Let’s get it all out on the table right now. You will make a comment about your wife’s bizarre food cravings (fifty straight days of cheese quesadillas for lunch). You will picture your child’s head in the midst of lovemaking. (Are you sure he can’t see anything coming at him?) You will ask you partner, “Why are you crying?” (The answer is usually, “I don’t know!”)
No matter how much you talk to other people, read books, and go through scenarios in your mind, you will not succeed in keeping your anxieties about impending fatherhood from making you do and say things you would not normally do or say. The good thing is that you are not alone in this pregnancy journey. Your partner will also do and say strange things because her body has been overtaken in much the same way as two versions of the sci-fi classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers has shown.
And while you can and should talk everything out with the woman carrying your progeny, you may still have some very specific, male-oriented concerns that can best be quelled by the perspective of other guys who have been through it. Since most fellas still find it hard to share their worries with other Y chromosomal types, here’s a primer to ten of the biggest concerns to soothe your bundle of nerves.
Am I useless?
Contrary to what your high-school coach might have told you about your value to the team, you are essential to both your partner and your baby even after you’ve done your part for conception. Your partner needs you to communicate with her pretty much everyday about how she’s feeling about the pregnancy and motherhood. She requires your help when she gets morning sickness and your willingness to slow down the pace of your life when she’s just not up to going out dancing with your group of friends.
Your baby needs you to talk to it—yes, through your partner’s belly. Research shows that a baby recognizes the most commonly heard voices it has heard in the womb. More importantly, your child wants you to develop a fatherly connection to it so that when it pops out, you already have a relationship, even if it seems a little one-sided for a while. Without your efforts in these areas, pregnancy for your partner and child will be more stressful and less fulfilling.
Is it okay to feel jealous?
There’s another issue that tucks into the “useless” feeling and that involves jealousy. Many men experience envy over the attention their partners receive while being pregnant. They feel neglected by others who always seem to ask the woman how she’s doing. As strange as it may sound, some men wish they could be the ones carrying the child, to experience the joy of childbearing. Whatever the color of the jealousy, it’s normal and is best tempered by talking the feelings out with the partner, friends, family (particularly your own father, if possible), and following some of the advice given in the paragraph above.
Should I make more money?
No matter how far men have come in the last couple of decades in terms of bridging the gender gap, a large percentage of guys feel that being a dad means carrying the greater financial burden. While this may be so in many partnerships, it is important to realize that pregnancy is not debilitating. It does help to have medical insurance to cover the pre-natal visits, birth, and post-natal doctor appointments for mother and child. Even without insurance, there are low-cost options you can find through local or even state government health programs.
Outside of the medical expenses, the issue of money often involves a man’s concern that he cannot or will not be able to afford everything from diapers and clothes to housing and education. To be honest, the cost of material goods and food for a baby is fairly inexpensive for the average middle-class family. Babies don’t eat much and only need a few items of clothing for warmth and comfort. But when men start to think that they must have the finest clothes, furniture, and the like in order to show they love their child, then expenses can mount.
It’s vital that you keep your ego out of the fatherhood equation. The quality of your fatherhood depends not on the external things, but in the time you put into being a dad. This is why you should curb those worries about getting a higher paying job if it means that you will be less available during and after pregnancy. You don’t have to have the perfect job, a bigger house, and a giant car before the baby comes. Let time do its magic because, remarkably, you can gradually adjust to the needs of your family as time goes on.
If you can afford it, though it’s not essential if you cannot, consider buying term life insurance and even disability on yourself. This can be helpful to your partner and child if, God forbid, you should die or be physically incapable of working.
Can I have sex with my wife?
Just because your partner has a growing belly and can be a little off-balance in the later months of pregnancy doesn’t mean she isn’t able to have sex. And just because there’s a baby growing in her stomach doesn’t mean that the child will suffer damage in the process of even vigorous lovemaking. That womb is a fortress of protection that’s secure enough to survive the very act that brought about the pregnancy. You can’t poke, bruise, or psychologically damage your child during sex with your partner.
Lastly, as men have argued even outside the parameters of pregnancy, sex is great for stress reduction for both men and women.
Do I need to go to prenatal doctor appointments and classes?
It does mean you’ll have to ask for time away from the office, but going to medical appointments with your partner is crucial. Try to go to most of them (going to all of them is nice but a tall order, sometimes). At the appointments with the obstetrician, you’ll be able to see ultrasounds and learn about the in-utero development of your baby. This helps keep you on the same page with your partner, as the two of you experience a range of emotions along the growth process. You’ll be able to ask the doctor questions and learn why your partner may be in any discomfort. It’s a good idea to discuss the actual birth procedure as well. If you want to help “catch” the baby and cut the umbilical cord, you can talk this over with the doctor and your partner. By running the course of pregnancy alongside your partner, you’ll feel more connected to mother and child, which will pay off during and after the birth.
For some of these same reasons, it’s wise to attend a birthing class with your partner. There are all kinds of classes, usually offered by hospitals, but what matters is that you get educated about the physical changes in your partner and child. Best of all, you will have other parents with whom you can talk and share your concerns. It’s a wonderful bonding time for you and your partner and great way to connect to some other folks who are in the same boat as you.
What if there are health concerns for my baby or partner?
Just like you cannot live in fear of whether or not you will get in a car accident or plane crash, you should not give in to major anxiety over health problems for the mom or child. Bad stuff can happen, but the odds are in your favor if you have no medical issues going into the pregnancy. In the case that you do have pre-existing concerns, which can range from genetic issues to physical fragility for your partner before pregnancy, or should issues arise with the fetus during pregnancy, you should rely on your medical professionals for advice.
Also, there are excellent tests that doctors can perform to determine the possibility of birth defects. These are especially helpful with mothers who are thirty-five and older. A Chorionic Villus Sampling (CVS), which involves taking a small tissue sample from outside the sac in which the fetus is growing, can predict a number of defects and therefore can be quite comforting when the test indicates little concern.
Will I be ready for the big moment?
If you go to most OB/GYN appointments, attend a birthing class, and talk a lot with your partner, you’ll do the lion’s share of work to prepare for the baby’s arrival. Outside of that, you should make sure you actually know how to get to your chosen hospital (print out directions and put them in the car, if you think you’ll be in a state of panic), tour the labor and delivery ward of your chosen hospital, pack a bag for your wife with some clothes and snacks (maybe her favorite CDs), arrange for someone to walk your dog or feed your cats at home, and bring phone numbers and your cell phone to make calls. It’s not a good idea to worry about too many other details—you need to be mentally present to enjoy that big moment.
Should I take paternity leave?
Taking time off after your child is born is highly recommended. Plan on anywhere from three days to two weeks, at least. If you can take more time, it’s all the better. Your partner will need you to help with the feeding and holding of the baby. It’s good to get right into a rhythm of co-parenting from the very beginning. Most of all, this is the time to form that bond with your little bundle of joy. Employers and clients may not always like when someone is away from the job for a while, but they can function without you. Years down the line you will not kick yourself for having been away from the job, though you will feel bad if you missed the time immediately after the pregnancy.
Prepare for the leave by giving your employer or clients your due date and expected time off. If need be, arrange for backup assistance by keeping a co-worker in the loop on your projects so you can be away without having to call in after the baby arrives. Don’t cheat yourself out of the time you plan for, either. Take as much time as possible, even if you feel bored just sitting around with a sleeping baby in your arms. Before you know it, you’ll become entertained by the little sighs and finger movements that reveal the small miracles of infancy.
Paternity leave is also an opportunity to jump-start your new work-family balancing act. You will test out this juggle and learn whether it matters to you to be home in time for dinner, whether you really need to take all of those business trips, and whether a day off here and there to be with your child is valuable.
How much will my lifestyle change?
You’re kidding with this one, right? Your lifestyle will change a lot, starting with a lack of uninterrupted sleep (taking short naps whenever possible can alleviate some of the pain). You will need to be home more often to help care for your child, limiting your social life. You will sacrifice your personal time, in general, to give some over to your child. However, a lot of the changes will be gradual because your infant will not need to be shuttled to school or other activities quite yet. You might enjoy the extra TV watching while your baby sleeps or needs rocking. So, you will have a chance to ease into alterations that will look dramatically different in a few years’ time.
In place of everything that you will lose will be the rewards of child rearing. You will find someone who will be comforted by you, fed by you, entertained by you. As many times as you may have heard it, there is no denying that there’s nothing more fulfilling that being a parent.
What kind of father will I be?
While you may also be thinking about the kind of mother your partner will be, you’ll spend more time worrying about your prospects as a dad. For many men who like their own fathers, they will want to emulate them—at least the good parts. Guys with bad paternal experiences will do anything to be different. Whatever your background, it is only a part of what will make you a father. You will choose the way you wish to parent, how much time you will make for your child, and how collaborative you will be with your child’s mother.
Frankly, you’re going to make a lot of mistakes. Some will be big and others tiny. Parenting is very difficult. It involves a lot of experimentation on subjects who depend on us for good judgment. This is where you have to remember that fatherhood is a lifelong process that you will refine every day. But as hard as it is, you will be good at it simply by being loving, supportive, and present.
Written by Gregory Keer, fatherhood expert and author of The Family Man ® column.