So, she’s having your baby? As romantic as the song makes it sound, the reality is a bit scarier and more intimidating. You watch your partner’s belly swell as the months pass; you feel the kicks and encourage the mom-to-be not to feel bad about her swollen ankles and constant need to pee. You guys put the nursery together, you decide on names. You go to birthing class, you go to her prenatal visits. However, through all of this, the fact that a baby is actually coming doesn’t “click”, until those first labour pains hit. Then, your gut clenches up and your head begins to spin, because it’s happening. What is your role in this whole process? What can you do to make it easier for her? Heck, to make it easier on you?
Yes, easier said than done, but it’s possible. Practice your breathing: slow and even. Don’t hyperventilate or hold your breath. Sit down if you have to, and put your head between your knees if you feel sick or faint. But by all means, get it under control! Your wife is going through a really difficult and often frightening experience, and she needs to you be there for her, to be her rock. So cowboy up. This doesn’t mean you’re not freaked the hell out, but try to keep the hysteria contained inside.
One of the best ways to feel like you’re part of the process instead of a third wheel is to get involved. As long as your wife isn’t in one of those “don’t touch me or I’ll rip your eyes out” stages, put your hand on her belly. Feel the contractions ripple across it, feel the baby move inside: it’s amazing. Hold hands with her, keeping an eye on the monitor if you have one or on your watch to time contractions. Remember those birthing classes? Well, Coach, it’s now time to step up and play your role.
Besides timing contractions, make yourself useful. Sure, you’ll feel a bit like a glorified errand boy at times, but it’s not as if your laboring wife can exactly get up and get her ice chips, an extra pillow, a blanket, whatever. If she wants it, remember to rub her back (tennis balls for back labour, remember that) or feet or shoulders. Talk to her when she feels like talking. If you’re having a hospital delivery, be the intermediary between the medical staff and the laboring mom, because she should be able to concentrate on the important stuff: bringing your baby into the world. Try to make sure she’s as relaxed and unbothered as possible, to ensure both of you have a better experience.
I suggest packing a Daddy hospital bag. Here are some items that you WILL find handy: your phone/PDA or laptop (for contact info for all the relatives that need notifying); comfortable shoes (you’ll be on your feet a lot), a comfortable change of clothes (someone might yack on them, including you); a stopwatch (to time contractions), a good book (labour sometimes lasts forever); snacks (to eat AWAY from her, since often they restrict the mom’s solid food intake); headache pills (waiting is stressful and the fluorescents can cause headaches); tennis balls (for back labour massage); and a pillow (hospital pillows suck). Also, double-check that she has everything SHE needs in her hospital bag. Always keep the car keys in a standard location, that way there’s no chance you’ll have to waste half an hour cursing and searching the house for them at just the wrong time.
If you exercise some sympathy, empathy, and preparation, you will be a fitting labour partner. You guys got into this together, and you’ll come out of it together, plus one. Make it an experience to remember, in a good way.