Book Extract

I struggled to fall in love with my son, admits rugby ref Jonathan Kaplan

Celebrated international rugby referee Jonathan Kaplan tells the story of his decision to become a solo parent by surrogate in his book 'Winging It'. This is an extract from the chapter 'Coming Home'

10 June 2018 - 00:01 By Jonathan Kaplan
Jonathan Kaplan and his son Kaleb.
Jonathan Kaplan and his son Kaleb.
Image: Supplied

My mom got a lift to the hospital on the morning we took the baby home. She came so that she could sit at the back with him as I'd be driving us home. It was his first time in a car seat - if he flipped out, what was I going to do from the front seat?

Everything was new, everything was foreign - for me and for him. The main thing for me was to keep him warm. You're taking them from the cocoon of the womb into winter. It's a fright! So my main thing was just to keep this baby healthy for three months. He's not on colostrum, he doesn't have breast milk, so his immune system may be low; and he may not have that emotional nourishment to keep him feeling happy.

Image: Supplied

I took him from the car, straight to his room upstairs. Estelle, the night nurse, was ready and waiting. We put him in the bassinet that fits on the wheels of the pram and he slept there for a couple of days; it was cocooned and felt warmer, more stable and secure. It was also handy to be able to move him around, just wheel him to another room.

He was good from the beginning. Other people talk about feeding troubles, problems with the teat of the bottle or the dummy. He never had any of that. He was hungry and he didn't mind the formula ...

The nurses at the hospital taught me how to feed but not how to make the formula; Estelle taught me that. She usually pre-makes enough bottles for the day and leaves them in the fridge for me to take out when we need to. I learnt how to use the bottle warmer, too. She worked every single night, and when she wanted or needed a night off, there was a relief night nurse called Julia.

A night nurse is a luxury. You can say it's a necessity if you have ammo, but, for most people, a night nurse is out of reach. I wasn't working and I had to be careful about my spend. I was hoping to wean myself off the nurse by four months, and then call her if and when necessary. But to get started as a dad, I couldn't do without her. She would arrive at 6pm and by then I was going out of my mind.

My mom came a lot in the beginning and she's still a massive help. In fact, I would say she was there every day for the first six weeks, sharing the bulk of the workload with Estelle.

And I had Zonke, who wasn't here to be a nanny initially, but who started helping me more and more with childcare. And Lenie, who came when Zonke couldn't. Most of the work in this house is actually the baby and the washing. In the mornings, the mess needs to be cleaned because my dogs are not disciplined...

Because I wanted this so badly, I was prepared to do whatever was needed to get it. Then I got it, and I was driving back with my lucky-packet and I thought, Okay, things are going to start happening.

And nothing happened.

Everything I was doing was mechanical. It was all mechanical. Although I didn't even realise it, emotionally I had a creeping sense of detachment and disappointment ...

I was learning to change nappies. I was learning to wash bottles and mix formula. I was learning the mechanics. But why wasn't I feeling something?

I was learning to change nappies. I was learning to wash bottles and mix formula. I was learning the mechanics. But why wasn't I feeling something?

I was disappointed in myself, in this creeping sense of disappointment. I'd think about the birth, a mega event. It hadn't exactly been what I'd thought it would be.

Problem was, I didn't actually know what I was expecting. I didn't read up about anything during the pregnancy. People told me that the baby's birth would be the most amazing day of my life. But the actual birth, how quickly it all happened ... it was a shock and amazing in the same breath.

And now the baby was here and home, and I was waiting for this blinding love to hit me, or this deep connection to come over me. I could touch him, I could put him against my skin, but I couldn't feel it.

This carried on for a day, two days, a week, a month. I didn't even realise it was happening, and I didn't really speak to anyone about it, but I did hear people tell me that it's normal to not feel much. All a newborn does is eat, sleep, shit, eat, sleep, shit. There's no response from the thing.

• 'Winging It: Jonathan Kaplan's Journey from World-Class Ref to Rookie Solo Dad' by Joanne Jowell is published by Pan Macmillan, R275.