“That’s a nice idea, but you’re never going to do it.”
“You’ll change your mind, believe me.”
“Wow. I can’t believe you’d let him do that.”
These are the things people say to you when you tell them you are planning to split your year’s parental leave in half to spend six months with your first baby, then hand over to their Dad for the next six.
It’s understandable. Pregnant people make all kinds of unrealistic plans:
Of course I can work from home with a newborn!
My baby will never eat anything that comes from a jar.
My baby will sleep through the night from six weeks.
I will never, ever bore my friends silly with endless stories about poo and teething…
But this one, the plan that my partner Brent and I cooked up in the very early days of peeing on sticks and avoiding soft cheese, this one stuck.
When we decided on it, we had no concept of just how unusual we were. It seemed like common sense: We both had jobs we loved. I earned more money than he did, so the extra coin would be welcome. I was extremely keen that parenting would be shared in our home and Brent was more than happy to give it a go.
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He asked his boss. His boss said, ‘Help me find someone to cover your leave and you’re on’. He did. Plans were laid. We didn’t consider it a big deal.
But, turns out, it was.
Only two per cent of Australian men take parental leave. That compares with up to 40 per cent in (you guessed it) countries like Sweden and Denmark, and even Portugal.
The midwives at the Early Childhood Centre were sceptical. “Where do dads take babies?” one asked me. “The pub?”
Other people weren’t sure it could be done.
“You just won’t want to hand over that baby and go back to work,” I was told often.
And some expressed disbelief that a man – A MAN – could do the drudge work of looking after a baby, day after day. Only a mother, surely, knows how to fill those hours between naps. How your little one will only finish their mush if you feed them the first half in their highchair and the second on your lap. Only a woman, surely, knows the right way to jiggle that tiny person to sleep, to comfort them when they’re whingey, to remember tummy time and to pack the wipes and to make sure that bottle isn’t too hot, or too cold, but just right.
Holly and her first child.
And as the day came closer to me going back to the office, like every mum at that moment, I was a conflicted mess. On the one hand, I couldn't wait to get back to using my brain, to being around grown-ups all day. But on the other, I had an inkling of how much I was going to miss my daughter.
And I was right. Those first days and weeks back at work, I would sprint to get home just to hold her. The feeling I had, of anticipation of seeing her, holding her, smelling her, was exactly comparable to the first flushes of a love affair - when you can't stop saying your lover's name and their knock at the door sends your tummy hurtling up and down a rollercoaster of excitement. She was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen. Love songs were about us.
So, yes, of course I missed her.
Holly and a very new Matilda.
But it turned out that after a bumpy start (Matilda fell through the high-chair on her first day, and there were many, many second outfits forgotten on poo-explosion days), a man can look after a baby. Brent didn't do it the way that I did it, the schedule lasted less than a week, but he found his own rhythm, his own routines, and he and Matilda became a tight unit. She didn't forget me, she still reached out her arms to me when I came home.