Real-life Special: Heroic Dad

This season’s Real Life Special delves into the stories of three truly inspirational families all exploring parenthood in three very different ways.

We love to share different people’s experiences of parenthood – from the ordinary to the extraordinary. And we often hear first time parents talk about the transformation that happens when they move from being from a couple, to being a family. If there’s one thing that almost everyone seems to agree on it’s that, as much as they love being parents, nothing could have prepared them for the challenges that having a child has introduced to their lives.

These challenges come in different shapes and sizes – from run-of-the-mill (though no less testing for that) sleep deprivation to the more exceptional difficulties that have to be faced when a pregnancy is not straightforward, or a child has a medical condition which requires special care.

 James Cash chose to prepare for the trials and tribulations of fatherhood in a truly exceptional way – by rowing in a two-man boat, across the Atlantic. The task took him over two months, and time will tell whether it has stood him in good stead for a lifetime of being a parent – he certainly demonstrated admirable composure when his baby son decided to make an unexpectedly speedy entrance into the world.

The story of Sharon Todd, who battled through a pregnancy that was difficult from the start, and spent six weeks in hospital, separated from her family, in order to deliver her second daughter, Rebecca, safely into the world.

ore people have been into space than have rowed across the Atlantic, but James and Anna Cash had put having a family on hold, so that James could fulfil his dream of completing this superhuman challenge.

After two and a half years of planning, James began the mammoth expedition in December 2011, with his rowing partner Bertie Portal. For 63 days the pair endured blisters and sleep deprivation, cooped up in a seven metre long boat, while they rowed in shifts to finish the gruelling three thousand mile journey.

James and Bertie not only completed this huge feat, arriving in Barbados in February 2012, but they also raised £550,000 in the process – for the charity Facing the World, which cares for children with severe facial disfigurements.
There was only one thing on James’s mind though, as he battled to reach the Caribbean – his plan to have a baby with Anna. “It was all I thought about while I was dragging myself across the ocean! I knew very early on that Anna was the one, and I couldn’t wait for us to become a family.”

Little did James know that, less than a year later, he would have a very different kind of challenge on his hands. In fact, it was a year to the day since James had passed into the final 1000 miles of his rowing adventure, that Anna went into labour, at the end of a trouble-free pregnancy.

It was ten o’clock in the evening and James and Anna were at home watching television when the contractions started. “We started timing them,” says James, “and they were a minute or so long with two minutes between. After about an hour I called the hospital, only to be told that we had ‘at least three hours of that!’”

However, things progressed a little more speedily than predicted. “Very quickly the contractions started to intensify, growing shorter but stronger. Anna started to get louder and louder, and started asking for an ambulance.” Now beginning to get quite concerned, James called the hospital again. “After being on hold for three minutes, while the person that answered looked for a midwife, I hung up and dialled 999 for an ambulance. Anna was in no state to go into hospital in the car.”

While James was on the phone, things advanced even further. “The technician ran through some standard questions about how the night had gone so far, and whether there was any swelling or bleeding. At this stage, we felt the head, and we knew we weren’t going to make it to hospital!”

“The operator was adamant that Anna should get on her back, against everything we’d learned at ante natal classes, but very quickly it all started.

During the next few minutes, James kept his cool – while Anna gave birth on the bathroom floor. “The waters broke, Freddy arrived, and the placenta was delivered inside five minutes. It was all very shocking, but he was breathing, there were no problems with the cord and he was on Anna’s chest keeping warm.”

After safely delivering his son into the world, James was able to cut the cord and hand Freddy to the paramedics. “We had six minutes on our own before the paramedics arrived, during which we just sat there, staring in wonder at our little man. He was already very special.” When the ambulance arrived Anna and Freddy were taken into St George’s, Tooting, with a relieved James following behind in the car.

Having rowed three thousand miles across an ocean, James is now adjusting to the equally intense challenge of life with a small baby. “It’s lovely. Knackering, and noisy, but great. 2am can be a bit of a witching hour though!” And, in retrospect, he reckons that the key to a successful, surprise, home birth is to stay calm. “I didn’t worry about complications, because I didn’t know of many – ignorance was bliss!”

James, who has just opened his own gym in Wandsworth, also feels that becoming a dad has made him more motivated, professionally. “It’s given me a drive and a focus for my new business that has taken me a bit by surprise.” With his combination of keeping his head in a crisis, and the determination that got him across the Atlantic, it seems that James is likely to take both fatherhood and running a business well within his stride.