In 1970, on a warm summers evening in July, my dad dropped my mum, who was in labour with me and my twin brother, off at the hospital and asked her to call him when she felt ready to cope with visitors. There didn’t seem anything unusual in that to either mum or dad, that was just how things were done. When their wives were in labour, men went off to work, or sat in the waiting room with flowers like in a Carry On film. Oh how times have changed.
I couldn’t wait for the birth of my children. I read the books, attended the ante-natal classes and got to know the midwife. I was convinced that if my wife went into labour unexpectedly I would be able to deliver my son (tying off the placenta with a clean shoelace – I looked it up). Luckily, my emergency delivery plans never saw the light of day as we made it to the hospital in plenty of time.
I was right by my wife’s side throughout, offering what comfort and support I could. And words cannot explain the feeling of finally holding my brand new baby trooper in my arms. It is an amazing experience, as any dad will tell you.
But then something really strange happened after the birth. Without any warning, I disappeared. I became completely invisible to doctors, nurses and the midwife. I think my wife could see me, but I was finding it hard to get to the side of her bed to double check.
So perhaps I didn’t physically disappear (although that would make a good story) but it certainly felt like it. And that’s when I first realised that it’s very, very easy to become sidelined as a new dad. And not only in the delivery room, but beyond it too. The vast majority of advice, support and care is geared towards mum. Don’t get me wrong, parents need all the advice, support and care that it is possible to give them, but dads are parents too. And we have a crucial role to play, right from the minute we welcome our trooper into the world.
We need to provide physical support, such as taking on night feeds, keeping the house squared away, buying supplies, getting meals on the table, washing clothes and generally keeping on top of everything. But most importantly, we need to make sure that our partner has everything she physically needs, from time to take a bath to healthy food.
We also need to provide emotional support, essential to keeping morale high. Sometimes, our partners can feel as if life has become all about the baby trooper. Reassure her and let her know you’re in this together. Having a new baby is tiring for everyone, but your wife and trooper have been through labour too. Tempers can get frayed in the beginning when you’re both adjusting to a completely new lifestyle on limited sleep. Keep calm.
And our trooper needs us too. Don’t believe that we aren’t biologically programmed to be good carers. We may not have the ‘maternal instinct’ but I can assure you that the minute my troopers were born, my wife and I both had a huge instinct to love, protect and care for them. We got the ‘parental instinct’. And in terms of physically caring for a baby, we can do everything but breastfeed. It might not seem like it at the time (well it certainly didn’t for me) but with practical experience, you will easily master the basics.
But of course it doesn’t end there. Even after ten years as a stay at home dad, I still consider myself a Commando Dad in training. It is worth the effort. To a trooper, their dad has many roles, often falling somewhere between Hero, Role Model and Protector. When you become a dad you step into those shoes and you owe it to yourself – and your troopers – to be the best dad you can be. So don’t let yourself get sidelined, dads. You are simply too important.
I wrote this blog for The Baba Blog, a great blog full of practical advice and tips for new mums…..and hopefully some new dads too.