I will be the first one to admit that I am emotionally unprepared for childbirth and the experience of the labour process. I don’t think anyone can be for their first child. Yes, I roughly understand the procedures, the process and our roles, but this is very different to physically going through the motions. I have written a piece about being prepared for labour, make sure you read this so you can be as prepared as possible.
My wife and I are the first ones to have children in both our families. Our experience of children amounts to a friend coming to our house with their baby for the day. We went to the beach and watched that baby eat sand. I wouldn’t argue this gives us many experiences on which we can depend.
I’ve never had to watch my partner potentially go through days of exhaustion and strain. I naturally don’t want her to be in pain. Watching your partner in pain is a difficult thing to experience, especially when you have no means to help her. The fact that childbirth is a natural process is irrelevant; it’s still not an easy process to watch someone you love in pain.
The lack of control
I think part of the challenge for fathers during childbirth is the lack of control; I don’t have any. The birth process will happen as it happens, experienced midwives, nurses and doctors are there to facilitate the process, I am there to hold my wife’s hand and encourage her. It’s like being an extra in a film; you need the extras to make the scene feel real, but they are not the main characters within the story.
Of course, I’ve over simplified my role, I do have an important part to play, but I don’t bear the brunt of childbirth. I also don’t have any real say as to how the show is going to play out. I find lack of control difficult for a moment that matters so much. There are not many other moments in life where you feel as out of control as child birth.
Even though I don’t have a child, I am well educated as to what to expect because of TV. My impression is fear (rushing to the hospital), a short moment of pain (childbirth) and euphoria (post birth) and a happily ever after scene.
The reality is far from this; labour is unpredictable and messy. Childbirth can take ages and might not even go well. I am acutely aware that my perception and the reality are far removed from each other. I am soon to find out how far apart.
The sleepless wait
The wait, the wait, the wait. I am going to have to wait for hours without an end in sight, only my ‘what ifs’ to occupy me. Then suddenly, labour starts, and I am thrust into action. I know I won’t be able to get any sleep, I know shortly after my child is born I won’t be getting any either. The knowledge that I won’t be able to sleep later is almost as bad as the wait itself.
Then leave the hospital with a baby and an exhausted wife, and the actual challenge begins. A small human being which will grow to be as flawed as I am. One for which will bring out the best and worst in me. One for which I should love more than I love my wife, and she’s awesome.
Those who have had children may mock my naiveté; I’m sure there’s much I missed out. But, as I head into the weeks before my world changes, I can’t help feeling how emotionally unprepared new parents are to their predicament. I thought I am probably more prepared than most fathers. After writing this, I have realised that I am just like everyone else.