My husband and father of five compiled this wisdom and advice for a friend who was about to have his first baby.
SPECIAL DELIVERY: LABOR & BIRTH
1. If you’re not already, make sure you’re packed and ready for the hospital (couple changes of clothes, books, etc.). You don’t want to be thinking about any of that when your wife is in labor.
2. Your wife is beautiful, but (no matter what people may say) labor and delivery is *not* beautiful. Unless you have a very strong stomach and tolerance for gore, keep your focus on your wife’s face and not on what’s happening ‘down there.’ If you do want to watch your baby come out, I highly recommend doing it from her vantage point rather than the doctor’s (trust me on that one!).
3. Remember you’re just there to support your wife and do whatever she wants during labor and delivery. This is “her show.” Let her run it however she sees fit. As you might recall, I’ve made the mistake of getting too involved in the decision making and I almost got castrated.
4. She may say or do things during labor that are mean, unfair, and/or completely out of character. Just take the “hit” for the team and remember that it’s not really her talking . . . it’s the pain! And you’ll likely be the easiest target!
5. Carol Burnett had a great way of describing labor: “Take your bottom lip and pull it over your head.” 🙂
6. Labor and delivery often doesn’t go exactly as planned. Your wife may need some help from you and the doula being reassured that that’s okay! And you may need to remember to keep *your* cool too (see #3 above).
7. Throughout the labor, make sure to repeatedly tell her how beautiful she looks, how well she’s doing, etc.
8. Discuss with your wife beforehand whether she wants you to sleep at the hospital with her. I recommend you at least spend the first night there, but be prepared to be very uncomfortable.
9. Your wife may have the option of staying two nights at the hospital. If she does, I *highly recommend* she take advantage of it. She can have the nurses help with the nighttime feeding and even caring for the baby during the day. That’ll give her more time to rest and recover. We’ve done it both ways (one day and two days), and my wife found the two-day option to be incredibly helpful.
10. Your wife’s body may go into minor shock when she’s in labor (e.g., her teeth begin chattering). It really freaked me out the first time I saw that happen to my wife. So, I just thought I’d let you know that might happen. If it does, don’t freak out! 🙂
POST-DELIVERY: A NEW LIFE
1. Your wife will be sore and in a lot of pain for about 4 to 7 days after the delivery (assuming she delivers vaginally and doesn’t tear or have a C-section). She’ll continue bleeding pretty intensely for the first couple weeks, and she will continue to have intermittent contractions for a couple days after she delivers. They’ll be at their worst for the first day or two. The hospital will give her pain meds if she wants them, but they could make her feel really loopy (my wife stopped taking them because of that). As an alternative, she can take higher doses of Ibuprofen.
2. She’ll be exhausted for the first couple of weeks. Her body will undergo significant physical trauma. Birth is a wonderful thing but it really does a number on a woman’s body. To the extent you and/or parents visiting can do the nighttime feedings, that would be great. It’s really important that (to the extent possible) she get a full 8 hours of sleep each night for the first couple of weeks (or at least as much as possible in those first two weeks). My wife and I learned that the hard way with our first baby. With every kid since then, I and my mom (or her mom) have done the 2 or 3 nighttime feedings for the first couple of weeks, allowing my wife to sleep from 10 pm to 6 am or 11 pm to 7 am. If it’s feasible, try to do the same with your wife. Not only will it help with her physical recovery and energy, it’ll also help with her mood!!!
3. When your wife gives birth, she will go through a massive hormone flush. ALL of the “happy” hormones she’s accumulated during her pregnancy will get flushed out. It’ll take at least 6 weeks for her hormones to be replenished and rebalanced, which means she may be very moody and seemingly over-sensitive at times. If she is, try to cut her as much slack for those first 6 weeks. It’s not something she can control. She literally will be in the process of replenishing a whole bunch of hormones she’ll lose during the birth. By the way, it’s this physiological phenomenon that causes “postpartum depression” in women. My wife had it with our first and I had no clue. It’s not something you need to be anxious or worried about. But do keep an eye on your wife. If she’s losing her temper quickly with the baby and everyone else, and if she seems depressed and/or despondent, get her in quickly to see her obgyn. It should be an easy fix with the proper meds. 🙂
4. The first two weeks are going to be the most difficult and challenging. You’re going to be overjoyed and excited and completely in love with your little one. But you’ll also feel clueless, helpless, exhausted, frustrated, and/or overwhelmed at times. When you do, just remember that the first 2 or 3 weeks are the hardest. You’ll be trying to figure out your new rhythm as a family, trying to learn the baby’s personality and figure out his cues (e.g., what his different kinds of cries mean), trying to figure out how to change a diaper, trying to figure out how to burp him properly, etc. It’s a lot . . . for anyone! Just be patient with yourself and know that you’re going to be just fine. You’ll be the “baby whisperer” and “Master Diaper Changer” and “Uber Burper” in no time at all. 🙂
5. You’re not going to sleep through the night for the next several months and, depending on the baby, possibly for the next year or so. Again, this is normal and your body will eventually adjust. With our fifth, we didn’t get a full night of sleep for the first 18 months or so of her life. 🙂
6. Your marriage relationship is about to change/evolve in new and exciting, but also challenging, ways. You won’t have 100% of her focus or attention anymore. The baby is going to demand a lot of her (and your) emotional and physical energy. It’ll be important for the two of you to keep your lines of communication open, and to have a lot of grace for each other as you figure out how to incorporate the baby into your pre-existing family. One tip: You and your wife were a family before the baby came along. He can’t rule your every moment, even though he does need to be a priority for a season. But just as there you were a family before he came along, you’re going to be a family after he heads off for college someday. So, continue to find ways to make time for yourselves — both individually and together. Ex.: Leave baby with Grandma and go out to lunch together, nap together during the day while he’s napping, watch a movie together while he’s sleeping, etc. Find moments to live and love each other in between the diapers, feedings, and burpings! 🙂
7. You are going to be on “bread and water” for at least 6 to 8 weeks, bro. And by that I mean, “NO SEX!” And let me tell you — it’s hard. This is where it’ll be easy for you to get grumpy! 🙂 But this is where we sacrifice a little. Our wives went through the challenge of carrying a child and giving birth. So, having to deal with no sex for a couple of months is a small price to pay! 😉 That said, there are other options, and I’m sure the two of you are creative enough to figure them out without me spelling it out! By the way, if she delivers vaginally, the first time you have sex again it may feel as painful as when she delivered the baby. So be prepared for that to be awkward and disappointing. It might take a while before sex is pleasurable for both of you again, or before she can even bear it. Just be patient and give yourselves some time.
8. As much as possible, find opportunities to eat well during the first few weeks — both you and your wife. Order in your favorite foods, or have your Mom or hers cook your respective favorites. It’s a small thing but it really helps.
9. Don’t hesitate to call us (or other people you know who’ve had kids) whenever you have questions or concerns. And see if your small group would be willing to start a meal train for you guys (at least for the first week after you’re back from the hospital). That’ll take a lot of stress off you both! Just make sure they make meals for 4 (since my folks will be with you).
10. Buy your wife a gift that you can give her after the birth, and when she’s settled in her room. It’ll mean a lot to her! Jewelry and a nice note or card go a long way! My wife still cherishes the gifts I gave her for each delivery.