Birth Story #13 Óttar Martin Norðfjörð
From Iceland, living in Spain
When did you become a father?
When my first son Oliver was born, 15th June 2018.
Was it a premeditated decision?
Very much so. My wife and me had actually been trying to have him for a few years before he decided to show up.
Did that waiting time affect you somehow as a couple?
Yes, it could of course get rather hard, but we never lost hope. Maybe it even made us stronger as a couple, because we were going through this together and the prospect of never being able to have a child was very real. In some corner of my mind, in some alternative universe, we’re still trying to conceive a child and sometimes I find myself thinking about that couple.
What is your approach to Fatherhood?
I don’t consider myself as having any special approach. First and foremost, I’m just myself. And I believe that children should be allowed to be children, with everything that entails. I’ll allow my boys to do pretty much everything they want to do, as long as it doesn’t harm themselves or anyone around them.
Could you tell us about the birth experiences your partner and you had?
We’ve got two sons. The second one is named Leo and was born on April 29th 2020, but the birth experiences couldn’t have been more different. My wife had a rather hard birth with Oliver, and I was present, while Leo came through C-section and I wasn’t allowed in the room because of Covid. But at the end of the day, the birth itself obviously isn’t the father’s show, the mother is the main star, although we men try to do everything we can to make the women’s experience slightly better with any kind of physical or mental support.
Was it ok for you not to be able to stand next to her in such a crucial moment?
Well, I didn’t know it at the time, because I had been told that I was allowed to be in the room. I had put on special protective clothes and was waiting outside in the hallway. A few minutes in, I started suspecting what was going on. Then all of a sudden, the doctors came out with my little boy, Leo, and placed him in my arms and left to attend to my wife. So him and me got a beautiful little moment there together. I’m not sad or anything like that, I was present when Oliver was born and it was different when Leo was born. I kind of like it that way.
Do you remember what you felt when you held your children for the first time?
I cried. It was one of the purest emotions I’ve ever experienced, a type of unfiltered happiness that I’m not sure I’ll ever feel again.
How were the postpartums? Were they different from each other?
My physical postpartums were pretty much the same. The only difference was suddenly navigating having two boys in the house instead of one. It’s my wife who had the real postpartum. The former one was quite bad, because she had a hard birth. I really admire her strength and courage in how she dealt with it. And with that mindset, she eventually got better. The second birth, via C-section, turned out to be a really good decision for us, because my wife had almost no real postpartum complications afterwards.
How was the transition from a family of 3 to 4? Would you say that the Covid-19 lockdown circumstances brought you stillness to assimilate the change?
The first few weeks and months were rather hard, I won’t lie to you, because Oliver was still young, not even 2 years old, and got very confused about this new member in the family. But once he started accepting his new brother, things got a lot better. The Covid lockdown didn’t really change a lot for us, I think, because we could start going out again shortly after Leo was born. Today, Oliver and Leo have started forming their own little relationship, often playing together (and sometimes fighting too, of course), and it’s such a fun thing to witness.
What is your opinion about the role of a father in today's society?
I could probably write a small essay on that one, but I’ll try to keep it short. I think today’s society should really embrace fathers more than it does. I don’t know how many websites, blogs or books I’ve read about parenthood, and they tend to be aimed solely at the mother. It’s almost like the dad doesn’t exist, or if he does, he’s not an active participant in the upbringing. Not only is that wrong, I look around and see plenty of fathers 100% devoted to their children, but it sends men the wrong message. If they’re left out, probably they’ll feel left out, and perhaps become less inclined to become a full caregiver. I think society, be it public discourse, the ads we see on TV, or books and websites, should really start including men in their dialogue, and then maybe, we’ll start seeing more men being full-time fathers. And who knows, it might even help men in these strange times we’re going through, where masculinity is going through some kind of decline, or at least, reassessment.
Which would you say is the reason why the father is left out of most books, sites, etc.? And, in your opinion, what could be done or changed realistically?
You’d probably have to ask someone else about that, but my uneducated guess would be something like tradition. Hasn’t it always been like that, for the better part of our history, that the woman takes care of the child while the man hunts for food, be it with a club or a pen? But just because it’s always been like that, doesn’t mean it should be like that, in my view. I think it’s time we embrace the change that’s happening in our world. One practical thing is to have a longer paternity leave, like they’ve been doing in the Nordic countries. That forces the man to work less and stay home more with their child. I think that can bring about a real change. Maybe we should also consider a 4-day workweek, or at least shorter working hours, so the man can spend more time with the child. And like I mentioned earlier, if books and blogs would start addressing the father too, I think men might feel more involved also, rather than an outsider, leaving most of the work and responsibility to the mother.
They say that intuition of a mother grows already during pregnancy and later after birth. Does that happen to men too?
“Intuition” is a hard word, I think. Obviously, women go through a fundamentally different experience during the pregnancy because they carry the baby, while the man is more like an active spectator. But I could definitely feel something like “fatherhood” growing inside of me, while the baby grew inside of my wife. It meant growing up a bit, maybe being slightly more responsible, thinking about the future, how to take care of the child, things like that. Also just looking forward to meeting this new guy and bonding with him, playing with him, have fun.
Which are the most significant changes you have experienced in your life since you became a father?
It’s hard to pinpoint, really, because the change is so fundamental. There’s hardly an aspect not affected by the fact that I’m now a father. Firstly, the whole day is organized around our boys. So, just in terms of time, it’s radically different. And then it’s the more emotional aspect. It’s changed me as a writer. It’s made me understand things in the world that I was kind of blind towards before. It’s also made me think a lot about my own past, my own parents and especially my own father who passed away 13 years ago. It’s like I’m seeing things in a different light. Everything’s now filtered through my new set of eyes, from my own first memories as a child to the future of my own children. There’s a sense of being part of a long chain that I find pretty cool.
Do you think this chain is part of life’s purpose?
No, I don’t think I would put it that way. Personally, I think life’s purpose is to find happiness, whatever that means to you. For some, it’s having a child, for others, it’s something completely different. And I don’t think either one is wrong or right, it just depends on the person. But to be totally honest, I actually disagree with parents who find their life’s purpose in their child. Not only does it put an unhealthy burden on the child, in my opinion, but it also kind of diminishes the lives of all those who don’t have children for whatever reason, like their lives don’t have the same meaning or purpose. In a way, that’s the subtext of our culture, and having been childless for a long time and experienced this on my own skin, I find that mentality pretty annoying.
What is the best about being a father? What do you see as the worst?
There’s no good way to answer that, except to say that I love being a dad to my two boys. I’m aware of how quickly time passes, and how short childhood really is, because my brother has three sons who are all older. One day they’re kids who love spending time with you, and then in a blink of an eye they’ve become teens who have no interest in hanging out with their parents. That’s why I’m trying to soak up every minute I can with my boys while they still want to. Of course, I’m making it sound like everything’s perfect, when every parent knows that it’s also very hard. We just tend to forget about it, or at least decide to forget about it, because the good things really outweigh the bad. I can be having a bad day, because my sons are fighting, but then suddenly, they’ll hug, and it’s all worth it.
Did your relationship towards your mother change after you became a father?
Yes, I think so. It had probably started earlier, but it really got cemented after I had my own children. I think I finally started seeing my mom – and I mean really seeing her – as a person, rather than just my mother, someone put down on this earth to serve me and no one else. We’ve become better friends as a result. And expanding on what I said earlier, being part of a chain, it’s also been fun to talk to her about baby things, and how she did stuff with me when I was a child. It’s not only taught me how to do some things with my own children, about also taught me things from my own childhood, which I had long forgotten. Now I’ll often ask my mom how I was when I was a certain age, and I’ll see how my mom becomes “my mom” again as she recalls stuff I used to do as a child. That’s great fun too.
If you could give an advice to a father to be, what would you tell him?
Just be yourself, give your child lots of love, time and patience, and you’ll do great.
— Photos: Elo Vázquez