As I write this, exactly one year, my wife and I were in the Maternity Unit of our local hospital. Our baby (we did not know if our baby was a boy or a girl) was a few days late. Our midwife had visited us (a planned visit) to check on my wife, and to go over a few details for an induction if our labour had not started by 42 weeks. During the visit however she became concerned that my wife might be entering pre-eclampsia, so she arranged for us to go in that afternoon. Indeed, we were in hospital within an hour of her visit, and the decision was made to induce. The process of induction can take a long time, and the midwife who initiated induction fully expected to the midwife delivering our baby the next morning. Life, however, had other plans and the labour kicked into high gear very rapidly.
Given I have been quite harsh about health visitors, I should say that our experience of the midwives during my wife’s pregnancy, and whenever we were in hospital, was generally exemplary. Our main midwife could be the very example of how to help make a husband/partner feel involved with everything that was going on. She always spoke to me, taking an interest in how I felt about becoming a father. She was also perfect given my mental health. She said from the start “I do not know very much about mental health, so you are going to have to tell me what you need”. It was just so refreshing an attitude. So we talked through various scenarios, and she arranged that I would be able to stay with my wife on the Ward in a separate room (usually they kick fathers out at 10pm, but we were very concerned that in the emotional overload of just being a new father I might have a panic attack if I were told to leave, or have one at home, or otherwise have difficulties). Indeed the entire attitude was just perfect, respectful, open, and wanting to help. During labour itself, and on the post-natal ward the team were also excellent. This was even more so after we were told that my wife and Melian would have to stay on the ward for 48 hours instead of the 12 or so I was expecting – for reasons that they could have communicated to us in a meeting we had with the doctor months before the actual birth. In a tired, overwhelmed state, I basically shut down for several hours. The staff on the ward just accepted my wife’s word that it was nothing they had done, until I was able to come to terms with the situation. They just gave me space, and it was an amazing kindness. I doubt they understood precisely, but they took my wife seriously and accepted her word, and for that and other reasons we later made plain our thanks and admiration.
From that night I have a number of clear memories. Being worried when labour started, much earlier than anyone expected, when we did not really know what was going on. Helping my wife with the gas thing to help alleviate the pain of contraction. The moment of actual birth. The sense of chaos, but never panic, as Melian entered this world, was whisked of to the special table they have to do all the immediate things that ensure there are so few deaths in child-birth these days. Cuddling Melian on my bare chest for a long while after the MCA took my wife to get washed. That memory in particular is very special – and in a sense all cuddles since are just the next stage in that cuddle that started when she was perhaps two hours old.
Melian has grown a very great deal in the last year of course, but right from the start there was something. A while back I posted a photograph (below the fold) of Melian when she was about seven hours old – awake and curious. The expression she has on her face then, looking out, trying to make sense of things – I see it all the time even now. Back then though she was so small. She wanted nothing more than the snuggle on my wife or myself and sleep. Those first few weeks were very sleep-deprived, but were also full of joy (health visitors and the only incompetent midwife we ever had notwithstanding). I had resigned myself to probably never being a father – of never getting married – and here I was both married and a father – and it was wonderful.
It is still wonderful. When I get home after work, and see Melian smile when I enter the house … or even sometimes when I have just been to a different room, my heart sings. Being a father to Melian is just incredibly natural. I will not always say easy – there are still times when I go to work and the first thing I do is acquire a can of Monster or something similar to help get me through the day, for example. There are also plenty of times when I worry about being a good father, of the examples I am setting from the small (just good personal habits) to the large – and of allowing Melian even now the space she needs to be her own person. After all, Melian is Melian first, and her parents’ daughter second. Even at one year she is still a person, and needs to be allowed a space to choose or her own thing, even if at other times we are more directing.
One of the great things about being Melian’s father is that she has helped me look at the world anew. I have written of her joy in her first visit to an airport, but the truth is that she gets fascinated by just about everything. Her enthusiasm encourages me to take a moment to look at a horse, for example, and just consider for a moment truly how magnificent horses are – or how delicious a sausage is – or the simple joy and passing a ball back and forth. Melian laughs, but she also claps now – especially when she is very excited at having done something. It is a sure sign she is enjoying herself, and she claps often.
She is no longer the little baby I first cuddled, even if in my mind she is still my little baby girl. These days she is starting to get properly mobile – in the last 3-4 days she has just started to crawl forward short distances. It feels like a whole new period of discovery is about to begin, a new chapter in her life, and I am awed, honoured, excited, and a little scared to be able to share it.
So many people remark “enjoy it while it lasts”. Part of my gripes a little at this, though I know there nothing ill intended. It is just a statement of fact that Melian will grow older, will become a toddler, go to school, enter double figures, become a teenager, and in due course enter into adulthood. The entire process is one of change, and change is naturally unsettling. On the other hand part of me thinks there has to be a little bit of false-cynicism in all those comments – given how enthused many parents seem to be about their children even when fully grown, and all the stages inbetween.
However, all that is for the future. Tomorrow my wife and I are going to celebrate the birth of our daughter, and hopefully we have planned something that she will enjoy. I think she will. She is too young to understand birthdays yet, or why she is getting presents, but she is old enough realise the day is special – and it is.