So I’m at day 1 of month 2 of being a dad. Obviously, I’m an expert. And obviously, I’m lying.
You may have read some of my posts to my daughter. I’m attempting to chronicle my feelings and experiences in the context of a conversation with my daughter and what sentiments I believe best express my love for her on that day. This post however, is something different. I am the beneficiary of a truckload of amazing advice. And I wanted to take a few minutes to document some of the things I learned and wish I had known at various stages leading up to and through raising the most amazing being the world has ever known — aka, my daughter.
I don’t want this blog post to turn unwieldy. So I’m going to focus on a few key things that I think helped me not completely and utterly suck (as much) during the pregnancy.
A Little Behind, A Little Ahead
It starts by understanding one very true reality; I think I came to terms with it instantly. Hell, i was happy about it. On one hand, your wife is always going to be months ahead of you when it comes to having a connection with your baby. She is the center of attention and the doll and darling of the universe at this point in time. My friends and family have heard me say that the world loves no single thing so universally as it loves a pregnant woman. Embrace that. But juxtaposed, you’ve got a head start in one area. You are months ahead of her in realizing you are now behind the scenes. Your wife is doing for the baby by doing for herself. It’s a beautiful harmony. But you are already two steps removed from your focus and attention for what will be the rest of your life. It simply ain’t about you anymore. Embrace that like John Elway and you’ll move from Super Bowl MVP to all-star GM in no time.
Let me tell you, there’s no greater blessing than being a father. It’s the most humbling. It’s the most centering. And it will pour over into every other part of your life (I see it happening for me at work.) Everything I have done, and in an accelerating capacity, is more and more about the work that needs to be done. Pure and simple. It’s Gita-esque. Like Arjuna seeing nothing but the eye of the bird.
What Works for You
After you recognize your new place in this world, you need to figure out how you learn most effectively. Do you prefer to talk to people and synthesize advice that way? Do you defer to credentialed experts? Do you learn at your wife’s pace or on your own? What makes you comfortable and what inspires you to learn and empathize.
For me as I’d assume for most, there is no single answer or methodology. Life is hectic. And I learn best when I find those things that fold most easily and effectively into my workflow. So I leaned on the things that I used and referenced every day.
Reading for You
The Expectant Father – My research started with reading. I need a foundational layer, some background, before entering into most discussions. It’s why I’m always on the web on my phone before any meeting, impromptu or otherwise. I hate being uninformed and I hate having no context. This book was referred to me by many. I also loved that it was “chunky.”
The book is broken up month-by-month, which is great. And each chapter (month) also starts with a breakdown of what you are feeling and what your wife is feeling. I chose to read TEF month-by-month, and I chose to be a month ahead of what my wife was experiencing. It allowed me to experience her pregnancy in synch, not losing any of the magic and keeping me present in the experience, while also allowing me to anticipate some of what she was going to go through. Whether physical, emotional, or otherwise. The number of times I was able to anticipate certain things by having the right equipment on hand was pretty great (food, candles, clothing.) And the number of times I was actually able to put my wife’s mind at ease by telling her that certain things she was experiencing were fully normal given what month she was at, was also amazing. It made me feel like I was a part of the pregnancy, and like I was helping my wife. Nothing else mattered.
Reading with Her
Whether I grabbed a book off of her nightstand or proactively registered for the same sites she was registered for (think BabyCenter), I made it a point to read as much of what she was reading as I could. The reason? To understand what the hell people were telling her. TEF was great at giving me advice about her. But there’s no substitute for being plugged into whatever she chooses to read. Not fully. Not thoroughly. That would be impossible. But at least for context and a point of reference. I found that by actually registering for BabyCenter and being a week or so ahead of my wife on emails, I was able to get a feel for some of what she was experiencing and going through in advance.
There’s a pattern here. My wife wanted to be present during her pregnancy. I wanted her to be present during her pregnancy. There is no time like it, as I mentioned above. She should squeeze the love out of every second of her pregnancy, and the only way to do that is to live truly in the moment. It’s easier for her to live in the moment if you commit to looking a few steps ahead while also empathizing. Reading and being in synch with the knowledge she’s acquiring is a great start.
Standing on Other’s Shoulders
I was lucky. Mostly because I’m a massive f*cking slacker. Everything I’ve done in my life I’ve done on a delay. Graduating. Marrying. Saving financially. Higher ed. And now, having a baby. I’m pretty much behind most of my friends my age when it comes to daddyhood. The benefit to not being first is you can learn by watching what everyone else has done, and by asking them to reflect on what mattered most to them along the way.
This isn’t about building a parenting style based on the best of what everyone else has done. This is about making yourself fully aware of what matters and what people value; and then having the confidence and conviction to understand what aligns with your own values and vice versa. In the abstract this may be fine, but I actually found it most helpful around a few very tactical and important things, examples include:
- Doctors and Hospitals – In all honesty, I generally did not like the practice we went with on the Ob/Gyn side of things. But what was hammered into me early and often is that we needed to pick a practice based on the things my wife valued in them. One important thing for her was convenience and accessibility. She needed something close to work. The stress of picking a better practice 45 minutes away would have put an emotional burden on her that simply wasn’t worth it on the day-to-day. I didn’t always hide my dissatisfaction well (I broke once), but generally, I think I was able to keep this hidden enough so it never got in the way. And in the end, given that my wife was hit by gestational diabetes, having a practice nearby and convenient was simply the best decision we could have made.
- Handling Labor – I got some fantastic advice on how to help my wife handle labor pains — but I got it from my friend’s wives who were in labor. I simply asked them what their husbands did well for them and what they wish they had more of. I ended up with a library of things to do, and I think that helped me be a better husband during her labor. I’ll post a separate list of these things for reference — the advice I got here was simply amazing.
- Embracing the Pregnancy – From going out of my way to ensure she felt pampered and loved throughout, through pushing her to make sure she embraced every moment (like wearing flattering maternity gear out so people would see her and smile, comment, or even give up their seat to her.) My wife was on a daily basis, more and more focused on what was going on inside of her. I could help by trying to be more focused on what was going on around her. Where we were. Who was around. What we did. That onus fell on me. Meal planning. I think we handled that well together, and as a team. She had enough to deal with. I don’t think I would have realized how much I needed to step up had I not had some amazing people preaching and knocking sense into me so early.
Being Present and Aware
At some point, there’s only so much you can practice. Every pregnancy is different. Every woman’s needs are different. The best thing you can do is prepare yourself and be educated, and then commit to being present and aware. I viewed it as the ultimate sport. Trying to anticipate what my wife would want and trying to be there with what she would want when she did.
It’s not always easy. You aren’t carrying a baby around with you (though I looked like I was.) There’s a lot of pressure that falls on your shoulders as well, and you won’t often get noticed for it. It’s not that people forget about the father. It’s simply that people are so appropriately focused on the mother and the child. Which is why it’s important to ground yourself in the reality of parenthood early, so you can find your way through the initial stages confidently and empathetically.
Sometimes I failed miserably. Sometimes I was just an idiot. Sometimes I came home with too many beers in me. Sometimes I was tired. Sometimes I couldn’t relate to what she was going through. Sometimes I just plain sucked.
The beauty of it all is that she was always gracious and forgiving of my mistakes. Inspiration enough for me to make sure I got back on the horse and tried to do for my wife what she was doing for our baby. Loving the ever living life out of her. The above things helped me be a part of the pregnancy, or at least feel more involved. The connection between parent and child is so much biological but so much more about involvement and participation.
And you know, in the end, sometimes, I wasn’t so bad.