The months of pregnancy, birth and caring for a newborn are a heady mix of excitement, fear, discomfort, love, exhaustion, longing, pain, and joy. How important it is for a husband and wife to work together well during these roller-coaster months!
Women often experience a special intensity during these incredible life changes, as they are constantly engaged in a physical and emotional (hormonal!) dance with the baby. For men about to embark on this journey, and wishing to come a little prepared — if that’s even possible — here are a few ideas to help you support your growing family well through this unpredictable and tumultuous time.
1. Know thyselves
Every woman is unique and will have unique reactions and unique needs in your unique situation. But more than having you guess what her specific needs will be, she will appreciate walking the journey with you rather than alone. Likewise, she will need to know how you are faring through the different stages.
Take the time to chat together over the details, from pregnancy body changes, to the growth of the baby in utero, to midwife and doctor appointments, to the hopes and dreams for the birth, to nappies and breastfeeding and work schedules. Whatever you are thinking about, think and chat it over together.
These conversations will enhance your knowledge of your wife, and she of you, and enable you to support each other better over whatever happens in the months ahead. All the ideas given below rely on this one, because something that helps others may not help you!
2. Know your baby
For a woman, knowing the baby comes almost intuitively and automatically, as they house it for nine months and feel its every move, then have the incredibly impacting experience of birthing it; and then, they are often physically and emotionally wired to respond to its every movement and cry.
For dads, it happens a little less automatically. But this doesn’t mean it happens less, or worse. It just may take some effort, and that’s normal. Join your wife in knowing your baby, and the effort will result in an increased bond of love between the three of you.
In pregnancy: As an example, it is often a thrilling, incredible moment when a mum feels her baby kick. Rather than feeling excluded from this special moment, if it works for you both, spend those 20 minutes with your hand on the belly waiting for the kick. You won’t get to feel every one, but that moment when the two of you together feel the little one’s movement can be incredibly meaningful.
On another note, you might not have the time or desire to read up a lot about pregnancy, birth and babies, but if your wife is enjoying reading and finding out information, ask her for the highlights!
In birth: As much as you are able, keep up with what the midwives and doctors are saying about the welfare of the baby, and work together with your wife to make decisions or take actions for the wellbeing of both mum and baby. Cuddle your baby as soon and as much as you can, and make sure your medical caregivers keep you informed.
In newborn days: Be as involved with the baby as you can. For example, if your wife is spending hours breastfeeding, you can be part of that. If it works for you both, spend a few minutes snuggling together with them. Provide the snacks, sterilise the breast pump, take the photos, put on the movie – find a way that suits you to be part of the moment, rather than out of it.
And, whether breastfeeding or not, spend time with your baby away from the mum, working out your own style of caring for the baby and relating to it. The mum might get anxious being away from her baby, but it must be done... or she may just be extremely thankful for an hour or two of peace!
3. Arrange some treats
One of my happiest memories from my births is my husband presenting me with an empty photo frame at the beginning of each labour, ready to house a pic of the new arrival. One of my happiest memories from newborn days is my husband making me nutella on toast (chopped up small) and a decaf latte every morning while I sat at the kitchen table breastfeeding our son.
These aren’t big things, but they made the whole series of events feel a bit like a party, and that made a huge difference to my ability to overcome challenges.
4. Listen, ask, and debrief
These months are incredibly special for both the husband and wife, but for a wife in particular there are often especially deep emotional responses and reactions to what is going on. Be prepared to listen to the birth story a thousand times if need be — and adding your own perspectives and impressions might help. Ask about what it’s like, and find ways together to solve problems which arise.
Be prepared to take action if you feel something extra is needed, whether that’s a picnic, a visit to a friend, an appointment at a sleep or lactation clinic, an appointment with a counsellor or psychologist, a few meals sourced from family or friends, or a cleaner to come in.
Be around as much as you can, and be present in the moment. Other things can and will wait, but your wife’s experience of your support, presence and solidarity during these days, which vary from blissful to traumatic, will make a world of difference to how your new family moves into the future.
5. And finally... rejoice!
Kiss your wife, kiss the baby, take a photo, rejoice in the cuteness and the craziness. It doesn’t last forever.