Becoming A Father | Jonathan Shine
"I think you're pregnant"
My journey into fatherhood started with my wife Ashley telling me she thought the milk was off because her coffee tasted odd. "You might be pregnant" I said, after tasting her coffee and detecting nothing out of the ordinary. We replaced the milk.
The next morning "It still tastes funny", Ashley proclaimed, holding another cuppa, brewed with the fresh supply of milk . "I think you're pregnant” I said..."It must be the kettle" came her reply. We replaced the kettle.
"It still tastes odd"...came a familiar decree the next morning..."we're not replacing the kitchen!” I said jokingly. "I really think you're pregnant".
Five weeks earlier we’d celebrated our one year wedding anniversary with a weekend in Paris. Enough said. But we thought it would be too early to be detectable with a home pregnancy test. However, given the past 48 hours of questionable symptoms, we got one for good measure.
"You're going to want to see this" Ashley called from behind the bathroom door. I was sat in our living room mid way through a level on some playstation game whose name escapes me. "You better not be kidding me!” I said as I rose out of my seat. I was half expecting her to be playing a prank on me, such was our playful relationship. But part of me was excited, and nervous, that my suspicions were correct.
Two Lines. Clear as day.
My mouth dropped wide open as I looked up at Ashley with joyful recognition of what those two lines meant. We embraced in a moment of happy disbelief. We were going to be parents! She was going to be mother! I was going to be a dad! I’m fairly certain I said “I told you so”.
My father is a charismatic man. He is kind, generous and extremely thoughtful. He has enjoyed great success in his endeavours. And although I count him as one of my closest friends now, our relationship hasn't always been plain sailing.
As a child I only saw him on Saturdays for an hour at lunch. He was working hard as the third generation director of our family's business, and certainly wasn't an "involved" father, as it's come to be known.
So distant was our relationship that when he told me that he and my mother were getting divorced, I apparently responded with a rather positive "well maybe we'll get to see you more". I was six at the time. What did I know? But he recognised what I meant, and has ever since that day been an unwavering presence in my life, even though it was from a distance due to my parents’ acrimonious separation.
As I lay in bed that evening contemplating what those two lines meant, the true gravity of becoming a father began to hit me. Suddenly I wasn’t going to be the kid anymore. I was going to be the dad. I was going to be the teacher, the disciplinarian, the sage, the spoiler and the guide. Decisions I was going to make from this point forward were not going to be for me anymore. They would forever more be for “us”. Needless to say I didn’t get a whole lot of sleep that night.
Over the course of the next few weeks these thoughts kept returning. I began thinking of my father as a man who had been told the same news by his wife some thirty years earlier. I recalled memories that had been tucked away for years. Moments of laughter and great joy, mixed with those of deep sadness. I missed my Dad a lot growing up. Already, I felt my perspective on life, and my purpose, was changing.
There are two in there!
At seven weeks pregnant we went for our first scan to check everything was moving in the right direction. By now we had read everything that could possibly frighten us and were suitably on edge.
The doctor came in and quite solemnly said "why don't you take a seat" as he gestured for me to sit in the chair next to Ashley. We shared a brief look, sensing something was awry.
"I've had a look at your scan, and well, there are two in there!"
Twins. Identical. Cue the happy embrace of disbelief again!
A lot of friends have asked how I felt when I found out we were having twins, and I can honestly say it went quite swiftly from “We’ve struck the jackpot!” to “Can we actually fit two cots in the baby’s bedroom?”, back to “Twins?! TWINS?!”
This was the best news I’d ever received in my life, and it was very much needed. You see, two weeks before we found out Ashley was pregnant, she had been diagnosed with a truly nasty auto-immune condition. It had completely blown the wind out of our sails. We didn’t know what the future would hold for us, but we knew it would be different from the one we had hoped for. And here we were, less than two months later, with not one, but two children on the way.
I don’t think there’d ever been a more challenging time in my life up to that point. I was concerned for Ashley’s health. I was angry and distraught by her diagnosis. I was elated by her pregnancy and at the same time nervous about the scale of responsibility coming our way.
Our doctor told us that due to Ashley’s condition the pregnancy would be complicated. That she and the babies would need to be monitored weekly. That it was going to be hard, but we would be ok. So we navigated the next few months of pregnancy with great precaution, enjoying the moments between hospital appointments.
The Start of Fatherhood
I relished looking after Ashley during this time. I felt like I was already fathering our children by simply ensuring she was comfortable, well fed and relaxed.
We read parenting books and charted the development of our babies as each week passed by. We decorated the nursery, went for short walks in the park and, after discovering we were expecting girls, settled quite quickly on the names Hannah and Isabella.
Unfortunately, things started to take a turn for the worse at around 30 weeks. Ashley was retaining a lot of water and she wasn’t feeling well. She was experiencing all the symptoms of pre-eclampsia and we entered a race between the girls developing fast enough to be delivered and Ashley’s deteriorating health.
I don’t want to dwell on the turbulent time leading up from here to the girls’ birth as to this day I find it hard to think about. But I have never seen such strength, courage and selflessness as I witnessed in Ashley during that time. I wasn’t just proud of her. I was in awe.
Being A Father And A Husband
Ashley gave birth to our two gorgeous daughters via emergency caesarean at 35 weeks. And she almost gave her life in the process. It wasn’t the birth experience we had hoped for or expected. It was deeply traumatic.
Although it was incredible to see our daughters for the first time shortly after their arrival I was so concerned with Ashley I don’t think I truly enjoyed that moment as much as I’d expected or hoped to. But later that day, once Ashley had fallen asleep, I went up to the ICU to see the girls.
It was a strange feeling as I walked away from Ashley, who needed me by her side, to go and see my newborn daughters, who needed me by their side too. I felt an indescribable sense of being torn between everything I love.
I entered the ICU and there they were, smaller than the teddy bears waiting for them in their cots at home. Quiet and beautiful. Warm and cosy. I asked if I could do skin to skin time and I sat for ten minutes with each of them sleeping gently on my chest, stroking their backs, telling them their Mother was going to be ok. I think I was telling them because I needed to hear that myself.
Ten days later Ashley had made some progress in her recovery and the girls had put on enough weight to be allowed home. I must have driven at ten miles per hour all the way through London back to our flat. We received a fair few honks from impatient drivers, but I didn’t care. No one knew what we’d been through to get our girls home.
Jonathan and Ashley are the founders of Mini Epic , an online platform where you can send sensational animated invitations for children’s birthday parties via WhatsApp and Email. Their daughters are now ten years old and ensure all invitation designs meet with their approval!