Have your expectations of fatherhood matched with the realities of being a dad?
I think I underestimated just how much life would change following the arrival. Don’t get me wrong, I was thrilled to be a dad, but all the things I thought I would do with the baby didn’t always materialize. Like playgroups, I went to a few when the baby started to sit up and crawl around (I took some time off work, and then used a flexible working policy), but I was the only dad there. I felt a bit intimidated by all the new mums, and no one really talked to me (apart from the playgroup organisers) so I felt a little weird being there. I was also told that I was doing “too much” by some family members – my own and in in-laws – and that I should back off, and let my wife look after the baby more. They didn’t quite say that this was “women’s work”, but that was the impression I got. So there was quite a lot of interfering by others, even though my wife and I had talked about what we would do/how things would be divided up between us.
Looking back, I think things pretty much matched how I thought they would – although I probably did drop down a gear as the baby got older (to start with we would both get up at the same time in the night to do the night feeds, but then we realized that this was stupid, and that there was no need for us both to be knackered, so we then started to take turns for bottles in the night). Even though I would still consider myself to be a very hands on dad, I probably, overall, didn’t do as much work as my wife did … with the night feeds, it was quite easy to “pretend” that I hadn’t heard the baby crying!
What were your experiences of the support that you (and your partner) received before, and after, the arrival of your child(ren)? (You could include here your stories of prenatal and antenatal care, and experiences of the arrival itself!)
I attended all the antenatal and postnatal appointments and hospital visits. That was really important for me as I didn’t want my partner to have to go through all that stuff on her own, but I was quite lucky in having a flexible job that meant I could take time away from work. Meetings with the midwife before the arrival were really funny, and I remember one midwife who we often saw who just talked to my wife, and didn’t even look at me. I did feel a little bit of a spare part at times, like in the hospital waiting rooms/GP waiting rooms there were all these pregnant women there, and I was (usually) the only bloke. That then made me question whether I should have been there in the first place (it was a bit uncomfortable!), but I just thought I was doing what needed to be done.
We went to NCT classes as well. This wasn’t by choice though – my mother in law bought us a class (about three/four weekend sessions) as a gift. I didn’t really enjoy the classes that much – and there was lots of separating the dads-to-be from the mums-to-be. That happened at a NHS parentcraft class as well (the dads were taken off one evening to a different room to the pregnant Mums, and we were asked to come up with a list detailing how we would ‘help’ the Mum during pregnancy; I think that pretty much put us in our place. We were ‘helpers’, and told to pretty much stay back and get out of the way).
The NHS experience wasn’t great, if I’m honest. My partner had a long labour, and being new parents we rushed in to hospital as soon as her waters broke (we should have stayed at home for a little while longer!). That was early one morning. By that evening the baby still wasn’t here, and we were just waiting on a ward for things to progress (I think at this point my wife was hooked up to a baby heart beat monitor, which was very scary – we would panic if the heart beat dropped or slowed, and we kept calling the nurses over to check everything was ok). I can remember being kicked out at about 8pm when visiting hours were over and told to go. Looking bad I should have told them to get lost, but I didn’t want to rock the boat (they were, after all, caring for my wife!), so I went home. I still feel terrible about going, but they were adamant that I couldn’t stay, and I got a phone call early the next morning from a midwife to say that I should come in as the baby was on its way (but that I shouldn’t rush!).
The labour itself was pretty speedy, and I was asked if I wanted to cut the cord (which I didn’t want to do!). My wife was absolutely knackered, so it was nice to carry the baby around the ward (which was baking hot!) whilst she slept. But then the baby soon needed feeding, and problems began. My wife tried as hard as she could to breastfeed, and the breastfeeding counsellors came to see her as she was having trouble. The breastfeeding counsellor told her to keep at it, and in the end I ended up having words with her about it and her advice (she told my wife when she got home to strip off, jump in to bed, and just have this baby latching on whenever it wanted, 24/7 if needed … I didn’t really think that (a) my wife would want to do that, and (b) this was practical one bit). A few other complications came up, and in the end we started to bottle feed with formula – which was much better for me, as I could get involved.
How are parenting responsibilities divided up within your family? (For example, what things do you do as a dad to help care for your child? Did you take any time off work to look after your child(ren)?)
I took some leave from work immediately after the arrival, and then I used flexible working policy after my wife’s maternity leave ended to spend more time with the baby (I would spend two days with her in the week, and then I would work at the weekends). I frantically tried to fill the days with activities and things to do as looking after a baby, although great, is quite boring (but unlike my wife, I didn’t have any new parents to visit to spend my baby-days with – so lots of time was just spent walking with the pram, or going on shopping trips to use up some time; this was far from the ‘quality time’ I had imagined I would spend with the baby before I became a dad!).
What do you know about the shared parental leave policy; and is this something that you would have liked to have taken advantage of, if you were able to?
I know a little about the shared parental leave policy, as it’s been in the papers a lot. It sounds quite complicated, and I think I would be eligible to take SPL if we were to have another baby. Would I take it? Yes, I think I probably would – but that would depend on money, and quite how much out of pocket we would be.