So, dad, you’re* having a baby.
Remember how she’s pregnant with the wonderful, beautiful, and mysterious gift of life?
Yeah, I didn’t either.
For months, your “she” has constantly been thinking about the baby that has been growing literally inside of her: the wonder of what it all means, how special and somewhat scary it all is, and how your lives will be soon be changing forever.
Similarly, you’ve also very occasionally remembered that she’s pregnant. Like that time last week when you tried to get lucky. She responded that she feels like a whale because there’s a watermelon growing inside of her body. In no uncertain terms, she declined your offer.
That’s about to change. (Maybe not the declining your offer part. Sorry, pal.)
The second it’s born, that baby will go from an abstract concept that has little direct impact on your daily life (like calculus) to an immediate reality that will change every part of your every day.
####Here are some pro-tips to get ready for the hospital:
Relax. Birth is just a day (or two). Like a wedding is to marriage, delivery is just the kick-off to being a parent—not the main event. You’d like it to be a good party, but it’s not worth the stressing out.
Learn. Know the basic nuts and bolts of labor—terms like dilation and effacing—and the stages of childbirth. Knowing that 101-level stuff helped me understand how things were progressing and give a confident report to my wife who was so focused on laboring she often didn’t really hear the nurses.
Rest. During the middle of labor (after the epidural, if she chooses one), she might be able to get a bit of rest. When this happens, you’d be wise to lay down too. The moment you step into the hospital, all rest “norms” will fly out the window. There are no longer things called “night” and “day.” Your new realities are “Awake because I have to be” or “Asleep because I don’t absolutely have to be awake right now.” Rest is just as crucial for you as for her because while she may be the primary caretaker for the baby, you are the primary caretaker for her. You’ll be a better caretaker with a bit of sleep here and there.
Bring your own blanket and pillow. I can’t stress this enough. Hospital pillows suck and hospital blankets are made from grade-D rejected Soviet sandpaper. Since your wife will be exhausted during labor and utterly exhausted after, she needs you to be alert and manage all the people coming in and out of the room. You need to be able to grab an hour or two of sleep when you can. If you’re warm and comfortable, you’ll get better sleep–and be a better help. Better yet, bring your twin air mattress to the hospital. I brought one to the hospital for the birth of each of our three kids. Each time the nurses had A) never seen someone bring an air mattress and B) thought it was a great idea.
Advocate. Be the chief advocate for your wife. Don’t rely on doctors and nurses to take care of her - you do it. Consider that the nurses and doctors are just there to help you take care of her. They are the medical experts, but you are the expert on her. If you think she needs something, ask for her.
Traffic cop. Make a plan ahead of time for who you want in the room, when you want them to be there, and how long you want them to stay. Then be The Total Enforcer of that plan. Think about who you do (or don’t) want in the room during labor. We wanted it just to be the two of us - which I HIGHLY recommend. Once labor starts, your wife will be…busy…so it’s up to you to manage the traffic. This also applies to family and friends coming to visit all of you in the hospital after the baby is born and during your first few weeks at home. You play host (she’ll be busy enough) and manage the traffic flow. If you guys need rest, don’t feel bad telling people to come later than planned—even if it’s last minute. You can also enforce visiting time limits and kindly help move people along. 30-40 minutes is plenty of time. They will be so excited to see you and your new little one, but they won’t be thinking about what you all need. It’ll be up to you to push them out the door. Sleep will be a precious and all too rare commodity—don’t give that time away.
Be selfish. Along those lines, don’t be afraid to hold off family for a while. Take time for the three of you to be a family (or the two of you to operate as a team in labor). Fifteen minutes after our first was born, I went down to the waiting room to tell our family that he had arrived, showed them a quick photo, but then I left them there and went back to our room where the three of us spent an hour and a half just being a brand new little family. That was an incredible time. Don’t sacrifice your special moments just because pushy grandparents can’t wait to see the baby.
Bring food. Bring food for yourself. The hospital will feed your wife, but not you. Protein bars, granola bars— bring stuff you can eat quickly and will give you a boost. During labor, your wife probably won’t be eating (it’s usually not allowed), but you won’t be hooked up to an IV drip. I almost fainted once because I hadn’t eaten in 14 hours. I brought a box of granola bars, and they saved my life. Our hospital had some snacks down the hall, but having granola bars in my bag was easier because I could quickly eat one and not have to leave the room. Definitely don’t bring any food that has a strong smell unless you want to be puked on by the mother-to-be. In that case, bring canned tuna.
Take Pictures. Have someone take pictures of the three of you in the hospital. We have pictures of my wife Sara with Ben, me with Ben, but none of the three of us together. I wish we did.
Scavenge. Take all the diapers and baby stuff that they put in your room when you go. Your insurance pays for it, so when you pack up to leave, take it all with you! You win!
Relax, Part 2. You can’t fix it all. At times during the birth process, I felt completely helpless (because, you know, your wife is having a baby and not always enjoying it), but there’s really nothing you can do about it. So I prayed a lot and took care of as many of her needs as I could. And that’s exactly what she’ll need from you—just to meet the needs that you can and most of all to be with her. It’s simple, and you can do it!
Encourage. Encourage your wife. At some point, she’ll say that she’s done and wants to throw in the towel. Lovingly reassure her that she’s doing great and making progress. Again and again and again. She won’t believe you and will attempt to argue. Especially during pushing, Sara didn’t think that she could do it and also couldn’t tell that she was making progress (even though she was)! I ended up telling her over and over that she could do it and encouraging her by saying how much progress was being made. It helped keep her going.
Enjoy. Enjoy it. Birth is amazing. Being a father is even more so. Best. Thing. Ever.
You’re the man. And rest assured that you are the man for the hour. God specifically picked you out before He created the world and decided he wanted YOU next to her receiving that tiny baby. That means you are the ONE guy He wants in the delivery room, and you’re the ONLY guy He trusts to lead them and love them. And that means, whether or not you feel like it—you’re up for the challenge!
*I mean, not you exactly. But you’ll be there.