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Because family life matters

Preparing as a couple for your first child

A dad-to-be shares his experiences

A dad to be“Darling can you come upstairs for a minute?”

It seems just like yesterday that I made it halfway up the stairs to see my wife looking down at me incredulously; her face a mixture of excitement, disbelief and trepidation. She had wonderful news to tell me: she was pregnant with our first child.

Several months have passed since then, and we have experienced all the ups and downs that couples usually face as they prepare for a new arrival in their family.

In many ways, it has been the best of times. I’m not sure that I have ever felt closer to my wife or our marriage has ever been healthier. After four happy years together, it feels like our relationship has been strengthened by the life to come in which we will both share. It feels incredibly special; both overwhelming and somehow totally normal at the same time.

Preparing for what is sure to be a massive change to our relationship has, if anything, drawn us closer together. But it has also been testing at times. Suffice to say that the longer the pregnancy has gone on, the lower our collective capacity has become. Energy levels have dropped, different challenges have arisen and our emotions have become a little more ragged.

Not long after we found out about the pregnancy I came across this quote from Theodore Hesburgh.

“The most important thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother” – Theodore Hesburgh.

As a husband and a dad-to-be, it has been an overwhelmingly positive period of my life and I believe that this quote encapsulates the reason why. In fact, I have taken it almost as a personal challenge – one that I have accepted even before our child is actually born.

One aspect of this has been how protective I have felt towards my wife. I hadn’t realised just how protective, however, until it caught me off guard. It was the moment my obviously pregnant wife was unceremoniously barged past by a man in a crowded train carriage, and my uncharacteristically assertive response (lambasting him in front of the other passengers), that I realised she wasn’t the only person in our marriage adapting to pregnancy.

This desire to safeguard my wife has worked itself out at home as well. Energy I previously poured into following sport or other forms of procrastination has now been channelled at unprecedented levels into domestic chores, DIY and anything else which encourages my wife to take the weight off her feet. She has enough to contend with as her body changes, sleep becomes disrupted and her energy levels drop without her husband also becoming a drain on her resources!

I have discovered that one of the best ways I can care for my wife in her pregnancy is to make sure that what matters to her, matters to me.

Between us, we have resolved that although so much of the pregnancy tends to understandably focus towards the mother-to-be, we are going be in this together and I will be as involved as much as I possibly can be. A lot of the support and guidance we have enjoyed has included very mother-focused activities such as breastfeeding or labour. But I’ve also benefitted from advice from fathers who have encouraged me to take a real interest in these things. I have made the effort to read the same books on birth and parenting and the effect has been twofold: we are in harmony as we learn the same things and I feel better-equipped for impending fatherhood.

Communicating well has always been integral to our marriage and I have been acutely aware of the need for us to stay on the same page, not just about the smaller details – like what maternity pay can be claimed, or the paint colour for the nursery – but bigger picture conversations about how we want to approach parenting and look after our child.

It has not all been plain sailing. Whilst I have endeavoured to look after my wife as much as possible, the flip side of this has been I’ve been left physically drained at times and consequently more susceptible to getting tetchy. There’s no doubt about it, having a pregnant wife is hard work! It requires more energy, greater devotion, and all at a time where personally you have a huge amount to wrap your head around as fatherhood beckons.

We certainly haven’t done things perfectly – far from it in fact! But there’s no doubt that we have enjoyed the experience and it feels like a period of time that has redefined our relationship and, obviously, will continue to do so. To any other dads-to-be out there, especially anyone who may be feeling a bit on the periphery of things at the moment, I encourage you to get stuck in and become involved. If – like me – you’re not sure how to, chat it through with your partner and between you figure out the best way forward. Never has a little grace been more needed, so enjoy the challenge and be ready to make some mistakes along the way! Ultimately, please be encouraged that preparing for the birth of a child is something you can do together.