I found the final months before parenthood the scariest.
As an expectant father, it was especially challenging to feel close to my child before birth. Besides the occasional kick and witnessing my wife’s ever growing belly, the prospect of becoming a parent was hard to fathom.
A year and half down the line I can look back at my child, Oliver’s birth with fond memories. With the advantage of hindsight, these are the 5 things I wish I’d known before becoming a father.
When my wife, Rose, went into labour it caught us both off guard. It was midnight and two weeks before her due date. I was tired and not mentally prepared for it.
Everything I had learnt about labour evaded me. I was timing contractions not sure exactly what I was doing. I wasn’t as confident as I should have been.
I treated pregnancy as my wife’s responsibility, and should have been more active. I wish I was better informed so that I could play a more supportive role in labour.
2. Offering Support
At the hospital, I learnt: “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you”. You are inadvertently to blame for the pain, so tread carefully.
I tried too hard to empathize. I tried to talk my wife through the birth process from a male perspective. It would have been much better to accept that I had no idea what my wife was going through and stop trying to provide solutions.
Holding a hand combined with “I’m proud of you” was what Rose needed, not coaching. Coaching is best left to a trained doula.
3. Medical Options
I had no idea how many medical decisions we’d be responsible for on the day. Advice is very limited and you have to sign off on all the key decisions made.
We weren’t sure about the side effects of the various options and weren’t in a position to make informed decisions. At 2am, you can’t call your obstetrician every 5 minutes. And you don’t want to be Googling your options this late in the game.
We knew that Rose would have a natural birth with epidural, but we weren’t sure on the timing. Rose avoided an epidural for as long as possible. If she had things over, she would have opted for the epidural sooner.
I wish we’d discussed this before labour and were better informed on the different birth options.
Birth is life’s single most exceptional moment. In an instant we were parents. Hearing my baby crying for the first time made it impossible to hold back my own tears.
Fatherhood came more naturally to me than I expected it to. That awkwardness I used to have with babies never existed with my own. Natural instinct kicks in and I knew exactly what to do.
Spending time skin-2-skin with mom immediately after birth is very important for baby’s development (read here). I wish we were more aware of the benefits of skin-2-skin.
5. Paternity Leave
Make sure to savour those first few days with your new family. It’s more important than anything else going on in your life.
I made the mistake of availing myself to work phone calls. A year down the line, I realize how insignificant these were in the greater scheme of things. I wish I’d been more present.
When paternity leave ended, I felt like an in-love teenager. I couldn’t stop thinking about Oliver. Being away from him was painful. I wish that I had taken a few days of annual leave to subsidize paternity leave.
N.B. Keep an eye on the changes in paternity leave coming into effect by the middle of the year. Paid paternity leave is expected to increase from 3 to 10 days.
Enjoy the early days and get involved. The memories you build in this period will last you a lifetime.
Father of Oliver Elcock
Founder of CompariSure