'The last 12 months have been bananas but we’re very lucky': pandemic dads speak

Ahead of Father’s Day, we ask four men about the challenges and rewards of being a first-time dad during the Covid crisis
'The last 12 months have been bananas but we’re very lucky': pandemic dads speak

Derek Collins with his daughter Grace 11mts from Tramore. Co. Waterford. Picture: Patrick Browne

The pandemic has halted the celebration of many milestones, but for the thousands of new fathers who have been left waiting outside maternity hospitals this past year, some of those special moments had to be skipped altogether.

According to research by babyboo.ie, 82% of Irish men who became new fathers in the pandemic felt they had missed out by not being able to visit the hospital after their babies were born, with 94% believing their mental health had not been taken into account in lockdown.

However, more time at home after the baby came also led to precious bonding time for many, with nearly half of pandemic dads saying they believed the pandemic had led to better connection opportunities with their new babies.

All-encompassing love

HAPPY BABY: Tom Madeley's dream of becoming a dad came true when Milo arrived four months ago. Picture: Moya Nolan.
HAPPY BABY: Tom Madeley's dream of becoming a dad came true when Milo arrived four months ago. Picture: Moya Nolan.

Tom Madeley (34), loved having additional time to bond with his baby son, though the past year hasn’t been without stress. He opened his recruitment business just weeks before lockdown hit last March and found out he was going to become a father soon after.

“The last 12 months have been bananas but we’re very lucky, Milo is such a happy baby,” the proud new dad says.

Tom is originally from Manchester and moved to Ireland after meeting his partner Ciara, who is from Dublin. He was able to go to the 20-week scan with her but had to park outside the Rotunda hospital for the rest of the appointments.

“We were nervous about the later scans because we were worried about what would happen if there was bad news and I was outside,” he says. “You’d get out of the car to stretch the legs and all you would see were dads to be. We were all in the same boat at least.”

Because of the pandemic, the couple decided to spend most of the labour at home with Liz Halliday of Private Midwives before transferring to the Rotunda for the birth.

“Liz taught me a lot and I went into the labour knowing more than I would have if it hadn’t been a pandemic and we’d gone straight to the hospital,” Tom says. “And I was able to be there for the whole thing, which was amazing. It was a long labour as well. She went into the Rotunda during the second half of the football on the Wednesday and the baby wasn’t born until Friday.”

The best part, he says, was meeting his son for the first time on February 5. “They passed him to me and straight away he just stared into my eyes. It was the most beautiful moment. There was chaos all around me but there may as well have been no one else there bar the three of us. I was just standing there rocking this baby singing ‘Half The World Away’ while he stared up at me. It was magical.”

Reflecting back on the four months since Tom thinks that having his first child in lockdown has helped and hindered him as a father. “I’m still working from home so I can give him a squeeze whenever I want and it’s really helped hammer home a family-first mentality. On the flip side, we had to quarantine for the first six weeks and it was hard on Ciara. My family haven’t met Milo yet either because we can’t travel.

“But I’ve always wanted a kid and the pandemic slowed us down and left nothing in the way of that. I thought I knew how it would feel but nothing prepared me for that all-encompassing love for Milo. I knew from the moment I held him in my arms that I would walk through fire for that baby.”

‘It’s life-altering’

GRATEFUL: James O'Connell says that it was 'life-altering' to hold his baby Eadaoin for the first time. Picture: Eddie O'Hare.
GRATEFUL: James O'Connell says that it was 'life-altering' to hold his baby Eadaoin for the first time. Picture: Eddie O'Hare.

For James O’ Connell (40), the biggest surprise about becoming a new dad has been realising how quickly time goes by. “You really have to enjoy every moment. Every second is precious,” James says. His daughter Éadaoin was born in Cork University Maternity Hospital in June 2020.

“I got to go to all the appointments up until the first lockdown. After that, as long as the news was good it didn’t matter. You have to be glass half full in these situations.”

Éadaoin’s mum Sorcha says that it was “lonely” not having James around for the last appointments, but both agree that the hardest part was when he had to drop her off to be induced.

“We actually didn’t tell anyone because I’d be a mess if people were ringing and James wasn’t there. I bawled across the walkway when he left me off,” Sorcha says.

James went back to their home in Skibbereen for the night after dropping off Sorcha. “It was like the night before the Leaving Cert. The anticipation was a killer,” he says. The labour progressed faster than planned and the midwives had to ring James to tell him to “hightail” it back to Cork the next day.

“They rang and I told them I was in the car but they called again when I was at the Bishopstown roundabout. I knew at that stage it was urgent,” he says. “I literally got in and opened the double doors and it was like ‘right, here we go’.”

By the time James got to the delivery suite all he could do was hold Sorcha’s hand for the next 25 minutes. However, the couple was allowed to stay in the suite together afterwards to spend a few hours alone with their new arrival.

“I took her when they were fixing up Sorcha and got to put on her first outfit. It was life-altering to hold her for the first time,” James says.

“The staff were brilliant as well. I had to leave after that but I was on such a high. When I picked up Sorcha and Éadaoin outside the next day, it was even more special to see them.”

Since then, father and daughter have had plenty of bonding time, thanks to James’ work moving from the office to home.

“I’m very grateful that I’ve been able to spend so much time with her. I’m a civil servant so I’m working from home which means that I get to spend my lunchtimes with her and once I finish work I’m with her again. For a whole year to be at home with her, it’s something I’m very thankful for and I’m not taking it for granted.”

No distractions

 ADAPTING: Derek Collins settled into fatherhood in no time after his daughter Grace was born. Picture: Patrick Browne
ADAPTING: Derek Collins settled into fatherhood in no time after his daughter Grace was born. Picture: Patrick Browne

Derek Collins (37) was also allowed to go to the first few scans when his wife Orla was pregnant with their daughter last year. With the help of private midwives, baby Grace was born in June at their home in Waterford as the couple wanted the birth to be as natural as possible.

Like James, Derek had to wait outside for the last scan. He didn’t mind as he knew he would be there for the labour. “It was mind-blowing. I cut the cord and was left with her and we had a great bonding experience.”

However, Orla experienced complications during the afterbirth. “The placenta caused a rupture so we had to call the ambulance and Orla lost two litres of blood. We were all on cloud nine and all of a sudden the homebirth midwives were rushing her to the couch. They were unreal though, they managed to stop the bleeding temporarily before the ambulance arrived and she went to hospital for surgery. It was scary but I was allowed to go in with her at least. My mind would have been spiralling otherwise.”

Thankfully, all worked out well and the couple has been enjoying family life since. Derek is back working in his office as a marketing executive, but the past year has still left a lot of time for bonding.

“I think lockdown has had nearly a more positive than negative effect on our family. I’m able to concentrate on being a dad and there are no distractions like there might have been in a normal year,” he says.

“What’s surprised me is how quickly you adapt. You just get on with only having two hours of sleep because of what you’re invested in. It’s also surprising how little your own baby’s crying annoys you.”

‘We took scans for granted’

MILESTONES: David Murphy feels like he is much more hands on with son Noah because of lockdown. Picture: Moya Nolan. 
MILESTONES: David Murphy feels like he is much more hands on with son Noah because of lockdown. Picture: Moya Nolan. 

“Noah was born the August before the pandemic so has spent most of his life in lockdown but he’s loved it,” says 30-year-old dad David Murphy.

Because his son was born before Covid hit, he didn’t miss any part of his fiancé Molly’s pregnancy. Hearing about friends waiting at hospital doors during the past year has made him appreciate being there even more.

“Scans are huge milestones. Looking back on it, we probably took it for granted. Hearing about friends that were only allowed in for the labour for half an hour, I can’t imagine,” the Dundalk native says.

David is a physiotherapist who works with football clubs, so when lockdown first hit, he was delighted to pause travelling and spend time with his son. “It was amazing to watch him develop and spend so much more time with him. I feel like I’m much more hands-on as a parent because of lockdown.”

When he returned to work last summer, he worried about his baby at home. “I was working in quite a crowded environment and travelling when things opened up last July. It was difficult because we didn’t know what I was taking home and how Covid would affect Noah. Your worries completely change when you have a child, especially during a pandemic.”

David has grown more comfortable with socialising in recent weeks and has become part of a network of local dads who go for walks and discuss their experiences.

“You hear about women’s difficulties with becoming new mums a lot but having met some other dads, we have similar experiences too. Lack of sleep, low mood, blues anxieties. I don’t think that’s spoken about enough. We are chatting a little more because of the pandemic though,” he says.

“What also surprised me was how natural it feels to be a dad. It feels like it’s just part of me. You just have this primitive instinct when they’re born. There’s nothing like it.”

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