The Long Night

My wife and I sometimes joke that our baby isn’t actually ours. One of the downsides to having an emergency c-section is that you can end up feeling a little removed from the whole experience. Don’t get me wrong, in an emergency situation the priority is always that mom and baby are safe, and your subsumption into the event secondary. With that said however, the birth itself did feel a little anti-climactic for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, the labour was loooooong. We arrived at the hospital early on the Wednesday morning for my wife to be induced. Prior to this point we had spent most of the last few weeks of her pregnancy rapt with alacrity and anticipation, and now that labour had begun, the sense of a crescendo building towards the grand finale was palpable.

We remained in this state of emotional suspended animation throughout that Wednesday, the following Thursday and much of the Friday awaiting the arrival of our baby. In those 2 and half days my wife spent labouring at the hospital I realised that labour wards are designed to do one thing and little else. Their sole purpose is to provide a clinical space for medical professionals to safely extricate a baby from your body. It’s not designed to be comfortable, accommodating or even, ironically, hospitable. It wasn’t unpleasant. It was just indifferent about whatever you may or may not have thought your emotional needs were before you arrived.

I’m a Game of Thrones fan. My wife, trying to eek out some adult time, watches along with me but has no real emotional investment in the show. If you haven’t seen episode 3 of season 8 entitled, “The Long Night”, be warned, spoilers are ahead.

After we had put The Halfling to bed, the wife and I sat down to watch the aforementioned episode last week. The first 10 minutes were an incredible tension-filled wait for the expected wight onslaught to commence. We sat on the edge of our seats, the sense of terror and foreboding hanging heavy in the air. Fast-forward 65 minutes to Theon’s final redemption and a confrontation between the Night King and Bran. All seemed lost before Arya came flying through the Godswood with a swish of death and summarily dispatched the Night King.

As epic and amazing as that moment was, we couldn’t help but feel that it wasn’t supposed to happen that way – that there was a more satisfying conclusion to the Night King’s reign of death somewhere in a scriptwriter’s waste paper basket. Jon Snow didn’t get the showdown his character arc had been foreshadowing since season 5, so many major characters emerging unscathed from the the Battle of Winterfell ultimately cheapened the stakes, and Bran’s 5-season journey to becoming the Three-Eyed Raven amounted to little more than him masquerading as Night King bait.

Yes, Arya’s stuck ’em with the pointy end moment was epic, but it left us feeling just a little bit unsatisfied by how the supernatural existential threat posed by the undead and which had loomed over the show since the very first episode was concluded.

This leads me to my second point…

Despite all the joys of birth regardless of the method, a cesarean is, for all intents and purposes, major abdominal surgery. There are upwards of 10 medical professionals in the operating theatre with you – there’s no intimacy about it. In our case, there was a partition erected at my wife’s mid-chest section which meant we were effectively ‘cut-off’ from all the action. My whole view of the birth of my daughter was that of my wife’s disembodied head and upper torso. That was probably for the best to be honest given the fact I almost collapsed a couple of hours previous at the sight of the anaesthetists prepping her for an epidural.

I realise I’m not exactly painting the birth story of my daughter in a magical light here. We were ecstatic, of course. The sound of her first cry, my first glimpse of her over the partition, the moment I got to hold her. These were incredibly emotional moments I will never forget, but to a certain extent, we felt a bit like spectators without a view during the birth; passengers in our own vehicle. At the risk of mixing metaphors, I’d liken it having the chance to witness a total solar eclipse. You stand there watching the slowly waning solar crescent and just before the big moment, a cloud momentarily passes by and obscures your view. You know it happened, you saw the beginning and the end. You were there, but at the same time, not quite.

I guess in some ways, Arya’s big moment in the Battle of Winterfell echos our own. This crazy amazing thing happens, but deep down somewhere you’re left with an infinitesimal sense of disenchantment about the climax itself. At around 17:40 one balmy Friday afternoon in September last year, someone handed us a baby and told us she was ours. It was beautiful, but it wasn’t what I had imagined it would be like. That in itself is by no means a bad thing, it was just different – unexpected, perhaps.

Mom and baby, just an hour old

Our kid does not look like either of us to any great degree, her complexion and features bear little striking resemblance to our own. We joke from time to time that maybe we left the hospital with the wrong baby, especially as we didn’t actually see her being born. But every now and then she flashes us a look that has her mom’s personality stamped all over it and leaves us in no doubt about exactly who’s womb she spent 9 months in.

Dad lives matter

I’m not an activist, and I don’t have any socio-political agendas here. I’m aware of the connotations a statement like, “dad lives matter” has, so why did I think it an appropriate moniker for my Twitter page (@dadlivesmatter) and the title of this blog post? Let me take a step back and tell you about my own journey into fatherhood because any self-respecting dad blog deserves a decent fatherhood origin story to help kick things off, right?

My wife and I found out we were expecting our first child on Christmas Eve in 2017. It seems so far away now that I write it out loud… The news wasn’t wholly unexpected, but it didn’t quite sink in for me immediately. I remember feeling very hesitant to talk or think about the pregnancy in definitive terms, almost like I was half-expecting someone to say it was just a joke. Don’t get me wrong, I wanted this pregnancy, and I was happy about it. I was just a little afraid to believe it I guess. I’m not sure when it did, but I was fully on the pregnancy train by the time morning sickness was in full swing and my wife was puking multiple times per day.

During my wife’s pregnancy, I began to notice just how few products featured images of only dads with their babies. It also struck me for the first time just how much of the imagery used to market baby products feature families that don’t look like ours – it’s a sobering moment when you realise yours is not the picture of a wholesome family unit.

As with any expectant parent, you start to think about all the hopes and dreams you have for your child. I thought about how my wife and I would work to mould and shape this little human into a resilient, intelligent and ambitious individual – vivacious and full of boundless curiosity. I also thought about what it would mean to be a black father raising a black daughter in a country where we are minorities. How would she feel if someone tried to pet her hair because they wanted to know how her tightly bound and textured coils felt to the touch? Will she have access to the same opportunities open to her otherwise non-black peers? Will she feel a connection to her African and Caribbean heritage, and that of her parents and grandparents? Will she feel empowered and confident enough to express her natural and authentic black self – and if she did, will it be threatening to others?

Marvel’s Black Panther film last year was a cultural phenomenon and a huge hit at the global box office. It was significant for my wife and I however as it was where we publicly announced to our friends that we were having a baby. We took a picture at the cinema to mark the occasion.

Pregnancy Announcement Feb 2018

Whatever you think about the film, it is important for one key reason. Representation matters. It matters that my daughter is surrounded by depictions and imagery she can relate to, and to let her know that she is not an ‘other’. It matters that black dads are seen to be present and positive influences. And it matters that dads in general are considered competent and trusted caregivers. I am in enough dad groups on Facebook to know that dads can often feel underappreciated, disconnected from their partners, and inadequate parents. I also know that some of these dads don’t feel as though they have anyone in their lives to speak to and therefore, I think it’s important to recognise that dads find parenthood difficult too.

I don’t want to for one minute diminish the magnitude of the responsibility mothers have on their shoulders or the challenges they face, but I do want to endorse and recognise that dads matter and I hope you will too.