My first year as a dad has passed already. I thought it was a fitting time to start sharing my thoughts on pregnancy, birth and parenthood. I also want to share my experience on how it felt to find out my baby has a genetic disorder, and how my family is moving forward now that we have a different life to how we had envisaged.
First things first, and what I would consider a very important step - you'll understand more on why my feelings are so strong on this as you read on. If you’re thinking about becoming a Dad, before you even start trying to conceive, please consider having a genetic test.
Let me rewind. My wife (Ness) and I covered all bases to make sure we gave ourselves every chance to have a healthy baby.
To pregnancy prep we started seeing a fertility specialist and had testing, Ness saw a fertility acupuncture specialist to help balance hormones, we both took pregnancy vitamins, ate a very healthy diet and exercised regularly. We had blood tests, dentist checks, skin checks and once pregnant we had all the scans and screenings offered to us, including what we thought was genetic testing, being the Non-Invasive Prenatal Testing (NIPT) – also known as the Harmony or Genesyte test. Which we later learned is NOT a genetic test. It tests the baby for chromosome issues only.
We thought we were having every test you could have or, at least, every test we were told about. We were wrong. We weren’t having one of the most important tests we needed to have, which is genetic testing to find out if we, as parents, are carriers of any recessive genetic disorders.
We successfully fell pregnant and in March 2019, our boy Ezra was born. Four short weeks later, our world was turned upside down when Ezra was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis, a progressive and fatal genetic disease that primarily affects the lungs and digestive system.
Cystic Fibrosis (CF) is just one of thousands of genetic disorders. CF is a recessive genetic disorder, meaning both Ness and I unknowingly carried the disorder deep in our DNA. Around 1 in 20 people carry this disorder. This means that each of our children would have a 25% chance of being affected by CF (and a 50% chance of being CF carriers themselves). What’s scary is that every person on average carry an average of 1-2 mutations that can cause severe genetic disorders or prenatal death when two copies of the same mutation are inherited and that 1 in 20 children are born with a genetic disorder or birth defect.
Currently, there are simple blood or saliva tests available to test if people carry some of the most common recessive genetic disorders, but most people aren’t told about these tests. Even most GPs don’t know about them. If they do know, medical professionals usually only refer people for the test when there is a family history. However, 4 out of 5 families do not have any or recent family history or know little about how genetic disorders affect reproduction.
No one took the time to explain genetic testing to us before we got pregnant. If we had done a genetic test, we would have found out that both Ness and I carry the CF genetic mutation. What happened to us could happen to anyone, we are not special or different and what happened to us is not so rare. We don't want anyone going through this same experience.
Mackenzie’s Mission was born out of one family’s heartbreaking loss of their beautiful baby daughter, Mackenzie, to a severe autosomal recessive genetic condition, Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) type 1. Mackenzie’s parents, Rachael and Jonny Casella, discovered they were carriers of SMA when Mackenzie was diagnosed. They are now passionate advocates for preconception carrier screening. Read their story and important information about genetic testing here
Figuring it all out?
It's not rocket science, but it’s also not the simplest thing in the world. Despite baby book checklists and advice from friends with kids, no new parent every truly feels ‘ready.’ Here is my pre-dad checklist - a list that made the beginning for me a little bit easier to navigate.
I experienced a mix of emotions when Ness told me she was pregnant. Men have lots of different reactions when they hear they’re expecting a baby. Some leap around with excitement, and others just aren’t that into it. It’s normal to have mixed emotions – this doesn’t mean that you don’t want the baby or that you won’t be a good dad. And because men don’t experience all the physical changes of pregnancy and giving birth, you may not begin to feel like a dad until after the baby is actually born.
Becoming a dad can give you a huge sense of meaning and purpose, but this can also be overwhelming. If you’re asking yourself ‘How can I bring someone else into the world when I can barely look after myself?’, you’re not alone. Try to remember that all your baby cares about is that you’re there for them with love and affection. That’s all that matters.
Some men feel a bit left out or like they don’t ‘fit in’ to the pregnancy experience, given so much of the attention is on the mum. This can be a real struggle, leaving some men feeling like a spare part. If you’re feeling left out, let your partner know and talk about how you can become more involved. Stepping up and taking responsibility for certain tasks – for example, I became the ‘researcher’ to find out what we needed to organise, I loved finding all the gadgets that were going to make things easier – this eased the load for Ness, got us working as a team, and helped me feel more involved.
Create healthy habits before your baby arrives. So, if you don’t already, there’s no better time to start. If you maintain a healthy lifestyle before baby arrives, you'll have a better chance of continuing that post baby. You can support the health of your pregnant partner and your baby- to-be by cooking and eating healthy meals and exercising together throughout the pregnancy. I took a few weeks off my regular exercise routine when Ezra was born, however I got back into it as soon as circumstances allowed. The sooner you get back into some sort of normality, the easier it will be to maintain it and obviously encourage your partner to do the same (after medical clearance of course).
Prepare a few weeks’ worth of meals - or better yet – when people ask how they can help, ask for a home cooked meal. Ensure you have plenty of healthy snacks and a good supply of caffeine for both hospital and on your return home. I sussed out the cafes nearby to the hospital, so I knew where to go when the hospital food wasn’t going to satisfy those cravings!
Pre-natal classes offered some helpful hints and tips, so I would say it is worth attending. However, nothing can really prepare you for the real thing, so be ready to adapt. If you have a friend or family member who's parenting style you like the look of – let them know that you’ll be reaching out and will most likely ambush them with A LOT of questions.
Are your bags packed and ready? Ness packed her baby bags months before our baby was due to arrive. Dads-to-be should pack their own hospital bag as well. Make sure yours is packed at least a month out. I left for work at 6.50am and there were no signs of movement, an hour later I was back home packing and on the way by 8.30am. We hit peak hour traffic, which is not fun at the best of times, let alone when your partner is in labour, so make sure you have some alternate routes planned.
Speaking of packed bags, these are some of the items I would recommend you include:
Snacks and drinks
a portable speaker and a playlist for the birth suite. I was in charge of this - and it was worth it. You need all the comfort and distractions you can get when it comes time to push.
mobile and charger
change of clothes (comfy clothes/pyjamas and swimmers if your partner is planning a water birth)
comfortable shoes and thongs (for the bathroom/shower)
Have the car ready. Ensure your infant car seat is installed properly (kidssafe has all the info ). Babies under six months of age must travel in a rear facing car seat and it’s important to have this ready for when you leave the hospital. And keep your car full of petrol.
You don't need to have everyone come and visit you in hospital, the first 48 hours is an absolute blur and whilst it is, it's something you might only want to share with your partner, baby and anyone close. There will be plenty of time when you get home for visitors, and whatever you do – ensure you space them out, so everyone isn’t visiting at once – it’s exhausting. Whilst you're in hospital make sure you get as much information and don’t be afraid to ask the midwives and Drs questions.
Nesting. Build all baby furniture and learn how to use your gadgets. This seems obvious, but some parents procrastinate on putting together that changing table. Or they might think since they plan on co-sleeping, that the bassinet can come later. But the last thing any parent wants to be doing is building baby furniture while sleep deprived. The task is brutal enough stone-cold sober on nine hours of blissful rest. It’s pure torture on three hours of sleep after a night of baby crying. Also, practice putting the pram up and down, putting on the baby carrier, turning on the white noise machine, navigating the seatbelt in the car seat – before the baby arrives. And if your partners nesting behaviours are odd, roll with it. Just ensure they’re not doing anything potentially dangerous and jump in whenever possible to tackle heavier tasks or anything involving heights (as her balance will be off).
My top 6 gadgets
Baby Centre app - I'm sure there are others just as good, however this is the app we used from Pregnancy through to 12 months.
SNOO Smart Baby Sleeper – Added sleep it said – need I say more. After some research and outlaying a decent amount of money (which was well worth it), we decided on the SNOO Smart Baby Sleeper. SNOO is a responsive baby cot that boosts a baby’s sleep by combining gentle rocking with soothing white noise and snug, safe swaddling. For us it did exactly as it said it would. We may have just been lucky with Ezra as a good sleeper; however, we do believe a lot of it was due to the SNOO. The resale on it was very decent.
Project Nursery Portable Sound Soother - Whilst the Snoo comes with built in white noise, our Redsbaby pram did not. White noise is designed to mimic the sound inside the womb. We took it everywhere when Ezra was due for a sleep.
Bonds Wondersuit - These suits are designed for ease and comfort. You'll be changing a lot of nappies in the first few months, which means you want a suit that is comfortable and functional, you want a suit with zips not buttons.
BabyBjorn Baby Carrier Move - Prams are great and our Redsbaby is fantastic, however, when you want to scoot out and grab a coffee or head on a hike away from the paths, you'll find the carrier easier. We started off with an Ergobaby, however, we didn't find it very easy to use or comfortable, so we changed to a BabyBjorn Baby Carrier Move.
Rockit Pram Rocker - This handy device is an attachment for your pram which rocks the pram for you. Rocking motion in the early days helped Ezra fall asleep. We used it most days as we liked to get out and about a bit and found he would sleep anywhere as long as he had his white noise and rocker on. That is until he started becoming more aware of the world – that’s a story for the next instalment.