I don't know how she told you. Perhaps you came home and the table was set with a beautiful meal and wrapped in your napkin were a pair of knitted bootees (yes, clearly my mind is on a very old TV commercial). Perhaps you were pacing outside a bathroom whilst she peed on a stick. Perhaps she called you at work. But now you know. She's PREGNANT!
So, what do you do? Run screaming for the hills? Jump up and down in jubilation? Sit down with a stiff drink? Weep with joy? Well it almost (note almost - the hills thing… not so good) doesn't matter what you think, say or do in that moment, but a top tip… let joy and jubilation be a major part of it! You're going to be a father.
How are you going to support your partner through this pregnancy? And has your mind wandered towards the birth yet? And then… oh yes… there's more. What about when the baby is born? Parenting!
Okay, one step at a time. Pregnancy!
There is a temptation to Google and to Google a lot! Try not to give in to it. Find some good research based evidence. And when you talk about birth and labour, try not to listen to the 'horror' stories. Tell those people that you would love to hear their stories, but not until you have one of your own to share. The guy at work will have lots to share. You might not want to hear it all.
She may or may not have 'cravings' or like me.. just go off things. It might involve the odd midnight dash to that particular bakery/deli/burger bar/bagel shop. She may eat things that you never want to remember her eating. Go with the flow my friend. Make sure she eats, drinks and rests during her pregnancy. She's not ill, but her body is working hard.
Don't ignore the antenatal classes. Choose them together. Go to one that keeps men in the breastfeeding sessions. You need to know so that you can support her and be her gatekeeper.
Next step. Birth!
It’s not as easy as it sounds. Sometimes you'll need to step up and get on with the job at hand and not think about how squeamish you may or may not feel. Sometimes people say “Well it’s not as if he had to do anything” but let’s think about what you do. It’s a big job. It can affect you physically and emotionally. Whilst Mum is labouring away and not wanting to eat (and Mum should eat) you might feel that you can’t or shouldn’t. Big mistake. No one wants a partner who has passed out due to exhaustion and lack of food and water. Be sure to look after your own needs (remember the oxygen on the aeroplane analogy). Eat, drink, go to the bathroom. Oh and when you eat, her sense of smell is heightened, be wise with your food choices.
Then she will want you to massage her, to touch her, to hug her, to kiss her and as you lean in and your hands make contact with her body she may wrench away from you and ask you in no uncertain terms what the hell you think you’re doing! When she wants a massage you may feel that you’re tired, you just need a rest, but you know she needs you so you press on. Then she tells you to stop and leave her alone and now you feel rejected. Take it on a moment by moment basis. It’s nothing personal. What she appreciates most is your presence. Your partner's strength during labour may surprise you, but you may also be confused by some of her reactions, which can include despair, irritability and even hostility. Keep your sense of humour but check your ego in at the door!
So what happens if she gets to place where she feels she can’t go on?
Look her in the eye. This may help her refocus. She’ll know that you care and that you are committed to this. Keep your talking/jokes etc to a minimum. Let her go into herself and into her “zone”. Remember the thinking part of the brain closes off during labour and it becomes an instinctual, primeval thing. A nice firm touch or massage, maybe a hug show her love and can warm her up if she’s cold and shivering. When she gets to the point where she thinks she can't do any more, tell her you love her and you're proud of her and how amazing she is. It's hard because all you may want to do is to grab as much pain relief for her as possible.
And the next step? I'm going to talk about the days after the birth.
This is where you will come into your own. The Midwife will only come to visit a few times. The phone will ring, almost incessantly, as friends and family want to share your joy. But this is your time to allow yourselves to become a new family. Take time to make sure your partner goes back to bed. Make sure she is fed and watered. She will be tired and so food may not be something she thinks about too often.
She has done an amazing thing and your family has increased. Take time to enjoy them, but remember to look after yourself as well. Send her to bed as often as you can. When the baby sleeps, she should sleep. new parents often worry about what will happen to the baby whilst they sleep. So, after sending Mum to bed, spend time holding your baby, or simply watching your baby sleep. Week six seems to be the peak of tiredness postnatally. If you ensure her to rest in the beginning, she is less likely to fall into total exhaustion. Encourage her to bank her rest. Make no decisions in the middle of the night.
You are your family's gatekeeper. You may want to consider leaving a message on the answer phone letting people know that all is well and that you will call them back in a few days. Perhaps you might ask relatives to put off their visits until you have found your feet as a family. You can ask that family and friends bring food and tidy or take away the dishes. It's also worth considering having an" open afternoon/evening" where you invite everyone around for a couple of hours and lock the door behind them afterwards (don't forget to have someone on tidy up duty). Then when they are all gone, turn the phones off and go to bed. Remember what you learned in the Breastfeeding class. Encourage your partner, especially in the middle of the night when she's at her most vulnerable. Know when to call for help. Keep that list of breastfeeding support lines and Lactation Consultants in your phone and on the fridge. Whenever she sits down to nurse the baby(ies) make sure she has water. Put a plate of snacks beside her Massage her shoulders, tell her what a wonderful job she is doing. Protect her from anyone who tells her she can't do it, including your mothers.
As to the parenting... well only you two know how you want to raise your children. Everyone will have theories but only you two will know what works for you too. Look to your instincts.