She’s expecting, and you may be feeling a little lost (and maybe neglected) right now in the midst of all the congratulations, morning sickness and mood swings. You may even be wondering at your own weight gain (or loss), insomnia and irritability – which you have to keep in check, because hey, you don’t want to upset the pregnant wife. But what’s going on in your own life?
Physiologically, nothing, perhaps, but a lot is happening on all other fronts. On top of the dagger-eyes after morning sickness and cramps, weird food cravings and seemingly endless shopping for baby stuff, the realisation that you’re going to be a father slowly sinks in….
If you’ve watched the Oscar-winning documentary March of the Penguins – who hasn’t? – your sympathies would be with Papa Penguin. After Mama Penguin lays an egg and places it at his feet, her job’s done, and she only returns when it’s about to hatch. He, on the other hand, loses nearly half his body weight incubating it, protecting it from predators and the Antarctic’s brutal cold for two months.
Yet somehow, the idea of fathers-to-be suffering like their pregnant partners is a joke to most women. Allow me to set the record straight. Strange as it sounds, men can and do have pregnancy symptoms… and there’s even a medical term for it: couvade syndrome (otherwise known as sympathetic pregnancy).
Obviously, mum-to-be is doing all the hard work, but we’re also sitting there through countless doctor’s visits straining to hear a heartbeat or hopping to see that “third leg” in those grainy sonogram shots. And don’t forget, we’re the ones going out at all hours of the night to satisfy strange cravings and dishing out all the endless backrubs (unless your baby budget happens to include an OSIM massage chair).
“I don’t think I was ever sympathetically pregnant when my wife was expecting,” Jason, a father of two shared, “but I did gain a lot of weight! Perhaps it was because we’d order dinner as usual, then I’d have to finish it all because she’d lost her appetite by the time the food arrived. And then she’d want pizza and ice-cream at 1-plus… Guess who helped to demolish the pizza?”
“I had quite a few sleepless nights when my wife was pregnant,” recent father Weiliang confided. “Part of it was because she couldn’t sleep well, especially during her third and fourth trimester. Part of it was because I was stressing myself out about the what-ifs… and the internet certainly didn’t help. Don’t google ‘episiotomy’ or pregnancy complications if you want to sleep well that night!”
Still, it helps to think of parenting as a journey – pack well, have a plan, and, most importantly, be prepared for unexpected delays, detours, and even maybe a fender bender or two along the way. No dad or mum can anticipate every turn in the road, but here is a map to at least give you a sense of the terrain you are likely to encounter.
It could take at least four months for your wife’s baby bump to appear. But while she might not look pregnant right away, it won’t take long for her to feel pregnant. Eighty-five percent of women experience nausea during pregnancy (and not just in the morning either!), so the likelihood that she will experience at least some queasiness is high.
What can you do? First, don’t worry! Vomiting is common, especially in the first months of pregnancy and almost never dangerous. Offer any foods she feels like eating and encourage her to rest. This is a great time to learn to cook or take on some other household tasks that you haven’t done before. You might actually find you enjoy baking or doing laundry!
Yes, they are a real thing. My wife didn’t cry while watching movies until she became pregnant with our first child – during which the waterworks spouted so regularly that we learned to keep a box of tissues handy on the console. Sometimes, you might be the target of your wife’s sudden anger or sadness. Unless the signs are severe enough to signal depression, in which case you should encourage her to see a doctor, the best thing you can do is to be understanding. Exercise, meditation, yoga, relaxation and sleep can help ease these bumps in the road for both of you.
Announcing the good news
When do you begin to tell people about the pregnancy? Some couples wait until a few months have passed, just to make sure the foetus is healthy. Whenever you decide to make the announcement, be sure that your loved ones don’t hear the big news through social media. Even in this electronic age, they deserve a visit or a phone call. And telling co-workers before grandparents-to-be is guaranteed to create tension at the next family gathering.
What will she wear?
As a soon-to-be father, one of the last things on your mind might be clothing, but it’s of vital importance to a pregnant woman. It may only be for a few months, but she won’t be wearing anything else, especially during the last few months, so make sure she has a supply of comfortable, stylish (yes, I know it sounds like an oxymoron but it needn’t be). Regular clothing stores usually have a limited selection, so a specialty shop like Mothers En Vogue or Spring Maternity, or the maternity departments of BHG or Isetan may be better bets.
What does baby need?
Speaking of shopping, you’ll be doing a lot of it for the baby. But be judicious. A portable crib can double as a bassinet, which babies only sleep in for the first few months anyway. A changing table is unnecessary – just place baby on a blanket on the floor to remove the dirty nappy, which you can throw in the rubbish bin rather than a special nappy pail. Or better yet, go green with cloth nappies. Of course, you’ll still need a crib, a car seat, a swing or bouncy chair, a stroller, and plenty of nappies. Check out stores like Mums and Babes or Mothercare. Just remember that you don’t have to buy everything before the baby arrives. Feeling pressure to purchase all the baby gear beforehand can lead to a roomful of things you never actually use (like that cute but unnecessary wipes holder).
What’s for dinner?
Food is a much joked about issue of pregnancy (pickle ice cream, anyone?), but your wife’s food cravings may be simpler. She might not want the laksa she loved before and gravitate toward bland, comforting meals. Be understanding. Remember how you feel when you’re just getting over stomach flu – hungry, but craving something without too strong a flavour? She might feel that way for at least part of the pregnancy.
What’s NOT on the menu?
It’s not just cigarettes and wine that mums should avoid. Here’re some according to the UK’s National Health Service:
- Small amounts of caffeine (two coffees a day’s the limit, one if it’s kopi-gao, and don’t overlook the caffeine in chocolate and tea too!)
- No raw or partially cooked eggs
- No soft cheeses with white rinds (such as brie and camembert) or soft blue ones (Danish blue, Roquefort, etc) unless they’ve been cooked
- No pate
- No raw or rare meat (and that includes sushi and sashimi, unless the fish has been frozen first)
- No liver or liver oil
- No Vitamin A
- No shark, swordfish or marlin, and only limited amounts of tuna
Going to the doctor
As your wife’s due date gets closer, excitement will build. Hearing the baby’s heartbeat or seeing images of him or her on a computer screen is an unforgettable experience that you should share together. Even your wife’s regular appointments are worth attending if you can. You’ll not only act as support, you’ll also garner valuable information and be able to ask whatever questions you have.
Labour and delivery
You might have seen television shows or movies where the pregnant woman is rushed to the hospital and has the baby immediately, but in reality it’s almost never that quick. Labour lasts, on average, eight hours, so be prepared for a long wait. It’s a good idea to have music that your wife likes and maybe a book to read. A toothbrush and a change of clothes for yourself isn’t a bad idea either.
By the time you’ve arrived at the hospital, you and your wife will have decided whether or not she will receive an epidural and if she will require a caesarean section (that, of course, could change during labour.) It will be difficult for you to watch your wife experience painful contractions and not be able to help. But you can assist her by being calm and soothing. Offer her ice chips if the hospital allows it (she will probably not be allowed to eat or drink.) During my wife’s first pregnancy, she was very nauseous during labour and found ginger lollies helpful (you can buy them in maternity or baby stores.)
After your baby is born, you might want to have someone else, even a nurse, take those first pictures for you, so you can just enjoy the moment with your wife. Seeing and holding your child for the first time is an experience you shouldn’t have from behind a camera – unless, of course, that is your preference.
Bringing baby home
Your life will change after you bring the new baby home. This little person will become the focus of both of your lives. It will be exhausting, frustrating, and incredible. You might wonder how you will be able to do some of the activities you used to enjoy, but, most likely, those things won’t seem so important anymore. There will be plenty of time for them when your child is older.
You and your wife will probably not sleep the whole night for a while. Newborns typically need to eat every two hours and that includes the hours when you’re used to sleeping. Nothing teaches you the value of a full night’s sleep like not getting one for months on end. Both of you will be tired, maybe more tired than you’ve ever been in your life, but keep in mind that it won’t last forever!
One in seven mums experience post-partum depression. Symptoms include hopelessness, lack of interest in things she used to enjoy, crying, and having trouble bonding with the baby. If your wife experiences these symptoms, encourage her to discuss them with her doctor, who may prescribe medication or counselling. If she simply has some mild “baby blues,” relaxation, exercise, and fun activities can be helpful for both of you. Yes, it’s all about the baby, but both of you need to take time for yourselves and each other, even if it’s just one outing a week.
Everyone wants to see the new baby, but too many visitors can be tiring for you, your wife, and the baby. Encourage short visits and put visitors, especially relatives, to work washing up or cleaning! Or if they ask what they can bring for the baby, suggest meals for you and your wife rather than gifts for the baby, who probably has most of what he or she needs anyway. Having the support of friends and family is wonderful and, most of the time, they want to help. So don’t be afraid to ask for little favours such as a few groceries or the all-important batteries for baby’s bouncy chair.
Helping with the baby
If your wife is nursing, you may feel helpless because much of caring for the newborn revolves around feeding. For our firstborn, I became “Chief Nappy Changer”. I also learnt to cook food that my wife could eat with one hand while holding the baby (slightly less successful, but my wraps were a hit). That was also when I learned that confinement practices and diets are just plain confusing! Even just making the little one smile is a great way to help, especially if you do it while folding baby clothes.
One of the hardest parts of parenting is that, as soon as you learn something (like giving a baby a toy to distract him or her during changing time), you face new challenges. You will feel like you are in a foreign country every time the road bends. It helps to know that no one has all the answers. Each child is different and you’re the only one who can discover how to be the best dad to your own unique little person. Now, it’s time to pack up and get going!