What to Expect (Dad) When You're Expecting
Inside tips from a father who knows best – or at least better
By Jeff Morrow
As a father who is expecting my fourth child next month, pregnancy, delivery, and welcoming new children into the family are on my mind of late. Expecting a child is a wonderful experience, but it often comes with increased stress and anxiety. Each family is different, and each pregnancy is different, but in general all share some significant commonalities. One commonality is that fathers do not get pregnant. Another common experience is that women often need more help during pregnancy. For husbands who live busy lives, work demanding jobs, and already have children to take care of, we need to take extra care to put our wives first during these times. So, here’s what to expect:
You can’t help. Mothers’ experiences of pregnancy differ greatly, even sometimes the same mother’s experience with different pregnancies. But, although the spectrum varies greatly, pregnancy comes with its own discomforts and difficulties for mothers — sometimes more mild, sometimes severe, and everything in between. One lesson I’ve learned as an expectant father over the years is how much I am not the one in control. Let’s face it, men, we may be able to do a whole host of things very well — we may excel at our jobs, we may be romantic, we may be great at a sport — but when it comes to our wives’ pregnancies and deliveries, we’re fairly helpless. We cannot remove every discomfort she suffers, or guarantee the child’s safety and health. To a large extent, these factors lie outside of our control, and that can often be a cause of anxiety.
My wife’s first labor lasted over 30 hours. I didn’t know what to expect. Every time she voiced her question – “How much longer can this go on?” – I secretly posed the same thing to God, outwardly trying to encourage her as best I could in my utter ignorance. Reflecting on what we experience as husbands and fathers during pregnancy can lead us to place our trust ever more in God.
You can help. Although much is outside our control when it comes to pregnancy, labor and delivery, there is also much we can do if we’re attentive to our wives’ needs. Ordinary tasks like picking up toys, carrying the laundry up the steps, getting toddlers in and out of the car, and leaning over the sink to wash dishes become very difficult for pregnant women. Now is the time to step up and help out with all those little things that she does every day. Your wife may tell you that she needs help with certain tasks, but if she doesn’t, you should ask her, or suggest some extra chores you can take over for her.
Our culture does not provide much support for pregnant women in general — in fact, it tends to devalue mothers. So we have to be there to tell our wives how much we value them and appreciate their sacrifices in being pregnant, and we need to communicate this to them in a variety of ways: words of affirmation, generous acts of service, creative gift giving, physical affection, and spending quality time with them. The same is true for labor and delivery; although you can’t give birth, you can support and encourage your wife during this important time. Afterwards is a time to celebrate and thank her, shower her with affection, whether bringing pizza to the hospital or flowers and balloons to the house.
Expect sleep deprivation and schedule changes. Fitting a newborn into family life and family schedules can take a little patience. It’s important that you expect to have your own schedule altered and know that siblings might have some behavioral changes in reaction to the new baby. Much of the adjustment is beyond your control, but, on the other hand, you can do your best to make for a smooth transition by taking care that you are efficient in your work time (and leisure time) so as to spend as much time with the family as possible and get to bed early. Cut down on your internet time and check e-mail less often. Keep the television off, and don’t start reading the newspaper when you should be heading to bed.
Expect to fall in love. Every child is a new joy and an opportunity to let your love grow. That tiny, helpless babe will change rapidly in the next few years and will never be a baby again. So enjoy the snuggles, the rocking, and the late night opportunities to thank God for giving you another child. Our job, as Catholics, is to make our homes happy, cheerful Christian homes, through devotion to our family. Each child welcomed into the family makes this task that much more rewarding, challenging, and exciting. If we allow God to enter into our lives of anxious expectation, being a father can help us to become holier, growing closer to God, striving to imitate his fatherhood.
Jeffrey Morrow holds a doctorate from the University of Dayton (Ohio) and is Assistant Professor of Theology at Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey. He and his wife, Maria, have been welcoming their fourth child, due in October, for the past nine months.