The first time I heard my daughter’s heartbeat, quite far along in Sara’s pregnancy, was when it really sunk in that I was going to become a Dad. That was the moment. Not the pregnancy test, or the hundreds of hours spent researching how-to guides and reading books, not even when we had the scans in the darkly lit room and found out that Willow was a girl (well, she was a blob, let’s be honest, but the guy assured me he knew what he was doing).
Now even though it was a pretty major moment, I’d be lying to you if I was to try and make out that it was this dramatic event to begin with. The reality was, well, it wasn’t the stuff of romantic novels.
At the time in question I was sitting in a small, too-hot room with blue painted walls, the same shade all doctors and nurses decorate their offices. As was often the case when we went anywhere like this, I was directed to the seat in the corner, watching the action unfold, a typically frowning man. Mostly because I was always suspicious of what they were prodding and testing Sara for now, but also because I didn’t know what else to do with my face.
It got off to an annoying start; it was way too hot, way too cramped, but there was something else as well. One of those times when something happens that you think could only happen to you. The stool I’d been told to sit on was squeaking, you know the kind, the ear-splitting screech that occurs every time you move. So there I am, trying and failing in trying not to move my ass much, but I promise you, when you focus on your ass it suddenly becomes impossible not to move. Then came the death stares, not just from my loving partner, but from our old, very helpful midwife.
Little backstory on our midwife. She was called Barbara, she had wild grey hair with a touch of purple highlights, and from the moment we all met, it became pretty clear that she was … strange. She would forget who we were, then laugh about it when she remembered, her eyes big and bold. And me and Sara would be laughing as well, only nervously, because this was our caregiver. And she had this fan on her desk, this big old machine made out of chrome. She’d be talking, mid-sentence, and then out of the blue just shove her face up against the breeze. I bet you’ve all had your fair share of odd interactions along the way, so I’m sure you’ll understand our decision to secretly name our midwife Batty Barbara.
Getting back on track, so there I am, twiddling my thumbs and smiling politely, as one does when pretending they are not obsessing about their ass flexes, when – you can imagine my expression I’m sure – the midwife pulled out this long, grey, almost like a saltshaker looking device. But like you’ve discovered now for yourselves, nothing Batty Barbara could do surprised us anymore, so we just went along with it no questions asked.
I was excited, of course I was, knowing I was about to hear that first sound, even if it was “just a heartbeat”. But when the first beat-b-beat-b-beats rang out, quick and fast, a wave of emotion washed over me. All of a sudden, my squeaking chair slipped from my mind, I was mesmerised. Many of us, hopefully all of us, get the chance to experience this, and I’m sure we can all agree It’s mind blowing. To sneak and listen in on the sound of unborn life, of a little being inside that darkish home of theirs. And there I was, one minute after thinking about my backside, now listening to my daughter, MY daughter. “This is really happening”, I thought, feeling all that fear and anxiety and joy all at once that comes with that realisation. I had spent all those months planning, buying clothes, building and painting all things baby related, looking after Sara best I could – well, I hadn’t actually give myself a minute to let it all sink in. But here it was, my moment of clarity.
Like I said, it wasn’t a dramatic scene, at one point I think Batty Barbara sneezed into a tissue, but it still meant a great deal to me. I just had this awareness all of a sudden that there was still so much to prepare for, and so much to look forward to. We all know what it’s like, it isn’t 9 months of pure happiness, there’s a lot of struggle and self doubt in that period of time. Some days are hard, let’s face it. So when the good days come it’s a real blessing, like when you buy and put up the cot with absolute precision, or when you go clothes shopping through the newborn section, cooing and ooing the way Sara did and still does, because you see how goddam tiny his or her onesies are going to be (seriously, babies are like unicorns, how can something be so little and cute?)
On the ride home, I couldn’t get it out of my head, I was just on auto-pilot whilst I kept going over it; beat-b-beat-b-beat, beat-b-beat-b-beat. I was imagining Willow fully formed, in my arms for the first time, how soft she would feel and maybe, just maybe, I’d finally know what that baby smell is everybody keeps telling me about (spoiler alert, it’s just goo…that is what the baby smell is, good old goo). And I kept jumping from that giddy feeling we’ve all had in my belly, and then swing to the terrifying idea of this sudden responsibility that I was soon to have, as if Walter White himself was knocking down my door with a very clear message: you’re going to be a Father, you know.
Was I ready? Could I really be the man my family deserved? These questions crossed my mind a great deal in those 9 months, and I’ll admit, I still review how good a job I’m doing now. Because we all have these questions, these moments of self doubt, it’s part of the job. It’s what makes us human and its alright to feel that way. We’re not alone.
But from that day on, I started to let go of those negative doubts a lot quicker when I thought about Willow’s heartbeat, and how hearing it made me feel. Sometimes, on lunch at work, or in the bathroom when I showered, I snuck another listen. Just for me. Like a top up. And I’d feel on top of the world again. I kept reminding myself that whatever hardship I was yet to face, whatever doubts I had, I just had to remember that moment. When I really, truly realised I was going to be a Dad, and everything that comes with it. The first kiss on her forehead, then the thousand kisses that follow every day. Her first beautiful smile (alright, she farted, but a smile is a smile). The endless cuddles, and first words, the millions of nappies, the bath times and playtimes and sing songs. And the resting bitch face that babies are just naturals at.
That day will always be special to me for that reason, that moment I first really comprehended becoming a Dad. My moment. In a way, Willow was the one who gave me the strength to believe in myself.
So to all of you out there, when the goings tough, think of your own moments, whatever they might be. Even if that moment includes somebody a lot like Batty Barbara.