I want to preface this post by saying that I am in no way an expert, even remotely, on the subject of labour, delivery, and babies. I'm more like the person who shines the experts shoes and gets the expert coffee, who most of the time has not a freaking clue what's going on but sometimes offers advice here and there.
I'm still pretty new at this whole parenting thing. But I'm far enough removed from the newborn phase of it all that I feel like I have a healthy hindsight as to what worked for us (and what absolutely did not) when we were in the thick of things those first few weeks. My husband still looks back on those early weeks and says "that was hell," but I'm starting to look back fondly and think "that wasn't so bad." I'm surprising myself because I'm already thinking about baby #2 - doesn't nature work in mysterious and seriously effed up ways?
The other night I was talking to a friend who is about to become a dad. I asked him how he's feeling about it and his answer was so familiar and brought back so many memories from those early weeks. He said he is excited, but still feels disconnected. "I really have no connection to the baby yet," he said. "I'm sure when he comes that will change." I couldn't help notice a brief flash of fear in his eyes.
I remember Damien feeling the exact same way. I could sit there for hours with my hands on my belly as Aurora kicked and twirled and rolled inside me. I would call Damien over ("BABE! HURRY! THE BABY'S KICKING LIKE CRAZY!"). Inevitably, as soon as he would put his hands on my belly, the movement would stop. I would get mad (ok, I can admit now that it was completely irrational) when he wouldn't want to sit beside me and wait...and wait...and wait for the next kick. "You're SO impatient!" I would huff. "Do you even care?! Do you even want this baby? Do you even love me?!" (Hi, hormones!)
This brings me to the first on my list of new dad tips:
1. It's ok if you don't connect with the baby right away.
Sorry Dads, but as far as baby's needs go in those early weeks, it's all mama's boobs, all the time. Of course my husband was so excited when Aurora was born, he held her, he cuddled her, he changed her, and he fed her when he could. She'll be seven months old in a couple of days, and their bond is so much stronger. He still doesn't miss the 'newborn phase,' in fact, he says "I wish babies came out this size, and at this stage" (while a look of sheer terror washes over my face). I think a big part of that is that a lot of dads feel completely useless for the first few weeks. Now, he is able to do so much more with her including play, throw her up in the air, make her laugh. He's now her favourite person in the world (I guess she forgot about all those late night breast milk extravaganzas). It's totally understandable if you don't feel an immediate connection with the tiny, purple, pooping, crying bundle that just shot out of your wife's lady bits and left her a sore, emotional mess. It will come. In those early days, you may not be able to breastfeed, but you can:
2. Do everything else.
This is one thing that Damien killed at during the first few days and weeks that Rory graced our household with her angelic presence. I quickly discovered that for me, breastfeeding wasn't going to be the natural, built-in, carefree journey that I had anticipated (more on that here). When 98.5% of your time is spent trying to get a good latch, making sure your baby's had enough, burping, and then cleaning up the subsequent vomit, there's little time (1.5% of the time, to be exact) to do anything else. That's where Dame came in. He cooked the meals. He cleaned. He made sure the house was presentable for our visitors. He brought me water, toast, coffee, oatmeal, hand cream, the remote, my inflatable bum donut, the receiving blanket. He went to the store and bought nipple cream, more breast pads, breast pump parts, bibs (we had NO idea how many bibs we would go through in a day!), energy bars (complete breastfeeding lifesavers), and everything else I needed. He was a rock star, even though he was just as exhausted as I was. Husbands, boyfriends, partners, lend me your ears. If you take any piece of advice, do the above. Your wife/girlfriend/partner will love you forever (even when she's yelling at you for your future stupid comments). Which is where my next point comes in:
3. Learn what NOT to say.
Some of these things Damien didn't say, but in speaking with friends who had babies, these were things some of their husbands did say. Some of these things Damien did say, but only once. My response to all of these is always "ARE YOU F*&CKING KIDDING ME!?!?!?"
Stay away from: "What did you do all day?" husband asks innocently as he strolls through the door. I'm sitting down, the TV is on but I'm more or less staring into space after having just gotten Aurora to sleep after the most recent fussy period. "Is your baby content, fed, clean, dressed, and more importantly ALIVE?" I answer with fire in my eyes. That question never came up again.
Safe alternative: "How was your day? Can I get you anything? You look tired. Why don't you go take a bath while I take over the baby duties."
Stay away from: "You didn't have time to (do the laundry/vaccum/go to the grocery store/take a shower) today?" This is a bad one. Just don't say it. Just don't.
Safe alternative: "Relax while I (do the laundry/vaccum/go to the grocery store/run you a hot bath.)"
Stay away from: "Why are you crying...again?" Men will never, ever in a million years understand the emotions and hormones that come with carrying a baby inside you for 9 months and then suddenly giving birth and that baby is out in the world and you can't comfort her anymore and she's crying and you have no idea why and you haven't slept in two days and she's not latching and your milk isn't in yet and people are sending such nice gifts and people want to visit and you feel like crap and, oh, one more thing HORMONES. Man friends, if your wife sobs uncontrollably the first few days, it's totally normal. It will pass. Promise!
Safe alternative: "It's ok. It will be ok." (Because it really will).
4. Be the best damn support system she's ever had.
From the moment she got pregnant, you were a team. Remember when you held her hair while the puked during those early months? (In my case it was Damien standing over me and cheering because he was just SO damn excited that I was pregnant. Now it's cute. Then it wasn't.) Through pregnancy, labour and delivery you were there, encouraging, telling her she was rocking this, wiping her brow, bringing her ice chips. At no time is the support person more important, however, than after the baby comes. When she feels like she has no freaking clue what she's doing, she needs you to tell her she's doing an awesome job. She needs to hear that she is an amazing mom. When she's frustrated with breastfeeding and feeling like a dairy cow, tell her she's rocking that breast pump. When she's overwhelmed and exhausted, tell her a joke. One little joke and a shared laugh can change her whole night. You're in this together now. It's your time to shine, coach!
5. Hold on to the fact that your new 'normal' is just around the corner.
Around the three month mark was when our household started to feel normal again. Things settled into place, we all got into a routine, we had gotten to know each other, and we were all pretty comfortable with our new living situation. In the first few weeks, LOTS of different people told us that it would get easier, and they were right. And so, I'm passing that wisdom along to you. Now, seven months into the game, it's so much easier, we're so comfortable, and it's absolutely the most fun I've ever had.
You got this, soon-to-be Dads. And we've got your backs, just in case you need a little help now and then. But I have a feeling you're going to be just fine.