The weeks and months leading up to my wife's due date were filled with a slew of emotions. This was our first child, and we were thrilled. So much excitement and anxiety in the air. Every time my wife felt a pain I was ready to jump up, grab the car keys, pack her and her things into the car, and go. We had our fair share of false alarms. More than once we went to labor and delivery wondering if the day had come. However, they were all false alarms. We ended up having her induced. But all the while, behind my excitement, I was incredibly nervous about becoming a father. I wondered if I was a good enough man to be the father that my son deserves.
As the day came closer, my anxiety peaked. When my wife was induced and went into labor, my mind was all over the place. I was so excited that the day had finally come. I was also worried about my wife. I really didn't have any reason to be, but seeing her in a hospital bed and hearing the heart monitor alarm go off made me jump more than once. There were some minor complications, but that's another story for another time. That whole day was full of emotion. And nothing, and I mean nothing, compares to what I felt at 8:35 pm that night. The moment I met my son for the first time.
At that exact moment, all of my fears and anxiety about becoming a father went away. When the nurse handed him to me so I could hold him and take him over to my wife, I didn't think about how worried I was about being a good father. I didn't think about how I felt ill-equipped to be a father in the first place. I just felt utterly content with the world. I felt larger than life holding my baby boy. I didn't care who saw the tears streaming down my face. Nothing else mattered. I had just become a father. As I sat there, next to my wife, staring into his blue eyes, I knew I would do alright as a dad.
The next couple of weeks were hard, to say the least. I enjoyed them, and I when I think back to them I wish I could relive them. They were tough, though. What really made them hard was just not knowing what to do. Both of us were learning as we went, picking up things as we went. We made it through just fine, and learned a lot along the way. Here's where the advice comes in. These are a few things I wish somebody had told me to keep in mind. You can't fully prepare for your first child. But there are a lot of things that can help you.
Every child is different. Every parent is different. Every situation is different. There are so many variables. How can you possibly fully prepare yourself for the biggest life changing event you'll ever experience? You really can't. But here are some things that a dad should keep in mind during the first few weeks as you settle into parenthood:
- If you don't know what else to do, just do whatever you can to help out the new mommy. Especially if she's breastfeeding. Starting breastfeeding can be a very rough time for both the baby and the mother, especially if she had a c-section. She will still be recovering, but she'll be starting to take care of the baby. Anything you can do to help will make a difference. Get food or something to drink for her. Clean up. Rub her back or feet or wherever it's needed. Make sure she's comfortable. As a dad, you've got it easy compared to her. You're there as her primary line of support. So support her, in any way you can.
- The baby will be awake all night and sleep during the day. He's been in the dark since he was created, so his sleep cycle will be out of whack for a while. Sleep when you can, while you can. My wife insisted on not waking me up during the night when my son woke up. But I still did and I got up with her. We would stay up all night watching TV, trying to get our boy to sleep, wondering what to do. We were exhausted. We didn't know what to do. But those sleepless nights brought us closer together and I'll never forget them. And being up with her made her feel better. There was nothing I could do since she was exclusively breast feeding. So all I could do was stay up with her, help out as much as I could, and take the baby when he finally did fall asleep so she could just relax and sleep some.
- Take advantage of every chance you can to take the baby. It will give mom a much needed and well deserved break, and give you a chance to bond and get to know your new child.
- There might be times when you're sleep deprived to your limit and you feel like it will never end. But take heart. When it's all said and done, it'll have gone by too quickly. Parents always say they grow up too fast, and they're right. The time will fly by and you'll wonder where it went. The point is, the hard part will come to an end. It will get easier. It won't be easy, just easier. You've got a ton of things to look forward to. Concentrate on that when you feel hopeless while covered in spit up or wrist deep in a poopy diaper in the middle of the night.
Those are just a few things that hopefully will help you as you start your journey of fatherhood. I'll be writing more articles on this subject, sharing things I've learned along the way in the hope that it will help somebody out.