It's a cliché, but the birth of my son truly was the happiest day of my life. We had an amazing home-birth, long and tiring but all according to plan and when my son arrived as the sun came up on that Tuesday morning I was overwhelmed with joy, relief, pride and love. After my wife having a chance to hold him and attempt a first feed the midwives asked me if I would like to hold him. Of course! I held him there, wrapped in a towel, in a moment I will never forget. It was amazing.
I was about to learn how much I didn't know.
The midwife asked if I could put on his nappy. I'd had a go at a few of these in the run-up and confidently put his first ever nappy on him. I held him in my arms and felt a warmth come over me. Specifically over the front of my stomach, as a nice little serving of maconium escaped out of the now half-detached nappy on to my belly. Oh dear. Once the second nappy was on the midwife suggested we put a baby grow on him as it wasn't that warm. This is where things started getting hard. I looked at the monstrosity she had just passed me, a pile of cloth full of mysterious buttons, poppers and arms and legs that seemed indistinguishable. The midwife looked at me again. “Can you put it on him please”? I looked at her, at my son, at the babygrow, back to my son, back to the tangled mess of babygrow and finally back to her. “No” I said. Kindly the student midwife clothed my son and talked me through it.
I can look back on that wonderful, crazy, tired moment and laugh now. I don't look back on it with regret but it was one of the many things that I wish I had learned before I had a baby.
Chatting stuff through with other dads since having my son I've realised that each of us had stories like this and often many of them! Struggles varied from lesser things like mine through to more important things like not knowing where to turn in times of trouble, working out how to best work and communicate with their partner with a baby in the mix or just feeling totally out of depth and unsure of how to contribute to their new little arrival's life. Many dads reported a sense of isolation, lacking a support network and feeling overwhelmed.
After lots of researching, chatting and thinking things through I decided that it would be good to do something about all of this. My response has been to set up the Dad Course, a new course in Brighton and Hove that aims to help dads-to-be to prepare themselves for their upcoming new arrival. We've put together a short course that aims to get soon-to-be-dads together in a relaxed and positive environment, and offers a balance of learning practical skills (from nappies onwards), time for chatting through hopes, fears and questions as well as taking on some broader themes that should prove useful in the first year of their child's life. The idea is that dads go away feeling prepared, confident, better informed and with a ready-made support network of other dads who can help them along the way.
As parents we all need to prepare ourselves as we see fit and people find all kinds of ways of fulfilling this need. There is so much stuff out there for women (which is brilliant!) but very little for men and I feel that is such a gap. Dads are often stereotyped as being absent, apathetic or clueless - but that’s not how it has to be. I think that being a dad should be an amazing and, yes, fun experience - an opportunity to grow as a person, grow closer to your partner and help nurture a little baby into a confident and well-loved little person. I hope that the Dad Course will make a difference to help more dads, mums and babies have that experience. And if that ambition is too lofty, at least hopefully they'll be able to put a baby grow on properly.