Her

What is it like to be a dad? Words cannot describe how it feels to have this little person in my life, I thought that I could write about it here, but it turns out I really can’t. I can say that she makes these tiny peeps that melt my heart. Skin so soft that I can barely feel it. Big eyes that stare up at me… It’s just like no other feeling in the world, and so I guess, whilst I can’t put it into words, that puts me into the category of one of those people who says things exactly like, “it’s like no other feeling in the world”.

What I have learnt in the last four days is a few practical things about what it is like to be a new dad. For starters, it does not matter if you have vests and sleep suits that fit or look nice, because you just grab the nearest clean one. And our little girl is so small that nothing that we have fits her anyway, but she doesn’t seem to care about having a baggy set of pyjamas on. I have also learnt that I have been able to help out with feeding in much more of a “hands on” way than I could have imagined, so to speak. And finally, I have to boast that I am pretty good at swaddling our little bundle into submission when she begins resisting a sleep.

We may not have had a straightforward to start to parenthood, but then what is? They have kept my wife and daughter (daughter?! it is admittedly quite surreal to say that!) in the maternity ward until our small baby has put on enough weight.

After the birth on Monday it’s kind of like we have been living in a parallel universe; nothing like what real life is like where you come home and live as a family with your new addition. I have however formed a routine of spending my days with them at the hospital, popping out to get some decent food for my wife, leaving when I’m kicked out at 9pm, eating a microwave meal, and going to bed before starting all over again. Always bringing the car seat with me, hoping that today is the day.

I feel like I have already got to know our baby quite well, but then I also feel like there is going to be a few surprises that have not made themselves apparent yet. Considering that I have not spent a night with my daughter yet, I can only imagine at what times those surprises will present themselves. From my perspective, I would say I’m almost a little surprised about how instinctive things feel, and our parenting skills have come along pretty well, which mainly comes down to the great support we have had from the midwives and support workers in the maternity ward.

Good support or not, it hurts every day that goes by where they announce that I can’t take them home with me. My wife knows it’s for the best of course, but that doesn’t change the fact that she so much wants to come home, and that makes it even more heartbreaking. It doesn’t seem rational to say, but it’s just so unfair.

For now I sit in an empty house waiting for the day we can come home with her.

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Yesterday

Yesterday my daughter was born. At this point in time, all I can say is that it is the single most emotional experience I have ever had. I’d previously imagined how I would feel, and I thought I had some idea, the reality was quite different however. Of course I thought that when she was born, I would undoubtedly cry and feel proud, what I hadn’t realised was exactly how my emotions would hit me so hard through the entire labour, and into today.

Soon I think I will recount my experience of the labour and the birth of one of the most incredible people on this earth, but right now all I can think of is that whatever happens, whatever I do, I will now and always be someone’s dad. And I couldn’t be happier.

Who am I?

In the darkened room I was just staring at an empty black pyramidal shape on the screen. I’m lead to believe that whilst I was doing this my wife was being positioned next me, exposing her lower abdomen. Suddenly, and it really was without warning, the profile of a tiny human figure appeared horizontally in a kidney bean shaped space on the screen. Before I had felt nervous, but after I had felt many things, including an overwhelming feeling of amazement. In just 12 weeks the baby was such a perfectly formed miniature person. You could see the nose on her face and count the toes on her feet. “What a beautiful baby”, the sonographer exclaimed as we watched her stretch and frolic inside the kidney bean. “I bet you say that to all the parents.” I replied.

Not only was it amazing to see, but it was an amazing feeling that this was something we had created. And seeing it really does hit home with how real it all is. Before the 12 week scan you’re keeping the pregnancy under wraps, there’s no “bump”, no movements to feel, and you don’t have much more than that initial positive test result to prove that there is in fact a baby in there.

A genuine piece of advice for expectant fathers I have read suggested that, as well as offering to cook more and carry heavy shopping bags, that the father should consider attending any scans his partner has. I would not have missed the experience of seeing my child, and finding out she was developing well, for anything in the world, and that’s why I feel that a lot of the tips and advice out there for dads misses the mark.

In the “dads section” of pregnancy books and websites, a lot of what you read seems to assume that the father needs a little help to reach an acceptable level of involvement. It is genuinely difficult to know what the father’s role is during the pregnancy, and there’s no wonder the advice is sparse if you look at the recent history. It is only really since the latter part of the 20th century that it was more common for us dads to actually get more involved with the pregnancy and birth of our offspring.

If you look to nature, there’s a handful of animals that take an active paternal role in the gestational period and early infancy. I can’t do any of the incubating like seahorses and penguin dads do, but marmosets sound like they are most like a 21st Century dad. They groom and give piggy backs to their young in the same way I expect that I will be doing the changing of nappies and carrying our child around the park on my shoulders, but what do marmoset dads do whilst the marmoset mother is pregnant with their marmoset children?

Maybe I’m wrong and selfish to be hung up on what a dad should be doing during the pregnancy, it is our partners who are doing all the important work as it were. Of course, as dads, we can offer the support that our partners need when they are pregnant, and most are things that come naturally. But there is something missing. We don’t have the physical investment that the mother does (unless of course you are count the carrying of heavy shopping), so we feel as though we are a bit of a passenger, bumbling along for the ride, and it it’s a helpless feeling in what is such a great impact on our partners. I’m sure that my wife will say I’ve been doing a great job in my supporting role, but if you compare things side by side, the flat pack cot I put together won’t come close to doing anywhere near as good a job of nourishing and growing a human from nothing.

The Unknown

I’m sitting here next to my wife as we plough through more of the boxset of the month, and I catch myself glancing sideways at her every now and again, silently checking for early signs of labour. For two days now I have felt what I would describe as a premonition that today is the day, and I’ve made sure I always know where the car keys are, but nothing yet has transpired, so it turns out I’m not clairvoyant after all.

We’ve discussed how useful it would be to know an exact date so that we can set a plan of what more we need to prepare. Of course this is a fruitless discussion because we already have as much warning as we’re going to get, and we’ve know that for at least seven months when we were told the due date.

We’ve packed the hospital bag, built all the nursery furniture, washed all baby grows and sleep suits and put them in piles of size order. I’ve also shown my wife how to collapse the pushchair, how the nappy bin works and tested how to strap the car seat in, but all this is just filler; we’re pottering to make sure that we feel like we are making best use of the wait with further preparations, knowing that we are as ready as we are going to be.

There’s nothing much more to do, and I can’t bring myself to read another one of the NHS emails for expectant fathers, so I’ll just get on with planning a handover of things at work, so that I’m ready to take my two weeks leave at the drop of a hat.

My wife tells me about getting braxton hicks more frequently and that she thinks they are slightly different to ones she has experienced in the weeks before now. We look at each other and agree that it really is any day now that we are going to welcome our daughter into the world, and rather than more preparations we’ll just sit here and watch another episode.

The Journey Ahead

We found out that my wife was pregnant towards the end of June on the day we were due to go on a cycling holiday from Oxford to Cornwall. We were all packed and ready to go when my wife came out of the bathroom with a pregnancy test in her hand. It took us a minute to agree that the result was positive. And so we began one of the biggest adventures in our lives! Yes, I do mean the cycling trip. Whilst there was a little bit of panicking, mainly from me (completely from me), over whether or not we should go to the doctor or just go on our holiday, neither of us really knew what you are supposed to do the moment you find out, so we concluded that we would go on our cycling trip and go to the doctor when we returned.

The cycle trip was hard but ultimately rewarding, and would become, I realise now, a potential metaphor for the much bigger life adventure we were facing. It was filled with ups and downs, quite literally, as we crossed Somerset and Exmoor. We battled up spirit crushing hills, which you do of course roll down too, but sometimes they were just so steep that even what should have been good fun was in fact a bit scary. We had so many high moments like standing on deserted Cornish beaches in glorious sunshine that could easily have been somewhere in the Mediterranean, and low moments like standing in a shelter in an uninspiring town centre with incessant rain threatening to put a stop to the whole thing.

I completely expect, from everything I’ve come to understand about it, that parenthood will have its tough moments but what it really comes down to in the end is the reward. I expect that like the hills in Exmoor there will be parts of being a dad that will be tougher than I anticipated (they didn’t look so bad on the map!), but when I get to stand on the beach at the end those hills won’t matter. What that really entails I don’t yet know, but on this journey I expect to be as good a dad as I was a cycler: Far from professional level, but keen and strong on the days that I get enough sleep.

11 days to go…

I think that I should be honest from the outset here and explain that at this point in time you might not want to consider this to be an actual guide to being a new dad. In fact, it would be fair if you wanted to say that I am as close to being under qualified for the role of ‘guide’ as you can get. You’ve probably already guessed of course from the title of this post that the reason the content of this post is not filled with all you need to know about being a new dad is that I am in fact not yet anyone’s dad!

Our baby is however due on the 22nd February 2015 (11 days from now!), and soon I’m sure there will be a million and one experiences that I could share here assuming that there is a moment where I’m not too bleary eyed or sleep deprived to coherently communicate them.

Over time it might turn out that these posts will be filled with such wonderful pearls of wisdom that they could fill volumes of bestselling parenting books. Either that or you might bear witness to the undoing of a man as he becomes a parent for the first time, bungling along, learning what it means to be dad through trial and error.

It’s our first child. My wife and I are both thirty-something. We live in Oxford, UK.