Foreward: I remember when I first found out I was going to have a kid. A cold blanket of fear came over me as my brain tried to calculate all the life changes that were about to take place. I remember looking online for a blog/story/letter anything from another guy my age that talked about what I was getting into. I searched and found very little in which I could relate. I promised myself then that at some point I would take the time to write what I was looking for at that time in hopes that it would be helpful to someone. It's been about 4 years at this point since the initial shock. I now have two kids, and a ****load of experience... at least with pregnancy, babies, and toddlers. I'm not saying I'm some sort of guru on the subject, but I can at least tell you what my experience has been like.
Background: I wasn't yet 30, I co-own a creative company in Venice, CA- and my life pretty much consisted of the freedom that comes along with having minimal responsibility to anybody other than myself. I remember getting "the text" from my wife while I was at work, "hey babe, are you at the studio?" For some reason I knew from that simple text what I was about to hear in person.
10 minutes later I jumped in the passenger seat and got the news. I felt like I was floating 10 feet above my body (probably for the next 12 months). We went to the doctor to get the confirmation. We stumbled around the baby isle in Target for a minute. We drove. We talked. We ate. I took a shot or two. Our future had an immediate new direction and we were just surfing the wave of emotions. We had each other and that was fantastic. Our parents were in a bit of shock as they were all going to be grandparents for the first time (on both sides). But they were happy for us. At this point we had no idea what was in store... my internet searching for "becoming a dad" had began/failed and I was on my own. None of my friends were dads yet. I was blazing a new trail.
This was not a typical "accident"... actually it was meant to be if you believe in that sort of thing. In hindsight all the circumstances that led up to us being together and having our first born are amazing. For the sake of this I'm just saying that I didn't realize at the time how important this even was until months later when my mom was diagnosed with cancer and passed away after getting to be there for the birth and meet her grand baby. My mom passed away when my daughter was about 3 months old. I'm still so thankful that she got to have that before she died, it's probably the best gift I could give her.
"I'm going to be a dad now." Yep, just keep saying it to yourself over and over again for the next 9 months until you are a dad. Your face will probably fluctuate between two expressions- one of total blank goofy happiness, and one of washed out fear. That's because, you are completely happy and worried at the same time, all the time. You have done what you are supposed to do on this earth (according to nature) procreate. A few hundred years ago this probably wouldn't have been a big deal, but now it is. People do it later in life, or sometimes not at all, But not you! You procreated. You are officially part of the life cycle on this planet. You are already thinking about your future, the future of your family, and specifically your baby to be. The unknown can be frightening, but fear can also be exciting. Try to embrace it. Use it to be productive. Good Luck.
Don't forget the most important part: I don't care how scared, shocked, worried, happy you are and NOBODY else cares either. It's not about you anymore. Only your pregnant wife matters at this point. The pressure on her is so far beyond what you are dealing with, that your insignificant struggle shall get NO ATTENTION. I'm sorry, but it's true. Actually, while I'm at it- and I promise you will remember this someday- people won't ask you how you are, or if they do you honestly won't want to answer anyway. Friend Without Kid- "How you feeling?" You- "Actually, I'm really scared that our child will be healthy, the birth will be smooth, and that i'll make enough money for the bare essentials, oh and shit i have to sell my truck to get a car with a big enough backseat, it totally sucks." Nope, that conversation most likely won't happen. You will just turn into a quieter more private human being. I'm not saying it has to be this way, but you'll see. I understand though. It is scary. All the things that have to go right before the baby is born- it's a lot. But nature is smart, 9 months is about what you need to get over the initial shock and prepare for the shock of the actual baby. I remember trying to describe it like weight lifting. You start out bench pressing under your body weight, but the more pressure you take on every day, little by little, soon you build up and can push more. The stress/fear/anxiety you feel will feel like nothing once the baby is born. It is nothing. I'm telling you. Everything is going to be okay.
Try To Relax.
Spend your time taking care of your wife. Cook her dinner, do the shopping, get her breakfast ready in the morning. Being pregnant sucks. Luckily you are a man and you don't have to be pregnant. Instead, your job will be to live vicariously whether you like it or not through your wife and her struggle. I just have to say for the record, that I had it very good. My wife was amazing pregnant, both times. But even with the best of circumstances it sucks for her. It's uncomfortable, hormones are all over the place, she's going to get bigger (thats how it works) and women worry about this. Be supportive. Say yes as often as you can to all demands. Get her out of the house. Go on walks. Go on a walk every day. Walking together will do a couple things: 1. it will give you time to plan. 2. combat depression 3. stay healthy. Obviously if the doctor tells you not to, then listen, but 99% of the time walking is good.
Back to food again. I'm guessing you are a modern man if you are reading this far, therefore you know how to cook or at least know how to follow basic directions. It's easy. Don't be afraid of the kitchen. Find out what your wife wants, look it up, and cook it. It's really that easy. Cooking (rather than going out) will keep you both healthier, and it will be good practice, because once you have a baby you will be eating at home a lot more. That being said, maybe you should go out every night until the baby comes because it won't be possible to do it in a few months, hahaha... seriously.
Go to all of them if you can. You need to be there. This is not just for your wife. Even if she says, "It's okay, it's just a checkup- go to work." Nope, you go, and get used to missing work. You'll be missing a lot more. It's important to go to the doctors appointments because believe it or not it will help you connect to the baby. I don't care if that doesn't sound masculine, It's true. Get over yourself. You want to be a good dad right? Open up and let yourself get connected. You are going to love this child. Go to the doctors appointments, hold your wife's hand, or if she doesn't want you to, then just play with all the models of vaginas and stuff, they make great instagram models. Ask questions (you'll have some). Record the sound of the heartbeat for the first time. Look carefully at the sonograms. It's a very cool experience getting to see the baby when its only the size of a raison, blueberry, grape, date, nectarine, plum, apple, orange, grapefruit... etc. get ready for a lot of fruit comparisons.
Getting Your Home Ready.
Dad, I don't know what kind of tax bracket you are in... but there is going to be a lot of stuff to buy. There is a thing called a "baby shower" they are great for most of what you need. My wife made a 0-9 month list,' here it is- give it to your wife and she can go bananas. http://blog.woolfwithme.com/newbornto9monthschecklist/
For our baby shower, we invited all our friends men and women- it sort of turned out to be a party. I made a giant bucket of booze that had champagne, liquor, juice, fruit, all kinds of stuff- it got everyone drunk and we had a good time. I don't know if I recommend this, but I didn't know what I was doing and it felt right at the time.
Do you need a nursery/kids room? Yes and No. You will absolutely want a room dedicated to all the stuff that goes along with having a baby. Will your kid sleep in that room? From my experience, No. Our first slept in our room in a co-sleeper for the first 9+ months. The crib is nice for naps and stuff during the day, but at night it was all about the co-sleeper situation.
Baby proofing the house- yes. You have a little time, but it is important because they are crawling in no time and you might as well get it out of the way while you can. quick list: plastic plugs for outlets, secure cabinets closed, if you are in an earthquake zone- get your stuff buckled down (shelves, pictures, tv, etc). Sharp corners? throw that furniture away or put a little corner cover thing on it that will probably fall off right before your future toddler hits her head on it. Gate off the doors/stairs/den. Yes, this is how you will live now.
While we are on safety- The Carseat. Don't skimp. Look up reviews, buy a good one. Rear facing w/ newborn padding at first. Keep the kid in that rear facing seat for two years. Don't be one of those parents that turns the kid around early just because your kid is whining. If you get in an accident and your kid isn't ready for forward facing, her little neck will explode. Seriously.
When installing the seat find the two metal parts that are in the backseat that you've never noticed before (usually behind a flap or deep in there behind some random gaps. The carseat base will hook into those. Get in there and put all your weight on the carseat base while strapping and tightening, Make sure it's tight and level to the instructions. Don't be one of those parents that half ass the carseat, that's just dumb. use the anchor if you can in your car (when you buy and READ the instructions, you'll see what I mean).
Okay You Have 3 Months To Go!
Remember when I told you that being pregnant sucks? Well with only a few months left, it sucks even more. My dad told me something that stuck with me. When your wife is only a couple weeks away or even on the due date, and she thinks it's absolutely time- You probably still have a week to 3 weeks left. The painfully annoying thing about pregnancy besides everything, is that when she thinks she can't take any more it just kind of gets worse. By the way, if it's not too late, I wouldn't let your wife read this part. Whoops.
So you have a few months left. Hopefully you are in the groove with cooking, making your wife comfortable, balancing work, and getting the house ready. That baby shower is happening or happened and now you know what's left on your list. Go buy the stuff. Try to get in as much recreational activity (biking, surfing, going to the movies) as you can. Book your wife a pregnancy massage. My wife had to book her own, but hindsight is 20/20. Be a good husband, I can't stress this enough. It's literally your only job right now.
It's Almost Time.
You will be living at the hospital for a few days. Get your gear ready and have it by the door. This is what to pack: clothes for a few days. Sweats. Sandals (for the shower). A blanket (i brought a climbing sleeping bag that stuffs really small). Pillow. Phone Charger. Laptop. Camera (a real one). Headphones (for watching tv when your wife falls asleep). Snacks (the food generally is not the best or over priced at hospitals). Toiletries.
Make a phone list ahead of time. Know who you are going to tell and send pictures to. Agree on it with your wife. Those couples that share on Facebook as soon as the baby comes out ... well, it's kind of gross to bring a kid into this world and immediately put her/him online.
You did it. You are at the hospital. You obviously previously registered months before so paperwork is very minimal and they knew you were coming. You will be nervous. I remember not really feeling like myself. You are going into the hospital as a couple and coming out as a family. It's so strange in a world of so much red tape, registration, licensing and bureaucracy that you can just have a child. Part of the weird feeling is just that. You can just do this and it becomes apparent how normal it is when you are immersed in the hospital where it happens 400 times a month for these professionals. You think you are special? Well, you are and you aren't.
Okay Coach, it's go time. This means that you still have hours of waiting around... Or at least we did. Labor takes awhile for most people. It's usually not like it is in the movies where the dad is driving 80mph to get to the hospital and the baby comes flying out. I've even heard stories of couples going back and forth to the hospital multiple times with false labor. Hopefully this isn't the case for you. So, you will probably be waiting for the labor process. During this time you will need to stay fully alert, attentive, and in the game. You will be watching monitors pretending you understand them, you'll be trying to comfort your wife with massages that you don't know how to give well, you'll be a dispenser for ice chips and water. Just be there and be a team player. It's honestly frustrating that you can't do more.
When you get to the active labor portion of the birth (and just so you know I'm strictly talking from experience with no medical insight) you will become a hand to squeeze and continue your job as an ice chip dispenser. Stay close, but not too close. Bite your tongue when you feel like joking around with the Doctor/nurse, shut up and just be a familiar warm body for your wife unless otherwise instructed to do something. Damp towel waving, music change, more ice, breathing, hand squeeze... Pretty much it, unless you take a birthing class that tells you otherwise (but we didn't).
The Baby Is Here.
Your wife is okay. The baby is out. Immediately all kinds of important stuff happens that goes by in a flash. Grab that camera, follow that baby- get some pics of all that stuff. More importantly (and this is your biggest job) make sure they give the baby to your wife as soon as it's safe to do so. Oh yeah, you will get to cut the chord at some point in all that confusion. Grab hold of those scissors and do it like you mean it- don't be a double cutter like some kind of pansy.
Congratulations, But No Cigar.
Yes, the baby is here. I was awe struck. It's absolutely incredible to see your child, study her features and just be together, but right away you'll find it's not that easy. The nurses give the first bath, they will change the first few diapers- but then POW you are in it. Not only are you in it but YOU are in it because remember that wife of yours that just gave birth? Well now she is recovering and that means it's hard to walk, move, and do just about anything. Her job at this point is to learn to Nurse the baby and heal. Your job is to tend to your wife and the baby. Your wife is going to be tired. You will be doing a lot of holding, and watching and comforting with the baby in the bassinet.
Get Some Rest.
I don't know about all hospitals but ours was awesome. The nurses took the baby when we asked for enough time here and there for us to sleep. They would bring back the baby to nurse or whenever we asked, but they were very helpful in keeping the baby while we rested. Take advantage of this. You will need your rest, because once you leave there are no more nurses. TIP: order some pizzas for the nurses at some point. They will appreciate it.
Home Sweet Home.
Everybody is healthy, it's time to check out of this place and go home as a family. Your car seat should already be installed. Go into that bassinet at the hospital and raid the hell out of it. Grab all diapers, wipes, etc they have around in your room- trust me you paid plenty, it's not stealing.
Load up your stuff and take it to the car first, no need to lug that and your baby and wife in a wheelchair all at once. You are going to be incredibly excited to get out of the hospital and nervous as well. When you finally exit the glass doors and see your car waiting for you that same feeling will come washing over you that you experienced when you found out you were going to have a kid. I believe it's called terror. You have made it this far though, this feeling is no longer unfamiliar and you know you can do it.
Pick up your baby, give her a big kiss and put her in that car seat. your wife will probably sit in the backseat with the baby. Enjoy this moment, it's your first road trip. I think my car didn't break 12mph the entire way home, if I had it my way there would have been flags on the car and warning stickers saying "baby on board." It's surprisingly nerve racking to drive with such a fragile life in the car.
That First Night.
We did not know what we were doing. Honestly, I don't have any great advice for you, just don't do what we did. We did not have the co-sleeper or a bassinet the first night back home. We got home and went to put the baby to sleep the first night and realized that a crib is WAY too big for a tiny newborn baby. We set her in there and I think our minds exploded, "now what? We can't leave her in there!" We ended up keeping her in the swing next to us in the livingroom while we "slept" on the couch. It didn't go well.
We wised up the next day and bought a co-sleeper.
First Few Months Are A Blur.
I remember the first few months but only as a feeling. We were falling in love with our family. It was an amazing time. We slowly got into our routine, got better with the diapers and driving and getting back to work. It's important to slowly let people meet the baby a few at a time so that you aren't introducing a party of germs. So you have very small, short get togethers. Very quickly (if you don't have friends that are parents) you realize that your old friends don't really "get it." Sure they are happy for you, but your life just changed 100% and you can't really expect everyone else to change with you. So, your life as you knew it before is over. It's absolutely true what you've heard. Your life is over, but as cliche as it sounds you have a new life now. For my wife and I it was a solidification to our marriage that could not have happened any better. We started a life that was ours with no baggage or expectations from either side. It was a way for us to start fresh. I'm not saying that a baby is the answer to your failing relationship- but for us it certainly helped us grow.
The Daddy Baby Bond.
This is something that nobody else is going to tell you. This started when my first born was a month or so old, my mom asked me if I was "in love" yet with my child. Of course at that time I said "yes, absolutely," but I didn't yet realize what she was asking me, and I wasn't. Moms have an instant connection with their children. Unless there is some serious postpartum depression moms will connect and have this amazing bond as soon as the baby is in her arms. Dads don't have this. Of course you will love your baby, you will enjoy being a dad, but you won't be head over heals in love until you are. For me I remember the moment it struck me. I don't remember how old my daughter was (maybe 4 months) but she looked up at me when I was holding her in my lap and holy **** it was like a lightening bolt in my brain I was sent back to my mom asking me that question and I just knew that was what she meant. Unfortunately for me, my mom had already passed away and I couldn't tell her. But man, it really was amazing to get that gift. I think if she would have never asked I wouldn't have noticed it so clearly, but now that you know maybe you will remember and get a similar experience.
I think that this is enough for now. I'm sure I'll have more to say, but this is what I was looking for initially when I found out I was going to be a dad. I truly get it, you aren't alone. Being a father is obviously very challenging as I'm learning that more every day with school, hospital visits, and just trying to raise good human beings. It is well worth it. Be inspired. Be inspiring. Choose to embrace it.
Feel free to write me if you have any questions. Message me on Instagram @joshwoolf