I sat my husband down for an honest chat about the highs and lows of life as Dad to a 12-week-old baby …
In the early days of this blog, while 25 weeks pregnant, I interviewed my husband about impending Fatherhood. Six months later, now with a 12-week-old daughter, I’ve asked him for the truth about being a new Dad …
Me: Well, here we are again. Let’s get straight into it! First. Without any gory details, how was the birth for you?
Husband: Looking back on it – magical. I was grateful it went – relatively – as smoothly as possible, with no complications and our baby born healthy. I only look back on it as a special experience.
But, I do remember when living it that the last hour and the pushing part was the most horrible experience, seeing someone you love so much in pain. Randomly, the minute it was over and I saw you were ok, I almost instantly forgot that pain in my stomach from seeing you go through so much.
As a Dad during birth, you’re totally in the hands of other people: the doctor, midwife and nurse. And, your wife is doing all the work. As the man you think “everyone else in this room is doing something and I’m just watching.” BUT. In my head I’d prepared for all birth scenarios. So, every time it wasn’t worst case, I felt gratitude instead of fear. I thought we could be there for 32 or 48 hours, that it could be long, painful and emotional. But as it happened so quickly, I didn’t go through that. So the birth was a pleasure. You were so strong and we were talking and joking all through it. I knew it was going to be ok.
What’s your opinion of Dutch care during childbirth?
I think it’s pretty ‘factual’. But, I suppose it has to be. You were on a monitor, we were left alone for two hours in the birthing room … the bedside care was minimal. But when they were there they were reassuring; fantastic. They couldn’t have been more brilliant in the crucial moments.
I would recommend Dutch birth to other, although I have nothing to compare it to. They couldn’t have done anything better in how they perceive a good birth to be. Although they could have more drugs on hand … But I came out of it with happiness, not thinking ‘never again’.
Last time I asked you about the highs of pregnancy. So, now, what have been the highs of Fatherhood?
The first high was seeing our daughter born safely and seeing the bond you had with her in the hospital. I’ll remember that for the rest of my life seeing how happy you were, and being left with the three of us in a room.
The second high was when my Mum came out and held her.
The first time I fed her was a high. That was the first time I felt able to care for her and add something.
And, to be honest, the next high was from week five onwards. Since then every day has brought something new. Like, just now, she was on my lap and I was chatting rugby to her and she was smiling the whole time. And a few weeks ago, she was holding her own weight for the first time on the table in the cafe.
Also, I love that she gives love not only to you and I but to everyone she meets. I hope we’re embracing that by being generous with how much we share her.
On the flip side, what have been any lows?
Weeks two to five were tough. I romanticise things in my head. I thought from day one I would be engaged with her and she’d be Daddy’s girl and the family would be complete. I’d built it up, but the first few weeks she’s just a baby: eating, sleeping, pooing. She’s not developed enough at that time to engage. It was an anticlimax and then I felt frustrated. I know I lashed out a bit at you. It was only when we had a really open conversation together and shared that it’s ok to feel that way that it got better and better.
Weirdly, times when she cries aren’t lows for me. When I’m walking around the room carrying her, I love it. It’s defining for me.
Lack of sleep occasionally, but you let me sleep through the night mainly.
A couple of times you’ve really needed my help. It’s not nice to see you at the point where you’ve had so little sleep that you need a break but it’s good that I can help: Daddy cavalry as we say.
There’s no regrets. I’ve never thought it’s unmanageable. But it’s been a massive learning experience.
Has anything been totally different to how you imagined it?
I didn’t think I’d be so ‘family’ orientated in terms of my extended family – our parents, siblings and their families. Living abroad we dip in and out of family. But, since having her, I think more and more about families. I didn’t predict that. I want to be less independent and much more part of an extended family.
How is the experience of being an expat parent – in terms of the Netherlands and being away from family and friends?
There’s not many differences (I think) in terms of services like healthcare, registering births, check-ups etc.
Being an expat parent, we don’t have family to babysit for us or give us an hour of two break. Neither of us would trust someone else looking after her while our baby is so young. It’s probably been 10-20% more intense than if we’d been at home.
Living in Amsterdam vs. living in the UK, I know friends there are constantly in the car, doing more ‘to and fro’. In Amsterdam we do everything as a family and have everything on our doorstep. It makes life easy.
And, finally, do you have any words of wisdom for other Dads-to-be?
Looking back, I try to remember things as they are and not romanticise. Things have sometimes been hard. But reflection also makes me realise how many special moments we’ve had. This is a little person who’s only just learning to engage.
An important piece of advice I was given: don’t keep wishing for the future, just enjoy the now. People say “it’s great when they’re one …” etc. But actually it’s going to be great every day. I tend to think forwards too much. I’m glad I’m concentrating more on each day. I’ve got some way to go, but I’m trying to be ‘relaxed, chilled Dad’!
As a new parent lots of people give you advice. You think “yea, whatever” at the time. You don’t believe it – or you think you’ll be different. But you won’t! People aren’t trying to tell you how to raise your child they’re just trying to be helpful – so do absorb the advice even if you don’t use it. I’m guilty of getting short with people offering advice. But they’re just trying to be helpful based on their experience.
Also, if you snap at your partner, as the Dad it’s more important than ever that you admit if you’re wrong, take deep breaths and not let it get bigger. There’s 100 reasons you might be short with each other – sleep deprivation being a huge one – but you have to not turn it into a big argument.
Finally. If you say you’re going to be home at 7p.m. then 10 minutes late is too late! If your partner’s counting down the clock holding a crying baby, it’s unfair on them and the baby to be late.