The 'Circle of Vomit', a poo that resembles "leaking Bovril" and a humbling confrontation with your own uselessness. Here are the 10 things that will take new dads by surprise. By father-of-two JJ Dunning.
1. IT ISN'T ABOUT YOU, YOU SELFISH IDIOT
Unless you're Arnold Schwarzenegger in Junior, or a male seahorse, you'll not have known the sheer strain of being "with child". Nor will you ever be able to relate to the exquisite trauma of giving birth. This means that, first of all, you should abandon any naive attempts to empathise with your partner's predicament.
Thinking that now might be a good time to tell her about when Dave from football suffered a compound fracture of his right femur and was in agony is not a good idea. Neither is relaying that time you trod on an upturned plug. Just be sympathetic and supportive, but not too "helpful", and take whatever abuse/ripped-out hospital equipment that comes flying your way squarely on the chin.
2. LABOUR WILL HIGHLIGHT YOUR USELESSNESS
Be prepared for this bit: standing by helplessly as your partner is tortured by her own abdominal muscles is stressful and distressing. But then again, which would you rather be; a teensie bit awkward and frightened, or suffering excruciating agony as your undercarriage is slowly torn asunder in front of an audience of strangers?
Regardless, the whole experience will make you realise how un-amazing us men are. No wonder we distract ourselves with endless televised sporting events and killing one another in the field of battle. We're desperately igoring the fact we can't make a life in our stomachs. Rubbish.
3. ONCE THE BABY IS HOME, YOU'LL BE CLUELESS
Staring at it for ages with a mild sense of panic is a solid base from which to build. Other than that, we can't brief you. You'll just have to wing it.
4. MECONIUM AKA POOMAGEDDON AKA POOZILLA
When the baby is born, its stomach is full of fluids. These will be pooed out not long after birth. The poo itself is called meconium and it is the colour and consistency of melted licorice. Don't worry, it's fine, there is supposed be loads of it. It will ooze out of your baby's bum for the first couple of days. It's a sort of mesmerising black magma - simulating what it would be like if your baby was leaking Bovril.
NB if you taste some (don't) and it turns out your child actually is leaking Bovril, see your GP immediately.
5. YOU WILL IMMEDIATELY TURN INTO YOUR PARENTS
This is the real miracle of childbirth. Not only do you receive the gift of life, in the form of a beautiful baby, but both of your parents are suddenly reincarnated, with your sweaty, sleep-deprived carcass as the host body. And there's nothing you can do about it.
That finger-wagging thing they used to do? You're doing it, aren't you? Ooh, they could have their eye out with that. No they can't have a biscuit. What do you say? 'Please', that's right. And if they want any pudding they'll have to finish their peas. Otherwise it'll be straight to bed with no story. Kids these days don't know how easy they get it. Ask your mother. What?
6. THE BABY IS MORE IN CHARGE OF YOU THAN YOU ARE OF IT
Before the baby is born, you have idle, selfish thoughts. Thoughts like, "Am *I* ready for this?" or, "Am *I* mature enough to be in charge of another person?" Like fatherhood will be just you, loincloth and spear, fending off wild animals and throttling bears for dinner. Well, you're an idiot. The baby is in charge, not you. You are now a slave as much as you are a provider and a guardian. In a good way, though (see point 10).
7. BABIES ACTUALLY SLEEP LOADS
They do, you know. LOADS. Just never when you think they ought to. Because they've basically been kept in a lightless growbag for nine months, they don't understand/give a shit about your routine/the passage of the earth around the sun.
What are you up to at 3.53am tomorrow? Sleep, eh? Sorry mate, you'll have to postpone. That's my lunch appointment. I can let you have 23 minutes from 11.27am on Thursday, with a four minute interlude at 11.33am when I've wet myself and need a new nappy. I'm juggling a very busy schedule and doing my best to accommodate you.
8. THE AWESOME POWER OF THE HUMBLE MUSLIN
You might not have come across muslins before. They're like teatowels, only thinner. They are also your new best friend and number one ally - a thin veil of defence between your favourite jumper and a piping hot torrent of projectile vomit. Buy in bulk.
9. THE EARLY DAYS ARE ALL ABOUT STRENGTH IN NUMBERS
You are going to need a support network. It's like the 'Circle of Trust' from Meet The Parents, only everyone gets vomited on. In fact, just think of it as a 'Circle of Vomit'.
If you have one available, grab a parent to come and stay for a few days. The usual familial bickering will subside into the background as, like a family uniting against a loved-one's weirdo new boyfriend, you rally against a common menace - in this case a tiny, screaming tyrant.
10. YOU DO NOT KNOW LOVE
Uncurl that top lip and stop sniggering. Even the most non-commital braindead meathead will be reduced to a blubbering, gooey wreck on meeting his child for the first time.
In the words of the American author Elizabeth Stone, "To have a child... is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body."
It's scary and awe-inspiring all at once. You'll worry for their every sniffle, cough and stumble, from now until your dying day. Now, and only now, can you understand why your parents were so desperate for you to take a coat everywhere.