We’re celebrating dads this month, enjoy this exceedingly honest account of early fatherhood from Phil, a dad and a doctor……


“It’s great being a Dad. You spend all day worrying about meningitis and all night worrying about cot death. And then you rush out and buy a Volvo Estate and a boot full of smoke alarms.”

“I don’t know why, but I was expecting her to come out beautiful, not all squashed up and covered in blood. She looked like a peeled plumb tomato.”

“I never thought I’d see my wife thrashing about like a grounded mackerel and biting my arm. I just don’t understand why it has to be so painful.”

Nobody teaches you how to be a Dad, and the period from birth to first birthday can at times be very tough. As one new Dad put it; “I was very nervous about the birth and was thinking I want to be there but I don’t want to watch. You see videos of babies being born and it’s all messy and horrible. Would it put me off sex for life? In the end I did watch but what you don’t realise beforehand having never been there or seen it before is that the view you get as a father is completely different to the view you get as a midwife or what you see on videos and TV programmes. You’re not looking full on frontal, you’re looking from over the shoulder so you do see the baby come out and all the rest of it but not in such graphic detail. Yes, I did have a look at it and it was absolutely fantastic. I got really excited but I was very nervous and all the time I was thinking “would I be able to handle it if something goes wrong?”

Fortunately, childbirth is now as safe as it’s ever been but many Dads find it hard to cope with. As a doctor, I’ve seen lots of babies born but when it’s your own, and the woman you love is in a lot of pain, it’s a completely different experience. And if the labour isn’t stressful enough, you’ve then got to juggle bonding with the baby with re-bonding with your partner. Having a baby affects your sexual relationship, although couples find it hard to talk honestly about it. It’s common for one or both partners to fear that sex during pregnancy might harm the baby, especially if there had been a previous miscarriage. After birth, there’s likely to be a big change in your sexual relationship which some men find very hard to deal with. New Dads can feel starved of affection. As one put it: “It was the lack of physical closeness that was so hard. I was worried that I’d become some sort of sex maniac or something. It was so different after the birth and our physical relationship had always been so good. Not just the sex, but the closeness and affection and the warm body contact. I have always believed that if that side of the relationship is OK then it will be alright, so without it I was totally confused. I could have taken this need outside the home but I really didn’t want to do that so I thought to myself “Is this normal?” I guess now I realise that it probably is but it would have helped to have known at the time.” When I showed this quote to my new Dad friends, they all nodded and turned coyly away.

As for bonding with the baby, two themes emerge. First you may have to overcome the pangs of jealousy when watching breast feeding (one of my friends admitted to finding it sexually exciting, but then retracted the comment and asked me never to repeat it) but also you have to put the hours in. Most British men would probably not want thirteen weeks paternity leave, especially since the first thirteen weeks can be tough. One doctor friend of mine preferred being on call in hospital than at home with his baby because he got more sleep. But men who put very little time into fatherhood get even less out. Sometimes not even a smile.

For me, it took a while to realise it was worth it. For the first three months, my son Will suffered from colic and all I could do was stick him in a sling and me in headphones and pace around the garden for hours. I didn’t hate him, I didn’t love him; I just wanted to go to bed. From then on in, he was pulling my glasses off, copying my raspberries and smiling like a village idiot. But it wasn’t until he pooed on his hand and stuck it in my mouth that we bonded for life. In the “who gets on best with the baby?” competition, mothers usually edge the first year or so but one thing at least is in our favour. Babies find it linguistically easier to say “Dada” than “Muma”. But you’ve got to be there to witness it.


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