We love hearing about dads’ experiences of birth and parenting, especially since there is often so more focus on the mum’s experience. Here, Stephen, a father-of-two tells us about the births of his two children.

Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your partner:

I’m Irish, my wife is French. I’ve been living in Belgium since 1989 when at the age of 13 my family moved here and apart from 4 years at University in the UK I’ve not lived anywhere else.

My wife moved here in 2005 having lived previously in France.

We have two children F. aged 3 ¾ and C. aged 19 months old. Both pregnancies were planned and both were born in Edith Cavell.

Was your baby arriving when you expected? If not, was it earlier or later than the estimated due date? How did the timing affect your feelings and your partner’s feelings leading up to the day? Were you more than ready to meet your baby, or did the whole event take you (both) by surprise?

F. more or less arrived on her due date. C. was 10 days overdue.

We were very clear that neither of us wanted to know the sex of the child in advance so for every doctor’s appointment we had we made sure to say clearly that we didn’t know and didn’t want to know in case they let the cat out of the bag.

It was very easy to do this with F. the temptation to find out for C. in advance was much greater. We had no idea what whether F. was going to be a boy or a girl but were convinced that C. was going to be a girl.

The result of this was we didn’t name him until 24 hours after because we hadn’t really settled on a name for a boy but were sure for a girl. So although we weren’t surprised to meet them we were surprised to meet him as we thought we’d be meeting a her.

Please tell us in as much detail as you like how the birth unfolded.

My wife’s gynaecologist was due to go on holiday and although a replacement had been found she decided she would try one last trick to see if she could get labour to start before she left.

Initially it seemed like it hadn’t worked but as the evening progressed it became clearer that she was in labour.

I didn’t want to head to the hospital unless we were totally sure that she was in labour but was told in no uncertain terms that no we weren’t going to wait until tomorrow to see.

We headed off to the hospital at around 22h and I was more concerned about trying to find parking at that time especially as the hospital car park was now closed.

We discussed on the drive that she would go in without me and I would find a parking spot and then join her. As it turned out we found a spot relatively easily and so “checked-in” at 22h30.

The midwife and all concerned could not have been nicer and were very kind to us. We were shown to a room where my wife was hooked up to a monitor etc. As the contractions came I performed the haptonomy massage moves that were supposed to encourage F. to engage and descend into the birth canal.

In effect the opposite was happening – she must have sensed that she wasn’t going to fit and in effect was doing everything in her power to stay as far away as she could with each contraction. There was a kine who was on call who stayed with us the whole time and again was so nice – her shift had ended but she stayed and was really a great support to my wife.

At around 07h00 our gynaecologist arrived and asked for a scan and when the results came back it was obvious that a normal birth was not going to happen and so a caesarean was planned. At that point I was told to go get something to eat in the hospital canteen and to come back for around 13h00 when the caesarean would start.

When we went into theatre I stayed at my wife’s head – I wasn’t asked if I wanted to see the operation but I also didn’t really want to see her being cut open so was fine with this.

The anaesthetist offered to take my phone to take pictures and so he took some as F. emerged. When they announced it was a girl, I got very emotional and couldn’t speak to tell my wife that it was a girl.

I stayed by F.’s side as she was weighed and checked over. My wife was feeling quite ill and felt she was going to pass out, probably from the anaesthetic so didn’t feel comfort with F. on her so I was installed on a lazyboy style hospital chair and had her on my chest skin to skin as they finished with my wife.

It was an amazing feeling and even then, I got very emotional. When she was ready F. was placed on my wife and they were wheeled from the operating theatre to our room. I don’t remember much after that. I know I went home and slept a bit and came back and stayed with them both until quite late.

Overall, was the labour birth experience different from what you imagined it to be? If yes, how was it different?

I thought I would get emotional but I didn’t realise how much of an impact the birth would actually have. I cried at both births but was particularly in bits for F.’s birth which was an unplanned caesarean but one which went flawlessly and without any issues. I started crying when the doctor told me it was a girl.

Had you and your partner done anything to prepare for labour and birth, e.g. prenatal classes? Had your partner done anything by herself, e.g. yoga, hypnobirthing, doula sessions? If yes, do you think it helped you / do you think it helped your partner?

We took a BCT class which was very useful in preparing for what was to come and also nice to meet others who were preparing for the same thing, and as a group we met up several times after the children had been born.

We also did haptonomy which to be perfectly honest I thought was mumbo jumbo cod science but actually turned out to be an amazing experience which I would encourage wholeheartedly.

It I believe gave me a connection with both children before I got to know them and helped make me have more of a role in the birth.

Unfortunately due to both children being bigger than my wife’s hips would allow I wasn’t able to use the delivery part haptonomy.

Looking back, would you and your partner have made any different decisions about your choice of care provider, place of birth or birth preparation?

We didn’t do anything different for the birth of my son, so no.

How were the first hours and days after your baby’s birth? Did you take some time off work? What support did you have during the first weeks after the birth? Is there anything you wish you had done differently / known about the early weeks?

I took the day of the birth off for F. but went back to work for the remaining 3 days she was in hospital so I could use the days off better when they came back from the hospital.

For C. I took the time off from the birth onwards as F. had to be looked after.

My wife’s parents came to stay with us which was a help especially after the caesarean.

One thing I was not aware of until the birth of my second was I never actually got paid for the days that were supposed to be paid by the mutuelle this was due to some days being taken in August, some in Sept and the last few in November so I didn’t really notice.

This happened because my wife and I were with different mutuelles and I didn’t know that I had to submit a paper to get paid paternity leave it was only with the second one that I realised and by then the two-year cut off had elapsed.

How was your experience of feeding your baby? Did your partner breastfeed? If yes, did she have the support you needed to get breastfeeding well established? What was your particular way of bonding with your baby, e.g. skin to skin, massage, bath times.

Prior to the birth we had discussed that although my wife would breast feed we would also bottle feed them. However, we were told that it’s best not to mix the two especially initially when breastfeeding so in the end it was not for many months later that I was able to help with bottle feeds.

When I would bottle feed F. she would demand that I massage her feet and this I am convinced is a throwback to when I would do haptonomy on her before she was born and she would stretch her feet out to be massaged.

F. was a very slow feeder and my wife had great difficulty initially.

I remember talking about this with a friend from Uni who told me she had exactly the same issue and she felt that breastfeeding was a hell but that no one talks about the pain and the initial problems but always talks about it in retrospect with rose tinted glasses.

It seemed the more people we talked to the truer this was. My wife did get support from the Midwife/Lactation Consultant who did several home visits and this was very useful as I think she was very close in the early stages of stopping feeding due to the pain etc.

She breastfed F. for roughly 8 months. C. is still being breastfed but is a much quicker feeder – 15 minutes versus an hour and I think that is why she still breastfeeds him, had he been as slow as his sister he also would have been switched to bottles after 8 months.

If you and your partner have also had a child in another country, how was your experience different than in Belgium? If you haven’t had a baby in your home country, do you have any opinion of how things may have been different in your home country (in terms of choices, attitudes towards pregnancy, birth and the postnatal period)?

I can only compare the experience I had with that of my sisters and friends who all had children in the UK. I am shocked at how quickly they send them home.

For my sister’s case she was in the hospital for maybe 14 hours all told before being discharged with the baby. For my other sister I think it was 24 hours maximum and she had a caesarean!

I don’t agree with the shortening of the hospital stay time and can see the government looking at the UK etc. and thinking well if it works there it can work here. I think that time in the hospital is important and unless you want to leave early, I think it should stay as is.

Any closing thoughts:

It’s not exactly news for me to say that children change your life completely and that no matter how prepared and ready you think you are – you aren’t – it is the end of your life as you knew it and a whole new chapter starts.

My wife also joined a great support group for new mothers and this was a huge help to her as there were various talks etc. and a very active Facebook group/community that helped a lot – http://www.antenatalandbaby.org/