strangers and potential weirdos our son approaches. Generally it plays out with Roo making his move, us all agreeing he’s adorable, and Alex and I hustling him along until he spots his next prize.

Once the doughnuts were digested and we had torn Roo away from the latest object of his affection, we made our way to our gate. This process, normally done quickly and efficiently in order to allow Alex and I a sense of solace at having arrived at our gate before the aircraft, was a much more protracted affair as Roo took three steps back for every four taken forward. Given this playground of lights, people, stores, bathrooms, and rows of seats set out before each gate purely for his clambering entertainment, Roo saw no reason not to crisscross the entire terminal, stopping only to inspect, grab, lift, lick, and poke his finger into anything that caught his interest. He walked with the assurance of someone with a total right to be there, meaning it was up to Alex and I to guide, corral, and snatch him out from under the feet of unseeing fellow passengers and their rolling carry-on suitcases.

The act of herding a toddler through a busy airport had the added benefit of keeping us busy and providing us with some exercise while we waited for boarding. When the time for boarding finally came, Alex and I gave each other a quick pep-talk, sent a prayer to a god we don’t believe in, and strapped Roo to my chest in a baby carrier. 

(To be continued…)

Raising Roo: Year One

The earth has completed a full lap of the sun since I first looked upon the face of my son and was awarded the title of “Father.” And it’s taken about that long for the moniker to feel like it fits.

When word of our having successfully created a human leaked, people responded with lovely comments such as “Way to go, new dad,” or “Fantastic, Papa Jon!, or the less popular “Congratulations on your progeny, begetter.” Whatever form of address was used, I couldn’t help but wince away from it, feeling like I hadn’t earned it. After all, what had I really contributed to the process up until this point? A small amount of genetic material delivered in a rather enjoyable way and then it was all Alex from there. Her body housed and nurtured this fragile embryo, fanning air into the spark of life and providing the building blocks for each and every cell while I waved from the sidelines and occasionally massaged her feet. 

A father was someone who worked and sacrificed for his family, but nothing had really changed in my routine up until that point. I still read fantasy books and watched sitcoms, played on my phone and ate an irresponsible amount of peanut m&ms. To try and wear the title of father felt like walking around in my dad’s suit, two sizes too big for me and loose around the collar, and expecting to be taken seriously.

I was a kid who had somehow found himself responsible for a baby and was winging his way through it, and the weirdest bit was everyone just went with it. Here in Austria, you first need to complete a course and obtain a “dog licence” before you can own a dog, but there’s no vetting process for making new life. You tell the world “I have decided to procreate” and everyone just pats you on the back. Thankfully, my wife felt the exact same way, so while we saw ourselves as frauds, at least we were frauds together. The other good news was that Roo didn’t know or care how we felt. He was just a baby, after all. He didn’t know much.

So there we were, the three of us suddenly sharing an apartment together, and figuring it all out together. We all started with the basics: keeping the baby alive. For Alex and I, this meant mastering how to feed, clean, and put a baby to sleep, while simultaneously feeding, cleaning, and putting ourselves to sleep. For Roo, this meant mastering the mechanics of sucking, a complex idea involving negative pressure and multiple minute mouth muscles, and one which he figured out, thankfully, almost automatically. I wasn’t sure what we’d have done if he hadn’t; how do you explain sucking, after all? Much less to a baby with no communication skills. I don’t think Alex would have appreciated me giving a practical demonstration.

After this first hurdle was more or less successfully leaped, with the skill of everyone getting sufficient sleep still a bit wobbly, we moved on to mobility. Alex and I took our first tentative steps outside wearing the hats of “mum” and “dad” (or, in Austria, “mama” and “papa”), venturing into the world with the new accessory of a baby. Given our insecurity in our adopted roles, this accessory turned out to bring a lot of undesired attention from members of the public who suddenly felt no compunction about approaching strangers to talk directly to their baby. As an afterthought, we were eventually addressed by these baby superfans, but only to enquire after the specifications of the baby — age, gender, bowel movement frequency — before they wandered off and we were left figuring this was simply a part of our new occupation.

Roo also acquired his own form of locomotion. This entailed the mighty effort of transitioning from his back to his belly in a rolling movement to the left. Always the left. Perhaps, having mastered this action, he saw no reason to deviate from a successful manoeuvre. Maybe he just liked rolling left. Either way, we were as proud as if he were a gymnast who had performed a perfect triple double, and cheered him on like the genius he was. 

Six months in and the title of “Father” was beginning to feel less like a role I was playing and more like a part of my identity. When people said the word “Dad” I no longer looked around for Peter Robb, wondering what he was doing in Austria when latest reports had him on the other side of the globe in Australia, and realised they were talking to Roo about me. It helped that my earlier statement about nothing having changed in my life rapidly became untrue and I had successfully morphed into the perpetually tired, overworked, falling-asleep-on-the-couch state of being that all dads eventually adopt. While my phone, book, and TV time had definitely taken a hit, I did manage to maintain my habit of eating an irresponsible amount of peanut m&ms. This, coupled with no time to exercise, helped transform my physique into that of a dad bod, which assisted in me accepting my honorific. You have to look the part, after all.

Roo was also figuring out where I fit into his life and when asked “Where is Papa?” would think long and hard before eventually turning to me with a finger raised in my direction. This act of identification was equally celebrated as any of his world-shaking achievements, cheers worthy of someone having divined an essential truth of the universe, and evidence further tabulated into the genius column. It also caused me to realise all over again that in this child’s eyes, I was Dad. That for him I wasn’t wearing an ill-fitting costume and pretending, I just simply was Dad. This understanding was simultaneously venerating and terrifying. The power of a Dad is vast and a careless statement can stick with a kid for years. Who am I to be bestowed with this level of influence? And why is there no university course for this? It could be called “Introduction to Parenting: How Not to Fuck up Your Kids.” I believe enrollment numbers would be high.

A clarifying moment for me came about via a cliche. Roo continued to evolve at a rapid pace and before long he had transcended past rolling and figured out how to manipulate his limbs into the action of crawling. Within days of striking upon this groundbreaking act of forward momentum, he was slapping his way around the apartment, no longer confined to the metre patch of carpet we had laid him on. Alex and I watched on with pride swimming in our eyes and fear in our hearts as he barreled head first into anything and everything that was in his way, regardless of whether it was a battering match he would win. 

The cliche that crystallised my status as a father was that of the male role model returning home from a long day’s work, hanging up his hat and jacket, and being greeted by his enthusiastic offspring. While I sadly don’t live in the fifties and own an era-appropriate fedora to hang on a hook, the rest of the tableau was fairly accurate. I turned the key and stepped into our entrance way, and from the living room heard the echo of my son’s tiny hands slapping the wooden flooring becoming increasingly louder. His face popped through the doorway at ankle height and he stopped to survey me before a giant grin swamped his features in recognition and he continued his journey, bum wiggling in excitement. As I swept Roo up from the ground and felt his weight and warmth settle into my arms, the bond of father and child felt entirely normal and natural, and a sense of contentedness spread deep into my bones. Roo then stuck his finger up my nose, but eleven months into the parenting game and this also felt entirely normal and natural.

I have an uncle, Darren, who throughout his life has worked a cornucopia of jobs across a smorgasbord of fields and his philosophy is that you have to first work in a position for a year before you can determine if it’s something you like, something you can do, and something that fits. 

On the occasion of Roo’s first birthday, as Alex and I presented him with his cake and we watched on with joy and pride as our little boy demolished his baked good with the exuberance and vigour of Godzilla attacking downtown Tokyo, I knew with certainty that being Roo’s dad was something I liked, something I can do, and something that fits.

Next week’s topic: Flying with a carry-on baby

Raising Roo: What Goes in Must Come Out

The relationship between food consumption and the terminal endpoint of this food’s journey through the digestive tract is one that is well known. Put simply: we eat, we poop. 

The facets of this complex interplay between our source of nutrition and our body’s assimilation and elimination of organic matter was originally explained to me by a giraffe puppet in a van parked in our school’s parking lot. While this may seem like the opening of a crime novel, one in which the next scene involves my parents finding my bed empty and a giraffe puppet left in my place, it wasn’t as sketchy as it sounds. The van was called the Life Education Van and the giraffe was called Harold, a character all us kids believed was real despite the fact that Harold only appeared from his hole in the van’s wall when the educator was pressed up against the same wall within arm’s distance of Harold. And despite the fact that Harold was clearly a puppet.

But except for the Victorian Government’s unique efforts to bring health education to primary school children, the mechanics of digestion is something not normally discussed in polite society. We invent euphemisms for it, saying socially acceptable statements such as: “I’m going to go wash up”, “I just need to relieve myself”, or “I’m going to drop the kids off at the pool.”

One of the first things you pick up as a new parent is that poop is no longer taboo. In fact, poop very quickly becomes a favourite topic of conversation. Some would even say an obsession.

Our journey into the defecation delights of our offspring began the first night in hospital. Due to the COVID restrictions at the time, I had been hustled out of the hospital and sent to my room like a misbehaving child, so I was sadly not there when Alex opened Roo’s tiny diaper and discovered the black sticky gold that is meconium. For the uninitiated, meconium is a baby’s first poop and is vastly different from the substance we’re more familiar with coming out of our backsides. It’s often described as a black tar-like substance, which isn’t something you expect to see leaking out of your newborn miracle of life. The upside is that it’s essentially odourless. The downside is the knowledge of what it’s made of.

Some of you may have already ventured down the thought-train of wondering how a baby that has previously never enjoyed a good meal has anything ready and waiting in his lower colon. It turns out that babies want to come out of the gate fully set up for that first delicious drink, and so in order to prepare their digestive system, they start taking small sips of whatever they can get their mouth around. Given that they’re suspended in a soup of amniotic fluid, amniotic fluid is what they drink.

This in and of itself is no great concern; amniotic fluid is a rather sterile substance. The problems start to arise when all this liquid they’ve drunk wants to come out, so their newly developed urinary system gets to work and pees most of it out, only it has nowhere to go except back into the fluid in which they’re suspended. But the baby still wants to practice their drinking so they guzzle it back down. And so the cycle continues. 

But urine isn’t the only additive to their amniotic brew. Thrown into this cocktail is flaked-off skin cells, fine fur-like hairs that the baby sheds in-utero, and equal parts mucus and bile, all of which slides down their tiny throat to pool in the belly and kick start the first journey through the newly minted intestines. This collected, digested, and compressed assortment of ingredients are what make up the black diamond that is meconium.

It is this disgusting and oddly fascinating secretion that is the gateway drug into the addictive world of being a diaper detective. 

When we first brought Roo home, his input concerned us more than his output. We were on the lookout for wet nappies, of course, but knew if we couldn’t get anything into him, there was no point worrying about what came out. 

Breastfeeding is a challenge for anyone, and despite the fact that this is how we’ve evolved to survive during these early helpless months, there’s no guarantee it will actually take. We went in fully armed, baby courses completed, books read, and breast pump warmed up and ready to go. Thankfully, Roo inherited his parents’ appetite and willingness to eat anything put in front of him, and so took to the nipple with the same gusto Alex and I take to a punnet of ice cream. This meant we didn’t have to wait long for poop number two. 

When that little brown stain appeared in the lining of his diaper, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was gold he was passing and not faecal matter given the sounds of celebration coming from Alex and I at this momentous occasion. We praised him on his cleverness, hoisted him aloft like the victorious hero that he was, then quickly returned him to the change table to avoid being peed on. 

It wasn’t long before we had a shared google sheet drawn up to track his colonic expulsions, the document updated with the accuracy and diligence expected from my nursing days. Each movement was oohed and aahed over appropriately before being wiped up and thrown away. The one who had done the wiping would handover to the other, providing details on size, odour, colour, and consistency, and, on a good day, the anatomical locations the poop had managed to track to despite our boy being essentially stationary. His best effort was the base of the neck, which, I know, seems to defy the laws of gravity, but there you have it. 

**GRAPHIC CONTENT WARNING** (You didn’t really think you’d get through this post without seeing poop, did you?)

Our super sleuthing showed that the pattern of pooping was not always consistent, with the average duration between soiled diapers being two to three days, but sometimes extending to as much as a week before we again mined that brown coal. On these occasions we would wait with baited breath at each nappy change, peeling away the layers of absorbent material, only to slump our shoulders and shake our heads at finding a urine-only deposit. Please let me make it clear: it was for the health of our child and the reassurance that his plumping was flowing as it should that we were so keen to discover his next poop, not some sick delight in adding to our defecation collection, like a twisted version of Pokemon Go. Gotta catch ‘em all.

Once we crossed the five day mark and the poop drought was still ongoing, we would begin to get nervous, imagining the giant mass that must surely be building in Roo’s large intestines. I would gently palpate his abdomen, feeling for any collections and watching for signs of discomfort. Roo would smile and drool, as happy as if he’d had his morning constitutional just minutes ago. 

It was then that we would usually turn to the internet, which anyone living in the modern era knows can be an activity fraught with fear-mongering and misinformation, the equivalent of bathing in grease-coated water in an attempt to get clean. Nevertheless, we would dive into these depths, battering away sites convincing us of deadly diagnoses or miracle cures, to the haven of scientifically-mediated pages. It was here we learnt that it’s not uncommon for an infant to go a week without dropping their load and that it’s usually a sign of a growth spurt. Essentially, the baby’s body is working so hard figuring out the world and increasing in size that it uses every drop of resources available to it. Given there’s not a lot of bulk in breast milk in the first place, it leaves the bowels barren and any residual waste is disposed of via the urine. 

When the drought finally broke and we would see that look of concerned concentration on Roo’s features that we had deduced meant our son was involved in some internal reorganisation, we would cheer as if the rains had fallen on the drylands and dubbed Roo with the title “Super Pooper.” 

The joy in our new found hobby soured when Roo started on solid food. With carbohydrates, meat proteins, and fibre to fill out his downstairs cargo, those cute little near-odourless milky poops suddenly got an upgrade to proper stools, and while they didn’t match the volume of an adult voiding, they made up for it in strength of smell. 

The other thing that changed was Roo’s sudden interest in what we were getting up to down there during a diaper change. I presume he reasoned that given we were paying so much attention to his undercarriage, there must be some event taking place in which he should participate. And so, as not to miss out, he would plunge his hands down into the mess and grab and squeeze whatever he could get his fingers on. Those fingers would then reach lovingly for our faces to caress our cheek or perhaps do some finger painting with this newly discovered medium. 

This combination of increased odour and the risk of walking away with a poop handprint somewhere on your person cured us of our addiction and meant we instead would feel a trickle of dread every time Roo crawled over with a little extra junk in his trunk. Lately, while she’s prepping him for an outing, I’ve caught my wife whispering instructions to Roo to do all his pooping while he’s away, before handing him off like a loaded gun to the unwitting friend or family member kind enough to volunteer to babysit. 

This stool story, of course, still has a long way to go as we face the future challenge of toilet training, but for now we will continue to wind our way through the wastelands, breathing through our mouths, fending off rummaging little hands, and praising our boy on a job well done, hopefully sending the message that every number two makes him number one in our book.

Next week’s topic: Year One

Raising Roo: Birth Story (Part 3)

I navigate my way through the hospital maze to a small supermarket built into the building and buy some fruit, a bread roll, and a sandwich. When I walk into the suite, the victorious hunter returning with food, I feel like I have accomplished my first useful contribution for the day. It’s fair to say that Alex has been doing all the heavy lifting.

We eat, Alex sitting on a large inflatable ball, bouncing a gentle rhythm, me in a chair, and Christina on the bed, and Alex and Christina talk while I eat my sandwich. There’s grit in my eyes when I blink and a headache at the back of my scalp telling me I haven’t had enough sleep, but I feel wired from adrenaline and relief that Alex is looking better. 

I have seen my fair share of suffering during my time as a nurse, but was always able to disconnect myself from it, playing the role of the professional. But having someone I love afflicted with such torment right in front of me fills me with a hollow despair that is hard to swallow. 

Christina performs another examination and is happy to report that Alex’s exertions have cracked her cervix open to four centimetres. We all cheer and then Christina leaves to tend to her responsibilities, and we find ourselves, shockingly, bored. The epidural pump chirps with each dose of analgesia it pushes into my wife’s spinal column, announcing that it has everything under control.

I lock eyes with Alex. ‘Wanna watch TV?’

She shrugs. ‘I could go some Friends.’

I set up a laptop on a wheeled table, curl up behind my wife on the bed, and we watch Chandler attempt to keep his relationship with Monica secret from the rest of the gang with hilarious repercussions. 

About halfway through the second episode, Alex speaks up.

‘I can feel it again.’

I’m instantly alert. ‘The contractions?’

‘Yep. But weirdly only on the left side.’


‘Yeah. It’s like someone’s drawn a line down the middle of my body that the pain can’t cross. But I can definitely feel it on the left. Through my stomach and back.’

‘Is it bad?’

‘Nothing compared to before, so I’m not complaining.’

‘Can I do anything?’

‘Just watch Friends with me.’

I settle back into the mattress a little less at ease than before.

By the time the third episode is about to start the pain has ratcheted up to the point that I turn off the laptop. All of Alex’s attention is pulled towards her discomfort. She gets out of bed and tries pacing around the room, pulling her IV pole around with her. It isn’t long before she has to sit down again, the pain dragging through her body in ceaseless waves.

Christina returns and Alex updates her on her condition, gritting her teeth throughout sentences as the contractions grip. She is looking pale again. The hollow feeling in my gut is blooming. 

Christina administers a bolus dose of the anaesthetic to try and get back on top of the pain and we give it half an hour. By the time we reach the deadline, Alex is moaning through each spasm and hasn’t spoken for the past twenty minutes. I suggest to Christina that we call the anaesthesiologist back to try and reposition the line, fearful that it has slipped, causing the strange hemispherical numbing that Alex is experiencing. Christina pages them and we wait.

After what feels like an eternity of joint deep breathing and pain lines deepening on my wife’s face, the resident returns and I am shooed from the room. I pace again for ten minutes, fatigue forgotten with fear taking the reins, before being allowed to return. Alex looks no better.

The resident gives another bolus before leaving and a cheerful goodbye, having accomplished exactly nothing. Alex is on her side in the bed, sweating despite the moderate temperature of the room.

‘How are you holding up, beautiful?’ I ask.

‘There’s no break,’ she says, out of breath. ‘If I could only get a break. But they’re one after the other.’

She’s cut off as what looks like every muscle in her body constricting to its limit. I encourage her to breathe and tell her she’s doing great.

‘Oh god,’ she pants, ‘my left side. It’s my left side. Why isn’t there a break?’

I rub her shoulder and breathe with her through the next contraction. She looks exhausted. Her body has been working since two in the morning and I have no idea how she’s expected to keep going. She purses her lips and forces her chest to slow, to not hyperventilate despite the adrenaline screaming at her to do just that, and rides the latest crest of pain. I am simultaneously distraught and bursting with pride. She is so strong.

The afternoon ticks away, time measured by the endless cycle of contractions and marked by the next strangled moan that Alex no longer tries to suppress. We cheer her on, applauding when she lets the pain out in an explosion of volume. Christina comes up with various strategies from her bag of tricks to try and speed the process along and provide Alex with some measure of comfort.

She has Alex shift to all fours on the bed and then drapes a folded bed sheet over her hips, with Christina at one end and me at the other. We pull back and forth in time with each other, Alex’s pelvis swaying in between, as if we’re trying to polish her backside to a high sheen. The movement is designed to help shift the baby lower and trigger further dilation of the cervix.

Next, we reconfigure the bed so that a cushioned part of the bed head folds down, allowing Alex to get her elbows onto it and rest her weight, knees tucked under her. She complies, but struggles against the paralysing effect of the all-but-useless epidural. The resident’s latest bolus did nothing to tamp down the pain and only managed a complete lack of sensation in my wife’s lower right body. She giggles and sobs as she tries to draw her right leg up, sliding back down in a puddle of pain and exhaustion. 

In the end, I manhandle the limb into position and she sags against the bed head, spent. After ten minutes, this position only amplifies her discomfort and she slips back down onto the mattress, knees under her, arms at her side, and head on the pillow turned to me. Her face is red, sweat-damp hair stuck in a scribble across her forehead, and her eyes are pleading for a respite. I stroke back her hair and hold a cold wet cloth to her face, the best I can offer and completely insufficient.

A look of panic crosses her features. ‘I’m gonna be sick.’

I bolt upright, looking around, knowing there’s no vomit bags from my perusal of the room earlier in the day. I grab a cardboard kidney dish from a stack by the window and shove it under her chin. Alex vomits, over-strained muscles squeezing again to empty the contents of her stomach. The kidney dish is full to the brim.

‘Just wait, lovely, I need to swap this over.’

I turn away, moving painstakingly slow to avoid spilling the hot liquid over the floor. I feel a rush of elation as I place the dish down without losing a drop. I’m reaching for another when I hear the gag of the next vomit coming up behind me. My shoulders slump.

I turn to find my wife slumped into the pillow, eyes red rimmed and a fan of spew on the sheets from her mouth to down over the edge of the mattress.

‘I’m sorry, love. I was too slow.’

She just closes her eyes, wanting it all to go away. 

With the help of soap, warm water, and fresh towels, I clean up Alex and the bed, and get a few mouthfuls of water down Alex’s burned throat. 

After another stretch, a doctor comes in, a short skinny man, and announces he needs to do an inspection. Christina has been working hard to report back to the doctor on shift, thereby circumventing any need for him to visit. After five minutes in the room with his arrogant demands and clipped bedside manner, I’m appreciative of Christina’s efforts.

We get Alex onto her back and I notice her eyes are squeezed tightly shut, riding out yet another body-jerking flood of pain. I narrate what’s happening.

‘The doctor’s just doing an inspection to see how dilated you are. You will feel a bit of pressure.’

‘I don’t care,’ she whispers.

Fair enough, I think, and kiss her forehead.

She lets out a grunt as the doctor probes his way inside, far firmer than Christina’s examinations. He takes his time and when he finally straightens, he pulls off his gloves and announces that the baby is face up, the less than ideal position for birth, and one that increases the likelihood of needing a caesarean. Having successfully lowered the mood of the room, he leaves. 

‘Fuck that guy,’ I say to Alex, ‘you’re doing great.’

She grunts in acknowledgement of my inspirational speech, or perhaps she is just grunting. She’s in a lot of pain, after all.

The intensity of the contractions continue to climb and a long drawn out moan comes from deep in Alex’s throat. I feel smothered by the pulsing need to help, to take this load from my wife’s shoulders for a spell, and want to scream at my impotence. 

‘Can I do anything, babe?’ I beg.

‘My hip,’ she pants. ‘Can you massage it? Oh god, it hurts.’

I feel a gush of gratitude that she has granted me a purpose. I make a fist and gently knead my knuckles into the flesh over her left hip.

‘Harder,’ she says.

I press deeper, rolling my fist back and forth.

‘Harder, please.’

I lean forward, letting my weight fall down through my arm until Alex’s skin pillows around my knuckles. I’m genuinely worried I will bruise her. I rock back and forth, watching her face to make sure I’m not adding to her pain.

‘Yesss,’ she breathes, features relaxing a little. ‘Better.’

I raise my brows and nod, and get to work.

At around five-thirty in the afternoon I look at my phone and find I can’t reconcile the time displayed on the screen with my own internal clock. Alex’s ordeal feels to have stretched on for far too long, for days, and yet wasn’t it only a couple of hours ago that we were in our bedroom studying a collection of amniotic fluid pooled on the bed?

Alex divulges to Christina that she needs to use her bowels, but is unsure how to go about it given her right side isn’t giving or receiving signals at the moment while her left side is a cacophony of contracting agony. Christina answers with just one word, ‘Bedpan,’ and makes the call to stop the epidural altogether. At this point, it’s only doing more harm than good. She holds down the power button, suffocating the chirping once and for all, and disconnects the tubing. 

Between the three of us, we manage to position Alex on her knees, bedpan cradled between her feet as she squats down on top of it. Utter exhaustion has robbed her of the ability to hold herself erect for long periods, so she lowers her weight onto the bedpan, folds herself forward until her head is on the pillow, and tries to ignore the pain long enough to let nature take its course. 

After twenty minutes of no action, Christina suggests that the bedpan be removed. Alex begs her off, stating she is too tired to attempt moving. We cajole her, promising we will help, but she is used up and groans that she simply can’t. It’s when I notice that her calves and feet, still drawn up under her, are turning a shade of purpley-blue more commonly found on drowned victims than healthy pregnant women that our entreaties become demands. Alex turns her head so she is facedown on the mattress, summons resources I’m amazed she still has, and with great effort and discomfort manages to manipulate her numbed leg and get onto her back, allowing blood to flow back into her limbs. 

‘I’m just going to do another quick inspection, okay?’ Christina says.

Alex’s lack of protest acts as consent.

‘Yeah, so you know how you thought you needed to poop?’ Christina says, head reappearing. ‘I think that was your body letting you know you’re ready to push something else out.’

Adrenaline surges through my tired body like electricity. ‘Did you hear that, babe?’ I say. ‘You’ve done it! We’re in the home stretch.’

She nods, brow furrowed and sweat running down her cheeks.

After the interminal whiling away of the day, the endless cycle of Alex bracing, us breathing together, long deep moans, and all too brief moments when she can slacken before the next round starts again, things are suddenly in motion. Christina is at Alex’s other side, instructing her to bring her knees up. I’m dimly aware of other midwives coming and going, but can’t spare the attention. 

‘I can’t lift my legs,’ Alex huffs through the effort of trying. Her body is still unresponsive from the epidural.

We bring her hands and thighs together until she is curled up, face red and eyes still clenched closed. 

‘Okay,’ Christina says close to Alex’s left ear, voice calm and reassuring, ‘so, you’ve been clamping down with each contraction, keeping it all in, right? Now I want you to do the opposite. When the contraction hits, I want you to push for as long as it lasts. You understand?’

Alex jerks her head in a nod, lips curled inwards.

‘Are you contracting now? Then push!’

Alex cranes her head forwards and a strangled cry warbles from her strained throat, her face going a deep red. 

‘Pushpushpushpushpushpushpush!’ Christina cries.

Not knowing what else to do, I lend my voice to hers.


‘Now breathe!’ Christina orders.

Alex sucks in air, cheeks drawn taunt and mouth trembling. She collapses back into the pillow, fingers losing their grip on her legs. Christina and I take up each limb, raising them to help add more power to Alex’s labours. 

‘Excellent! When the next one comes, I want you to do the exact same.’

Alex’s hands make fists in the bedsheets and she bends forward again, every muscle from her neck, shoulders, back, and abdomen locking rigid as she pushes with everything she has. 

‘Pushpushpushpushpushpushpush!’ I encourage.

‘Keep going, keep going, keep going,’ Christina calls, bending towards the end of the bed to inspect the progress. 

Alex’s face is veering from red to purple, the pressure and lack of oxygen painting her features an alarming mask.

‘Breathe, baby! Breathe,’ I say into her ear, and she must hear me as air explodes from her open mouth and her face returns to a more normal colour.

This is how it goes. Alex strains, silent and unbreathing. We cheer her on. Her face discolours and I beg her to breathe. She draws in air with a cry or a sob or a scream. Repeat.

Christina provides feedback of Alex’s progress, somehow managing to be beside Alex, coaxing her on, and at the end of the bed, coordinating efforts, all at once. I hear mention of a head and peak between Alex’s legs to see a flash of the wet dark features of my child for the first time. It is alien, the colour unsettling, and so very very wonderful.

Alex is dipping into reserves I swear had run dry hours ago, face glossy with sweat, eyes pinched closed, teeth bared, and pushing on like a warrior. I am awed by her. I know that no athletic effort I have done has asked so much from me, that I have never known the physical toll she is enduring. She has run a marathon and is somehow sprinting towards the finish line.

I find myself babbling, words of praise tumbling from my lips, telling her how well she’s doing, how I admire her, love her, and to just hang in there and go a little bit longer. She is so consumed by her exertions that I have no idea if she can hear me, if it’s helping at all. It’s helping me. 

‘A big push, now, Alex. The shoulders have to come through,’ Christina calls from the end of the bed.

I repeat the instructions into Alex’s ear, feeling guilty for demanding more. She doesn’t react, but when she next tenses, she gives everything she has left, body coiled with strain, muscles trembling, a wail escaping her whitened lips, and pushes. 

There is a small chorus of exclamations from the other end of the bed and movement as midwives reach for blankets.

‘You’ve done it,’ Christina says, and I hear the relief in her voice. ‘Your baby is out.’

A tension unlocks inside me and deflates like a balloon. ‘You did it,’ I whisper to Alex, pressing my forehead to hers. ‘You amazing thing, you did it.’

Her eyes are still closed but she flashes a tired smile. I kiss her cheek and taste the salt of her struggles. 

Then Christina is approaching with a bundle of white and red blankets and, nestled within, a perfect new little lifeform. Alex lifts tired arms, opens her eyes for the first time in the past hour, and looks upon the small sticky face of our child.

‘What is it?’ she asks in a dreamy voice. ‘I mean, a boy or a girl?’

Christina bats tears away from her eyes and laughs. ‘You’re the one who wanted to see for herself. You tell me!’

Alex tugs aside the material and smiles. ‘A boy.’ Her eyes lock with mine. ‘We have a boy.’

He lets out a croaky little cry as Alex repositions the blankets and then he calms against his mother’s chest. 

I gaze at his features, taking in the minute details of lips and chin and ears and cheeks, all sculptured in ideal and fragile lines. He is so beautiful my chest aches and I want nothing more than to protect and love him. 

I lean in, face pressed to Alex’s, and kiss my son for the first time.

Next week’s topic: What goes in must come out