Baby, baby, where did my life go?

14th April 2006 at 01:00
S6 pupil Paul McKay signs up for an 'easy' weekend of parenthood and discovers the reality of responsibility

The constant cacophony of crying had left me fatigued and withdrawn. No one had explained at the classes that being a single parent with a new-born baby was going to be this difficult.

I had signed up for the positive parenting programme, thinking it would a pleasant exercise in experiencing the joys of fatherhood for a weekend. An instant baby, so to speak, with no lasting complications.

I had already experienced the empathy belly, which had made me feel fat, tired and uncomfortable and I'd begged for it to be removed, but I certainly wasn't prepared for this give-up-your-whole-life routine.

When I had received my precious bundle, christened Ethiopia Chloe, with birth certificate, two nappies, one outfit (with booties and mittens), bottle and prosthetic breast, I laughed it off. It would be simple, I thought: when it cried, I would respond; when it slept, I would rest.


However, roughly four-and-a-half hours later, I wasn't finding it as straightforward as I'd thought it would be. In fact, it was Hell. In that short time I had transformed from the light-hearted, fun-loving person that I am into a jittery parent with borderline manic depression, a splitting headache and the insatiable urge to kill.

While the oh-so-realistic baby doll lay motionless, I sat silently devising ways to get rid of it, each way getting progressively worse. I could leave it in the shed with the spiders, I could microwave it and I could lay it on the grass and run it over with the lawnmower, breaking it into tiny pieces of plastic. Had it not been for the pound;100 fine for any damage caused, Ethiopia Chloe would have been 6ft under in no time.

That night I never slept, not because I was out enjoying myself but because my baby wanted to be rocked ... all night! She cried every time I laid her down; she cried if I stopped rocking; she cried if I accidentally moved the bottle away from her mouth. (I didn't feel too comfortable about using the artficial breast.) Eventually she did settle and I put her in her DIY cot that I'd made from a wicker basket and pillowcase. Then I went to bed.

It would have been an ideal time to sleep, but even this proved impossible with the sound of her incessant breathing. Yes, as it turns out, virtual babies breathe, and do so rather loudly. My terror was apparent as screams of "It's alive" - resembling Dr Frankenstein as his monster eerily moved a finger - emanated from my room.

After that night of misery, I had to go to work. Quick point: it is almost impossible to get last-minute childcare for a doll, but I finally persuaded a neighbour by offering two chocolate oranges.

At the shop, things weren't much better. Greeting customers while half asleep was not only damaging for the company but also my self-esteem. They would smile as they approached with a cheery: "Hi, Paul. You look awful!"

After a day's worth of these friendly insults, I finally went home to face again the she-demon that was my virtual daughter.

I collected her from my neighbour and I took her for a stroll in the park.

Big mistake! The lack of sleep had obviously affected my mental state as I argued with a senior citizen who looked at me strangely and said my daughter "didn't look real".

After the argument, as I tried to compose myself, Ethiopia started crying.

Bottles, bags and jackets flew through the air as (finally) I succeeded in changing her nappy.

Nappy changes were extremely regular for little Ethiopia. She would want to be fed and after 15 minutes would require a winding and two changes of her nappy.

I was starting to become a parent. The change in my attitude was like magic. Was it the sugar rush from the chocolate bars I had eaten or some psychological shift?

My good attitude to parenting remained as that night, while still terrified of a breathing doll, I managed to sleep for two hours.

The next morning was great. I was wakened by my beautiful baby and we went to a cafe for breakfast. I had my toast and finally managed to work up the courage to feed her with the breastfeeding device.

To my surprise it worked! She was feeding better with the breast than with the bottle, and it was so much more comfortable. Obviously, breast was best.

The improvements in her (and my) behaviour were increasingly apparent: as long as I responded to her in time, then she wouldn't scream. My baby and I had finally bonded and I was starting to understand the pressures and responsibilities of being a parent.

Sadly, it was too, too late. The virtual death of Ethiopia Chloe was imminent. I knew she would die on the third night due to pre-programmed respiratory failure and I sat up with a mug of hot chocolate, watching her take her final breaths. Just before the sun started to rise, she passed away.

The parenting experience was over and life was finally back to normal. But I wasn't really back to normal as I had grown and changed as a person.

If these programmes were compulsory, many young people would quickly learn the virtues of respect and patience required, and the honour of responsibility, in bringing up baby, I am sure.

Paul McKay is a pupil at Prestwick Academy, South Ayrshire

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