Dads from Exeter have shared photos taken during their first moments with their newborns, to highlight just how important it is for fathers to spend time with their babies.
Photographer Adriana Zehbrauskas visited the dads in the neonatal unit of the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital on Wednesday 28 February 2018, as part of a project with the charity Unicef, which involved Zehbrauskas visiting delivery rooms in Guinea Bissau, Mexico, Thailand, Turkmenistan and the UK.
Unicef hopes the photos will encourage fathers across the world to play a more active role in their children’s early life, as a child’s first 1,000 days are now widely accepted by health experts to be the most significant in their development.
Yet many fathers miss out on this time, so Unicef is urging governments and employers to break down the barriers that prevent fathers spending time with their young children by investing in quality parenting programmes and paid paternity leave.
After the birth of his sone Louis, Damien Armes said: “I’ve got two weeks paternity leave, I’m not looking forward to going back to work, it’s going to go too quick.”
Armes is just one of the many men who took part in the project. Scroll down to read their stories.
Jim Cherrett has skin-to-skin contact with his six-week-old daughter Piper, who was born prematurely at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital.
“I’m going to be involved in any way I can, cuddles, reading to her, nappy changes, feeds, everything I can do I’ll do it,” said Cherrett. “Skin-to-skin feels a lot different than just holding a baby for a cuddle, it feels a lot more connected, it seems a lot more tranquil and peaceful, you focus a lot more and appreciate how tiny they really are.
“The most important aspect of fatherhood to me is to be there for the kids and make sure everyone is happy. When I was little, dad was always working and mum was always home, but now it’s completely different, I work only two nights a week and Leanne is a full-time worker, it’s a complete role reversal.”
Paul Barnes with his son Archie, born prematurely at 33 weeks on 23 January 2018, watched by his parents Judy and John Barnesl.
“I’ve been here every day, I’ve been doing skin-to-skin, it helps him relax, it helps his brain function, I feel this connection with him, we are communicating through skin and our feelings, it’s a true bonding experience, so warm,” said Barnes. “I was scared that our time in the hospital would be painstakingly slow, like we were just waiting to take him home, but with the skin-to-skin and the care, my days in the hospital fly by.
“When he came out after the operation, it was terrifying, being so premature, he didn’t look like what you see in the movies, but I bonded with him straight away, the team here in the hospital are amazing, it is so motivating to be around them, because it is all a bit scary in the beginning, it’s been quite a journey.”
Alex Edmonds Brown holds his son Harley James, who was born prematurely at 32 weeks.
“This is our first day in the room together. He’s been in the incubator and on the ward, it’s nice to be in the room now,” said Edmonds Brown, a tanker driver, who took two weeks of paternity leave.
“I go to work and I come here after I finish work and spend the whole evening with him, at the moment I’m just changing him and feeding him. I’ve been doing the skin-to-skin contact and giving him lots of cuddles. It’s so incredible to have something so precious so close to you, it’s an overwhelming happiness, and I'm so proud of Katie [my partner] after everything she’s been through.
"We’ll be in here another week or so I think, I’m looking forward to getting home as we will feel more like a proper family together, and getting into the routine. Knowing that I’ve got someone that’s dependent on me, that’s the most important thing, it’s the role of being a father.”
Damien Armes gives his wife Tamzin Lines slices of toast as she sits in a birthing pool during labour ahead of the birth of their son Louis. The couple also have two older daughters aged six and three.
“The girls absolutely love him, he’s such a good boy,” said Armes, who works as a heating engineer. “I was overcome with emotion the first time I held him. This experience would make the hardest man cry.
“Me and my partner do a lot of one-to-one bonding with him, sit with him, hold him, play with him as much as we can. I’ve got two weeks paternity leave, I’m not looking forward to going back to work, it’s going to go too quick.
“I hope Louis lives a great life, I wouldn’t want to push him into anything, I just want him to enjoy life and I want to give him the kind of upbringing I’ve had. We had a great upbringing me and my sister, so I want him to have that and take his own course."
Supidej Jaithon, (also known as Boss), cries with laughter as he holds his baby Matt, born a few moments before at Lerdsin Hospital, Bangkok, Thailand, on 6 March 2018.
“I came to see my baby’s face. My boss didn’t allow me to take the day off because I had lots of work, but I don’t care, my family comes first” said Jaithon. "I was shocked when I found out my wife [was pregnant], I thought we were very young... When the baby moved and I touched, I felt very good that I'm becoming a father. Before becoming a dad, I read a little. The actual due date is 21 April, so I wasn't well prepared - I didn't expect the labour to happen so fast.
"I don't expect much. I just want him to grow up to be a good person. I want to spend time with my baby, because my dad was away when I was a child."
Gerardo Brito Rodriguez holds his 13-day-old premature baby girl Diana Brito Muñoz, at the Instituto Nacional de Perinatología (INPER) hospital, in Mexico City, on 21 February 2018. He is also father to an eight-year-old boy.
"My wife had previously had an abortion and had not had two babies. And with this one that arrived, we tried not to have any damage or anything. And take care of her while she was in her mother's womb. Take care of her so she does not have any complications. And she arrived and she is bedridden because she was born with breathing difficulties,” said Rodriguez.
Juelmo Tchana Ncus smiles as a family member gives him his newborn baby to hold in Mother Teresa of Calcutta Maternity Hospital in the town of Bula, in the northern Cacheu Region of Guinea-Bissau.
When he held his child for the first time, Tchana Ncus said he felt immense joy and relief. For him, the most important aspect of fatherhood is to take care of the child, to get to know each other and to guide the child in all aspects of life.
Tchana Ncus has no paternity leave. He and his wife are farmers, they have fields in which they cultivate rice, cashew, beans, peanuts. He said he will make sure he has time for his child, both before and after work.
Arslan and Alina look at their second child, Damir, on the day he was born (27 March 2018) at the Maternity Unit, Mother and Child Health Centre in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan.
“For the past nine months, I’ve been preoccupied. It’s as if I was the one giving birth,” said Arslan. “Now I feel calm and relaxed. I love taking care of babies. I love taking part. For me, my child is my friend. When fathers are involved the child will grow up in a full family and contribute to their children’s development. In a full family, that’s when you see a child’s full potential. It’s important to be spiritual. Being a father is in our nature."