I've written many a time that dads don't always get as much look-in or support as they should when they go on their journey to become dad. I've also said many a time to my hubs that he should write a guest post for this blog of mine, as he's a very eloquent writer and I think it would be really interesting to share his perspective for a change.
And finally, he said yes.
M&S, to celebrate the launch of their new online baby hub, got in touch to ask if Stephen would like to share his top dad tips which may also make it into a Dad's Survival Guide they're collating.
So, here in his first post as To Become Dad, may I introduce you to my husband and his take on the whole bump to baby thing...
Becoming a dad is an interesting experience. So much of the literature available to and aimed specifically at fathers-to-be is patronizing or written with a typical ‘lad’ in mind that it becomes difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. I know that I personally read a handful of books which tried to explain, with varying degrees of success, what I should expect my role to be before during and after the birth. Over the course of this post, I’ll cover what I went through before, during and after the birth, provide some tips and advice and give you a candid look at some of the harsher realities of becoming a father.
At the risk of sounding like the opening line of goodfellas, ever since I can remember, I wanted to be a
gangster dad. I don’t know why, other than I thought it
would be something I’d be good at and take to naturally and, for the most part,
I was right. I don’t mind acting silly to get a few laughs, I don’t mind
rolling around on the floor and, if Ethan had turned out to be a girl (we
didn’t know until he arrived and discovered that yep, he was most definitely a
boy), I wouldn’t have minded having pretend tea parties and playing with Barbie
dolls and all those other stereotypically ‘girly’ things men of my generation
think young girls do (although I’d make sure any daughter of mine also had a
healthy interest in films, comics and video games, too – speaking of which,
Ethan can already recognise Mario and Spider-Man by sight; he’s not quite
progressed to playing games yet, but it’s still early days).
I’m one of those people who obsessively research something I’m interested in, whether it’s a new game, film or, in this case, having a child. I read countless webpages, forums and books, watched videos on youtube and spoke to friends who are dads, all so I could absorb as much information as possible before baby arrived. But, much like revising for a big exam only to sit staring at the test paper because your mind has gone blank, most of the things I learnt went completely out of my mind when Ethan actually turned up.
One of the things I found most difficult about the pregnancy portion of the whole thing was that I’d just started on a new project at work that required me to be away 4 nights a week. This left Kelly at home alone for the majority of one of the most wonderful yet tumultuous and stressful things a woman can go through. Knowing I wasn’t there to support Kelly was difficult for both of us and, although she faced it with the passion, excitement and courage that is so typical of her, I couldn’t help feel like I’d fallen at the first hurdle. I’d text her and phone her as much as possible, but she’d gone from having a very active, engaging career in PR (which obviously involved talking a lot) to suddenly being sat at home on maternity leave with no one to talk to and no work to keep her occupied.
Kelly admitted that, once she’d tidied the house a few times and got bored of daytime TV, she found the whole thing quite lonely. Kelly can talk for England at the best of times, so I was always mindful of letting her vent before I told her how my day was going, even If it meant I had to pretend to be interested in what had happened on This Morning or Jeremy Kyle that day.
Top tip: If you’re in work or otherwise out all day whilst your partner is on maternity leave, don’t be surprised if they talk your ear off as soon as you walk in the door. Instead of feeling overwhelmed and exasperated, try to remember that you may be the first person she’s spoken to since you left that morning!
Once we’d entered that final furlong and we knew the birth was relatively imminent, we set about making last minute preparations. We’d been told that most birth plans end up going out the window (best laid plans and all that), so I’d stockpiled snacks, drinks, put some of Kelly’s favourite comedies on her iPad in case we ended up sitting around for hours with nothing to do. We’d done the dutiful thing of having an overnight bag packed with all the things we’d been told were essential (change of clothes etc). This meant that, when the time came, we could just dash out of the door.
It was my role to make sure nothing important got left behind, to keep Kelly calm and just show her that I was there for her, even though deep down I was probably just as nervous and scared as she was!
We did a lot of pre-planning, buying in everything we thought we would want or need. Going to one place, such as the M&S Baby online shop, really can help as you can just get everything you need in one go, and check things off your list.
Top tip: Prepare your overnight bag well ahead of time. Take charge of that side of things so your partner doesn’t have to worry about it. Make sure you have snacks, water and entertainment available in case you end up sat around for hours. Remember chargers for any tablets or phones, but bear in mind you might not be able to use such devices in all parts of the hospital – so bring magazines or books, too!
Kelly’s waters broke in the early hours of Saturday, 4th May. She shook me awake, told me what had happened and I sat there, nervous and excited at the same time, as she called the hospital to find out what to do next. When she was told to come in first thing in the morning to see the midwife, to not eat anything prior to arriving and to try and get some rest. I promptly fell back to sleep; I’d like to say this was because I knew I’d need to bank as much rest as I could before the big day, but honestly, I was just knackered. I didn’t know it at the time (what with being unconscious and snoring next to her), but Kelly lay awake for the rest of that night.
Top tip: if your partner’s waters break in the middle of the night, do the right thing and sit up with her if necessary. Being able to talk to you during these first few scary hours will really help keep her calm and collected, ready for the big day (or two – the birth can go on for a while, after all) ahead.
As it turns out, our birth plan did go out the window. Whilst we’d planned to have a nice, calm and relaxing water birth at a local midwife run birthing centre (we’d already visited it, it was basically a spa), upon checking Kelly’s blood pressure when we arrived at hospital the next morning, the midwife decided that nope, that was not going to happen.
My parents had kindly picked us up from home and taken us to the hospital with the expectation that we’d be going home again once we’d checked in with the midwife but, after already being there an hour before the midwife told us we’d need to wait another hour or so so that they could check Kelly’s blood pressure again, so I told my parents to go home rather than wait. What I hadn’t realised in the stress and pressure of the situation was that all of our well-packed bags – along with my wallet - were still in the boot of their car and very quickly an hour turned into two, and then into three and before we knew it, we’d been sat on an uncomfortable bench, with poor Kelly hooked up to a blood pressure monitor, for six hours. During this time neither of us were offered a drink of water and we were told she couldn’t eat. I often had to go and check what was happening as all too it frequently felt like we’d been forgotten.
On the occasions when someone did check on us, they weren’t particularly friendly or helpful. I eventually managed to scrounge a jug of water from a kindly receptionist, but by this point Kelly had been awake for over 12 hours, hadn’t had anything to eat or drink that whole time, had been given nothing for the pain and had thrown up a few times (which no one had bothered to remove for us, which was, y’know…nice).
Finally, around 4pm, we were told that a delivery room was available and that Kelly was ready to go through, which was about as big a relief as you can imagine after the hell we’d just experienced – not exactly great for someone in labour whose blood pressure is being monitored for being too high already!
Top tip: Things can and probably will go awry – in the heat of the moment it’s easy to lose track of things like who has the bags or the snacks etc, so try to keep a level head. Also, don’t be afraid to go and find staff to ask what’s going on. They have a lot of people to deal with, so if you sit around waiting for them, you might be waiting a long time. Whilst they go through this every day, you don’t, so make sure you get the level of care you want and deserve!
Keep your partner’s mind off what’s happening if necessary; talk to them about whatever comes into your mind just to help them focus away from the pain and the situation, if only for a moment – it can make a huge difference.
Once we found out we were going through to delivery, I got in contact with my parents and they dropped off all our stuff. Kelly tried to eat a sandwich but still felt pretty rough and still hadn’t been given anything for the pain – not even so much as a paracetamol – despite asking! There was an initial flurry of activity, then things quietened down again.
Around 7pm, a shift change meant we got a new midwife and Kelly was finally given gas and air. She still hadn’t slept or eaten properly, and was in increasing amounts of pain due to her contractions. Once again we found ourselves talking about the most random or inane things to try and keep her mind off the pain.
Top tip: If you’ve been taken through to the delivery room and find yourself sitting around with nothing to do, continue to talk with your partner to help take their mind off the pain. Don’t just sit there reading your phone in silence! This is a difficult part of the whole process, as you’re almost but-not-quite at the finish line.
Around 7.30pm things began happening very quickly. Ethan had decided he was ready to make an appearance and Kelly was given an epidural (this takes a lot longer than you might think – around 30 minutes to administer and during that entire time the soon-to-be mom has to stay completely still). She was also experiencing back-to-back contractions, which made keeping still for the epidural even more difficult. Kelly was holding my hand through most of the birth and, when a particularly bad contraction hit, she would squeeze as hard as she could. She also, in the process of hoisting herself into position, kneed me in the side of the head.
After a long and protracted birth it became clear Ethan wasn’t quite ready to turn up, so the decision was made for the medical staff to intervene. This meant the nice intimate gathering of pregnant lady, bewildered dad and midwife quickly turned into 3 midwives, two doctors, a head nurse and a consultant, a lot of rushing about and shouting and no one telling you what the heck is going on. It’s terrifying, it’s awful and if it happens, it’s best to just get out of the way and do what you’re told.
Top tip: prepare to get your hand crushed, to be headbutted, to be kneed in the side of the head…the birthing process is a traumatic ordeal for everyone! Once things do start to kick off, there isn’t much you can do except be as supportive as possible, keep out of everyone’s way and try not to let on how scared you are! You’re probably going to see some stuff you’d really wish you hadn’t during the birth but no matter how much blood there is or how grossed out you are, keep it together for your partner. Don’t lose it now!
If things go wrong during the birth…
If things start to go wrong during the birth, your role as dad-to-be is to get out of everyone’s’ way, to keep as calm as you possibly can be and to keep reassuring your partner that everything will be alright, even if you have no clue what is going on (which you probably won’t – if things go wrong everyone goes into action mode, the room quickly fills with other people and you’re pushed to the side and basically ignored).
Once Ethan had finally arrived safe and sound just before 1am on Sunday 5th May and he’d been weighed, measured, put in a nappy and wrapped in a blanket, we were left alone with our beautiful new arrival. We fawned over him, made calls to our parents and nearest and dearest to tell them the news and even managed to post a Facebook status update to let everyone else know. Phew!
Around 4am I was told to go home as Kelly and Ethan were being moved to the ward with the other new moms. My parents dropped me home and I don’t remember much else until I woke up the next day in bed but still fully clothed. I wasn’t allowed back to the hospital until Kelly was ready to be discharged around 3pm, but I’d kept in touch via text and phone as much as I could. She hadn’t had any sleep (a noisy blood pressure monitor that beeped loudly when it ran out of battery, having to roam the halls trying to find some water and having all the curtains drawn back at 7am makes it difficult to sleep, I guess), and she’d only managed to eat a bit of toast, but she was as radiant and beautiful as ever, all things considered!
Top tip: Once the baby arrives, you’re liable to crash, big time. The adrenaline that was holding you together and keeping you awake suddenly dissipates and your body starts calling in all those favours you’d been asking of it over the last few hours. But you’re not done yet! There are phonecalls to make, Facebook statuses to post and the small matter of a tiny new addition to the world to look after! At some point you’ll be told you’re surplus to requirements and that you can go home (some hospitals might allow you to stay overnight, but ours didn’t). Take the opportunity to catch up on your sleep – you’re gonna need it! If you get home in the middle of the night, set an alarm for a decent hour so that you can be up, awake and available should you be needed. Don’t be surprised if you’re not allowed back to the hospital until later in the day – the staff on the maternity wards can be pretty militant about these things.
In the weeks that followed, I took it as my role to make sure Kelly was looked after as much as possible. Cooking dinner (you know how serious I was if I started cooking), making copious amounts of tea, feeding Ethan, changing him, getting him to sleep and basically just doing as much as I possibly could to take some of the pressure off of Kelly.
When we first got home with Ethan, we were both left with a feeling of ‘well…now what?’ until we picked up a routine. You fawn over the baby but you don’t get much back in return – they can’t smile, they can barely see and the most interaction you’ll get is a contented burp or fart.
Newborns also cry quite a lot – in the animal kingdom this was to make them seem small and helpless so the parents wouldn’t abandon/eat them and it’s meant to tug on your heart strings but, I’m ashamed to admit it, Ethan’s cry was like nails on a blackboard for me. You might read a lot about how, when you have a newborn, it’s like love at first sight. But it's different for everyone. Like any relationship, it takes time to develop and, at first, it can be hard to bond.
However, Kelly and I supported each other and we talked through everything and things returned to normal soon enough. I love Ethan more than life itself, would do anything for him and love spending time with him.
Top tip: Don’t be shy about chipping in. This is a great time to get to know your new baby, but don’t expect much back in return. Help out with feeding if you can, changing nappies, bathing, everything you can to help your partner – they’ve just been through a physically and emotionally traumatic experience and will need time to recover.
If you’re not bonding with your baby or don’t have that ‘love at first sight’ feeling– don’t panic – it’s completely normal and happens much more than you might think. Talk to your partner, communicate and support each other through this. There's support out there too if you need it.
Since his early days, my bond with and love for Ethan has only grown. I am amazed at how he progresses on an almost daily basis, how much he learns, how much he can make me laugh (who knew an almost-two-year-old could be so funny?!?) and how we’ve come together as a little family.
Things fell into place and matched and then exceeded my expectations of what being a dad was going to be like. Ethan is such a lovely little man, so friendly and confident; everyone who meets him adores him and I am so grateful that I get to be his daddy.
* Take lots of pictures but also videos – your child will say and do things that photos just can’t capture and they change that rapidly that it is easy to forget their little quirks and idiosyncrasies
* Enjoy the time you have with your child. They change so quickly that it’ll feel like no time at all before they don’t want to play with you anymore. Make the most of this time
* Cuddle your child every chance you get. It’ll make you both feel wonderful
* Take pride in the little things – whether it be your child signing along to Mr. Tumble, or the way they suddenly start giggling when they trump, be proud of your wonderful little creation