In the hours after my son’s birth back in 2012, there are two things that I remember the most.
The first was the shock I felt at becoming a new mother. I hadn’t had the easiest labour. Ieuan was determined to stay inside of my tummy and had made us wait the whole 42 weeks to the point of being induced. Even a long and tiresome labour (with every drug they had on offer) wasn’t enough to shift him. He finally decided to make his appearance in the afternoon hours of a summers day through an emergency C-Section, and I was left feeling beyond exhausted, but beautifully content.
The second thing I remember was the pride on my husband’s face. He was finally a daddy. We had begun our adventure into ‘family life’ and I never once questioned what an amazing father he would be. Back in the early days of our relationship, he had always wanted children more than me. He was much more maternal than myself. If we were at a get-together with friends and there was a baby in the room, that direction was usually the first Nick headed in. I was usually heading in the other direction towards the bar.
Maybe it was our upbringings? He had grown up with younger relatives around him. I had grown up being the youngest member of my family. Maybe it was because there was six years between us? When he was thinking logically about starting a family, I was thinking that I had ‘all the time in the world’ before I started along that path. But over the years, he brought out my maternal side more and more, and when Ieuan was first placed in my arms and I looked down at his perfect little face, I wondered how I’d ever managed to go so long without him in our lives.
Nick has been the most amazing father and the most loving husband. At the hospital, he spent two nights sleeping on the the windowsill of the large bay of our room making sure Ieuan and I were alright (I had been a bit poorly in the hours that followed). He spent hours replying to people’s messages asking how me and the baby were doing. No one really thinks about the dads. No one really asks how they’re doing. After all, they didn’t do all the hard work, right? No one really thinks about how a mother can sedate her experience with a number of drugs, yet the dad is made to go through watching the women he loves suffering, with nothing to numb the anxiety he may be feeling. But he never complained. He just happily replied, they’re both doing well. Hoping to be home tomorrow.
When we arrived home three days later, he sent me straight to bed to get some proper sleep and he watched Ieuan through that first night. He continued to do the night feeds by himself for all of those early months. I would get up with him and he would send me back to bed, telling me that he enjoyed those quiet hours with Ieuan, even if he did have a long working day ahead of him.
You get to enjoy him all day when I’m at work, he’d tell me. This is my time to enjoy him and have cuddles.
Maybe it’s ‘unconventional’. But Nick was determined that he would be doing all of the ‘dirty work’ too. We became very good at ’50/50 parenting’, both trying to do our fair share whilst keeping on the same page. He fed Ieuan. He changed him. He took him out in his pram. He got up early on weekend mornings at the sound of Ieuan calling from his room. He would go to Ieuan in the nights to soothe any bad dreams he was having. He took him swimming and played with him, all the while being the perfect husband and working long hours in his new business which he’d only started the month before Ieuan arrived.
I watched him over the years that followed becoming the most perfect father. No one could make Ieuan giggle like Nick could. He was the ‘fun’ parent and the ‘disciplinarian’ all at the same time. I was the ‘organiser’ and the one Ieuan would come to if he hurt himself. I was the expert ‘cuddle-giver’.
In 2015, it seemed only natural that we would start trying for another baby.
It took a while. A large cyst found on my ovary made it difficult for us to get that positive result we craved so much. And when we did finally fall pregnant, neither of us wanted to believe it just in case life was playing a cruel trick. Months and months of disappointment had made us critics of our own good news. But a scan revealed it was true. Baby number two was on the way!
It wasn’t an easy pregnancy. Right up until the last days, I was still spending most mornings with my head over the toilet bowl. I’d had bleeds. There had been concerns throughout about the baby’s growth being on the ‘smaller side’ (even though people were constantly telling me I looked huge). I was constantly worried. I continued to tell myself that, although I wasn’t having an easy time of it, it would all be fine in the end.
But some things are never meant to be.
Even though we may not ever understand why, Evalyn was born sleeping just two weeks before we were due to meet her. I have already written in previous blogs how, as her mother, I have struggled to cope with her passing.
But what about the dads? Dads matter too. I have watched Nick struggling along with myself in the months that have followed, but I have also watched him become a stronger person and a better father and husband (if that is even possible)! As a father to Ieuan, I am proud of him. As a father to Evalyn, I am proud of him. As a wife, I am proud of him.
I honestly don’t know how I would’ve got through the 8th November and all the days that have followed without him by my side. He took it upon himself to break our heartwrenching news to our loved ones. He was the one who had to listen to the excitement in their voices as they answered the phone, only to hear the sadness that followed. He was the one who laid next to me through the night at the hospital as we both cried together.
I watched him cuddle his daughter for the only time and the last time. I watched the tears falling from his cheeks, soaking into the fabric of her babygrow. And in that moment, I realised all of the things that, as a father, he was saying goodbye to.
There would be no ‘daddy-daughter’ relationship. There would be no night feeds or early morning cuddles. There would be no princess-themed birthday parties or a first day at school. There would be no meeting the boyfriend in years to come. There would be no walking her down the aisle or embarrassing her in his wedding speech. There would be no first wedding dance with his daughter. We will never see Evalyn in her wedding dress. Nick will never be a father to the bride.
Nick took it upon himself to be the one to tell Ieuan that his sister wasn’t coming home. We sat him between us on the sofa at my parents’ house, his little face all eager for good news. And Nick told him. Ieuan cried. We all cried. I will never know how Nick found the strength that day to find the right words to explain to our four year old what had happened. The end result was always going to break our son’s heart.
On the day of her funeral, he carried her little wooden casket into the service. He said that it was important that he did it. It was the last thing that he could do for her. A father’s ‘parting gesture’. . . . .
He went back to work three weeks after Evalyn’s death. He didn’t have a choice. Owning his own company prevented him from having the time off he needed to grieve properly. I watched him struggle through those days unable to help him or make it better. I watched him come home exhausted, but he always came home with a smile for Ieuan. He always made sure he would take the time to play with him, to make him laugh and to listen about his school day.
He spent his days at work making sure I was ok. He would ring me, text me and ask how I was feeling. What were my plans that day to get me out of the house? He encouraged me to see friends, even if it was the last thing I felt like doing. He would spend his evenings listening to me moaning about how cruel life was before holding me as I collapsed into tears for the hundreth time that day.
When I told him that I couldn’t go on living in the house with Evalyn’s nursery still upstairs but her not in it, he helped me to take it apart piece by piece. He painted over the mint and grey walls and turned them back into blank canvases and never once did he question my decision. I never once wanted to erase Evalyn, but seeing her room ready and waiting broke my heart all over again every time I found myself walking past it. And I didn’t want my son to question why her room was still there but she wasn’t. I didn’t want it as a reminder for him.
I always knew it, but the past four months have reinforced to me just how amazing Nick is as a father – to Ieuan and to Evalyn and her memory. I honestly believe that any strength I may have is only a reflection of the strength he has taught me. Maybe he’ll never realise, but I am only the mother I am because of him. I found my maternal instinct because of him. I am a great mother to Ieuan because of him (I say, thinking back to my third trimester where he showed me how to put a nappy on using Ieuan’s future ‘Pooh Bear’)! I am the person I am because of him and his ability to show me that I can be whoever I want to be. And I am the wife I am because he loves me unconditionally.
To the dads; the working dad, the stay-at-home-dad, the single dad, the married dad, the dad of a newborn, the dad of a teenager and the grieving dad. To all the dads. Sometimes our hectic lives get in the way of making the time to show you we’re greatful. Or maybe there just aren’t enough ways to say Thank You for all of the ways you make our family our ‘happy place’.
Just know you’re doing alright.
Dads – you matter too!