A Dad’s Experience of Mumsnet’s Bumpfest 2014

Rather than a normal Saturday of lazing around the house watching football and generally being a slobby pain for the missus, I actually left the house today and travelled into London for Bumpfest 2014 organised by Mumsnet. Not only was this my first trip to the Capital for a few months which brought back unwanted memories of my daily commute, but it was my first solo outing without the missus and Baby L since she was born.

If you’ve not heard of Bumpfest, it is a one-day event aimed at expectant mums and dads to give them all the information they need prior to the birth of their little one. With expert speakers, practical breakout sessions, plenty of food and a rammed goodie bag, there probably isn’t a better use of a day of your time to help you get to grips with pregnancy and birth, well, apart from spending the day in your local Maternity Ward.

I’ll admit that I was a bit apprehensive of going along. Not because I’m agoraphobic or anything, but because I was going on my own. Actually, it went further than that. I was going alone to a pregnancy event hosted by Mumsnet (notice the emphasis on Mums) which obviously suggested it was targeted at woman with a bun in the oven. Yet here I was – a man, on his own, already with a nearly seven week old baby. I think it is safe to say that I didn’t really tick any of the intended audience check boxes.

So why did I go? Firstly, I’ll start by blowing my own trumpet as I actually won the ticket by entering a blog post about “Push Presents” to a competition that Mumsnet were hosting – I’d love to think that my insightful and witty musings wowed the judges, but something in the back of my head makes me think that they were boosting the number of male attendees! Still, I had a ticket worth just under £80 and it’d be a shame to waste it.

Secondly, as a dad blogger, I now feel I have some kind of responsibility to fly the dad flag. Blokes have to put up with a lot of stereotyping, most of it in my opinion is bollocks, and part of me now believes that I should show people that not all men and dads are this clueless, disinterested “Lad” character that people like to say that we are. Like me, many modern fellas want to play a big role in pregnancy, birth and raising a kid, so I personally think anything that can be done to debunk these ridiculous myths should be done.

Finally, as a stay-at-home dad in training (I have until June next year when the missus goes back to work and I take over parental duties), I need to learn to put myself out there for the benefit of Baby L. That includes going alone to baby classes, taking her to playgroup and picking the little one up from school – all activities that are usually done by the mum, not the dad. Despite being in 2014, I fully expect to be subject to questions, discriminations and general uneasiness about being a daddy in a mummy dominated world, so I may as well start dealing with this now. I know it shouldn’t matter whether a mum or dad has the main parenting responsibility, but unfortunately there is still a stigma associated with dads.

Right, back to Bumpfest.

The day started early with registration between 9.00am and 9.30am. That’s right, 9.00am, meaning that I’d need to be up at 7.30am on a Saturday! Not too uncommon following the birth of Baby L, but I don’t usually need to look presentable and potentially interact with other people. I arrived on time, quickly tested out the toilet and went into the Lecture Theatre for the opening.

The first session was a keynote panel on the myths and realities of birth and covered things like if you have a birthing plan everything will go smoothly, breastfeeding is simple as it’s natural and you will fall in love with your baby straight away. I found this session really interesting. There is so much expectation put onto parents that I personally feel that you are doomed to feel like you have failed from the start.

Everyone bangs on about how you should breastfeed (I’m a big fan of breastfeeding myself), but it is obvious that it will make a new mum feel bad if breastfeeding doesn’t go swimmingly and the decision is made to switch to formula. Similarly, an emphasis is put on birth plans, which a member of the panel quite rightly pointed out, should be called preferences as a plan is too rigid. If a woman has a c-section but wanted a water birth, she then again could be hit with feelings of guilt or failure. Quite wrongly might I add.

The point on loving your baby instantly is an interesting one and something that Hay and I have talked about quite a bit. I’ve actually toyed with the idea of writing a separate post on the topic. It’s hard to admit, but neither Hay or I felt an instant love for Baby L. In fact, it took us a good few weeks and this love still continues to grow everyday. Being made to feel inferior or like something is wrong with you because you don’t feel like you are told you will, is not a particularly nice feeling – I know first hand because my mum (not on purpose) made me feel this way when I opened up to her about not feeling this love. She just couldn’t grasp the concept because she had felt love instantly for me and my brother, which made us both feel like we were failing as new parents.

Where possible, more of these myths should be brought to the forefront of pregnancy teachings and parental advice. Rather than the mainstream media portraying pregnancy, birth and parenthood through rose-tinted glasses, the realities should be talked about more often and people’s expectations set in advance.

The next two sessions were with smaller groups, with participants choosing what they wanted to attend. I decided to go to a talk by author Rob Kemp on life as a new dad, before attending a baby first aid session with British Red Cross. Both sessions were good – Rob talked about what is expected as a dad and what you can do to be involved and bond with the little one. Being a dad of seven weeks, I didn’t take loads from the session as I’ve been experiencing it first hand, but I thought it was pretty spot on with the information given to the dads-to-be. Although this was an event mainly for woman, it was good to see a bloke specific talk on the cards – hopefully next year there will be more than one.

The first aid session was the highlight of the day for me. I’ve done bits of first aid here and there, but am really rusty and I know I shouldn’t be, particularly with a little baby in our house who  is utterly dependent on us. With the help of plenty of dummy babies, we were shown what to do if a baby was choking, limp and unconscious, then given the chance to get hands on. Although it was only a short session, it was really useful and has made me so much more confident of what to do if the worst should happen. In the few hours of being home, I’ve even taught the missus and am strongly considering going on a longer course.

British Red Cross Baby First Aid

Baby first aid session complete with abandoned baby on the floor

After picking up some freebies from Mamas and Papas including a baby grow and car seat toy, as well as winning something cuddly that will be sent to me for rolling a big dice (sounds vague I know!), I had a good lunch and a mocktail, which were included in the ticket price. I then had a wander around the other stands, including main sponsors Aldi, but stopped short of getting a manicure and pregnancy massage which were on offer.

The afternoon started with a sleep masterclass for everyone, led by Andrea Grace, which talked about the importance of getting your little one into a routine to help with their sleep and shared some tips and tricks on how to do so. I’ll be honest, this is where it got a little bit confusing for me. I’ve read a lot about routines and we’re trying to implement one as such at the moment, but I felt a bit sorry for the parents-to-be who aren’t yet at that stage. There was a lot of information and not all of it was particularly clear. Overall, the talk and information on offer was good, but if I left confused, I’m sure others did too.

The next session I attended was about flexible routines with author Rachel Waddilove who was a genuinely lovely lady. She didn’t come with a presentation like the rest of the people, rather just talked to us and was guided by our questions about things like routines, sleep, crying etc. I started to get slightly annoyed at this stage though. Not at Rachel in the slightest, but because things started to get a bit farcical. Let me explain.

During pregnancy, you are given loads and loads of advice – be it from friends, family, books, NCT classes or experts at events like today. The one thing that is clear, is that nothing is clear. Everyone has different ways of doing things and have conflicting advice. In Andrea’s session, she said that it is important that baby sleeps even if this is on you, whereas Rachel said that a baby needs to be put in their cot / moses basket. Andrea had said that it is fine to co-sleep, whereas Rachel said you should not. Andrea said that a baby should be in your room until six months, whereas Rachel said it is fine for a baby to be in another room if that is your choice. Basically, whatever goes! Polar opposites.

This is my main annoyance experienced during pregnancy. There is so much information on offer, yet no-one is totally right and should be listened to as gospel. These experts have techniques, tips and tricks based on experience which has worked for them and allowed them to make money by selling their strategies to a pool of confused and scared parents-to-be. No-one will give you a straight answer because everything “depends”.

Having been through this in pregnancy and birth, I feel comfortable in saying that it is important to take on board as much information as possible, remember the stuff you like, forget the stuff you don’t, then do things your own way as you learn. The best way of learning is by doing. I’ve been a dad for seven weeks, yet by mid-afternoon was confused and slightly annoyed with all of the conflicting information. I wonder what was going through expectant parents’ heads when one expert’s thoughts were discredited by the next person on stage?

After another break, there was a keynote panel about what to expect after birth which was hosted by Kate Silverton and featured the likes of Dr Pixie McKenna. I was really pleased to see this on the agenda as the fact that you end up with a baby is often forgotten about. The focus is always on pregnancy and birth, not the reality that you will have a little one to look after. A number of topics were covered, which again brought a realism to proceedings as the panel spoke openly and honestly about their feelings, troubles and experiences of having a baby.

The day was concluded with a 15-minute ‘gig’ by comedian Lucy Porter which ensured that the day ended on a funny note. It was helped even more by a weighty goodie bag which was promised to be at least the value of the ticket. Having got the ticket for free, this was a decent bonus! The bag included various products, mainly from Aldi, including nappies, wet wipes, weaning food / drinks, chocolate and toiletries.

Mumsnet Bumpfest 2014 Goodie Bag

All in all, it was a very useful and interesting day. I didn’t learn loads, but I put that down to the fact that we’ve already gone through pregnancy and birth, meaning that a lot of the questions and fears have been answered. For a pre-birth couple, I think it would be a really useful addition to their pregnancy journey, albeit the ticket prices feel a bit on the steep side. I’m pleased I took the plunge and went, even though at times, I felt like a numpty sat on my own using my phone as a distraction!