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 to write about pregnancy and labour from his perspective! I kind of knew he’d love doing it and I thought that it would be nice for other partners to hear from the horse’s mouth so to speak. 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.
My idea of what a dad is and how it would feel in the first moments was mostly impressed on me by the world around me. 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 and was eager to be involved in all the stages of the pregnancy, hoping to learn what it would be like in the years to come. Nine months is a long time though and pregnancy is not always easy so the reality of the future we’d chosen became more clear.
“At times I was excited, some nights I was scared, but for a lot of it I felt a sense of detachment from the reality of 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 everyday. I had to make the decision each morning that 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. I had heard the sound of the life she 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, in 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 who’s body is now mostly in control. 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 doubt, lots of it, 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.
My advice? Take every opportunity to experience the growth of your child, enjoy all the little milestones and celebrate, and most of all be patient with yourself. It took me nine months to realize I had no idea what being a dad would feel like in those first moments, but one thing you do learn while expecting is that fatherhood is a gift and 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 that 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 massage was calming for both of us. A comb(of all things) was a surprising hit.
After a couple 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. You may be on the spot and asked to approve the doctors choices as the dad. I still wonder what if? But I’m certain that I made the best choice I could have in the moment by being prepared.
What things were you asked during the birth process that surprised you? Could you have been more prepared for them?
The question that surprised me the most during labour was one I had never considered for a second before. At one point Lara 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 it’s 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 simple and 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 this was so focused on the birth we wanted that we never really considered how to deal with the pressures and sudden changes that I would need to make decisions on in the moment. I wasn’t prepared for the pressure I would be under to sway from our plan we had discussed 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 it would be instantly nerves 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. If nothing else, I wanted to show her I was calm and confident in her throughout even though I was going crazy inside. Her labour went by in a rush for myself 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, it 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 in that moment. It was really overwhelming the joy I felt holding my son for the first time and that fear every parent has knowing they’ll do everything in their power to protect them. Those first hours holding him skin to skin while Lara slept are moments I’ll never forget. 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, 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. I mean I knew he was my son and I was instantly protective of him, but I felt like that natural bond Lara experienced as the mom with him after carrying him for 9 months wasn’t there. 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 so important for both of you, trust me it’ll change you faster than you think.
Make the choice to be a dad everyday. Your baby is watching you from the moment they open their eyes and 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 and 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 that’s just as important to show your child that dad is strong and 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 to another.