When babies come early, so does parenthood. That might sound obvious, but I was a premature parent and nothing was obvious.
I was a banker, not a Daddy. Yes, I was excited about the idea of first steps, first words, singing with my child, going to the beach, playing cricket, but that was all in the future. We weren’t many weeks past the 20 week scan. Even the basic changing nappy stuff had passed me by; we hadn’t yet started our NCT classes.
It was September 1999. I went on a business trip to Slovenia with vague thoughts of fatherhood at Christmas, random and relaxed thoughts coming together. I came home quite happily and normally to an unexpectedly empty house and a note on the kitchen table. Fiona had written the note 8 hours earlier before taking herself off to hospital; I had no idea what was going on and my world was suddenly out of control.
I remember odd fragments.
I met Mark Johnson in the hospital lift, pushing an empty incubator, and realised it was for my baby.
I went with the baby in the incubator in the ambulance to Queen Charlotte’s (because there was no super specialist bed free in NICU). We drove the wrong way up the Westway and got there in seven minutes. One part of my brain was saving up this speed adventure story for my son; another part thought he might die at any moment. I felt sick and the ambulance man gave me a ginger snap.
Being a Daddy came upon me gradually, I think. I felt a huge responsibility naming our baby, not simply in the name, but for the privilege of being the one to choose. I remember holding him for the first time: there was a tangle of tubes and wires and in the centre of it all this tiny precious person, whom I had made. He was trying so hard to breathe and survive and I was moved to tears by love and pride.
It was horribly stressful. Sometimes I was holding it together for the baby and for Fiona and trying to go to work (because I couldn’t take months on end off, so I was saving my leave for when Finn came home –which turned out to be on oxygen, after 4 months in NICU) and silly things were too much.
We went to Mothercare and they refused me a loyalty card because I failed their credit check. I hadn’t even wanted the stupid loyalty card, it was just a hard sell, and I was good for credit, just not, right then, for idiotic bureaucracy. All that stress and frustration boiled over. I just managed not to smash up the shop; we walked out. I’ve never been back, never, in 4 more children.
Our first son was such a miracle, it is hard to believe we have four other premature miracles and I am a father of five. When Fiona and I saw the first scan of the twins we looked at the two heartbeats and at each other and said only, “Flubbadubber,” because we were watching a lot of The Flowerpot Men at the time. And so it was that for months we called the twins Bill and Ben.
Fatherhood is part of my life, in between my bank job and work for Borne. I love school concerts and U certificate films; I can shop in the lego store and H&M; and I know a lot about teletubbies and Harry Potter. But my kids are more than part of my life; they are part of me. From that moment of naming Finn right up to the latest emails from Ailsa with photos of dolls in swimsuits, I am privileged to have brought these five people into the world and to watch them grow in it.
Father’s Day is a Clinton Cards fandango. Sometimes. The twins were in NICU on their first Father’s Day and we arrived on the Sunday morning to find that the nurse on nightshift had made Father’s Day cards with the babies’ footprints on. And we still have them. Because I may be a banker but I am ridiculously sentimental about my children!
Julian Mylchreest – a proud father and Chairman of Borne