The moment my life changed forever was in early March 2010. The moment when my wife Kat and I stared in utter disbelief at the little white stick she held in her hand. The new tests don’t even reveal a blue line any more; instead they spell it out in unflinching, unmistakable terms: PREGNANT. Now, at an earlier junction in my life, those eight letters may have induced a mild attack of the shakes, remedied only by a stiff Scotch and a period of dry retching. But right then, right at the moment I peered at that single word that would dictate the rest of my life, I felt a rush of excitement. We’d been married for nearly a year, we owned our own place and our 30th birthday parties were merely a couple of booze-addled nights sketched lightly on our collective memories. We were settled. We were mature, responsible adults. We were happy to hand over what was left of our youth to a very small human being who we didn’t yet know. In short, we were ready.
The 20-week scan is here. Today, we not only check the health of our baby but we’ve also agreed to find out what colour we’ll be painting the nursery. We’re desperate to find out, because Kat and I are as impatient as each other. And I will go mad with the expectation if I don’t find out. Now. It’s a girl! When you go into the scan room, it’s dark and quiet, and ultrasound to the untrained eye may as well be a very poor CCTV clip from Crimewatch, but the nurse was there to help us adjust. Kat said she always knew it was a girl. I’m happy either way; I was never one of those men who thought, “I really want a boy.” But now everything has crystallised, it’s gone into HD. There’s so much tied up with a father’s relationship with his daughter — the whole daddy’s girl thing, thoughts of ballet lessons and giving her away on her wedding day are flashing through my mind. Most of all, I just can’t wait to see what she looks like.
We’re seven months in and I spend my evenings and weekends stroking the bump and reading to Kat, so the baby will recognise my voice. Beyond summer weddings, we’re not going out much at all. As the primary consumer in the house, I’ve happily waded into a new avenue of spending: baby gear. And, believe me, I’ve boughteverything. Mostly the major stuff — the cot and pram. I just went into a baby shop and ordered the most expensive car chair and Moses basket — I even bought a ￡130 vibrating chair. We’ve spent more money than we ever imagined. What I didn’t expect is how much Kat needed — she’s been bringing in convoys from Boots. Stuff I’d never have thought about: bottles, sterilising equipment and nipple shields. What was once a spare room momentarily became a beautiful nursery, but is now operating as a storage shed.
We’re in the middle of our antenatal classes — four in four weeks. Not only that, they’re two and a half hours long in our instructor’s living room on hot, late-summer evenings, which is nothing short of a challenge. Although it’s been enlightening (birthing videos in the very first session, anyone?), for someone who can’t sit still for more than an hour at a time, it’s a struggle. I’ve read all the books but, to be honest, there’s only one ‘daddy’ chapter in all these 400-page titles, so there’s not that much I can do apart from support Kat — and crack jokes with the other dads in our group. Of course, it’s just a coping mechanism to deal with the sheer awkwardness of seeing a baby’s head emerge from its mother and then look around like an alien.
I go to meet Kat at her work leaving do. She works for Louis Vuitton and walks away with more leaving presents than she can carry. This baby willbe the best-dressed child since Suri Cruise.
6 October 2010
I receive a text while I’m at a work screening of the new Wall Street. It’s from Kat and says things are moving. THINGS ARE MOVING. Unbelievably calm, she tells me to stay where I am as it could be 24 hours or more before labour begins in earnest. I get home and the contractions have increased a little. But in the absence of waters breaking, we’re convinced it’s not the real thing yet. Congratulating ourselves on being able to have a full night’s sleep before the big day arrives, we go to bed.
7 October 2010
12.28am — seems we spoke too soon. Kat’s waters have broken. We order a cab to take us to Guy’s & St Thomas’s Hospital in south London and the 20-minute journey is spent with the taxi driver saying prayers — not quite under his breath — that it doesn’t all kick off in his car. After a 10-minute wait that seems like two hours, we’re taken to our birthing room. We’re told by the midwife that things are moving quickly. Kat doesn’t want an epidural if possible, so she uses gas and air and moves to the birthing pool. 3-4am — there isn’t a huge amount for me to do and the exhaustion kicks in as I contemplate when exactly I might next get some shut-eye. But my need for sleep is a little less pressing than what’s going on next to me, so I keep my thoughts to myself. I feel powerless — all I’m good for is to remind Kat of her breathing exercises. At about 4am, the midwife jumps into action. The baby is coming. You can see the baby’s head — so I’m told. I’m under strict instructions from Kat to stay away from the business end and I’m quite happy to do so. Two minutes later, the baby is out — born at 5.03am after a very quick four-and-a-half hour labour. Everything goes into a weird slow motion while getting mother and daughter, who are still attached at the cord, out of the pool is nothing short of a logistical mission. I feel relief more than anything as I realise Rowen Kate Fiona Healy, weighing 7lb 11oz, is finally here and she’s perfect in every way. What’s more, I think she looks like me. They tell you to put the baby on your skin as soon as you can, so I walk shirtless down the corridor from the birthing pool to the aftercare room holding my brand-new daughter. I always thought that at some point in the pregnancy, or certainly during the labour, I’d have that moment where the gravity of the situation would slap me around the chops. But instead I feel super-focused and this incredible sense of tranquillity. We’re right next to Big Ben, so you don’t really get nights in this part of London. The traffic’s always going and it barely gets dark. I spend the night snoozing — I don’t really know what else to do. Moreover, I’m not expected to do anything. This time yesterday I was a husband, a son, a friend, a brother and an uncle. Today, I’m just a dad and it feels great. I should go and wet the baby’s head, but instead I’m going to go home, cook a steak and have a bitter. I’m elated, but exhausted.
8-20 October 2010
We’re sent home after two days and one night in hospital and never have I felt such blessed relief to be lying on my own bed. Twelve more days of paternity leave stretch out in front of me, where I do nothing but hang out with my girls. We take Rowen out for lunch on day three for 20 minutes, and yes, two old grannies stop to coo over her. Kat and I must look like beaming idiots — ‘new parent’ signs flashing over our heads. We’re starting to work out there’s a checklist of possible issues if the baby’s crying: hungry? Tired? Too cold? Too hot? Does she need changing? After that, if she’s still crying, there’s not a lot you can do. The design fault is that babies can’t wind themselves. They gulp down so much air when they feed that they then burp like an old man. Crying is the worst bit. Babies have no day or night associations — they live to the cycles they had in the womb, and Kat used to say she could feel her wake up about 9pm. That explains it.
Back to work
There are easier days and harder days — a couple of nights when she more or less sleeps through and a couple of nights when she screams until 6am. In the first week, we were only getting four to five hours sleep a night. I am seriously tired — ingrained tired, footprints of tired stamped into my very bones. I’ve become very conscious of time. I leave the office bang on 6pm, otherwise I just wouldn’t see Rowen before she goes to bed. The difficulty of holding her head correctly, the terrible smell of toxic nappies… dealing with all these things comes naturally and it seems Team Healyis going to be a smooth operation.Being a father has changed me irrevocably. Before Rowen, it was all about me and Kat — having fun and pleasing ourselves. Once you become a parent, all the time before — your reckless 20s, the parties, the holidays — they become irrelevant. It feels like my life before her didn’t matter, I was just filling in the years before she was born. She’s grounded me. And that ￡130 vibrating chair? She’s sat in it twice. Unbelievably, she prefers lying on the floor.