Saturday, October 6, 2007

Introducing Daddy

The Pregame Show

"I'm pregnant!"

They're two of the most thrilling and frightening words in the English language, and your heart probably did a triple flip the first time you heard them. Odds are you still feel a little breathless when you think about the joy and excitement of having your first child, and about the huge responsibility of caring for the new human being who'll soon be calling you Dad.

Pregnancy is a joyous time, full of anticipation and wonderment. It's also a giant step into uncharted waters, so don't be surprised if you frequently wake up in the middle of the night with your mind full of classic dad-to-be worries: How will our life change when it's "we three" instead of "we two"? How will I support my child from diapers through college? Will my baby -- and my partner -- be healthy? Will I be a great dad, or a total jerk? Will I gross out when my partner's water breaks? Lose the car keys? Faint in the delivery room? If you talk with other expectant dads you'll find that such sleepless nights and anxious moments are almost universal.

Another phenomenon that's almost universal is mood swings -- and I'm not just talking about your significant other's. Granted, her hormones are doing somersaults, and she's laughing one minute and weepy or homicidal the next. But surprisingly, your hormones also change when your partner is pregnant: a recent study found that expectant fathers' levels of testosterone surge just before their babies arrive, and their levels of estrogen -- a female hormone, normally scant in men -- also skyrocket. And here's an even more remarkable fact: men whose partners are about togive birth also have elevated levels of prolactin, a hormone that plays a key role in breast-feeding. In addition, it's common for men to experience sympathetic pregnancy symptoms, ranging from nausea to weight gain -- so you're not just kidding when you tell your friends, "We're pregnant!"

Let Everyone Know: It's Your Baby, Too

Even though you're an important player on the pregnancy team, you'll sometimes feel a little like a second-string benchwarmer. That's because right now, your partner is the center of attention. Her friends cluster around, asking how she feels, telling her she's radiant, throwing showers, bringing her little booties and teddy bears, and carting her off to shop for maternity clothes and baby gadgets. And every once in a while they remember to glance your way and ask -- "You do know the route to the hospital, don't you?"

But don't let your friends and family convince you that you're little more than a sperm donor and a labor-day taxi driver. In the next chapter, I'll talk about studies showing just how important your job as Dad will be after your child arrives. Even before your baby is born, however, you're an equal partner in the parenting process -- and you don't need to wear one of those pregnancy bellies to prove it. Your multiple roles during your partner's pregnancy include breadwinner, birthing coach, crib assembler, sympathetic shoulder, caretaker, swollen-foot massager, morale booster, and -- frequently -- saint. You're the one who has to reassure your partner that she's still beautiful, even as you're secretly wondering if those weird blue veins under her boobs will ever go away. You've probably been put in charge of everything from buying the car seat to setting up the college fund to painting the nursery. And, of course, you're the one making those late-night runs to the store for oysters, pickles, choco-brickle-ripple ice cream, and all the other foods your suddenly voracious partner craves at odd hours. Ever wonder what happened to the woman who used to say "I'm stuffed" after eating six pieces of popcorn?

In short, you'll play just as important a role in the pregnancy as your partner -- and because you're sharing the work, it's important to share the joys as well. Take time to savor the traditional thrills of imminent fatherhood, including feeling your baby kicking and picking out fun toys. If you crave a more hands-on experience, take a few hours off work to visit the obstetrician with your partner, so you can hear your baby's heartbeat for the first time, or see Junior's first ultrasound picture. Take funny pictures of your partner's big belly; she'll be more cooperative if you tell her she looks just like Demi Moore. Order your favorite childhood books from Amazon and start your own kid library with all the classics. And check out the expectant dads' groups on the Internet; they're full of advice and entertaining stories about the trials and joys of pregnancy, as seen from a man's point of view.

Many dads tell me the prospect of being a dad gave them an opportunity to review their own lives, and their relationships with their own parents. One expectant father spent several months compiling a book of his family's traditions, and he now shares the book with his child on holidays and special occasions. Another used a computer graphics program to create an illustrated book of favorite family stories, and still another -- a genealogy buff -- put together a book of family photos going back several generations.

The most important step you can take before your baby's birth, however, is to make sure you're knowledgeable about your new arrival. I know that many men's eyes glaze over at the sight of books about the birth process, but you'll feel more comfortable -- and gain more respect from both your partner and her doctor -- if you know what to expect as the pregnancy progresses. So pick up one of your partner's baby books and read a few pages each week about your baby's development. As you learn about what your little one is up to -- sucking a thumb at twelve weeks, kicking and turning at sixteen weeks, dreaming at thirty-two weeks -- you'll begin to feel a little like you're buddies already.

It's a must, too, to take a childbirth class with your partner. These classes take only a few evenings, and once you graduate, you'll be prepared for everything from the first labor pain to the first diaper. If possible, tour your hospital's obstetrics unit before your baby arrives, so you'll know your way around when D day arrives. And, of course, do one or two dry runs of the trip to the hospital, to make sure you know how long it takes to get there and the best route to take.

Still feeling a little nervous about how you'll do as a dad? Get some real-life experience by offering to baby-sit for a couple of hours for a friend who has a baby or young child. If you're nervous about the idea of being alone with a baby, then visit with other dads and play with their babies while the dads are on hand to offer pointers. Try changing a diaper and giving a bottle under their supervision, too.

Last but not least, take the time to get to know your baby, even before he or she is born. Remarkably, research shows that babies can hear and remember even when they're in the womb. In one study, researchers played the same music tapes or read the same stories to unborn babies for ten minutes every day. After the babies' birth, the researchers measured their sucking response to both the stories and music they'd heard before birth, and unfamiliar music and stories. Eighty-two percent of the babies were able to identify the music and stories they'd heard before they were born!

The moral of this research is that it's never too early to introduce yourself to your new son or daughter. The activities that follow will help you do just that, and enjoy a cuddle with your partner at the same time.

"Introducing Daddy"

  • Put your hand on your partner's tummy.
  • Tell your baby, "I'm your daddy. We're going to have fun playing games together. I'm going to keep you safe and protected."
  • Place your head gently on your partner's tummy.
  • Sing your favorite kid songs -- "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," "Down at the Station," "The Wheels on the Bus," "I've Been Working on the Railroad," etc.

"Welcome Warm-Up"

  • Warm your hands and coat them with lotion or baby oil.
  • Gently massage your partner's tummy.
  • See if you can find your baby's foot, head, and bottom while you massage and snuggle.

Tips for Winning

Is your relationship starting to seem decidedly unromantic as your house fills up with breast pumps, Lamaze manuals, and pamphlets full of drawings of your partner's innards? ("Notice the placenta forming at the left of the sketch...") Reignite the romance by coming home early one night with take-out Chinese and a bottle of sparkling cider. Light some candles, put on some nice music, and dance, even if anything more intimate is out of the question. You'll both enjoy the reminder that your partner is more than just a baby factory.

Talk to other dads. I know guys don't schmooze much about babies, but if you bring up the subject, your friends will be more than willing to share their experiences -- and guys who've survived labor, delivery, and "oh-my-Lord-I'm-a-dad-now" stages can often offer reassuring advice.

There is only one, repeat one, correct answer to the question: "Do you still find me attractive?" If you say anything other than yes, you're dead meat -- so resist the urge to be brutally honest, or even smart-alecky.

You've probably heard this already, but it's important: don't get mad at your partner if she says awful things during labor. If she calls you a swine, says she hates you, and threatens to break your arm if you ever get her pregnant again, just smile. You can tease her about it later -- much later -- but don't hold it against her, because the nicest women say the darnedest things when they're dilated to eight centimeters.

The Safety Zone

Be sure that you're in charge of any painting, redecorating, and furniture-moving projects while your partner is pregnant. She shouldn't be breathing paint fumes or shoving heavy cribs or chairs around, so recruit some of your buddies to help you handle the nursery preparations.

If you have a cat, be sure to take over changing the cat litter. It's fine for a pregnant woman to cuddle, pet, and feed a cat, but contaminated cat litter can carry parasites that aren't healthy for your unborn child.

If you smoke, now's the time to quit -- or at least to start going outdoors each time you light up.

Your partner can't drink for nine months, so show your support by limiting your own alcohol consumption.

From now on, your health is critically important to at least three people: you, your partner, and the child who'll be depending on you for years to come. So exercise regularly, cut down on the doughnuts, and get regular checkups.

Special Plays

As your baby's due date approaches, start saving your weekly copies of Time, Newsweek, or U.S. News & World Report. If you're really efficient, also save the daily newspaper that's published on the day he's born. Years from now, your child will be fascinated when he reads about what went on in the world right before, during, and just after his arrival.

Now is a good time to start talking about some of those major parenting decisions. What kind of religious training, if any, do you want your child to have? Do you think it's okay to watch raunchy TV shows around kids? Should swearing around your children be taboo? Should your kids call your dad's third partner "Grandma," or save that for their biological grandmothers? There's no end to the fascinating questions that arise during parenthood, and the more of these questions you resolve ahead of time, the easier your job will be later on.

Start a dad journal. Write down funny stories -- one dad, for instance, wrote about how the nurses in his partner's birthing room were so busy watching the finale of Dallas that they almost missed the delivery! Stick in photos of you and your pregnant partner, or a table napkin from the restaurant where you went to celebrate when the pregnancy test came out positive. Years from now, when your middle-aged memory gets a little spotty, you'll enjoy these reminders of your days as a dad-to-be.

Advice from the Coach

I hate blood and messes, and while everyone else in our Lamaze class was oohing and aahing over the birth movie, I got sick to my stomach. I'm worried about how I'll hold up in the delivery room.

Guess what: every other guy who watched that film in your Lamaze class is secretly worrying about the same thing. However, labor day is such an action-packed event -- rushing to the hospital, throwing on your scrubs, panting with your partner during labor -- that you probably won't have time to think about fainting. And every dad I've ever talked to, even those who'd dreaded being in the delivery room, said the experience was priceless. So don't worry: while characters in TV comedies are forever passing out at the sight of a woman giving birth, it doesn't happen much in real life, and the joy of the experience is worth the tiny risk of winding up passed out cold on the delivery room floor.

My partner had a gorgeous figure before she got pregnant, but now she's huge. I hate to sound shallow, but I'm worried about what she'll look like after the baby's born. Am I being a jerk?

No, you're just being a guy. Men take their partners' appearance seriously, and it's natural for them to worry about pregnancy pounds -- particularly since many women do have difficulty losing the weight they put on when they're expecting. However, rather than fretting about your partner's poundage, plan positive ways to help her when she wants to get back in shape after the birth.

But what if your partner still puts on a few pounds? My advice: be philosophical. In the coming years, your hairline will recede, you'll get some wrinkles, and you'll probably put on a little spare tire yourself. As your marriage and family become increasingly important, you'll pay less attention to superficial appearances -- and now is a good time to start.

One more note: don't push your partner to watch her weight while she's pregnant. Right now, those extra pounds aren't a problem. In fact, the opposite is true: women who gain too few pounds during pregnancy can put their children at risk for developmental problems. So tell your partner she looks beautiful and healthy, because it's true.

My partner wants me to cut the cord after our baby is born. I'm not sure I can face this.

Talk it over and see how strongly she feels about this. If it's not a big deal, let the doctor do it. If she thinks it's important, then you'll earn lots of points for one quick chore that's not anywhere near as gross as it sounds. One dad told me, "I just pretended I was cutting a big piece of spaghetti."

We're adopting a baby. It seems strange to miss out on the pregnancy stage -- will I feel the same about my baby as I would if I'd seen her being born?

Virtually all adoptive fathers say they felt the same intense feelings of joy and protectiveness when they first held their adopted babies as they would have if they'd cut the cord themselves. And, in many ways, the adoption process is like a pregnancy: the long wait, the anxiety, the "will our baby be all right?" worries. So while you may miss out on morning sickness and breaking water, you'll feel every bit as relieved and excited when your baby is finally placed in your arms.

Dad's Predelivery Scorecard

  • You and your partner have a birth plan (what to do, where to go, who to call, what to take).
  • You've packed the bag of supplies to take to the hospital, and you know where it is.
  • You have a list of phone numbers of people to call, including the doctor, the hospital, and the relatives.
  • The car seat is installed and ready for the trip home from the hospital.
  • You've bought your partner a gift to present after the baby is born and hidden it safely away. (My recommendation: a locket to hold a picture of your newborn baby.)


Excerpted from
Rookie Dad: Fun and Easy Exercises and Games for Dads and Babies in Their First Year
Copyright © 2001 by Susan Fox
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