Managing paternity leave – James’ story

Dads are only entitled to two weeks paternity leave - even if their child is born poorly. James explains why extending paternity leave is needed.

Frey, our son, was born weighing 3lb 8oz at 30+6 weeks gestation. My partners pregnancy was relatively trouble-free until the last couple of days prior to Frey's arrival, when Kim was struggling with pelvic pain. The doctors had no explanation as to why he arrived early. Fortunately for us Frey was a very healthy size, was in perfect health and had no issues due to his prematurity.

In total, we spent 34 days in hospital, and Frey was discharged 30 days before his due date. He came home with a feeding tube through his nose and into his stomach, because he hadn't developed sufficiently to feed for himself.

My employer was very understanding towards our situation, and accommodated my paternity leave as much as he could. However, I found myself in a difficult situation and had to decide how to use my leave and how I could be best placed to support my newborn son and Kim. I also had to keep my employer satisfied and ensure we had an income whilst Kim was on maternity leave.

I decided that I would return to work whilst Frey was being cared for in hospital, and to take my paternity leave once he was discharged. I would have loved to have been more involved during the early days in hospital, but on the other hand I felt that I would have been more use at home. I didn't want Frey to leave the hospital and then to immediately leave Kim to care for him all by herself and put her through unnecessary stress and anxiety.

I had three days off work immediately after Frey's arrival, and two weeks after he was discharged. My employer allowed me to take the initial three days off paid, and take my paternity leave.

Even though work allowed me extra time, I don't feel that it is enough time for a new dad to a preemie baby to have off work to look after his family in a very trying and stressful time. Having to balance professionalism at work, and trying to be a solid base of support takes its toll both emotionally and psychologically. I remember one occasion where I was sat at Frey's incubator and I just had to let go of this idea of being "strong", and just allow myself to cry for a minute.

Kim wanted a year off work to look after Frey in his first year so that she could spend precious time with him before he grew up. I could never want to take that away from her, especially after going through the worry and anguish of a premature birth, so shared entitlement wasn't an option for us.

There is so much happening in the first couple of weeks following a premature birth. There are so many questions, so many conversations, so many journeys and car parking missions. There isn't enough time to sit and think and take stock of what is happening. And then when your baby does finally come home, you have to start everything all over again. You just get used to one routine at the hospital and you've got to re-adapt to life at home with a baby that still needs to attend lots of appointments.

Unfortunately not all employers are as accommodating as my employer was, and a larger entitlement for paternity leave would have helped me in our situation, and no doubt would help plenty of other families. This is why I support Bliss’ campaign to extend parental leave for both mums and dads who have spent time on the neonatal unit with their baby. The extra time ensures bonding, healing and reduces stress for all involved.

James shared his story on BBC Breakfast

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