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My son: “A tiny, healthy dollop of divinity”

Reporter and father Dan Freedman (@NewsmanDan) recalls how a difficult pregnancy and traumatic labour marked the start not only of baby Leo’s life, but also a humbling journey to feeling at ease as a dad. 

On July 26th 2014, after a four day labour my heroic wife Tali gave birth by emergency caesarian to our son.

The whole process had been very emotional – a difficult pregnancy, an at times terrifying labour – no sleep for either of us for days at the hospital and at the end of it all, relief, joy and total exhaustion.

Leaving the hospital though we took with us a tiny, healthy dollop of divinity called Leo, making it all totally worthwhile.

However those few days were an indication of what was in store for the nearly two years that have since followed.

It’s both the most exhausting and yet rewarding thing I’ve ever experienced.

Loving a person to the incomprehensible degree that I love Leo is both wonderful and completely petrifying.   The terror, just at the thought of something bad happening to him is extreme.  Our lives are now permanently and inextricably linked.  I feel a duty to look after myself for his benefit and to look after him as much for him, as for me.

There are so many challenges that come with fatherhood – some expected and talked about, some less so.  Lack of sleep, loss of liberty, money worries, adjusting to a new work life balance and the amount of added paraphernalia, (nappies, milk, bottles, snacks, clothes etc) needed for every outing- all fairly well documented features of fatherhood.

The biggest challenge for me however was the change in the dynamic with my wife, both in terms of our relationship and the relationship with my new son.

Suddenly there was a third person in the relationship – suddenly Tali had a new man in her life and he wasn’t really interested in me at all to start with.

As well as two weeks of paternity leave, I took an additional two weeks of paid leave meaning I was around for the whole of the first month with Leo at home.

The first few days of sleepless, hormone charged bliss – soon turned into a sleepless nightmare.  Tali was immobile, recovering from major surgery and I was doing all I could to support her and my new son, but it was totally relentless and it felt like there was no one there to support me and I started to really struggle.  All post natal care is geared to taking care of mum and rightly so.  But who cares for the carers?  Who’s checking to make sure that they’re doing ok?

As a way of switching off, I played computer games for hours on end.  I needed to be in the house and on hand to take care of everyone, but emotionally I completely left the building.

I didn’t realise that this was my coping mechanism for dealing with the trauma of all the complications around the pregnancy and birth and the pressure that I was under afterwards to keep everyone safe and well 24 hrs a day.

I was completely unaware that I was struggling, so I never asked anyone for help.  I had no outlet, no one to talk to – no one to share this with and I didn’t know what to say when people asked how we were doing, other than platitudes.  If I said actually it was really bloody hard and at times not much fun, didn’t that make me a failure?  We’d just had a baby – surely we should be feeling overjoyed and full of gratitude?  Actually, while Leo was gorgeous and we delighted in him, we were both absolutely broken and our relationship took a nose dive.  My wife was feeling so weak and vulnerable I sensed her reluctance to invite people into our flat to see her like that.

By the time I went back to work a month later, we were both relieved.  I’d started to resent being a lone around the clock carer, and she clearly needed more than someone to just perform tasks- she needed emotional support and I was too wrung out and unaware to provide it.  What I realise now is that by not seeking support and taking care of myself, I failed to take care of her – and by not doing this, I let her down.

Things started to improve when we got a night nurse to help us through the nights.  I’d highly recommend this to anyone in a similar situation, struggling with the lack of sleep and the emotional toll that begins to take.  It becomes relentless – and every night you go to sleep desperately wondering how long you’ll be able to rest.   It’s easy to get into a cycle of competing with your partner – “I did the last change – well I’ve been at work all day etc…. ”  not the dynamic we wanted, but it sometimes felt impossible not to.

It was only when Leo was about seven months old that we managed to break this cycle and really become a team.  My wife was on maternity leave and my office was making cuts so i took voluntary redundancy.  We used the money to go away to California and travel around for two months in a huge camper van.

It became transformative.  I started on my journey to becoming an equal partner in the relationship – co parenting with my wife, learning my sons daily needs that until then only my wife had really been in tune with.

Becoming a father is the most wonderful experience and now as Leo gets older, it only gets more enriching as I watch him learn and develop into a beautiful and kind little boy.

My advice to any dad who is about to go on this journey is to just remember that your instincts will tell you to do all you can to look after your wife and child – but you can’t do that well unless you’re also taking care of yourself too.

Dan and his son Leo

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