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Excerpt from Not Like Other Dads by Sean Szeps

Photo via Instagram @seanszeps

I was afraid of vaginas back then. If someone had asked me to rank my comfort with female genitalia on a scale of one to ten, I probably would have given it a three. I knew how the female reproductive system worked, and I could have pointed to a clitoris on an anatomy chart. But the exit and entrance of various objects and substances simply wasn’t my forte.

So you can imagine the genuine horror I experienced when, less than twenty-four hours after I became a parent, a delivery nurse nonchalantly told me, ‘Stella might bleed down there in the next few days. It’s not a big deal – just think of it like a mini period. Clean it like you normally would, and she’ll be fine.’

As soon as the term ‘mini period’ fell from her mouth, I lost my hearing. Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration, but it sure as hell felt like it. My heart raced, the room began spinning, and the nurse’s words became muted like those of an adult in a Peanuts cartoon. I was looking at her lips, valiantly trying to focus on her vagina briefing but unable to comprehend anything coming out of her well-intentioned mouth.

Even though I was smiling – one of those forced grins you see in class portraits of primary school students – I wasn’t fooling anyone. My anxious monkey brain was doing mental gymnastics so intense that Simone Biles, the greatest gymnast ever to live, would have accepted defeat. If my husband hadn’t been sleeping with Cooper on his chest, he would have seen the signs of me losing the plot and jumped in to rescue me. But alas, I was alone.

‘A mini period?’ I said to the nurse. ‘I don’t understand how to deal with a regular period, let alone a mini one. Actually, I don’t know how to clean a vagina at all. What the hell is a “normal clean”? Are there different levels of cleaning for vaginas?’

I’ve made a massive mistake having a daughter, I thought to myself. Why did I think it would be possible to raise a girl when my gay-ass husband and I know literally nothing about all of this? This is why straight people say we shouldn’t have kids. Maybe they were right all along – maybe we can’t do this. We need a woman. My daughter needs a mom. I’m already failing. I’m a stupid piece of–

An unfamiliar sound broke through my self-destructive inner monologue. Stella, my daughter, was crying. It was one of those ‘I’ve only been alive for twenty-four hours and am just testing things out’ sort of whinges, but the soft sound triggered something I hadn’t felt before. She needed me. She needed us. She didn’t know or care about our sex or gender. This helpless, angelic creature just needed someone to care for her. No one else was going to clean her vagina for her. No one else was going to change her nappy. No one else was going to explain her anatomy to her in an age-appropriate way, or support her through nasty cramps and buy her tampons when the time came: that was our job now.

I scooped her up and held her close to my chest, realising my experience with vaginas – or lack thereof – was irrelevant. Was I disappointed in my useful-knowledge deficit? Absofucking-lutely. Was I uncomfortable with how much I needed to learn and how quickly it needed to be done? You bet your ass I was. But nine months ago I had made a commitment to this baby girl, and I planned on following through with it. I was going to educate myself as quickly as possible. I was going to ask questions, read books, speak with my husband – speak with anyone who was willing to listen – and I wasn’t going to stop until I felt that Josh and I were confident in our knowledge of female biology. This was our responsibility.

Strangely, I felt relieved. I took a deep breath, turned to the nurse and spoke calmly. ‘Listen, I don’t have a lot of experience with vaginas. I need you to rewind and walk me through all of this again, starting with whatever a “normal clean” is.’

She hesitated, her eyes on my daughter. Her pregnant pause made it clear that this was uncharted territory for her, too, which put me at ease. She collected herself and looked up at me while gently placing her hand on my shoulder. ‘That’s my mistake, sir. I’m so sorry. Most dads have their wives in the room when we talk about this kind of stuff … and, honestly, their eyes usually glaze over. I was on autopilot.’

‘Don’t worry,’ I said, holding back tears. ‘I just want to do this right.’

Sean Szeps is a popular Instagram Dad, podcast host and writer. His debut book, Not Like Other Dads , is available in all good bookstores and online. You can follow him at @seanszeps

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