Reflections on the first two weeks of fatherhood
It felt real as I was washing my hands in the next room, fifteen minutes after the birth. I heard the sound of a thumb being vigorously being sucked. He is here. He is in the world, making a sound and I can hear him. It was 1 am, and my son had arrived.
It is not like in the movies. His arrival didn't feel like an exhilarating religious experience, nor one that was full of a ritual sentimental emotion. Instead, it was a time of presence in the moment. Harriet had been practicing hypno-birthing, and I was supporting and coaching her in breathing throughout the labour. The rest of the world faded away, everything was in the here and now.
We got out of hospital with Jack the evening of the day he was born. In my two weeks of paternity leave, time has disappeared. It's easy to sit with Jack in my arms and a few hours go by in the blink of an eye.
What would I recommend to someone who is about to become a father?
First, it's your experience. Listen to your partner, prepare, but make it your own. Make a place of safety if you can.
Second, there is the "tidy" prep you do beforehand, and then again as you actually start the messy business of living. The mise-en-place for sanitising bottles, feeding, pumping, nappies, clothing and sleeping will change as you get into it. Plan in advance, but if the thing you need isn't easily to hand, don't live with it, make an adjustment. Rearrange, rethink!
Third, it can be physically taxing. I was advised "work out your arms" in the run up - it sounded like a joke - but it helps. Watch your back. There is a lot of bending over. Take care of your health.
Fourth, make sure you spend the time to appreciate the day to day. Things have changed so much even in the first two weeks. Jack is chubbier, starting to look around more, unfurling, growing a little tuft of hair and making different noises. These moments happen quickly and then go. Don't get too caught up in the rushing.
And what have I appreciated of these two weeks?
Harriet and I have worked well as a team. We've been together over four years, travelled a little, supported each other through tough work times and survived moving in together during a pandemic. But, we've never worked on something big together. It's strange, but it's a new dynamic between us, and it's exciting.
I appreciate the messages of congratulations and supportive advice from friends and family. The standard trope is for people to tell you how difficult it is: "say goodbye to your life" or "good luck trying to sleep for a few years". Some of these may be true. I am sure it is difficult, but it's not goodbye to my life, it's hello to a new chapter of it. It has really meant a lot to feel the joy of my friends, family and colleagues. Many people have given us tips, reassurance or shared their own experience. It is useful to know that our own worries are pretty typical.
I also want to remember the small moments - like the first night where Jack was needing soothed, I carried him out to our hallway and his eye caught our illuminated thermostat. We stood for a few moments in the dark with me calming him, swaying, looking into the soft light. We felt like a whole family, and it was great.