The Bodyguard

You might think dads have just a minor part to play in the delivery of a child but, as Hadyn Jones explains, there are many important jobs to do on the big day and beyond. 

By the time you read this, I will have three kids under four. This does not in any way make me an expert in child birth. I am simply a survivor. You can be too. Together we can make it through.

Our story
My wife and I have Marley. She's three and runs the household. Her little brother is Archer. He's 18 months old and is happiest in his highchair stuffing food into his face. We have another child on the way. We have no idea what gender it will be or what it will be called. We just hope it will be healthy. Everything else is academic.

Archer's was a complicated arrival. My wife ended up reluctantly having a Caesarean section. It was the opposite of our first experience when our daughter Marley arrived naturally. Like her dad, she was late, really late. It was 10 days before she decided to come out and meet her parents and that's the first thing I learnt about labour…

Due dates aren't accurate
The due date is just some sort of mythical piece of maths involving conception and women's cycles, with 40 weeks added in there somewhere. I marvel at those wheels midwives and obstetricians whip out and spin furiously before announcing a due date from on high.

The internet tells me only 5% of babies are born on their due date so if your baby shows up as expected, be surprised. I'm also told by people more knowledgeable than me that the first baby is usually late. This I can verify, in my experience anyway, but please don't blame me if your baby comes early. So this means…

Be prepared
I'm talking to the men here when I say be prepared. This means actually painting the baby's room a day or two before mother and junior come home. I'm no doctor but I think paint fumes and newborn humans don't go together that well. I'd also predict that if you do it too late, it will do little for your marital relations at a rather sensitive time. I also suggest doing all those little jobs your partner has been badgering you to do. These may include installing insulation if your house is cold, ensuring your car is roadworthy and fixing all major health and safety hazards. Exposed electrical wires are included in this.

If you, like me, love gadgets then this is the fun part of the operation. Having a baby means you have full permission to buy an overly expensive camera. Good baby photos are like gold. Your partner will coo over them and post them on the internet to her 300 closest friends. They will then tell her how cute her baby is. She will feel great and love you for simply buying an expensive camera. This tactic may also work for MySky (something to watch while breastfeeding) but will not work for gaming consoles, a new smart phone or updating your car stereo.

At the birth of our first child I had only my phone for baby snaps. By child number two I had a DSLR camera I barely knew how to use but the doctors held up our baby when he was just a moment or two old and I think it's the most beautiful picture ever taken. Most people see only a baby covered in blood but I see my precious son taking his first breaths.

I took other great photos which I sent to relatives and interested observers all over the globe. For our third I'm thinking a video camera but haven't thought of an appropriate way of getting it past the wife. The point is the birth of your child is an important, historic, life-changing event and it will all be a blur. Try to capture a few key moments without spending the entire time peering through a viewfinder.

Back to work
You will have to go back to work at some stage and I can tell you it will be sooner than you think. I took two weeks off when our daughter was born. I spent the first week beside my wife's hospital bed, the second was a whirlwind and by the time I'd blinked I was back at my desk wondering what the hell had happened.

So now is the time to be maintaining and enhancing that relationship with your employer and figuring out how you can keep partner and boss happy. I'd suggest working hard, getting some brownie points in the bank and then hitting them with a deal which works for both of you.

My friend Chris is a lawyer in Wellington. He works big hours but organised a deal with his boss that meant it was a couple of months before he went back full-time.

He took a week off when the baby was born, then worked for two weeks while his mother-in-law came to help out. When she left he worked half days and the odd full day for the next five weeks. Chris' wife Lucy tells me it was brilliant because she knew he would be home at some time during the day to help out. Chris says his boss liked it because he was in at work once a day to keep on top of things.

Get a plan
Even though you've been to antenatal class, read a few books and seen the birthing video, nothing can prepare you for child birth. So it's good to get a rough plan together. The birth won't go to plan but it's good to have an idea of what you want to do.

Stay home as long as possible once the contractions start. This piece of advice goes against all my instincts. My wife started getting contractions around 10am on a Sunday. I wanted to drive her to the hospital right then and there. I figured the sooner she was with all the doctors, machines and nurses, the better. I feared the baby would arrive at any moment and I'd have to boil the jug, get some newspaper and somehow deliver her.

Instead, we walked the shops and spent the afternoon at home. My job was to time and record the contractions. Strangely, there's something calming about doing this. It keeps you busy and you start to see a pattern of what's happening. It gives you confidence, that and ringing the hospital every hour asking when's a good time to come in.

It was a full 10 hours before we finally drove to the hospital. My wife took leadership on that decision. She was more comfortable at home and once I got to the hospital I understood why. The hospital room was fine but it wasn't home.

Hospitals are good, they have doctors and flash medical equipment that can save your life. They are not, however, amusement parks. You could be waiting many hours for your baby to arrive and all they will offer is a women's mag from the turn of the century. I'd suggest you organise something. We tried cards but that proved unsuccessful. What worked was a stereo to play my wife's favourite music. Do whatever it takes to make your partner feel more comfortable. Entertainment is your job and it can help.

It's no fun watching your wife in pain and my wife tells me it's not that great going through labour either. The key here is to find some way, any way, to be of assistance. I became a wheatbag attendant. My wife had a very sore back in labour and a hot wheatbag provided relief. You know your partner better than anyone else in the room so distract her, entertain her, find a way to help.

The delivery
Every delivery is different so I can't offer concrete advice on what will happen to you. Our first birth was natural. By natural I mean, yelling, screaming, cursing, blood, sweat and a lot of tears. It was epic. I remember it felt like a marathon and, like any great feat of endurance, when we saw the result at the end, it was all worth it.

A friend of mine is a doctor. She says the important thing is keeping your partner hydrated and nourished. Jelly beans, those sour worm snakes, a banana, whatever works. It literally is a marathon, she says.

Also don't decide to try and name your baby during labour. It's a discussion the man will always lose because the woman can always say, "Who's pushing this child out?!" She's negotiating from a position of strength, recognise this and put the subject back on the table when she's not in considerable pain.

Second time around my wife had a C-section. This is a totally different experience. I was merely a spectator. I stayed at the head end on the side of the sheet where the surgery wasn't taking place. After what seemed about five seconds they held up my son and he was whisked away for checks and cleaning. It was a little bit of an anti-climax.

My friend who delivers babies for a living tells me, unless you have done it before, stay up top with your partner, out of the way. It can be very tricky delivering a baby and not injuring the mum. Being a good dad isn't catching your son or cutting a cord. Your parenting will be judged on what you do in the next 20 years.

The fun has just begun
When the baby comes home, your job as a bloke is just beginning and your first task is security. I don't mean a deadbolt on the door, I mean manning the door to ward off unwanted visitors.

It's your partner's decision as to who she wants in her home and you have to provide the muscle and the tact to make it happen. This can include having to be quite blunt to relatives and friends.

It's important in the first few days that, as a couple, you figure out how to keep this baby alive together. Give yourselves the time and space to experiment a bit and learn what works for your child. Those first few weeks are a truly amazing time, especially if everyone is getting sleep.

If your partner isn't up to visitors, it's up to you to let people know now is not the time. Send the texts, make the calls and push people towards the door when it's time she had a break.

New mums don't sleep well. They worry about their child but you have to be strong. Get her to have a sleep when she can and, later on, if you can take the baby out so she can rest, do it. She will be reluctant but you sometimes have to be the boss.

So that's today's lesson, man to man. Just because you aren't pushing the baby out doesn't mean, as a bloke, you don't have some really important jobs to do. Take charge of the bits you have to, acquiesce when required and never be too proud to say, "I'm sorry". No new parents really know what they are doing but together they figure it out. And that's the beauty and challenge of parenthood. Enjoy.

Hadyn Jones is a journalist at TVNZ. He was once a part-time, stay-at-home dad but has gone back to work full-time because parenting is way harder than journalism.



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