Being a heart dad: a personal reflection

For Father’s Day, I asked my husband to share a post about his journey as a heart daddy. This is his raw and honest account of his feelings about the journey we have taken as a family so far. It has been very hard and emotional for him to share this. I would like to say a huge thank you to him for sharing his thoughts and for being such a wonderful and supportive Daddy to our two beautiful girls. I couldn’t have done this journey without his constant strength and support.


Hubby holding a newborn Jessica and looking down at her with pride - "Being a heart dad - a personal reflection"

What is it like being a ‘heart’ Dad? It’s scary.


I have a child with a congenital heart defect which was diagnosed at her 20 week scan. When we went to have the scan, I was looking forward to seeing how our baby had grown. I knew though that the purpose of the scan was to check for any problems and so I was a bit anxious that everything would be OK. The sonographer told us to go for a walk and come back after an hour or so. She couldn’t get a good view on our baby’s heart which made me a little concerned. When we returned, there was someone else in the room to take a second look. I wasn’t sure what to expect.


It was a turbulent day since it was only 10am and we had found out that our baby had a serious heart problem. The system was at its best though that day. We were given an appointment at the specialist unit in Oxford later that day to get a proper diagnosis. By the time we got home that night around 7pm we had gone from thinking everything was fine to having a reasonable understanding that our baby had serious problems and might not even live more than a few days.


Over the next few months our understanding grew. At the same time as we went to each appointment there were times of hope, times of despair and times when things hadn’t changed. The outlook was no better but no worse either. We tried to bond with Jessica as much as possible before she was born as we didn’t know how much time we would have.


The scan marked a huge turning point for me. Suddenly we changed from just being expectant parents to having to make some big decisions and trying to get to know our baby as much as possible whilst she was still in the womb. It was easier for Louise in many ways because she was feeling all of Jessica’s movements and always connected to her but I tried to bond as much as I could too. It helped that I didn’t feel that I had to always be the strong one. We both had times when we got upset and emotional and we took turns in supporting each other through it all.


Me holding Jessica in the neonatal unit with hubby stroking her head and looking at me


The birth was difficult emotionally for us. On the one hand our baby had survived long enough to be born. We would get to see her at last. At the same time though if she was not able to be operated on then it would mark the start of the end of our time with her. We didn’t know what would happen. There were so many people in the room and so much going on.


My feelings were so mixed. I was excited that she’d made it this far and I’d finally get to see her after only having seen pictures and felt her kicks but at the same time it could be the beginning of the last few days. I was really scared that it was just going to be all over. It was such a relief to hear that Jessica looked quite well when she finally arrived. It was all such blur though, with so many people in the room and so much going on. She was taken away to the neonatal unit within minutes. There was so much activity going on when we went to see her. We were squeezed into such a little space and it seemed like there were people everywhere.


Hubby holding Jessica's hand in the paediatric intensive care unit


Jessica needed surgery just a few short hours after her birth. On that day, it was so hard to process it all, it was just too much. We were told what was going to happen, what the surgery involved. All I could think of was that we’d only had her a few hours and then she was gone again and we didn’t know what the outcome would be. Consenting to surgery was hard. Being given the choice between her having a chance of surviving if she had it and dying if she didn’t, in some ways made it easier though.


Hubby holding Jessica on PICU


One of the hardest things when your child is undergoing surgery is the waiting. That’s the thing that’s different for everyone. How do you deal with the waiting? Do you try not to think about it, do you sleep, go for a walk, or do you just wait? When Jessica had her Norwood procedure at Christmas, she was in theatre for hours and hours. The waiting felt endless. I tried to switch off and not think about it, like I used to do with exam results as worrying wouldn’t change the outcome. In my head though, I kept playing back the time before she went into surgery, scared that it could be my last memories of her and trying to hang on to them. It was such a huge relief each time to hear that she was out of surgery and back on the intensive care unit.


Hubby and baby Jessica in her PICU cot looking at each other


Being in intensive care is like being in a different world. Suddenly you’re engrossed in this world within the hospital walls and you’re almost insulated from the outside world. Nothing else seems to matter other than how your child is. It’s a rollercoaster ride – living hour by hour. One minute things can be good, the next they can look really bad. With each shift, there’s a plan. The team are monitoring all these little strands and trying to keep them moving in a positive direction. You just want her to get out of there. There’s the feeling that when she’s in intensive care it could go either way. You hope she will gradually make progress and eventually get back to the ward. However, you also know that it doesn’t always turn out well. When things start to go wrong, you become very scared.


Baby Jessica on PICU stroking Daddy's face


Having to go back to work and leave my family behind in the hospital was hard. Going from being so focused on being there with Jessica and Louise in the hospital and switching off from the outside world and then having to leave them and focus on work made me feel so separated from it all. In some respects, having to focus on work was an escape. Time with Jessica felt so precious though and not being able to spend that time with her was so tough. I missed her and I missed Louise. While Louise kept me constantly updated, it was hard not being able to be there to support them both. I was so happy when Jessica was finally able to come home at four weeks old. We were finally able to have our first taste of normal family life together.


Jessica asleep on the cardiac ward wearing a babygro that says "I love my daddy xx"

What has also been hard is going back in for surgeries. You’re going back and taking in a baby that seems quite well and has learned new things and you know they’re going to go to surgery and when they come back they’ll be quite ill for a while. It’s like a step back. A step that hopefully should be temporary. Each time she has a major operation it’s a massive journey to get back though. You know it has to happen but you don’t know how difficult the path to recovery is going to be.


Each time, you know more. In some respects that makes it easier because you know what a turbulent journey it can be, but it scares you. Sometimes knowing less is better. You can’t be tormented by the possibilities if you don’t know them! It’s scary seeing children so ill, knowing that some children don’t survive. You feel scared that one day it will be your child and you will be parents of a child that is no longer living, that doesn’t make it out of intensive care.


I have to shut it out to deal with it, and just to get on with everyday life. It’s like a box that you try and put all the horribleness in but then you open it a crack and it all comes out and that can be overwhelming. It always shocks me when it happens and it all comes out, the depth of the emotion as I relive the journey. At the same time it makes me realise how lucky I am.


Hubby holding toddler Jessica in a surgical gown as they wait for another cardiac procedure


Going back to the hospital for a scan when we were expecting Sophie was scary. It didn’t help that our first scan was in the same room where we’d found out about Jessica’s heart condition. Being able to have more detailed heart scans was reassuring as was the knowledge that the odds were in our favour of everything being all right. Sophie’s birth felt very different from Jessica’s. It was nice to have a more ‘normal’ experience. Having her arrive at home with Jessica able to meet her new baby sister within minutes of birth was wonderful.


Me holding Sophie in the birth pool with hubby and Jessica looking on


We know that Jessica will need another major operation in the next year or so. This is something I try not to think about as it makes me really apprehensive when I do. I know it has to happen. Hopefully it won’t be as complex as some of the procedures she has had so far. I am sure it won’t be plain sailing though and that there could be complications which cause her to become very unwell.


At the moment she’s well and happy. It is hard to take what appears to be a well and happy child into hospital and know they will be unwell because of something you are going to do. However, we know that she needs to have this surgery in order to survive. We have always felt that we should give her the chance to live. Even if our time with her is short, seeing how she enjoys life to the full brings us so much joy. She has had such has a positive impact on so many lives and it makes every step of the journey worth it. Even if it all ended tomorrow it would still have been worth it.


Hubby holding baby Sophie with Jessica sitting at a table in front of them


Before Jessica was born, all I wanted was to do was just get to see her, to see her face. Now watching her grow and become more of her own person, I see that spark. I don’t want to lose that, that personality, that character. It’s always in your mind though, what could happen. I’m proud of her, I’m so proud of everything that she’s done and been through. She’s an amazing child and I’m just so lucky to be her daddy.”


The Dad Network

44 thoughts on “Being a heart dad: a personal reflection

  1. You had me in tears here… Beautiful account, even better as it was written by the girls’ ‘heart’ daddy.Mel

    1. Thank you – was so glad he was willing to share his story so openly – it took a lot for him to do so. Thank you for taking the time to read it 🙂

  2. Ahhh bless, this just made me cry. What a journey Jessica has been on and both of you as parents. Sounds like you have a great team for your kids and what a beautiful story that she has done so well and you gave her a beautiful sister. Touching story. Go heart dad!!! Thank you for linking up to Share with ME #sharewithme

    1. Thank you – it has been quite a journey and I was glad my hubby was willing to share his side of it. Look forward to joining in with #sharewithme again – thank you for hosting it

  3. A well written post, lovely. I can’t imagine what you have been and are still going through. I am glad she is doing well and hope that the next operation will be quick and successful I wish you all luck for the future #sharewithme

    1. Thank you – it has been tough at times but most of the time we just enjoy normal life and feel blessed that she is doing so well. Lovely to join in with your linky for the first time.

  4. Thanks so much for sharing your story. Wow, what a journey. I love the fact the account was written by daddy. I know some men shy away from expressing their feelings on certain things so it was nice to read it from a daddy’s point of view. You sound like you all live and support one another and it’s heart warming and heart breaking at the same time. I hope all ends up okay for you all. Such a lively family. Thanks for linking up #GoldenOldies

    1. Thank you – was so glad he was willing to share it, it was hard for him to open up and do so. It was interesting for me too to see his perspective on our journey in this way. It’s definitely been a rollercoaster although all worth it to see how well our little girl is doing now and hopefully she will continue to do well. Lovely to link up to #GoldenOldies

  5. Pass the tissues!! Gosh what a beautifully written post – the pictures sent me over the edge though. What a scary day that anomoly scan must have been, I just couldn’t imagine that. Woo you’re all so touch – well done guys xx #goldenoldies

    1. Thank you, it has been quite a rollercoaster ride and my hubby has been so very strong for us – was so glad he was willing to share his side of the journey although it was hard for him to open up. The scary moments have all been worth it to see our beautiful girl growing up. Sorry for making you cry

  6. Such a moving post, it’s nice to hear an account from Dad’s perspective.

    The photo’s are touching, they portray so much love.


    1. Thank you – was so glad he was wiling to share his side of the journey – he has been so strong throughout. It’s been tough but worth it to see our little girl doing well at the moment

  7. What a gorgeous post – you have been through a real rollercoaster of a ride haven’t you? I can’t imagine what it must be like to be told something so serious at a scan where you are expecting everything to be fine. NICU is a scary place – we have been there 3 times, but the work they do is amazing. #GoldenOldies

    1. Thank you – yes it has been a rollercoaster ride but it has all been worth it to see how well our little girl is doing now.

  8. How did I miss this post first time round?! Such a beautiful account from the perspective of a dad, something that we don’t see as often and it’s wonderful to read. I’m so glad that your husband agreed to share his story with us x

    1. Thanks Sara – I was so glad that hubby agreed to share his side of our story too – it was hard for him to open up but it helped me too to really see his perspective x

    1. Thank you Jenna – definitely very lucky to have such a lovely hubby, he is a wonderful daddy and I was so glad he was willing to share his story

  9. So moving. I’d seen that picture of you and your husband just after Jessica’s birth before and it made tears come to my eyes then too – the mixture of emotions on his face tells a story all on its own. I can only imagine how awful it must be to take your child to hospital for an operation but this post gives others who might be going through the same thing an idea of what to expect. Hugs to both of you (and thanks for the link at #thetruthabout) Xx

    1. Thanks Sam – it has been a very emotional journey and we were both incredibly emotional when Jessica was born. My hubby has been such a huge source of strength and support throughout but it has been hard for him too and I was so glad he was able to share that for other heart dads. Lovely to link up to #thetruthabout again

  10. I am always in support of Dads talking and men sharing what they felt. So this post for me was and is amazing!! What a beautiful and heart opening post. I am so glad you shared this with us as part of the #bigfatlinky I really had tearful moments. Such a great post and journey!

    1. Thank you – was so proud of my hubby for sharing his side of the journey. Lovely to link up.

  11. I don’t mind admitting that I’m sat here very emotional on reading that post. What a difficult post it must have been for you both to write. And what a difficult experience for you all. I cannot imagine what you have all been through. I agree that it is great that your husband was able to share that for other heart dads. The photos are very touching. Thanks so much for sharing this and for linking up. Please tell your husband we have a great support network of dads at Thedadnetwork if he would like to join us. Thanks again for sharing your story.

    1. Thank you Al – it was a very difficult post for my husband to write and I was so proud of him being willing to share his side of the story for other heart dads out there. I will let him know about Thedadnetwork and was lovely to link up.

  12. He definitely had me welling up as well! What a lovely honest moving post, I can’t even imagine what all of this must have been like for you. My eldest is a Type 1 Diabetic and almost died before diagnosis, it was such a scary time, but I think it makes you appreciate the small things so much more, at the end of the day even on the worst of days they’re still here so it’s all okay. I hope she continues to thrive lovely and that he gets the spoiling he deserves this Father’s Day!

    Stevie x #FathersDay2015

    1. I can imagine it must have been very scary before your eldest was diagnosed – definitely agree that these things make you appreciate the small things that much more. I am sure my hubby will be very spoiled come Father’s Day – he is a fab daddy 🙂

    1. Thank you Kim – am very lucky to have such an amazing hubby, he really is such a wonderful dad x

  13. Wow! This is so raw and emotional – I have tears in my eyes at all the pictures but especially the pictures at the births of both of your daughters. The look of love, pride, excitement, joy: it’s truly a wonderful thing to behold of any parent when they see their child for the first time! Thank you so much for sharing (again) such an emotional post with us all. Happy (early) Father’s Day! #FathersDay2015

  14. The photos alone were enough to shed a tear and then you start reading … Pass on more tissues please. Really touching! Hope you and your lovely family are having enjoying t #FathersDay2015 🙂 x

    1. Thank you – we enjoyed Father’s Day although unfortunately hubby was working for most of the day but we did get to go out for a family dinner together.

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