SPL not possible for us

What did you think being a father would be like before the arrival of your first child?

Amazing and life changing: that it would be both an extremely positive experience and sometimes of course, slightly inconvenient

Have your expectations of fatherhood matched with the realities of being a dad?

I tried not to have expectations. The journey to becoming  a parent was a long one for us with a lot of heartache on the way. To protect ourselves we didn’t really allow ourselves to reflect on, or plan, how we might feel and instead focused more on the mundane practicalities. So I guess everything massively exceeds the little expectations that we had.

What were your experiences of the support that you (and your partner) received before, and after, the arrival of your child(ren)

We are lucky in having support from grandparents and as we are relatively old parents, loads of advice and stuff from friends who had gone there before. At a medical level we went to Liverpool Women’s due my wife’s medical condition and the support and care and culture there is outstanding. Most of the staff are simply really good at what they do and really make sure you are ok.  I am biased, I was born in Liverpool Women’s (in a different building) and so were both my children, but I know that we were very lucky to have them there. Unfortunately the culture of NHS hospitals can vary- if they could bottle what they have at the Women’s and distribute it, that would be great! We attended antenatal classes locally to where we live for our first child, they were interesting but mostly not relevant- they are very focused on natural child birth. We knew my wife had to have an elective caesarean so a lot of the content was irrelevant and the breast-feeding guidance was rather preachy and focused on why it was important (my wife was planning to do this so did not need to be converted). The health visitor support has been generally good. The classes were attended by couples and my wife still sees about half the group socially. We took the initiative to get everyone’s contact details and that has provided a great support network. However, I have very little free time due to my job, so have not had much chance to socialise with the other Dads. A few of them played golf a bit at the start but that doesn’t interest me and now the connections are really between all the mums. We have gone out on the odd couples night and I share an interest in Liverpool FC with one of them so have gone to the pub to watch a game with him.  As the children grow up and move to different schools, there is less opportunity to catch up, but my wife still sees some of the mothers relatively regularly and one of the girls attends my daughter’s ballet class so one of us sees her parents on a weekly basis. The other thing people never tell you is that having kids makes it difficult to catch up with your friends who choose not to or do not have kids. A lot of my friends are childless and having kids makes it hard to catch up with them during the day as bringing your children along changes the dynamic and evenings out are not what they were- setting up baby-sitters is expensive and a hassle and by evenings we are exhausted anyway so nights out, when we do manage them, are shorter than they used to be and you simply cannot afford a very late when you know you will wake at 6.30am. As a result my wife and I socialise separately sometimes, which is something we never did much before having children. I think perhaps as an older father some of these things have perhaps involved more of an adjustment than they would be to someone who has not had 20 years of independence before having kids. The birth itself was fast. With a planned caesarean there is less of the natural build up. 

My wife had Braxton-Hicks early so she was brought in and our daughter was delivered the same day. They have made the incision before you enter the theatre as a father, you are sat down at your wife’s head and in seconds you have your baby in your arms and are wondering when you get the manual. I was a little freaked out shortly afterwards, I was left in a side room with my daughter in my arms whilst my wife was taken to recovery. Due to her health problems this took longer than planned so I was left a little while. During this period a crash team ran past my room so then of course I began to panic that they were going to my wife, but there was no-one around to ask and I was just hanging on to my daughter pretty much unable to stand-up for fear of dropping this precious thing…eventually a nurse came to let me know that she was ok and I could see her soon, so I calmed down! The first few days were hard work as my wife had to stay in hospital due to the operation and her condition, and so my daughter did as well of course. We live around an hour from the Women’s so I did a lot of travelling, but also when I was in hospital I was doing a lot of caring- both for my wife and for my new daughter as my wife was not fit to get up for a day or two. We are probably unusual in that I did maybe the 1st 3 days of nappies on my own (apart from those done my nurses at night when I wasn’t there) as my wife was unable to get up. Again the Women’s were great, stretching visiting times as they recognized if I wasn’t there it put more caring pressure on the nurses (baby wards are not really set up to care for the mothers as patients- they are geared to get Mum up and out of hospital asap …and capable to look after baby).  So I was just happy to get everyone home after 4 days or so- and be exhausted there instead.

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 the 2 week pat. leave that was available back then: I had to as my wife was not really fully mobile for the first week. As my wife is not working I don’t think I had any option to share leave with her- as she had none! After that we got support from family and we arranged for help to come in as my wife’s disability makes some child care tasks tricky and as an academic I struggle to be available to help at key times. My commute is such that I often leave the house as everyone else is getting up and I am usually not back home until after the children have gone to bed. Now during the week my wife has help, at weekends I help with the kids some of the time, unless I am buried in work or house maintenance tasks (we have an old house).
The help is great as it allows my wife to have as normal a mum experience as possible- but if I am not careful it can also act as a bit of barrier between me and the kids when I am around and available, as I am perhaps not needed as much…that said I am also lousy as helping with the kids enough at weekends- usually because I am in the middle of a job when it is bed-time- like chopping down a tree, mowing the lawn, redesigning the garden or fixing stuff- the window for DIY is now so much narrower so finding the balance between the children (and giving my wife sufficient support), work commitments, garden work, house or car repair and boat related hobbies is really tough. We share childcare at weekends, either of us can take my daughter to ballet or pick her up on a Saturday whilst the other looks after our son. I have an old convertible MGB and my daughter wants me to take her in that when I can (and when it works).
I took my 18 month old son out in it for the first time last week and he was silent the whole ride- which is a first, I think he enjoyed it- he loves playing in cars when they are parked. I try to do some active stuff with them when I can but we cannot do this as a family and a recent ankle injury means that I cannot go on the trampoline with my daughter any more which she misses. And Sundays I get the kids up and often take my daughter to church and shopping. I am much more of a hands-on Dad when we are away for weekends as there are less tasks waiting to be done and nothing to distract me from my family.

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?

My wife can no longer work due to her disability so sharing leave was not (to my knowledge) possible and as the main earner we cannot afford for me to take unpaid leave. If we had both been working then yes I would have liked to have spent a bit more time with them in the first months- but the realities of breastfeeding and inconvenience of expressing would probably have meant it would have needed to be later rather than sooner. I was however lucky in that my first born arrived during a 12 month period of study leave for me- so I was able to work from home and provide a level of support.