Fear and love; those immediate days after the birth

I described in a recent blog the epic journey that is the birthing process. And if labour is a first tentative step into a brave new world, those immediate days after the birth are a head first plunge into the bottomless pool of raw emotion, vulnerability and sheer exhaustion that is called fatherhood.

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To be honest I got through the first few days on a wave of euphoria, adrenaline and caffeine.

There was so much to contend with.

There were the forms and the hospital processes.

The bombardment of (often contradictory) information.

Then there were the vaccinations that made my daughter squeal in pain.

And the endless tests.

And you have to keep track of everything, because fantastic that they are, nurses and doctors are only human too.

And the random people with unsolicited advice, some of it often very unhelpful.

And there are the well meaning visitors who overstay their welcome.

The trips back and forwards to hospital.

The uncertainty.

The vulnerability.

The tiredness.

And the utter lack of a frame of reference for ANY of it.

In my professional life I am quite used to dealing with ambiguity and crisis. But somehow when I am standing in a village in the middle of a war zone I can externalise the stress.

The conflict is after all not mine. It is not my war. It is not me that will have to rebuild my home, my life and livelihood. I can help, and that is what I do to the best of my professional ability. But I don’t own the crisis.

But as a father having not slept for weeks, I find myself looking at a thermometer that is reading a high fever, holding a tiny screaming baby – MY tiny screaming baby. And it is in the dark hours before dawn, I’m shattered and not thinking properly and something isn’t right and the hospital is a long drive away and wait…….is that a rash on her skin?

 I soon learnt that as a father I was utterly responsible. This was my child. And THIS was now my crisis.

And I soon realised that she relies on me for EVERYTHING.

And there is no booklet. There is no guidance. However hard I wished in those first few weeks, no instruction manual appeared with my daughter’s name on the front.

Nothing to allay the fears. Nothing to allay the neurosis.

So I found myself doing something that human’s have been doing incredibly successfully for millennia: Adapting.

And surviving.

And there was something else there too.

Fear.

And I have seen fear before. Fear is the emotion that comes from being vulnerable, overwhelmed, ignorant and outflanked.

Fear is the emotion that comes from the dread of making a mistake where the stakes are literally life and death.

And I know that the only way to tackle fear is to understand that which frightens you.

So I read the leaflets and the books. I politely listened to opinions. I chose the ones that made sense to my baby and I, and disregarded the ones that didn’t.

I learnt to live on very little sleep.

I wished the visitors on their way. I thanked the family for their support.

I closed the doors, drew the curtains, took the phone off the hook.

And I spent the next few weeks literally lost in my baby; immersing myself in her. Holding her tightly, breathing in the sweetness of her skin, savouring the earthy fragrance of her hair and losing hours in the deep pools of her beautiful eyes.

Understanding her patterns and her rhythms

I sang to her to calm her, rocked her to sleep in the middle of the night, traced the lines on the folds of her skin and obsessed over her tiny fingernails. I held eye contact and lingered, unwilling to break the gaze lest the spell be broken.

I fell in love.

And I figured that if I was to be truly responsible then I would have to face my fear. Understanding the fear was my best weapon.

If there was no manual with my daughter’s name on it, then I would be the one to write it.

I became THE world expert on my daughter.

Those first few weeks are joyous. But they are also hard

I read a superb piece of wisdom on Twitter recently from one of the fathers that I follow. We were discussing how hard parenting and fatherhood is. He nailed it when he said

“…It doesn’t matter how many children you have. Wanting to be a good parent means you make it hard on yourself

And there it is.

If those crazy, chaotic early days taught me anything it was about facing down fear.

And they taught me that I can still surprise myself; that I can still learn and adapt.

And they taught me to trust MY instincts as a father to know what is best for MY daughter.

And they taught me that it feels hard because I want to be a GREAT father.

To this day I keep this statement in my mind. So on those days when the adrenaline runs out, the fatigue sets in and there appears to be no end in sight, I can let the statement out to shine a light into those darkest of corners.

And most importantly those early days taught me something else.

They reminded me of how utterly beautiful it is to feel those butterflies again, to experience that warm fuzzy disorientating feeling once more and to look into the face of another and see such beautiful perfection.

They reminded me what it is like to be giddy with life. To be overwhelmed with emotion.

To be hopelessly in love.

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This original post appeared first on the Daddy Cool Project website (http://www.daddycoolproject.org.uk/). I am currently blogging for them. The Daddy Cool Project (DCP) is a London-based voluntary organisation that aims to highlight the importance and positive impact of fathers and male-role models living and working in today’s society. Go check them out, they do some great work.

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Woo Hoo! It’s nearly Father’s Day Month!

In celebration of Father’s Day on Sunday June 16th I am going to be featuring guest posts from some of the finest father bloggers on the interweb throughout the month of June.

What better way to celebrate all that is good (and maybe bad?!) about modern fatherhood!

I decided to go a bit out on a limb with the theme of the blog.

I wanted to hear male voices writing about the process of childbirth. Childbirth is not something I have read much about from a father’s perspective, so I wanted to address the balance a little bit.

And in case any of the guest bloggers were either not there (or not conscious) during that particular process, they have an escape clause to otherwise write about fatherhood in general.

I hope you will visit my site over June as I feature their writing. I am really excited by it and personally can’t wait to see their entries

Featured writers will include

–          Tom Briggs (Twitter; @TomBriggs79 and Blog: www.diaryofthedad.co.uk)

–          Shawn Brown (at Circumstantially Wonderful  www.sextonsongs.wordpress.com)

–          The iDad (Twitter; @The_iDad and blog: www.idads.co.uk)

–          Dad vs The Kids (Twitter; @dadvsthekids and blog: www.dadvsthekids.com)

–          MVD Stuart (Twitter; @mvd_stuart and blog: www.mummyvsdaddy.com)

And yes, there is at least one BiBs finalist there in the line up! Woo Hoo indeed!

#fathersdaymonth

#FDM

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 NB – This is an idea I got from Dean @littlestepstwit over at www.littlestepsblogdotcom.wordpress.com

Dean has been featuring guest female bloggers on her blog for some time now on her “chats with moms” categories and I really liked the concept. It is refreshing to read so many female perspectives in one place. Go check it out.

(In fact, although I am not a mum, I may also have an interview up there soon! Watch that particular space!)

Dealing with separation anxiety in toddlers

I travel overseas a lot with work. It is very difficult with two toddlers at home. I don’t like leaving them, they don’t like me leaving them and my wife doesn’t like being left.

I have written a whole blog on the contradictory emotions that leaving the family for work reasons provokes in me (I’m travelling abroad for work without my children – is it OK for me to be feeling this happy?) so I won’t go into that here.

Instead this blog deals with a technique that I have developed to make the separation more bearable, particularly for our 3yo daughter who is more conscious, vocal and assertive with her displeasure at being left behind.

Mrs Secret Father and I have, rightly or wrongly, always been really open and honest with our kids about what we are doing. We rarely get nights out together these days, but when we do go out we explain where we are going, how long for and when we will be back.

Initially my daughter would scream and refuse to go to bed on such nights, but after three or four such occasions, became more accepting that Mummy and Daddy might want to go out for a few hours.

The first time I went away for a sustained period with work (about 10 days) I explained to my daughter where I was going and how long I was going away for. This seemed to work initially and I was able to leave the house with my suitcase, relatively unscathed.

However with her only frame of reference being a few previous separations of a couple of hours, it wasn’t long before the questions came thick and fast for Mrs Secret Father to deal with and then eventually this resulted in a mega meltdown caused by frustration, overwhelming emotion and sadness that Daddy could so easily desert her.

We noticed that my being away also set her back in developmental milestones too – temporarily resetting progress that had been made on walking unaided, and more recently reverting to wetting herself when she had succeeded at potty training many months previously.

So a few weeks ago, before a trip to the United States, I decided this time to sit down with my daughter and create a chart to help communicate what was happening. I figured that “time” and “separation” are such abstract concepts to children that it might be easier to deal with if I made them tangible and visible.

So I sat down with her on the morning of my departure and got her to choose the colours we were going to use. I marked out the days I was going to be away and in each day we drew what was going to happen and who she was going to be with. She even helped with a few squiggles of her own.

I then gave her a sheet of stickers and told her to sit down with mummy at the end of each day and put a sticker on the chart to indicate that day was over. The idea was that mummy and her could sit and discuss the day, look forward to (and discuss) the next day, and see it all within the framework of me being away.

The first time we tried it was actually when Mrs Secret Father was away with work for a week and it worked a treat. It made the whole thing more predictable for my daughter gave her a notion of time passing and helped her visualise when her mummy would be home. It also helped to reaffirm routine, a key concept and safety blanket for toddlers.

And it also helped this time on my recent trip to the United States. The sight of me standing at the front door with my suitcase, a symbol and catalyst for so many meltdowns in the past, was no longer a threatening sight. Although my daughter asked many times where I was during the trip, Mrs Secret Father was able to sit her down in front of the chart and talk her through the situation.

Mrs Secret Father sent me a picture of the chart from the first night I was away. If you look closely at the sticker my daughter chose for the first Monday, you will see it is a spaceman. Apparently my daughter chose this to represent me flying to America. I have always fancied being a spaceman, but unfortunately I didn’t get THAT kind of an upgrade on the flight home.

this colourful chart really helped my 3yo daughter deal with separation

this colourful chart really helped my 3yo daughter deal with separation

I would be really pleased to hear about your techniques and advice for dealing with separation anxiety in toddlers.

Leave a comment on this post, tweet me @Secret_Father or email me; The_Secret_Father@hotmail.com

The day it all began (for me at least); a man’s view of childbirth

Unlike many fathers, I couldn’t connect with the growing baby in my wife’s stomach. It was only on the day that my daughter arrived that I actually began to feel like a father. And up until that point I thought that I had experienced most of what life could throw at me. How wrong I was. It was perhaps the strength of the emotional reaction to becoming a father that shocked me the most.

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Just over three years ago, I remember leaving to go on a six week, round-the-world business trip, about ten weeks before our due date.

Up until that point I had watched with fascination and joy at the changing shape of my wife, and the blooming of pregnancy as she turned from lady to woman in front of my eyes.

Unlike many fathers however I couldn’t connect with the baby growing in my wife’s womb. I didn’t sing to the bump, or read stories to it like many of my friends or peers.

However as I was leaving the house to go to the airport something compelled me to kneel down and take my wife’s stomach in my hands and say, half jokingly,

“Please don’t come out until you hear my voice again”.

I knew I was taking a risk going on a trip like this so near to the birth, but we figured the four week buffer zone was adequate.

How funny then, that the morning that I got back from the trip, totally and utterly exhausted, and was just making my way upstairs to bed, that my daughter should decide that THIS was the moment to announce her arrival on planet earth.

I remember it clearly. I was walking up the stairs. The doorbell went. It was my wife. She had come back from work. It was her last day before maternity leave. She made it as far as the office doors and her waters had broken.

And there she was, standing on the door mat looking slightly confused, a little scared, but glowing like nothing I have seen before.

The funniest thing about this moment was what she said. Here she was, standing on the cusp of the most deeply profound moment of her life, the transition from girl to woman, about to enter the exalted realm of motherhood and the first thing she said was

“My waters have broken. My boots are RUINED.”

That, right there, is why I fell in love with her all those years ago. Pragmatic, unflappable, utterly loveable, even in the face of adversity.

We made it to the hospital. It was technically a premature birth, my daughter was coming four weeks early. My wife was immediately wired up. Our birthing plan was rendered redundant.

It is hard to describe the emotion of watching child birth. It is a process like no other; nature’s nine month drum solo, reaching a glorious, crashing climax. I felt at once utterly petrified, but at the same time strangely calm and reassured, like it was the most natural thing in the world.

As the father I was out of control of the situation. My role was very much as support cast. I watched it unfold in front of me, offering reassuring words, helping ease the pain and discomfort, but ultimately folding in front of the power, grace and determination of my wife in her quest to provide life to another being.

She was amazing. Even towards the end, when the drum roll quickened to a frenzied crescendo and the room was filled with unfamiliar sounds, noises and smells. The rhythm had steadily built for nine months purely for this moment.

When she finally pushed my daughter out, she let out a scream of pain, relief and joy. My daughter slipped out, bruised purple, covered from head to toe in white vernix. For me, this was the most amazing moment in my life. A powerful cocktail of extreme jet lag, fatigue, relief and emotion rocked me like nothing before.

It was a heady blast of utter joy and relief, like the ultimate orgasm. I couldn’t stop my tears and frankly I didn’t want to, as these were the warm, tingling tears of joy. I relished every one.

The whole process had tapped into an emotional pool as old as life itself, a primal, animalistic response to the miracle of childbirth and the continued success of the species.

Being in the room for the birth was an utter privilege. I saw my wife control and master extreme pain, (without drugs). I saw my wife use every ounce of energy, strain every sinew to deliver a miracle. I saw my wife become a woman. This in itself was a beautiful thing. It created another profound connection between us, and raised the bar in our relationship.

And then there was that feeling. After the sound of the drums had faded away, and the rawness of the delivery had passed, we were on our own. Just the three of us.

We lay in a warm delivery suite, the lights faded low, the soothing sounds of the hospital faintly discernible around us and the feel-good endorphins surging around our bodies. Everything calm but heightened, like the night air after a crackling electrical storm.

And I was euphoric that my daughter had waited until I got back, before emerging into the world, because I wouldn’t have missed the birth for anything.

As I was holding my daughter close to my chest, she looked up at me, and held me with a look that only newborns can give. It was a look that went straight into my soul and took my breath away. It was a look of profound vulnerability and unconditional trust.

And it was then, right at that moment, that I felt the connection. A powerful and unconditional urge to protect, provide and nurture. An urge I had never felt before. Nature’s way of ensuring the species continues. And it was then that I knew I had taken on the most important responsibility of all.

I had become a father.

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This original post appeared first on the Daddy Cool Project website (http://www.daddycoolproject.org.uk/). I am currently blogging for them. The Daddy Cool Project (DCP) is a London-based voluntary organisation that aims to highlight the importance and positive impact of fathers and male-role models living and working in today’s society. Go check them out.