No support from my organisation
What did you think being a father would be like before the arrival of your first child?
I did not think about it. As my partner was fully immersed into all things baby related, I felt that my role in the process was more obligatory than crucial. I wanted to be a good dad but felt underprepared and inexperienced. The highs and lows of fatherhood were put aside as I became consumed by the effects of the pregnancy and the potentially horrific consequences of something going wrong. As a way of coping, procrastination became an approach I mastered to avoid having to deal with the realities of what fatherhood had in store for me. Prior to the birth, my time and thoughts were primarily devoted to work related matters and at best stretched to a day shopping for baby related things.
Have your expectations of fatherhood matched with the realities of being a dad?
Growing up I always considered my father to be a strict patriarchal figure that made the decisions and was always in charge. I knew straightaway that this was not the kind of father figure I could be or indeed wanted to be. My aim was to be a hands on dad who would dedicate his free time to the pursuit of children activities, such as, playgroups, swimming classes, playing games, educational activities, etc. With that said, I misjudged just how different reality was to be. To begin with, I found it almost impossible to find free time. The stress and pressures of a new job limited the time that I had free to spend with my family. I struggled to find a healthy work-life balance and placed greater emphasis on establishing myself professionally than as a father, figuring there would always be time for the latter activity. As my fatherhood activities were irregular, I found them intimidating and difficult to surmount. To be surrounded by exceptionally competent and comfortable mothers at playgroups was unsettling. You quickly begin to question and judge your ability as a father. Sadly, the adjudication was never going to return with a positive endorsement of my qualities as a father.
With a change of expectations, I have convinced myself that the early years of parenthood are the ones which mothers excel in, whilst the supremacy of fatherhood will kick in much later. Life has changed, but not in the sense that it has become any more difficult than it once was. The biggest change for me has been the loss of personal time. Moments you spend alone are much more elusive and hard to come by. As a couple, there is less time to do the things we once did. Our social life has metamorphosed to include only activities that involve people with kids, whilst our holidays amount to just eating at a place we have never been to before… as long as a child high chair can be provided.
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!)
We attended antenatal appointments and undertook hospital visits. For me this was the time when I began to really think about the life changing event I was about to experience. It was during the first of the antenatal classes and hospital visits that I realised just how little I knew about the specifics of the birthing process and the aftermath. All other attendees appeared educated, excited and eager. What was wrong with me!? At times the conversations were on par with dialogue from an episode of Grey’s Anatomy which eclipsed my limited understanding that was sadly limited to that one episode of Scrubs, that I watched that one time, that year.
The antenatal classes informed me that during the birth my role was to be a helpful and supportive partner. With the facts of the game understood, I began to plan the process to the minutest detail. The labour turned out to be an experience that we had not anticipated. With the labour contractions the right length apart we left for the hospital believing the birth to be a short time away. 24 hours and 4 midwifes later my partner gave birth and fell asleep from exhaustion moments later. I was left alone holding a baby in room that would not have been out of place from a gory scene of the TV show Dexter. Throughout this period we had managed to experience some of the good and bad elements associated with the process. Some midwifes were helpful and caring whilst others seemed a little hands off. Everything seemed to have eventually worked out as I left the hospital. On my return to the hospital the next day I was informed that there had been complications which had resulted in the transfer of both mother and baby to the special care unit. It would be another three days before I could hold my son again and a further week before I could take him home. The support and care provided by the medical team went a long way to reducing the worry and anguish we faced at the time and for that I will be eternally grateful.
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)?)
The extra week in hospital turned out to be a blessing in disguise as it allowed my partner to heal and to attain extra support. Receiving round-the-clock support enabled her to become very comfortable, very quickly with motherhood. She was also able to take a one year maternity leave which put my one week of paternity to shame. My role was and to some extent still remains to be that of an assistant who follows and takes directions as and when requested. With that said, in time I have discovered the things I am comfortable with and able to do and have now managed to establish a routine.
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 very little about the shared parental leave policy. I am also unsure as to how applicable it would be to someone in my position undertaking a role that is regulated by a structured calendar. At the time of the birth, I found little support within my organisation to assist and help with paternity leave.