To the expectant father – what is your role? Obviously, you’ve done your job already so what’s left for you to do?
With my wife’s first pregnancy, I kept thinking to myself where do I fit in? What is expected of me? What do I want to do? What kind of husband am I?
I went to all the baby classes with my wife. They helped give me language to get through the pregnancy and what to ask for at the hospital. It was educational, but it did not feed my emotional side. I was going to be a father and I was a wreck. I couldn’t show it because I’m a guy and guys don’t do that. Not to mention I didn’t believe it was helpful to my wife who was actually doing the hard work.
My friend recommended Dr. Harvey Karp’s “The Happiest Baby on the Block” which talked about the “five S’s”. It was really helpful. Especially after the baby was born. I really found my place. What I could contribute – how I could help.
So much is focused on the mother during pregnancy, as it should be, but where does the father fit in? I remember being as attentive as I could be – making sure the house was stocked with food that she liked or craved. That she was comfortable. If she needed new pants, I got new pants. If she needed other forms of clothing to feel secure – I found those things. I was probably overly attentive – which can be annoying, I would assume.
I was struggling to find my place in this process without making it about me – insecurely hiding in the shadows trying to figure out what to do. Do people talk about this? We are so low in the pecking order during the pregnancy, it feels out of place to ask for help or to talk about how we’re feeling.
Anyway, at the time of my wife’s pregnancy, I was working on directing a play and not really around at night. Having timed it perfectly the show ended and 10 days later my son was born.
I remember going through the labor and repeating all of the mantras that I had learned in baby class (or whatever you call it). I was saying the positive reinforcement things that you’re supposed to say when your wife’s in tremendous pain. I could see in her eyes that nothing was comforting at all. The last thing I wanted to do was annoy her during her labor but it seems that all the mantras that I was spewing at the time where all annoying to her. She later confirmed that.
I don’t take that one personally, because I did my best – but it was annoying. The miracle of life is a sexist thing. It has to be all about the mother. She’s the one going through the trauma. So for all my annoyances I didn’t let it hurt my ego, I was just happy it was all over.
Then I came back to the book.
It was recommended to me by my friend Scott who had a baby a year earlier. He thought that the book was very helpful. He was right. I finally found my place.
The 1st S: Swaddle and I became best friends. I could swaddle like a cowboy roping a steer. In the middle the night when the baby would start crying I knew how to fix it. I could wrap that baby up tight in 7 seconds. (Time is exaggerated to make me feel better about myself).
Then came the 2nd S: side position, followed by the 3rd S: Shushing. Once wrapped up, I spun that infant on its side and started shushing. I could shush a baby like I was a mute monk meditating on a mountain.
It became my job. That’s how I could plug in. I couldn’t breast-feed, but I could swaddle, and I could shush, and that was a great help.
Here’s the thing, new parents, everybody is gonna give you advice – so here’s mine: Don’t listen to anybody else’s advice. Every baby is different. What works for one may not work for another. That’s just life. I just wanted to share my experience.
What I would say is be thoughtful, you’re going to make mistakes – that’s a given. So, if you’re thoughtful about those mistakes, and learn from them you won’t feel as bad. What better lesson can you think of for your growing children? Make mistakes and learn from them.
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