One born every minute

It is actual Fathers Day! And this is the fourth in the series of #fathersdaymonth guest posts. This one is a second post from @dadvsthekids. You can read more from him on his new blog http://www.dadvsthekids.com

It’s a post about childbirth. And I particularly like this post because it is funny. Really funny. But also that there is a great central message here. Kids dont play by the rules. Neither should you. Stick your hands out and get them dirty.

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Hi. I’d like my coat dry-cleaned please. That stain? Yeah, it’s just my wife’s blood. Do you reckon you can you get that all out?”

Okay. Let me back up a bit.

THE KID IS IN MY HANDS WHAT THE HELL DO I DO?!?!?”

Okay. Maybe I need to go back a little bit more. Because if you’re bringing a child into this world, you need to be prepared. But not prepared in the way you think you know right now.

This is the birth of our second child. I got this. I read all the magazines. I diligently attended all the birthing classes. I even managed to get in good with one of the staff on the maternity ward (ok, it was my mother-in-law) and secured a serene, private hospital room to welcome our latest ‘miracle of life’ into the world with the aid of the finest drugs the NHS has to offer. NAILED IT.

From the Dad’s point of view, as long as you’ve picked up the TENS machine, remembered the overnight bag, your ONLY job in the delivery room is to hold your wife’s hand, offering appropriate, positive commendation whilst resisting the temptation to take a hit of the gas and air whilst the midwife’s back is turned.

We’d been through this already with child no.1 – I knew the drill. I knew my place. So when the contractions started that summer afternoon in 2006, it was like the Rocky theme tune was playing in my head all over again. All those months of training has led to this.

 Mrs DvK calls her parents and we arrange to drop off our firstborn. Because who wants to traumatise a 2yr old child with shrieking contractions and profanities, right?

“Yep,” she breathes into her phone through the mild contractions. “We’ll drop him off to you Mum, and then we’ll go home and collect my stuff before meeting you at the hospital. The contractions aren’t too bad, so we should have plenty of time.” I make a mental note to pack myself extra magazines and maybe a Mars Bar.

An hour later, we’re back at home. Mrs DvK is on the sofa, wrapped up in the TENS machine, timing the contractions whilst I make the last few phone calls to friends and family.

Informing the maternity ward of our imminent arrival, I try my best to sound confident and jovial. Don’t be fooled – judging the window between “should we go in now” and “I can’t believe that moody cow sent us back home” is another rite of passage for all paranoid new parents. If you don’t sound convinced, then they won’t be.

“Did you call the midwife?”

“Yes hun”

“Did you put my slippers in the bag?”

“Yep.”

“Have you put the car seat in?”

“It’s done.”

“Did you pack the baby vests?”

“Yes….”

“The green ones and the white ones?”

“YES.”

Apparently no one cares if I packed my Mars Bars, but whatever. I take charge of the conversation. “Right, I’ll get everything in the car.” I slip my hands into my coat, help Mrs DvK up from the sofa and march ahead for the front door. “Let’s go!”

The first scream of pain hits me with brute force. I’m not supposed to hear that until we’re in the delivery room am I?

I turn around and for the first time, I see paralysing fear in my wife’s eyes. By the Power of Greyskull: THE LITTLE GIT IS COMING NOW.

NINE. NINE. NINE.

“I can’t move! I can’t move! I have to push!” she screams. The sheer ferocity of the contraction is too much and Mrs DvK, in a hysterical panic starts to remove her clothes.

“NOOO! Not in the living room on the carpet!” My cry falls on deaf ears. But Mother Nature has taken over and gravity is the first to say hello. With one push, her waters break, spilling out onto the floor.

Imagine what you’ve seen in light-hearted romantic comedies and hilarious TV sit-coms.  But without the canned laughter. Nobody is laughing now. It’s EVERYWHERE.

“WIFE IN LABOUR! BABY COMING! SEND AMBULANCE!” My adrenalin fuelled stuttering to the 999 operator reveals I am way in over my head. This is uncharted territory.

My wife and I are alone, with no medical professional, no drugs, and no way out. There isn’t an app for this. Mrs DvK is about to endure childbirth cave-man style, and I didn’t even get to start thumbing through my fresh copy of GQ. Typical.

Despite all the odds, she’s still on her feet. Everything is a blur. The second push is more dramatic than the first.

And then it happens.

I can see my son’s head.

My stupid brain frantically tries to recall anything from the birthing lessons that can help in this situation. Nope.

One thing I can guarantee, new Dads: Time will slow down when you see your child for the first time. I don’t remember the exact moment I dropped the phone and extended my hands to catch my son. That primal need to protect him at all costs is something that you can never fully put into words. This tiny child is fighting for survival from his first breath and he’s relying on you to step up.

The umbilical cord is still wrapped around his neck. But he’s crying. That’s a good thing right? “Yes, yes that’s a good thing you idiot”, I think to myself, “that means he’s breathing.” Unwrap the cord dammit, unwrap the cord.

Mrs DvK finally crumples to the floor in a shock, tired heap. I remember I’m still on the phone to the 999 operator. “THE KID IS IN MY HANDS WHAT THE HELL DO I DO?!?!?”

“Get blankets. Keep them comfortable. Another midwife and an ambulance are on their way sir.” The reassuring tone of the disembodied voice make me think this is definitely a more regular occurrence than I’ve been led to believe. Did she just call me Sir?

Your child will shock and surprise you from the second they are born. Just when you think you’ve got them figured out, they’ll blindside you with an emotional uppercut and you’ll be left wondering why you weren’t prepared and begin to doubt your ability to keep another human being alive.

To those who have such trepidation, I say USE that. Use that fear to fuel that primal maternal/paternal bond, not shy away from it.

The books and the classes and the well-meaning (but sometimes conflicting) advice from family and friends have their place.

But you’ll be surprised what you’re prepared to do for your child when you use them as the measuring rod of your success as a parent, not the photo-shopped magazine version we all find ourselves aspiring to.

If catching my son mid-delivery taught me anything, it’s that kids don’t play by the rules. And neither should you. Stick your hands out and get them dirty.

The real professionals arrive less than 10 minutes after the delivery and do their thing.

Actually, one of the ambulance paramedics, built like brick house, and who’s probably seen more than his fair share of multiple car pile-ups, confesses he is squeamish at the sight of women giving birth. Outstanding.

He offers to make himself useful by putting the kettle on and making the bed. 

Mother and baby are eventually given the all clear by the midwife and within an hour they’ve gone, and our new son is already asleep.

Aside from the stream of text messaging well-wishers, the eerie quiet is a stark and bemusing contrast to the heart-stopping moments that preceded it.

I look at my blood-covered watch. It’s nearly 8:30pm.

“Fancy catching the last few minutes of Eastenders?”

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This was originally a guest post for @ministryofmum. Go check out her superb blog at www.ministryofmum.blogspot.co.uk

 

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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.