At about 4am this morning I was trying to comfort my five month year old son who was teething. Despite the circumstance I was shocked at how normal it actually seemed and how life had changed so much and so quickly since his arrival.
Despite being from a relatively large and comparatively happy family I never really desired to have children of my own. It was not that I disliked children, I was very happy to interact with other people’s children, especially nephews, nieces and Godchildren (and then hand them back), but I was never remotely broody (or whatever the male equivalent is). This may even be because I am from a fairly large family – three boys and a girl – and I knew quite how much of a handful we were. Remembering the many and various ways we drove my parents to distraction makes me cringe and may have been a subconscious deterrent. Saying that I also sort of assumed that I would have children at some point and had faith that they would be a blessing and I would love them. This was more of a reasoned than an emotional position though.
One could have faith in verses such as Psalm 127:3 “Sons are a heritage from the LORD, children a reward from him.” But it did not stir me at the personal level.
When my wife Juliette became pregnant my position did not change much, I was happy, but in a fairly remote way. I was very conscious that it was very important that I did not convey any sense of detachment as Juliette was going to need all the support she could get. I was convinced that Juliette would make a great mother but she too was not really broody beforehand and she did fear the loss of independence, work, and exercise that pregnancy potentially represented. Coupled with this Juliette suffered from quite debilitating morning sickness for some months and so it was important that I was the point of encouragement and strength that she required. Saying all of that she only slowed down to a certain extent and just days before the birth she was still swimming, organising large work events and even standing on a stage speaking in front of hundreds of people!
None of this necessarily helped my peace of mind though as I watched Juliette grow. At the twelve-week point we saw the tiny form on the scan and this really helped Jules to connect with the baby, which was a real relief to me, and the photo immediately adorned our fridge and was emailed to family world-wide. It was a special moment for me too, especially as he (not confirmed at this point but we both had a strong feeling it was a ‘he’) gave us a thumbs-up for the scan photo, but emotionally I still felt quite removed. I was not especially worried about this as I did not really know how to feel. Over all I was much more concerned about Juliette; after all she was the one I married, we were together before the child and God-willing would be together after the child had grown up and moved away, and so she was my first priority.
Because Jules was my priority I really wanted to be around for the birth. This may sound like an obvious aspiration but I had Army commitments that were likely to take me away just after the due date – therefore I started praying that our little one would arrive on time! These prayers were answered in an unexpected way.
In preparation for the baby’s arrival Jules and I combined our practical skills to full effect. While I arranged for the builders to come in and finish the various bits of work I had been putting off for the last two years Jules created an in-depth spreadsheet of all the things we need to beg, borrow or buy. Part of marrying Juliette was an education in quite how much of life can be represented in Excel. I then, in turn, became an Ebay king, hunting down bargains to fill in the gaps from the monumental spreadsheet. One proud purchase was a Phil&Ted’s buggy that I was very happy with until I had to make the epic journey to the wilds of North London to collect.
The whole adventure took longer than expected and I had only just tracked down the house in question when I received a tearful phone call from Jules. It was the day before the official due date and she had gone in for a check up with the doctor. The doctor was concerned about a few things, especially that the baby had not turned – despite the confident prognosis made by the mid-wife a couple of weeks before. Jules had been advised to go into hospital for a scan to confirm what was going on, and sure enough, little baby was contently sitting head up, scant aware of the concern he was causing those outside his warm confines. There was also some concern over blood pressure and flow so the check-up soon turned into Juliette being asked to stay in hospital overnight. A decision would be made in the morning as to whether things could be left, whether they would try and turn the baby manually or whether a caesarean section was necessary. All of this, within the space of a couple of hours, was understandably quite a shock to Jules; it looked like the birth plan was going to have to be revised! I did the best I could to rush back – the words speedy and public transport not always sitting well together – and help her get settled. Settled is probably misleading as she was put onto the labour ward next to a lady who had only just started her contractions but was already screaming for nurses, paediatricians, surgeons, God and morphine in steady circulation. It was going to be a long night.
I could not stay in the hospital but I returned as early as I could the next day to find Jules who was not very rested; Ms Screamer and her entourage had only been moved on in the early morning. Midwives and doctors gathered to us and conferred in Holby City stances: they recommended that the best option was for the baby to be born by C-section that very day. It was not a real emergency so it would be after the other pre-booked sections but we would go into theatre in the late afternoon if we elected to go that route. Jules and I had our own consultation sitting on the bed and agreed that the operation would be the best thing. So we began our wait.
I was beginning to think that we were going to be pushed back to the following day when the midwife arrived with some particularly fetching clinical pyjamas for me. George Clooney eat your heart out; I made those shapeless gowns look good! Jules was wheeled into a very quiet looking operating theatre which was a little suspicious; I knew the NHS was strapped but was hoping that my newly donned surgeon’s garb was not a precursor to being told this was a DIY surgery unit. Fortunately it was just that we were in the wrong place and the (fully qualified) anaesthetist and the surgeon were actually next-door.
Every one was very pleasant and Jules was doing incredibly well for someone that was about to have a large needle stuck into their spinal column. I have to say at this point that natural birth or no my respect for Juliette (and other mothers) reached new dizzy heights through this process. When the injection was over the team were keen to get on with things – even a little hasty in fact as Jules still had a little too much sensation. One of my roles was to make sure that any of Juliette’s concerns and wishes were carried with full weight to the medical practitioners and so we waited a few more minutes before the little curtain went up over the tummy, and I took to my next role, that of holding Jules’ hand and making sure she had my complete attention and support during the op.
It all happened pretty quickly and the next thing I can remember is a little squeak from behind the curtain and the surgeon holding aloft a tiny baby boy. Joshua. I knew it was Joshua even then. That instant, seeing Joshua for the first time almost brings tears back to my eyes as I write this. It was one of the most profound moments of my life, it was as if there was an instant download of emotions into my being and in a second my eyes were opened with understanding about what it meant to be a parent and Father. It was as absolute as stepping through a door into another world, a Matrix or Mr Ben like instantaneous revolution of worldview and paradigm. The instant is frozen in time; there with the moment that Juliette finished walking down the isle on our wedding day, when she put her hand in mine, and our eyes met. Life changing.
Whole reams of the Bible now made sense to me. The concepts of a father’s love, the idea of a firstborn, a one and only son; their significance swelled with new meaning. It was a true moment of revelation.
A couple of days later Juliette was still in hospital with the babe, and even though we had discussed names aplenty, we had not officially decided on a name for him. The Ashes were on – it was the second test – but I resisted the urge to propose Freddy (Flintoff) or Jonathan (Trott) to the burgeoning list of boys names. After all I felt certain that he was Joshua and now, after a couple of days and talking it through with Juliette, it was obvious that she did too.
We then had another emotionally charged moment as we prayed for and named Joshua. He lay contently through the whole process. The mid-wife came in at the end and we needed to explain that the tears all-round were those of joy not the baby-blues!
Seeing Joshua for that first time was like nothing else and yet I still look forward to seeing him on a daily basis. It is a real privilege to have some time with him almost every day and I miss him when I am away. And now? Well Juliette and I are both officially besotted parents and I can confirm that it has been one of the most unexpected, welcome and pleasurable revolutions in my life.
4am may be painful but I know I will look back – when he is no longer dependent upon me – and realise how precious such moments actually are.