When my girlfriend told me she’d tried a pregnancy test, it was pretty clear from the look on her face what the result was. A wave of fear hit me and my mind started racing. We hadn’t planned to have a baby. I thought: I’m not ready for this! We can’t afford to do this! What are we going to do? My blasé and stress-free existence could be over! My present life seemed to be under threat of becoming my former life.
For a while after our discovery, I was certain we as a couple weren’t ready for a baby. When I had thought about where I wanted to be when we had kids, I’d expected things would be stable and secure; I’d have a secure job, enough money in the bank, and have fulfilled many of my irresponsible ambitions. After a little time and a lot of emotional discussions we agreed that we could do it, despite not being in the stable and secure situation I had envisaged.
Unplanned pregnancies are not unusual. Whilst it can be difficult, it’s important to talk openly together, get help and advice and agree on the right decision for both of you. As I realised 9 months is plenty of time to get yourself prepared. Although having enough money obviously helps, you don’t need to buy the baby everything. The most important things are those that can’t be bought. Try to be there as much as possible to fulfil his or her basic needs such as: feeding (breast milk’s free!), sleeping, burping, changing, warmth, comfort and cuddling – all of which can be enjoyable for you too!
So we were going to have a baby! Becoming a Dad was becoming a reality and there was 9 months or so to get my head round the idea. I conquered my selfish what about me?! thoughts and started to look forward to being a Dad.
Telling our families the news was exciting. It was going to be their first grandchild – and all the excitement made us feel special too. Having supportive friends also really helped. Early on, when I still wasn’t sure, I talked about my worries with my best mate. He was surprisingly upbeat (even a bit envious) – it meant a lot to me to know that he thought I should do it and that I would be a good Dad. Such a positive reaction helped me feel more optimistic and proud about it.
If you can, try to attend appointments (especially the big ones: scans, seeing a Consultant and ante-natal classes) – she will really appreciate your support and it might be helpful if you have any questions to ask.
Early on it can be useful to do some background reading on the whole process – during and after. There are an overwhelming number of books out there, but I found something clear and straightforward (with lots of pictures), which covers the pregnancy and how to prepare for the birth was best. You should also be able to get a booklet called ‘Birth to Five’ which we got through our Doctor for free. It’s also helpful to speak to parents and anyone you know with kids as they will probably have been through similar experiences and have lots of advice.
I also found it helpful to understand what happens at the hospital, about the birth and having a birth plan (the websites at the bottom can help with this). As well as reading about it, we did some research about the hospital’s facilities, plus going to antenatal classes and visiting the labour ward helped us get to know the hospital and get a feel for where it was going to happen. Make good use of the Midwives and Doctors by asking questions – if it’s your first time there are a lot of new things to get your head around.
One of the most memorable experiences during the pregnancy was the first scan at 12 weeks. At the hospital I was excited, but not sure how I’d feel. As soon as I heard and saw the heartbeat, and watched this little person wriggling and rolling around on the screen it really hit home, it made everything much more real and I think it was the first time I felt a strong bond towards the baby.
A Helping Hand
As I found during the pregnancy, it can sometimes feel like your job has been done – but it hasn’t. It really helps if you’re there for mum and try to understand what she’s going through. She’ll appreciate your support be it for her back (more pillows), emotional or getting off your arse to cook her something nice to eat. Remember: we’ve got it pretty easy. Yes, we might start to feel like her slave, but her body goes through a lot of changes, making it harder for her to move around, get sleep, and do things she used to take for granted like putting her shoes on – so don’t hold it against her!
Being there for her, in my experience at least, can help us feel we have a role in the pregnancy. It’s also good practice for becoming more responsible if you can be a bit selfish and lazy like me. It might not be easy to get used to, but in time you’ll get better at multi-tasking and it gets you prepared for some of your Dad duties later on.
The Big Day
The birth itself wasn’t the natural, drug-free one we planned for. My girlfriend was stuck in bed for nearly a week – frustrated, bored, uncomfortable and often in pain and I had to travel to and from the hospital. There was a lot of waiting and wondering about when something would start happening for the first few days and why they weren’t doing more to speed things up.
This was another experience I perhaps naively, thought would be quicker, more enjoyable and exciting. When we arrived that night I thought we’d be in the hospital for a short time and then return home victoriously a few days later – that was wishful thinking.
When my girlfriend was finally ready to go to the labour ward it was a big relief that we’d get more regular support from staff. There was yet more waiting and discomfort for my girlfriend, but things started speeding up as the baby made its way out slowly. There wasn’t much brow mopping or hand holding from me, by that stage she just wanted to get on with it so I was relegated to a fairly crap motivator: offering some slightly weak and obvious comments like “keep going” “that’s it, keep pushing…”.
The memory of it all is a bit of a blur and I hadn’t slept properly for nearly 2 days at that point. I was a dazed and speechless spectator as far as I can remember, as people were gathered round the business end. There were some complications during labour which meant that in the end a stocky Paediatrician had to pull my son out hurriedly by his head, again not the lovely image of birth I had in my head, but you can’t have everything!
But then he was finally here. Our pink, puffy and soggy baby was put on his Mum’s chest for a cuddle and I said “It’s a boy!” (this was basically my contribution). Then I had a good old cry for a while, staring in amazement at this little person, as one of the Doctors did the standard checks.
Then I finally got to hold him and it was great just looking at his little scrunched up and bewildered face – much like anyone might look if they’d been yanked out of a comfy bed and into a brightly lit room, with big tired faces staring down at them at early o’clock in the morning! But it was a really happy moment. I was finally a genuine Dad and it felt great.
When it comes to the big day emotions will obviously run high, but again it’s important that you can be there for your girlfriend who will probably go through a lot of discomfort and pain, so be ready for your thoughts and feelings (important though they are) to take a bit of a back seat.
Also if I can give one piece of advice: it’s helpful to be aware of and open to the fact that while things might go as you want (e.g. smoothly and quickly), everything you planned for might not happen, and this may be for reasons that are beyond your control. But don’t fight it as there is often not much anyone can do about it since the process varies from Mum to Mum.
One final thing lads, if you’re wondering what it might be like giving birth, I’ve heard from a few Mums that it’s like pooing out a watermelon (it’s hard not to wince at that!) – I hope that puts it in perspective for you!
When we got back home it was a huge relief. We were in a daze in those first days and weeks, partly from the reality that we were actually parents, partly through not having a lot of sleep. After all the visits from family, friends and the photos etc, we were able to have some much needed time to ourselves, start getting to know our son and get a feel for what it was like being parents. I was lucky enough to be able to take nearly 3 weeks paternity leave off work and I’d recommend it to every Dad to take it if you can and make the most of it.
Getting used to the change in lifestyle and putting ourselves second came fairly naturally – we just got on with it, learning by doing but also asking our parents for advice if we weren’t sure about the finer details. I quickly got used to changing him and accepted early on that I’d probably get weed, pooed, vomited on at times. I eventually became pretty skilled at taking off the dirty nappy, wiping, cleaning and putting the new nappy on without getting a fountain of wee in the face (as happened once).
We also spent many hours walking him around in his buggy trying to get him to sleep or coaxing him to sleep by dancing him to sleep with music. We’d talk to him and shake the multitude of toys he had in front of his face hoping to claim that first smile or giggle, and I developed a baby talking voice which would probably sound pretty annoying in any other walk of life.
There are too many things to mention here like all those firsts (e.g. the first bath, smile etc), but overall, spending time with him, just watching him and seeing how amazing and committed my girlfriend was (and is) as a Mum was great – again being there and doing the little things for baby and Mum can make a big difference.
Going back to work wasn’t easy – it felt strange leaving them to it so early on, but at this time it helped that she had friends and family nearby to help if she needed it and later on I managed to get a day off a week to look after him, which has been a great way to bond with him and hone my Dad skills.
As if one wasn’t enough we’re now expecting number two! I’m pretty chilled about this one – I think what I learnt the last time has given me a lot of confidence this time round and as long as I still get a little bit of time to myself now and then I’m happy.
Although there are similarities, each Dad (and parents in general) can have very different experiences in terms of trying for a baby, pregnancy, the birth and what happens next and all these can probably seem even more intense if you’re a young Dad. With that in mind, we’d welcome any comments Dads or Mums have about this article and in general. How was it for you? If you’re a young Dad or Mum – what’s it like? Has there been anything you’ve found easy or hard about becoming a parent? If you’re a single parent what’s that like? Let us know what you think…
Also check out the links below which offer lots of information and advice for new parents and young Dads:
NHS Choices have a pregnancy guide which includes loads of useful information and advice on becoming a parent and the pregnancy:
The NHS Choices pregnancy section has specific information for Dads on what to expect, supporting your partner, paternity leave, birth and beyond:
The Young Fathers website has specific advice, information and links to useful services for young Dads (check out the Are You An Expectant Father? and Housing And Working sections in particular):
The Dad Info website gives information and advice about becoming a Dad and related areas: www.dad.info/fatherhood/
The Dads Space website offers lots of ‘No Nonsense’ advice and support for Dads (you can also email them with any questions you have):
YourCamden magazine has a free, downloadable supplement with lots information for parents in Camden, including the Camden Dads Project: