Self-employed meant it was difficult to see the benefits

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

I didn’t think too much about it really. I was excited about becoming a parent and looking forward to holding a ‘little bundle’ for the first time. In terms of the actual grind of parenthood, I didn’t think too much about what it would mean to be woken up nightly, the restrictions on our usual activities – but I think being an older father (I was 39) makes things easier in this regard. You have several years of seeing your friends socialize less, watching them become parents; that I guess you’re more ready to accept it when it happens to you. Having a baby was a priority for us following our wedding the year before.  

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

As alluded to above, the reality of being a father wasn’t something I gave too much thought to – it was more of an abstract notion of bringing new life into the world.

Our situation has been fairly straightforward. We hear horror stories from friends and acquaintances regarding sleeping patterns, illness, issues with feeding – all manner of things. We have been lucky – long bouts of sleep became the norm relatively quickly; although as I’m not the primary caregiver, I guess I am a bit more removed from the more difficult parts of parenthood. I haven’t usually got up at night, for instance. As we are not bottle-feeding, we have both felt that it doesn’t make sense for us both to get up in the middle of the night – essentially for the sake of it.

What I wasn’t expecting was the fact that, when going away from home – at work or travelling overseas for work – the degree to which I would miss just being at home playing with the baby, as well as helping out with meals, chores (bathing, nappy changing etc).

What were your experiences of the support that you (and your partner) received before, and after, the birth of your child(ren)? (You could include here your stories of prenatal and antenatal care, and experiences of the birth itself!)

I went to almost of all the midwife appointments through the course of the pregnancy, as well as the scans etc. These were helpful in terms of understanding what was happening to my wife and the baby’s development. We probably saw 5 different community midwives – some were fantastic and really looked to involve me in the appointments, with one or two I might as well have not been there, whilst with another, both my wife and I felt that she came over rather unprofessionally (she messed up the taking of blood on one occasion and made some inappropriate comments on two other occasions). After one of these occasions, we looked into the possibility of private midwifery services but didn’t end up taking it any further. There was a lot of emphasis in these sessions on the contents of the ringbinder, which had to be carried to every appointment and would be assiduously studied and updated by the relevant healthcare professional.

Some appointments were held in a ‘Surestart Centre’ – a bit like a sheltered workshop – and I would wonder why these couldn’t be held in a doctor’s surgery (where some of the appointments were), which seemed more appropriate given that pregnancy and childbirth are essentially medical in nature.

My wife signed us up for NCT classes – choosing the intensive 2 full days option, rather than the weekly evening classes. It’s fair to say that I was a somewhat unwilling participant initially, but tried not to show this as I knew it was important to her. I think I actually got more out of the classes than she did – I learned a fair bit about the process of pregnancy and labour, whereas I think she was disappointed to not make a good circle of friends (it was quite an eclectic group of people – not the stereotypical NCT groups that you hear about). Classes were held in a village hall – and I was surprised how expensive they were (my gripe being that they didn’t include lunch!) The facilitator knew her stuff, however, but got a bit ‘New Agey’ towards the end of each class (‘close your eyes, everyone hold hands’), which I found a bit ridiculous.

As we were signed up for NCT, we didn’t go along to the NHS antenatal classes offered in the local hospital. I remember a couple of midwives being disapproving of this – as if we were somehow being errant by not attending. Friends of ours were pregnant at the same time (in the North East). They went to everything on offer and it was apparent that there was a lot of overlap of content between the two providers; albeit with a wider social mix of people at the NHS classes. What was very interesting was the apparent tension between the NCT and the community midwives. The NCT facilitator was very negative about the role of midwives (and medical intervention in general) – bordering on the hostile, I would say, when it came to discussing any interventions that might be needed during labour. I remember taking it with a pinch of salt and puzzling over this. The community midwives weren’t hostile towards the concept of NCT, but nor were they willing to highlight the services offered by them. It was like the NCT didn’t exist.

We also went to a breastfeeding class offered by the NCT – the same group that had attended the previous classes. It’s fair to say that was a waste of time – the facilitator, who was different from the previous one, wasn’t particularly good at putting her point across. At one point, the men had to go into a room on their own and discuss how they might support their wives in breastfeeding. Without any obvious structure to this part of the session it was fairly ineffective. Later on, the facilitator whipped out a woollen handmade breast from her bag and pretended to suckle on it, thereby demonstrating what the baby should do. It was quite bizarre. 

Towards the end of the pregnancy, the baby wasn’t showing any signs of wanting to appear. The due date came and went with no waters broken or contractions experienced. As instructed by the midwife, 10 days after the due date, on a Sunday morning in September, we called the local hospital who confirmed that we should go in. We only live 15 minutes away, the bag had been packed for several weeks and so we drove leisurely to the hospital and parked.

My wife received a drug to bring on labour (and was given a sweep) and we were advised to go and have a walk around the grounds to help encourage things along. We assumed it would be acceptable to walk to a nearby supermarket, so went and bought a picnic and ate this in a park, which was alongside it. It was a nice sunny day and it was actually very relaxing. We then had a wander to the hospital duck pond and sat by that for a while.

When we got back to the maternity ward after lunch, there was more waiting, another sweep (I think), another walk – the full perimeter of the hospital grounds this time. Things didn’t really start going until about 9pm – roughly 12 hours after we had arrived at the hospital. We were in a ‘holding pen’ I guess you could call it, rather than a delivery suite; and I remember we were both amused with what was going on on the other side of the curtains. One prospective father – a youngish lad in his early 20s – was complaining to his partner about her family and how they hated him. Another woman’s waters broke and the baby started coming out very quickly – she was rushed away.

My wife started to experience contractions and things became a little alarming, as she would shake quite violently. We were moved into a delivery suite. The midwife monitored her for a while and then suggested gas and air. This was tried, but it just made her gag, so she suggested an epidural and explained why she thought this was needed. Whilst we had a birth plan (duly filled out and placed in the ringbinder), we weren’t particularly wedded to it and an anesthetist came and injected my wife’s spine. 

Contractions were still not happening as they should have been and my wife was asleep. It was now around 1am and the midwife suggested I should have a lie down next to the bed. She provided a mattress and I dossed down for a few hours. Things started happening again around 5am – and after another hour or so, following a forceps delivery, our daughter was born. 

I remember when we were leaving with our daughter, it was a requirement that the baby’s car-seat needed to be checked by a midwife before we were ‘allowed’ to leave. I found this attempt at control rather patronizing and also unnecessary – what if we didn’t have a car and were leaving by taxi? It was easier to just go along with it however and show the midwife how we had fastened the straps.  

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 carried on working immediately after the birth, wanting to take my allotted fortnight a few months into things. This was partly because we were living with my parents-in-law at the time, so there was plenty of support on tap from my mother-in-law, so it didn’t feel like I was abandoning things when I had to go to work.

We got into something of a routine fairly quickly, with parenting responsibilities falling very much on my wife. I don’t remember us ever discussing this – it just seemed to be the ‘normal’ thing to do. As breastfeeding was very straightforward right away, there wasn’t anything I could do relating to feeding – apart from getting up to offer moral support, which I did very early on; but it seemed rather pointless as it became clear that there weren’t any problems, and I would often sleep through any feeding that my wife did during the night.

We had our first ‘date night’ around 6 weeks after the birth. The baby was breastfed around 6pm, left with my parents-in-law, and we headed out for a very quick meal in a local pub, returning 90 minutes later. It was the first time my wife had been away from the baby, but all went fine and we developed a pattern of just the two of us going out about every 2-3 weeks.

As our daughter moved on to solid foods (after 6 months or so) I started to spend  more and more time involved in feeding. If we are both at home, then this is now something that we share 50:50.  

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 it – I was aware that it had come been introduced and, had our circumstances been different, we might have looked further into it. As my wife is self-employed, it would have meant a significant drop in income for us, as she earns less than me and was also not in a position to return to work. As I see it, it’s only of value if you are in comparable work situations and with roughly similar salaries (or you’re prepared to take a big hit financially).

An extra couple of weeks of paternity leave would have been nice, however!