We aim to publish meaningful stories of perseverance amidst mental health struggles.
On August 13th, 2017, we welcomed our second beautiful baby boy into the world. His birth was a complete 180° compared with my first son’s birth, in every single department. To start with it was far calmer, far quicker, and for me I was a lot more involved, which was great. With it being the second time around for us, I had far more knowledge about what to expect.
My partner had once again been a superstar, and our newborn immediately started to feed, and passed all required checks. We were told we were able to go home soon! Just four hours after delivery, we were being discharged by the medical staff. But then we received a phone call from Kate’s mum to inform us she was en route to the Accident and Emergency department, as our eldest had slipped and fell, appearing to have dislocated his shoulder.
“Just our luck,” I thought.
Our eldest is literally 100-miles-per-hour, all of the time. I have lost count of the amount of clumsy accidents he has had so far in his few years on earth that have resulted in hospital visits. So, it was typical that when Mummy and Daddy were in hospital, that he would wish to join us! I quickly rushed to the A&E department, explained to the staff that my partner was upstairs in the Maternity ward, and that a three hour wait in A&E would not be possible for us. They kindly rushed him through.
At that stage I thought that my two-week Paternity leave would take a very stressful turn. How would we deal with a newborn and a two-year-old with an injury? It was that stage I decided to inform my employers of our news and start my paternity leave.
I am lucky that the company I currently work for offer two weeks fully paid paternity leave.
This is a huge perk compared to my previous company, (where I worked during our first pregnancy), where I was only eligible to one-week full pay, and the second week statutory pay. That would have left me out of pocket and struggling to pay bills that month, so I chose to take the one-week full pay and to add a second week out of annual leave.
I remember feeling during that first paternity leave that my time off was extremely rushed. The second time around, however, I had the knowledge that I would get two weeks full pay, meaning I wouldn’t need to worry come pay day, and taking inspiration from my first paternity leave I also elected to take a week annual leave on top, resulting in three weeks away from the office.
My three weeks off seemed to go past in a tired whirlwind.
I am so glad I took the extra week off. I needed it! We had multiple hospital trips for my eldest, whom we discovered after two X-rays had a fractured collar bone, and several follow-up appointments for my partner who unfortunately suffered an infection that caused her much pain and distress.
We also couldn’t to register our son’s birth until the end of the third week, which was frustrating.
Ultimately, we wanted to ensure that we gave ourselves as much time together as a family of four as possible. With our first baby, we had visitors every day, and to be honest it was too much. This time we decided to have immediate family only, which worked for us.
Us dads are important in keeping things together in the weeks following the birth of our babies, however we are often forgotten about in the process.
A dad will be on an emotional rollercoaster and will always have other worries and thoughts in the back of his mind… However long your paternity leave, it is crucial to make the most of the time you have, and not allow yourself to over think about certain things. If you’re really struggling, try talking with friends and family. Either way, it’s important to try and enjoy the time with your newborn.
So! Here are my top tips to consider during paternity leave:
1) Avoid work
Leave your laptop at the office and turn off the work phone if you can.
Obviously, this isn’t always possible, and for those who are self-employed, getting any paternity leave will be difficult. But consider that in the wider scheme of things, your baby will not be a baby forever. These precious early moments will never be there again. Your partner will need a huge amount of help, and you will need to be there both mentally and physically.
Try to ensure before baby arrives that you have handed over work where possible and made alternative arrangements where you can. If you must take a call, try to get an agreement in place both at home and at work of a set time you can take a call – don’t let them contact you when they see fit. For those two weeks, let them fit in around you.
2) Accept Tiredness
You will be tired. It’s a fact. It is unavoidable, and it is easily the worst part of the early days of parenting.
It will hit you like a sledgehammer and will be worse than any tiredness you have known before. You will have tired arguments in the middle of the night, where you will call each other all names under the sun, but don’t let it affect your relationship – accept it as part and parcel of having a baby, and move on. Be patient with each other.
Agree that anything you say at 4am is not really ‘You’, instead it is ‘Tired-You’. Tired-You is a dick, and your partner’s ‘Tired-Her’ is also a dick. Leave the tired arguments in the dark of the night and enjoy the daytime.
Also, don’t whine about being tired to other people.
When my partners waters broke at 11pm, we were told to go to see the maternity staff – I knew it would be a long night. We were back home by 3am. I had been awake for 20 hours at that point, and we were not in active labour. Three hours broken sleep later, the contractions began, and we were back on our way to hospital.
That night, I took the first night feed duty, and probably got four hours broken sleep in all. 7 hours broken sleep in the first 48 hours was a sign of what was to come. But if you are to bring this up to people, you are automatically going to be seen as “the enemy”, so keep it to yourself, and try to get cat naps in where you can!
Understand that if you mention being tired, there's a chance your partner may want to lash out at you. Female members of both families will no doubt give you some disapproving looks, and any other mothers you encounter will tell you that you do not know the meaning of tired!
You have been warned!
3) Do night feeds
You are already tired, but night feeds are not necessarily as bad as they sound. For me, it was about timing. First off, I was able to watch the latest episode of Game of Thrones airing at 2am, the same time as it premiered in the US. That way I didn’t have to worry about seeing spoilers the next day and having to wait till 9pm to watch it with the rest of the UK. Secondly, I was able to watch the McGregor/Mayweather fight as it happened. I was already awake, so it made sense to watch it live!
It would probably not be a good idea to tell your missus that you strategically choose the nights you would do night feeds, just to purposely stay awake to watch early morning television / play video games, etc, (or whatever your vice is).
But in all seriousness, I felt some of my closest moments with my newborn son happened during those night feeds. When the rest of the world was sleeping in darkness, my baby and I really connected.
I was able to be as corny as I wanted to, knowing that it was just the two of us. I would be the one to feed and soothe him, I would be the one to watch him fall back to sleep.
Precious moments that I will cherish forever.
4) Be proactive. Get shit done!
Don’t be the dad who just sits and plays his Xbox for two weeks, as tempting as that may be.
(As per #3, there’s time for that when the world is asleep, and you won’t get in trouble!). Be the dad who does things in the home that the mum wants done, or wants him to do, before she has to ask you to do them. Be the Dad who does the housework, cleans the bathroom, does the laundry. Be the dad who is the king of the bottle sterilizer – unleash your inner chef!
Even if it sucks, and you end up ordering a Dominos, just be active and be the best dad you can be. Yes, you may see yourself as being ‘the help’, but get off your ass and get visitors drinks and sandwiches, etc.
Get yourself in the good books, and then when you need a ‘time out’ after a busy night feed, (read: watching box sets!), you may get one without a verbal ear bashing!
5) Book to register your baby ASAP
In the UK, you have to register your baby with your local council offices. I tried to book an appointment the day after my son was born. They told me the next availability was not for three weeks. If you are unmarried, then both parents need to attend the registration. This means you will have probably returned to work by this time, should your field be as busy as mine. This means that just as you are getting into the swing of things, you are asking your boss for more time off. A ball ache you can do without. So, get the registration appointment booked ASAP. If you are married, then you can chill, as one can do it for both of you.
6) Say no to visitors
Controversial this one, especially if it is your first baby.
But try to limit your guests to family and closest friends only in the early days. As soon as you announce to the world that your bundle of joy has finally made his/her appearance, you will no doubt be inundated with people who wish to come for a cuddle with your new-born.
Unavoidable, really, so my advice would be to be selective. Those two weeks you may be able to take off are so special. Spend it together. People you may not have heard from in months suddenly want to come bearing gifts to show you and your baby love, which is great, but try to schedule them for when you are settled in your new life and when you are in some form of routine.
In my opinion, family is the most important thing in the world, and now you have a family of your own, you need to protect it. I do not mean in a “male lion” sense but do protect the time you have together. With our first, we had different people most days, and after the two weeks were up, it was suddenly just the three of us again, as everyone had already met our baby.
7) Take photos. Lots of photos
Precious moments need to be captured and cherished. Although my partner claims she looks terrible, I know she looks beautiful and radiant. Take pictures of her when she is unaware, of her being her natural self with the baby. Ask her to take pictures of you too. Take selfies of you both and your little one. Take pictures of those who come to visit.
Once I became a parent, it became very apparent to me what that my parents had become Grandparents. As kids, my sister and I lost one of our grandfathers relatively early in our childhood. I have only a handful of photographs of us together, and no actual memories of him.
With my dad having prostate cancer, I am aware that although he is currently in good health, it may not last forever, therefore, I want to capture any moments he has with my sons. As heart-breaking as it is, one day those photos and videos will be all my sons have of their granddad, who loves them so, so much. The same applies for any relatives and friends who come to see you. Take pictures. Keep the memories. Your baby will no doubt ask to see them one day.
Also, are you even a dad if you do not get a photo taken of the baby asleep in your arms, whilst you are getting some shut eye yourself?
8) Go out (within reason)!
Once you are settled and confident, go out into the world with your baby. It will do you all good to get out of the house together. With our first, we started easy, we went for a walk in the park with our little one, and another time decided to go for a bite to eat. Although I felt the most protective I had ever felt, it did bring a sense of acceptance that we would be okay at parenting.
We probably had a false sense of security second time round, as we went to a shopping mall on day two, and halfway round my partner couldn’t go any further! So, my advice is to take it easy, and keep the car close by!
9) Have a 'Daddy Day'
Even with classes you may have attended and the books you may have read before baby comes along, until you do something with just yourself and your baby, you will always depend on your partner a little.
Be brave, take the plunge. Book a treat for your partner: a massage, a spa day, hairdressers, etc, and have the baby for yourself. It will be down to you to do all the things that your partner will have done day-in and day-out when you’ve returned to work.
This will help you see things from her side, and you’ll suddenly understand when in a few weeks you return from work to see her still in her pyjamas, unwashed, the house turned upside down, and with a tearful look in her eye!
10) Enjoy it!
Your newborn may be a bottle guzzling, burping, sleeping and pooing machine, but hindsight will eventually tell you that it is a time where the hardest thing to deal with is simply the tiredness. If you can beat that, you have time to really enjoy learning how to become a parent.
The next months will continue to be a rollercoaster. Just enjoy the ride. Before too long your baby will no longer be a newborn, and the next chapter will begin. Cherish your partner, tell her every day how amazing she is, and always tell both your partner and your baby how much you love them.
So, in conclusion, if you find yourself becoming a father (or have just become one), I wish you and your baby nothing but success, with lots of health, happiness, love and laughter. Absolute best wishes to you and your family.