Skin to skin can be a dad thing

Paul_and_Quinn_croppedPaul shares his story of the night his sixth child was born and describes how skin-to-skin contact can affect dads, too.

I am now the proud dad to baby number six! Was it special? Yes. Was it better than the previous five? Yes! A surprising answer I know, but the most amazing life changing thing happened to me today. First, I need to go back 24 years to when I was a proud father of my first little boy who was born by caesarean section. I remember that day as if it were yesterday.

The memory of me holding my son for the first time, and me thinking ‘what if he cries? What if I don’t know what to do? My partner is in the recovery ward and I’m alone. Heeeeeeelp.’

I’m a bloke, so toughen up I hear you say. You’re right! So I did, and I stayed ‘bloke-tough’ for 20 years. But four and a half years ago something changed, it was the birth of my fifth son. This is how I helped and supported my beautiful wife bond and breastfeed him.

While my four year old sun will cuddle me, it’s not the same as the way he cuddles his mum. It’s that bond that we ‘bloke-tough’ guys will never have. I long for that bond with my children.

While watching this amazing bond develop between our child and his mother, a bond I have read about and now seen firsthand, I was curious about whether I could share a bond like this. It had a strong impact on me and over the next few years I often thought about the bond that develops between baby and mother from skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding. The problem is – I’m selfish! I’m a ‘bloke’. So while my four year old sun will cuddle me, it’s not the same as the way he cuddles his mum. It’s that bond that we ‘bloke-tough’ guys will never have. I long for that bond with my children.

Well, today that extraordinary thing happened. Don’t worry – I didn’t attempt a feed, but as I sat in the sterile operating theatre for the sixth time I had a thought. I stood up and blurted out that when our baby comes out and mum has had some skin-to-skin contact, it will then be my turn. Look out everyone! I was also wearing what I have been calling my ‘birthing shirt’. Huh? Yep, you heard right. A very soft button-up collared shirt I have had my eye on since the day my wife fell pregnant. No dad should be without one. A bloke wearing a ‘birthing shirt’ is not to be messed with.

With my birthing shirt on, I stopped my little boy being weighed, measured, wrapped and manhandled. There I was standing in front of complete strangers with my ‘birthing shirt’ wide open and I was about to pick up my baby. He was crying, he was frantically moving around and totally surprised by the outside world.

He was alone and needed to know that someone loved him. There I was having flashbacks to 24 years ago and that feeling of complete isolation and uncertainty I had. This wa

s probably how my baby felt now. Well not any more. I had my little boy firmly in my arms and brought him straight up to my chest. I held his little body against mine, chest-to-chest and heart and I closed my eyes. And the most amazing thing happened.

Usually I can’t sit still for more than five minutes let alone settle a baby, but all that was gone. I remember nurses coming in to check on us but they never asked if we were OK. They just stopped at the door then left again.

His crying stopped, his restless body went into a state of calm and I could gradually feel my heart and his beating as if it was one. I had disappeared into a place I have never been before. Was I calming him? Or was he calming me? Could this purest little heart be calming my body and creating a bond that I have longed for since my first child. The feeling of total and utter contentment was mine and it only took 24 years to happen. For over an hour and a half we remained motionless in this position. Usually I can’t sit still for more than five minutes let alone settle a baby, but all that was gone. I remember nurses coming in to check on us but they never asked if we were OK. They just stopped at the door then left again.

Once my wife got back from recovery it was her time. I placed the most incredibly calm baby onto her chest and watched in awe as he latched onto her breast. The hours that followed were the calmest experience of my life and when he started to cry, simply holding him to my chest would settle him. For the first time in my life I felt complete.

Have I created a lifelong bond? Only time will tell. Have I taken away any bond from my wife? Absolutely not. Her ability to breastfeed and comfort our child has secured that bond until the end of time. Will I love this child any differently than the others? Definitely not. Even though my beautiful little boy won’t remember, I will, and I will hold that moment of my life in my memory and call on it whenever I feel alone or disheartened.

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Paul Smith, Sydney

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