There are many intense emotions one experiences when learning they are expecting. From elation to feeling overwhelmed, chances are every couple experiences all of them. While the focus throughout the pregnancy is mostly on the mother-to-be, what role is best for fathers to play? Dads may not have the physical experience of pregnancy, but there are many ways for them to play an active, supportive role to help their partners get to the finish line like champions.
In honor of Father’s Day, we talked to two new dads – Chris in Ridgewood, New Jersey and Storme in Park City, Utah – whose recent experiences offer valuable insight for how expecting dads can prepare for this exciting and life-changing new chapter of parenthood. Chris is a first-time dad to identical twin boys, who are three months old. Storme has a nearly three-year-old son and five-month-old daughter.
Chris notes that preparing for twins is quite a bit different than a single birth. “It was just double of everything,” he recalls. “I think being first-time parents we didn’t know how to prepare any other way. Looking back, we probably over prepared. You have to start preparing even earlier since the risk for pre-term is so much higher.”
Storme and Chris have plenty of helpful advice to offer new dads, whether expecting one baby or twins.
How did you react when you learned your wife was pregnant?
Chris: We were planning on the pregnancy so it wasn’t unexpected. It was first thing in the morning and she came out of the bathroom with the test. I has a feeling it would be positive, but I was ecstatic.
Storme: Both times were very exciting in different ways. The second time, it took us a while to get pregnant. Once we did, it was a mixture of excitement with relief that the pressure was off.
There was also the big question of how our two-year-old son would react to sharing mom and dad’s attention with a new baby.
How did you support your wife during the pregnancy?
Chris: I tried to make Laura as comfortable as possible and be emotionally supportive. It’s important to stay calm and present when she might be going through some hard times. During the last couple of months, she was basically on bed rest, so I would cook, clean and do most house chores. I think I spent the most time fixing the pillows surrounding her so she could be comfortable!
Storme: I was very involved with both pregnancies. I think I may have missed one doctor's appointment in there somewhere, but I felt it was important to be there with her. There is a lot going on as the baby is growing and changing; sometimes, the doctors aren’t always forthcoming with information, so I usually had a list of questions that we had come up with between visits. During the first pregnancy, we took a childbirth class together. It provided a lot of good information and normalized the experience and what we could expect. Forget everything you've seen on television and in the movies; it's nothing like that. Things actually take longer to happen, and there’s much less screaming and driving like a crazy person.
What role did you play in supporting her and preparing her for delivery?
Chris: We had a planned c-section, so we had the date for months. I just tried to keep her as relaxed as possible and ease her mind. There is nothing you can really do to prepare for delivery; you just have to decrease the stress surrounding the day.
Storme: I was the main support person, along with our doula. We had planned for a natural birth the first time around, so we went to a birth center rather than the hospital. The second time around, we planned to go to a hospital. We didn't make it, and ended up delivering at our midwife’s office. I was there the entire time and had the privilege of "catching" our daughter as she was delivered. It was an experience I will never forget.
Who gave you advice and support?
Chris: My father and brother-in-law.
Storme: Our doula was with us for both deliveries. A doula will be there supporting you long before labor. Interview as many doulas as you need to until you find one that is a good fit for you. These women are amazing and will help you with everything from preparing for childbirth to deciding when it actually time to go to the birth center or hospital. Doctors, nurses, and even midwives are in and out of your room during labor. A doula will come to your house as soon as you think you're in labor and stay with you until your newborn has nursed for the first time.
What advice do you have for dads whose wives are pregnant?
Chris: Just be supportive, don’t take things personally, understand that they have lot going on with hormones and other body changes. So just be there for them to talk to and/or yell at!
Storme: You can never have too many pillows! There are a lot of ups and downs during pregnancy. Hang in there and try to be as supportive as possible. Also, try not to take things personally when she gets upset with you, but don't wait until the last minute to put the crib together and paint the nursery!
The initial weeks after bringing baby home are a “blur.”
Chris: It was a blur and hectic. We had a baby nurse for the first few weeks. I was really surprised about how brutal the recovery was; it’s not something they really prepare you for. Life has changed a lot for both of us. There are very challenging times, but the smiles and laughs that the babies eventually greet you with make it all worth it.
Storme: The first few days are kind of a blur. Someone told us that the first two weeks you are basically in survival mode. I agree with that assessment. There are all kinds of warnings about the dangers of bed-sharing. We generally try to avoid it, but in those first days, sometimes that's the only way to get some much-needed sleep. Also, the sooner baby is sleeping somewhere other than right next to your bed, the sooner you’ll stop being woken up by every single sound they make.
Coconut oil is your friend. It keeps diaper rash away and makes cleaning up poopy diapers approximately one million times easier. It is all we have ever used as a diaper cream. Plus, it smells good.
Learn how to swaddle! The nurses at the hospital are experts, so pay attention. The swaddle is your friend.
Storme recommends four essential books to read while your partner is pregnant. “Some of it won't make any sense at the time,” he says. “But when you're in the thick of it, you'll remember that you read something about a certain topic, and you can go back and reread.”
The Birth Partner - A Complete Guide to Childbirth for Dads, Doulas, and All Other Labor Companions by Penny Simkin.
“The name says it all. This is great preparation for labor and has everything you wanted, or maybe didn't want, to know about the childbirth process.”
The Happiest Baby on the Block by Dr. Harvey Karp
“Crying colicky baby? This book is a lifesaver!”
Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Marc Weissbluth, MD.
“Sleep schedules make everyone’s lives easier. It’s a bit of a wait for that four-month mark when you can start getting baby on a schedule, but you don’t want to wait until then to read this book and get a plan together.”
Baby 411 by Dr. Ari Brown and Denise Fields.
“Our go-to reference book for everything. Does that poop look normal? What's that rash? How much should a newborn sleep? It's all in there!”