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The rollercoaster of being a first-time dad

Ben and baby resize (cropped)

Becoming a dad was never something I thought I was really that bothered about; it was something my wife Hayley and I didn't think we wanted.

But then we went out to dinner to celebrate our first wedding anniversary and Hayley said that she wanted to try for a baby.

At first, I was a bit shocked, but the more I thought about it the more it felt right, and the more I wanted to do it.

I remember when Hayley went to do the pregnancy test we had been trying for a while by that point, and neither of us really believed it would be positive. When it did turn out to be positive, I felt a whole lot of things all at once - I was shocked, scared, excited, proud, elated and ridiculously emotional!!

During the pregnancy, feeling scared shifted from being about becoming a father and more about making sure Hayley and my unborn baby were okay. As time went on, I felt more and more proud, and also really focused on making sure that our home was ready for the new arrival.

I'm not ashamed to say that I remained ridiculously emotional for the duration - especially whenever we went for a scan, there was something so amazing about seeing our baby there on the screen.

"Nothing prepared me for the rollercoaster of feelings"

Nothing prepared me for the rollercoaster of feelings as an expectant dad. I found myself constantly worried that everything was okay during the pregnancy, especially if there were times that Hayley couldn't feel him moving as much (by this point we knew we were having a little boy). I was just so excited to finally meet him. I was (and still am) really excited to take him to his first football match...

When it comes to getting ready for the birth and taking paternity leave, I'd advise other dads-to-be to speak to their employer as soon as possible and find out the policies on pay and leave. For example, I was able to use my annual leave to extend the two weeks' statutory paternity leave you can take (it was the best use of annual leave I have ever taken!) Some employers may not allow you to take this much time off in one go, but having early conversations with your boss might make it a possibility. Try and find out how flexible work can be around timings too, as there is such a big 'window' before and after the due date that baby can arrive.

On a practical note, it really helped me to plan for things like the best route to take to the hospital, and what the parking situation is like (parking can be notoriously bad at the hospital Thomas was born so we had a contingency plan) Planning for these different eventualities helped me feel (a little bit!) more in control.

If as a dad you are hoping to stay over at the hospital, check what their policy is. They might not let dads stay at all, and if they do they probably won't have shower facilities or feed you.

As for the birth itself, I don't think there is anything at all that can prepare you for it.

Seeing my wife going through such pain for so long and feeling completely powerless to relieve it is probably the hardest thing I've ever had to witness - but it was followed by the most beautiful thing I've ever seen, when he finally came out and started crying (in fact I'm welling up just remembering it!)

I think I felt as prepared as we could be for the first few days, but it was difficult when he cried and we couldn't figure out why (PS it was always because he was hungry!!)

"Going back to work as a new dad was really hard"

I found going back to work as a new dad really hard. I knew I would miss them both, but it was also hard to know I wouldn't be able to help out if Hayley needed me (to be fair, she never does - she's amazing!)

It did get easier after a few weeks and I got into a routine to make sure I feel I've done all the little things I can to help set her up for the day - so before I leave for the day the bin has been emptied, the bottles sterilised and formula pots filled, and there's something easy and quick for Hayley to eat.

A few months on, things are much more settled; we both have a routine and work together really well. I still feel like I'm missing spending time with them both but I'm much less worried that they're okay now.

Now we have to turn our attention to the next big change, which is Hayley going back to work. The most obvious thing to start considering is childcare, as you will find all the best nurseries have waiting lists. Also, you might have to think about whether nursery opening and closing times can meet your usual routines or what can be done to work around it.

I've been very fortunate in having a supportive employer throughout this rollercoaster of a year. LionHeart has been fantastic in allowing me to work flexibly during the pregnancy, so I could go to scans and appointments, and in the early weeks of fatherhood. It would be brilliant if more employers could show this kind of flexibility for what is such a big thing in someone's life.

I do think it would be helpful if employers had a better understanding of maternity and paternity pay. Neither of us knew what we could expect in our pay packets, which can make it tricky to plan your budgets.

Every second of the rollercoaster has been worth it and I absolutely could not imagine life without Thomas now. If there's any bloke out there just talking about starting a family now, I'd say do it - it's the scariest and hardest thing you'll probably ever do but you'll forget all that when you see them for the first time, when they grab hold of your finger, or smile and laugh at you.

And, of course, there's always that first football match.....

Ben Halpin is a LionHeart support officer, a proud dad and football fan 

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