When my partner went into labour I was feeling pretty pleased with myself and my childbirth preparation. I’d read the books and attended the antenatal classes. I knew our birth plan. I had money for the taxi, and snacks in my bag in case it went on a bit longer than expected. I was one prepared dad.
Two and a half days later I returned home a physical and emotional wreck. I won’t go into the details here, but it’s fair to say that nothing had gone as planned. Despite my best efforts I was woefully unprepared and it made the experience a lot harder than it should have been.
So, here are a few things that I wish someone had told me before the birth. I won’t cover everything as there are plenty of books and articles that will help you with the details. These are the things that often get missed. I hope you find them helpful
Have a birth goal, not a birth plan.
It’s really important to discuss the birth beforehand. You need to know what kind of a birth your partner wants, what pain relief (if any) she intends to have, and many more details. When you are deciding on your plan, though, make sure you have a Plan B. And C. And probably a D, E and F as well.
The fact is, there are all sorts of things that may not go as you hope. These things aren’t necessarily bad, but if you both have very fixed ideas about what you want you may find it hard to adapt to the situation as it unfolds, and flexibility is incredibly important. By all means have your ideal scenario in mind and the chances are you will get it, but above all else, your goal should be a safe birth. Anything else is a bonus.
Take food. Lots of food.
When H and I were preparing for the birth, we knew we needed to take some snacks with us. After all, we could be in there for a while so we’d need to keep our energy up.
After twelve hours in hospital, we’d finished them all. What we didn’t know at the time is that we still had another 36 hours to go. Mums are generally well looked after but you could starve to death on the delivery room floor and you probably wouldn’t even be offered a slice of toast, so you’ll need to look after yourself. Don’t worry that you might have bought too much. Get stuff that will keep and you can always take it home with you – having a few snacks to hand when there’s a newborn in the house is never a bad idea anyway.
You will be ignored.
When it comes to the hospital pecking order, you are way down. This is as it should be – the mother has actual medical needs and the doctors and midwives have a ton of other babies to deliver, so you’ll have to accept that they aren’t too concerned about you. It may sound harsh but your role is to support your partner, answer any questions the medical staff ask, and keep out of the way.
If you’re finding things difficult – more on that below – don’t expect any sympathy. What this means is that you need to prepare yourself, because you certainly won’t get any help on the day.
You may hate it.
Here’s something you don’t hear very often, but I’ll bet I’m not the only person to think it: the birth of my son was the worst experience of my life. I hated pretty much all of the last 24 hours or so. Most births are very straightforward, but I think it’s important that we prepare ourselves emotionally for what can be a very challenging time. We’re not used to seeing people we love in enormous pain, and we’re not used to being completely helpless. Depending on what happens you may feel excited, anxious, overjoyed, scared, guilty, useless, tired, hungry, possibly even bored. Or all of these at once.
Nobody mentioned before the birth that I might find it difficult, and it never occurred to me. But there is actually quite a lot of evidence that men can develop symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder during childbirth, so don’t just dismiss it as being soft.
Unfortunately, because of the nature of the situation, there’s only so much you can do at the time. Your partner needs you and your job is to support her, so as much as possible you need to put your own needs to one side. But if you’re really finding it hard, don’t feel bad about taking a few minutes to yourself. Choose your moments – popping out mid-contraction is likely to be frowned upon – but get a bit of fresh air, take some deep breaths, compose yourself.
Once the birth is over, if you still think it’s affecting you, talk to somebody. If you really don’t feel you have anyone you can speak to, email me – I’d be glad to help if I can. When you’ve just become a dad is no time to be carrying around any extra anxieties so swallow your pride and get some help.
You might not fall in love
You know that moment in the films where a baby is placed in the arms of its father and he is instantly overwhelmed by love? That didn’t happen for me. It may have been the tiredness or the fact that I’m not actually a massive fan of babies (I wanted a child; having a baby was just a necessary step), but I didn’t fall in love with my son right away. It’s not just dads that get this, either – search on any motherhood forum and you’ll find women feeling guilty because they think they don’t love their new baby as much as they should.
Don’t feel guilty if you don’t feel it right away. It will come, and when it does you will be overwhelmed and feel all the things you think you should. You’ve got plenty of time to love them so don’t force it.
If all of these things seem obvious, then great – you’re probably a lot better prepared than I was. I’m not trying to scare you, but I definitely believe that forewarned is forearmed. When you enter a delivery room for the first time you’re entering unfamiliar territory, so don’t be surprised if it’s not what you imagined. In fact, you’ll do well if you take nothing from this article other than this: expect to be surprised. There are a lot of emotions flying around when a baby is being born and you never really know which ones are going to get you.
I would like to finish on a positive note, though. Whether the birth is long or short, easy or gruelling, it is just a stage that you have to go through to get to the really good bit. If you think the emotions you feel during the birth are strong, they’re nothing compared to what you’ll be feeling once you really start to bond with the little human that you’ve created. However challenging you might find the birth, it really is worth every single second of it.