You read so much about a woman’s journey into parenthood – but what about the father?
Hugh Wilson has just become a dad for the first time, and he’ll be keeping a monthly diary here during the first year of his son Luca’s life.
This is the beginning of their story…
My son was born four weeks early, which was inconvenient, to say the least.
You see, I’d singled out those final four weeks of pregnancy as a time to get the real nest-building done, when a house fit for adults who survive on telly and booze would be transformed into one fit for babies who need soft toys and hygienic surfaces.
Instead, flatpacks full of nursery furniture remained flat – and packed. The ‘nursery’ itself looked like a place for drunken mates to crash when they’ve spent their cab fare home on a last round, and that’s exactly what it was. The shelves I’d been meaning to put up since conception were still on the shelves at B&Q.
So when my partner’s waters broke on that Monday night a few weeks ago, my immediate fear, shamefully, was for me. Nichola had kept her side of the bargain, by stocking the house with everything a tiny person might need, and I’d failed to keep mine, by not providing anywhere to put it all.
She’d protected and nurtured a new life for eight months, and I hadn’t even figured out how to work the car seat. Another fear (shamefully) was the World Cup. Fate had initially decreed that little Luca was to arrive on July 24th, and though babies sometimes turn up early it seemed to have given me a decent crumple zone between the World Cup final and the happy event. But fate, as the Americans say, was about to bite me on the ass.
Still, my concerns about the World Cup are perhaps some indication of my psychological readiness for fatherhood. As Nic’s contractions began to kick in, I was still a bloke who got a bit sloshed every Friday night, who spent days worrying about Sven’s tactical nous (rightly, as it turned out), and who considered it almost a religious duty to spend Saturday afternoons in the cinema.
What I wasn’t, in week 36, was a dad. All that was about to change. Well, not quite. The unborn son, you see, had one more trick up his sleeve. Nic’s contractions started at 8pm on the Monday evening. They stopped at 8am the next morning, after 12 hours of exhausting, painful and utterly fruitless labour (and yep, I think Nichola had the odd dodgy moment too). This was a ‘false’ labour, we were told, and she was whisked off to a ward with the assurance that the real thing would start up soon.
It didn’t. Luca decided to prove my paternity beyond a shadow of doubt by having a lie-in. There was some risk in this, however, because the waters had broken and he had no protection from infection. So on Wednesday afternoon, the decision was taken to induce labour, and to cut a very long story short, Luca was born in a brightly lit surgical room by caesarean section in the early hours of Thursday morning.
The birth was barely two weeks ago but exhaustion and emotion, along with a combat veteran’s natural inclination to suppress memories of carnage, mean that much of the detail of the endless hours before Luca’s birth has already faded. Suffice to say that it’s hard to see your partner in pain, and it’s really hard to look on impotently as a monitor spews out squiggly lines that mean your unborn baby is getting distressed.
On the other hand, it’s rather wonderful to know that what would have been a pretty desperate situation 50 years ago is easily remedied today by the skilled hands of a surgeon. Luca announced his arrival in our lives from behind a strategically placed screen. We’d never be quite so delighted to hear his full-blooded scream again.
Luca was tiny – just 5lb 1oz – but perfectly formed. I held him in my arms and felt the paternal instinct creep silently into my soul. This little boy now meant everything. He was more important than the cat, Rooney’s form and the Playstation put together. But things hadn’t changed altogether. Mother and baby spent the next five days in hospital, and I spent the time in a curious limbo between my old and new lives. In practice that meant mornings were spent at home, afternoons visiting the family, and evenings in the pub.
I have to say, it wasn’t a bad life. What with all the head-wetting, my social life actually increased, and when I visited Luca he was at his most docile and compliant. While his poor, sore mother got the 3am feeds and screaming nappy changes, I got the bit where Luca waved his arms around in glee and feigned interest when I talked about England’s chances against Portugal.
And we watched the game together, my boy and me, which was both a wonderful bonding exercise and, for Luca, excellent preparation for a lifetime of footballing disappointment. I cursed Sven at the end and, though Luca was fast asleep, I felt that really we were cursing him together. But this irresponsible life of part-time fatherhood had to come to an end, and it did, with a bump, the very next day. I arrived to find Luca in a Perspex box under a photo-therapy lamp, being treated for jaundice. It was upsetting to watch him trying to claw his little eye-mask off, but it was about to get worse.
Perspective is easy with hindsight. Luca needed a night in the Special Care Unit to fill up on fluids, nothing more. But all we saw was our little boy being wheeled away from us, and all that night I was haunted by the thought of my tiny, vulnerable baby, all alone, wondering why he couldn’t hear his mummy’s voice or smell his mummy’s skin.
I wonder if that’s the point I really became a dad, though maybe I’d better wait a while longer before I make any firm pronouncements on that. But, as the midwife had promised, Luca came back the next day louder, livelier and full of a joie de vivre that manifested itself in dirtier, smellier nappies. We celebrated his bowel movements like so many Christmas Days.
A few days later I worked out the car seat and brought my family home. That first night I tucked Luca into his basket and collapsed, exhausted, into bed – and realised that life would never be the same again when I was awoken, barely an hour later, by the scream of a hungry baby. “This is where the fun really starts,” said Nichola, wearily, and she wasn’t kidding…