What to Expect as an Expectant Father, Partner, or Support Person
This week I wanted to talk about the role of a partner or support person during pregnancy and labour. But instead of writing about it, I had this idea: why not ask my partner! He could write about pregnancy and labour from his perspective! I knew he’d love doing it, and I thought another partner would like to hear from the horse’s mouth. And sure enough, he took the challenge head-on. So here you go! What to expect when you’re expecting from one support partner to another.
The world around me gave me my idea of being a dad. My dad, my family, and my friends all supported an idea of how I should feel and who I would be as a father. Movies and books all portrayed the calm, strong dad that works hard and provides. But I had no idea of what to expect until we were expecting.
I knew I wanted to be a dad. I wanted to learn and be involved in all the stages of her pregnancy. However, Nine months is a long time, and pregnancy is not always easy. The reality of the future we’d chosen became more clear.
“At times I was excited, and some nights I was scared. But for a lot of it, I felt a sense of detachment from the pregnancy. I found it challenging as the dad to find a connection to this growing child that my wife was carrying.”
The thrill of that first announcement starts to almost seem like a story you’re telling each other. You’re not feeling the physical changes to your body that she is. And you need to mentally adapt to her needs and a new lifestyle. It took me 9 months to understand that being an expectant father is a conscious decision I had to make. I would experience the pregnancy with her, I would engage in her experience, and take time to prepare for my new role. And it started to change. The more I chose to be engaged, the more I felt naturally like a dad. Maybe more like a dad-in-training but the feelings were real.
“The moment my world changed was the day I heard my son’s heartbeat. I was no longer just myself, just a husband, a friend, or a professional, once I heard the sound of the life my partner was growing, the life of my son. I felt the weight of this immense responsibility but it was nothing compared to the joy I felt at those quick beats.”
Becoming a Dad is a huge shift in mindset, lifestyle, and in priorities. As the responsibilities grew along with her belly, the pressure to change started to hit home. I struggled for a time to maintain my independence and started to see the due date as an end instead of a beginning. As a Dad, I think this is one of the greatest challenges during the months we were expecting.
I had to make the active choice to change, along with my partner. By choosing to be an active dad during the pregnancy, I feel I formed the beginnings of a bond with my son that I didn’t grasp until I was holding him all those months later.
I felt lots of doubt and wondered what qualified me to be a dad. I felt at times that I needed to get out and experience every moment of my freedom that I could. But as I started to read expecting father books, like Expectant Father, and watching prenatal videos I felt pride in my family and inspired to take on the role of Dad.
Take every opportunity to experience the growth of your child. Enjoy all the little milestones and celebrate them. And, most importantly, be patient with yourself. It took me nine months to realize I had no idea what being a dad would feel like. But, one thing you do learn while expecting is that fatherhood is a gift. Being a Dad is a choice you make each day. That is your strength.
How did you prepare for birth and having a new baby?
I’ve always liked to learn and read so it just felt natural to grab some expecting father books and start to learn what kind of a crazy year we’d gotten ourselves involved in. I found that the more I learned from books and videos, prenatal classes, and web searches the more at ease I felt with what was approaching. It’s always been the unknown that unsettled me and pregnancy as a first-time dad is a huge unknown.
I found books that promoted an active role for the dad inspired me to be more involved and enjoy the simple things I could do to support my wife.
We took a prenatal class during the pregnancy and I was interested to learn facts behind what labour and birth would be like. But what caught my attention was a whole portion of the class focused on the partner as a coach or labour support. I had always imagined the dad stands in the corner or waits out in the lobby until they’re called in to see their child, but hearing the intimate part I could take in this gave me the feeling that this was my pregnancy too.
My role was suddenly important and gave me a purpose that I was really looking for during 9 months of feeling kind of useless.
What was the most helpful then? What would you change now?
The most helpful thing I learned as an expectant father was the tools and strategies I could bring to the hospital to support my wife. I felt helpless while she struggled through stages of her pregnancy and the last thing I wanted to be was useless during labour. I understand now that your presence alone can be a huge support, but it was learning that I could provide her comfort and strength during it, and the options I could try really gave me a sense of calm.
Some of the tips didn’t work out (deep breathing in her face was quickly shut down!) but talking and gentle massages were calming for both of us. A combination of the techniques was a surprising hit.
After a couple of years though I’m now thinking back and the greatest thing I learned while expecting was the options and interventions that would be possibly presented to us. I was her advocate. I felt the responsibility keenly, and I needed to know what I may be asked to decide on so I can be prepared. It may be overwhelming but knowing the facts, knowing our options, and having a birth preference prepared gave me the support and guidance I needed during her labour to make some difficult choices.
The doctor may ask you to approve their choices. I’m certain that I made the best choice I could have.
What did they ask you during the birth process that surprised you? Could you have been more prepared for them?
It was one that Lara asked me. At one point she looked at me and asked “can I do this?”
I’ve always seen my wife as a strong person, physically and emotionally. If there’s something in her way she’s going to kick its butt and just keep moving. I hadn’t even considered the idea that she may not be able to handle this, to me it was just a given.
So to hear her ask that in the midst of everything was so shocking I could only be honest and say yes. I wish I had been more prepared with inspiring words to motivate her, but all I could be was honest with how strong she was being and that I knew without a doubt she was going to do this.
The big question though that kept coming up was offering painkillers. We had developed a birth plan during our prenatal course in preparation for labour. But we were focusing on the birth we wanted. We never considered how to deal with sudden changes. Or that I would need to make decisions at the moment.
They tried to pressure me away from our plan. And, when Lara was unable to answer, I had to decide for both of us. Instead, I would prepare a birth preferences guide that would give the preferred outcomes but explore the possible decisions I would face so we could discuss them as a couple ahead of time.
What was it like with Lara in labour?
Labour was intimidating, to say the least. It was a roller coaster of emotional highs and lows. Every time the monitor would start the blink and babies heart rate changed, I would be instantly nervous wondering what was happening. No matter the preparation, there were times I just felt helpless (like when her contractions would intensify) but having a role to fall back on and a purpose in the room was reassuring. I wanted to show her that I was calm and confident in her abilities. On the inside, however, I was going crazy.
Her labour went by in a rush for me as a witness but so much happened to progress to the point of birth. It’s a shocking thing for a new dad, I think, to witness labour. You hear your partner make sounds you’ve never imagined. And be ready to stay on your toes when that carefully selected playlist suddenly is the worst thing she’s ever heard.
What was it like meeting your son for the first time?
Meeting my son for the first time was almost surreal. You know he’s alive and growing just by the change in your partner’s belly and the kicks. But up until that moment, my son was a heartbeat to me. To see him lying on Lara, so small and new, was the confirmation that I’d been looking for without knowing it for 9 months. You’re a dad. To hear his voice cry out and touch his skin changed me at that moment.
The joy I felt holding my son for the first time was overwhelming. So was the fear every parent has knowing they’ll do everything in their power to protect them. I’ll never forget holding him skin to skin while Lara slept. It’s empowering and an experience I love to hear each dad have in their own way.
If you could give advice to any new dad or partner, what would it be?
Take every opportunity you can to spend time with your baby in those early days. Change the diapers, do the burping, give them their bath, and lay them on your chest to sleep. I found once the shock of those first days wore off I had a sense of detachment from the reality of being a dad. He was my son and I was instantly protective of him, but I didn’t have the natural bond Lara experienced. I think being a dad is a daily choice.
Your bond will form as fast as you choose to develop it.
Every moment I spent caring for my son formed that bond. Nights spent holding him when he wouldn’t sleep brought me close to him.
Don’t worry about feeling this natural bond to your baby. Let it grow, but let them feel you and hear you as much as you can. And skin to skin! Any opportunity to lay them on your chest is important for both of you. Trust me, it’ll change you faster than you think.
Make the choice to be a dad every day. Your baby is watching you from the moment they open their eyes. I’ve felt the trust my son placed in me to protect and guide him in those first moments. I want to be the dad he deserves. I see the man he can grow to be, and that scares the hell out of me some days.
Be patient with yourself. You’re not perfect, but it’s ok to show your child that dad is also vulnerable. I want to tell my son about the things that challenge me, that scare me, and that make me feel strong. The way I see it, it’s a privilege to be a dad and an honour to have their love.
Finally, write down the story of the pregnancy and the labour from your eyes, trust me she’ll appreciate it.
From one Dad and partner to another.