What to Expect on the Day Of Birth and the Days and Weeks Beyond
November 3, 2011 9:40 PM   Subscribe

My wife is due to give birth in the next three weeks or so. I'm interested to hear the experiences of other men about the day their wife or parter gave birth and also what the first few days and weeks thereafter were like.

I'd be very keen to hear what other men experienced on the day their wife, girlfriend or partner gave birth. What can I expect to happen on the day? What may happen that I might not have anticipated? What are some good survival tips? I'll most likely be in the room with my wife when it happens.

I'd also be interested to hear about what life was like for you in the days (and weeks) immediately following the birth, including things like what did you do, need to do? What handy tips or anecdotal advice can you give me to be more useful than useless, and to prevent me from breaking down into a quivering heap as I expect may happen.

And finally, when did your life start to return to something resembling normality? Yeah, it'll never be the same again, but when did you feel that your life had been less upended and was something more akin to 'normal'?
posted by Effigy2000 to Human Relations (34 answers total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
Life will not return to "normal", whatever that means for you now. Normal will get redefined. Smartest thing Bill Cosby ever said as Cliff Huxtable was "The boss is that baby". Normal will get re-redefined on an almost weekly basis. Just be flexible. There isn't any other choice anyway.

The only unusual anecdote I have is about our fourth, who was born in the front seat of the car on the way to hospital. The response when I walked into the hospital reception and said "er, we have a baby out in the car ..." was amazing--nurses coming from all over the place. My wife had started having contractions no more than a couple of hours before.

Congratulations. It's a grand adventure, and a lot of fun.
posted by Logophiliac at 10:08 PM on November 3, 2011 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: "Life will not return to "normal", whatever that means for you now. Normal will get redefined."

Understood and accepted. I guess I mean, when did you feel that things had settled down into a nice routine again, and you didn't feel quite so out-of-place again?

"The only unusual anecdote I have..."

To be clear, I'm after both unusual and usual anecdotes. All data points will help me mentally prepare.


Thanks, I guess, but really, none are required.
posted by Effigy2000 at 10:17 PM on November 3, 2011

From the husband's perspective, life doesn't return to normal (in reality, a sense of equilibrium) for about a year. Your wife is now a mother first, and her first concern is her new baby. My wife experienced pretty severe post-partum depression with out second child, which was pretty frightening. It was also somewhat disconcerting that the visiting nurse from the local health authority would not include me in discussions, including counselling about drugs for that depression.

This isn't meant to scare you. It's just that it takes a year or so for things to stabilize. Hormones may control your wife's behaviour. Be patient and supportive. When she's ready, make time for her to go to the gym.

The only thing that was the same after the birth of both of my sons was that it was very difficult to sleep the first night after their births. I kept waking up all night to make sure they were okay and that they were breathing. The second night was okay.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:30 PM on November 3, 2011

I'll speak for my husband here. Neither of us expected him to get so tired. I guess I was running on adrenaline, but the labour lasted 18 hours and both of us were awake the whole time (a situation you should avoid if you can). He had to hold my legs up during each contraction, but he kept falling asleep in his chair between contractions and I was impatient and did more yelling at him than I'm proud of.
posted by kitcat at 10:33 PM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Be prepared for the first one (as I take it this is) to be late. Our first was almost a fortnight late. The Saturday before the induction was booked, my wife said "OK, kid, this is lesson 1 that Mum means what she says" and downed a slug of castor oil. She started having stomach pains almost immediately, but no contractions till late afternoon. David finally arrived about nine that night.

Be prepared to be terrified. Everything is new and strange, and you're dealing with a fragile human life here, right? Still, it's amazing what you can do when you just have to. I'll shut up now and give someone else a chance.
posted by Logophiliac at 10:34 PM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

It depends on the kid. If you have an easy kid who sleeps a lot and cries little "normalcy" can bring itself about a little faster. If you have a kid who, for instance, only sleeps 45 minutes at a time and fights sleep like a prize fighter, then it will be quite a while before anything resembling your current routine can be reestablished.

What we found is there are a thousand books and lots of schools of thought about infant care and child-rearing each with their own doctrine, orthodoxy and look-down-their-nose inquisitors who will frown upon violators of their sacred doctrine. Take what works for you and your partner and skip the rest. You don't have to faithfully adhere to every tenet of the Baby Whisperer or Sears or Dr. Spock or Elimination Communicators or whomever.

Be safe, do what works and relax. Swaddle or don't, wear the kid a while and put the kid down when you need to. Keep the baby happy, share responsibility with your partner. Sleep and eat in shifts if that's what it takes. Follow your instincts, consult a book or the 'Net if you're at a loss, but take it easy and enjoy your baby.
posted by MasonDixon at 10:43 PM on November 3, 2011 [5 favorites]

Disclaimer: You will love this new person beyond your wildest dreams. You will feel stuff you NEVER thought you had in you. Most of that is for a different AskMe. You'll know what I mean after your child is born.


I'm not a man, but we gave birth at UCLA. I'll try to have Mr. jbenben pop in here to comment after our 7 month old is completely asleep for the night....

We have one of those amazing marriages you hear about. Our head nurse in the maternity ward was this sassy attractive woman with (I think 3, at least 2 children.) Her parting advice to us?

"When our second was born, I divorced my husband at least twice. I would have left, too, just as soon has I got up the energy to pack!"

She said this because she saw we had NO clue what was coming, and we were a formerly very happy and deliciously compatible couple. Oh, how right she was:))

Having an infant dependent upon you both brings up so many deep instincts, your instincts are different from the mother's sometimes, and you are BOTH sleep deprived!

Fun times.

Be kind to each other. Remember this is just a phase. For the first 3 months, your infant is really a fetus, but outside. Remember that.


By 5 months we had it dialed back in, we were us again. Us, plus one!


Remembering that short funny story the head nurse told us made the frustrations of the beginning seem funny and light-hearted.


I was pretty calm, but my husband would do the FREAK every time our son started crying. Here's the thing: Babies Cry.

You don't have to freak out! Just go through the checklist - hungry, burping, soiled diaper, motion (jiggling, swaddling, shushing.) That's it. Man, it's so simple! But it happens every few hours, so sleep is at a premium.

We split it up based on our natural sleep cycles. Dad stays up late, I am an early riser. He takes the evening, and I take 4:00am thru the morning.


This is new. Be gentle on yourselves. Your relationship with your wife will change in the absolute weirdest way. I can not and won't describe it. Like that head nurse telling us, just telling you it will happen. When it does, be gentle. It's all good. You will get back to yourselves.

You will just be yourselves+1.


I hope my husband can pop in later and tell you first-hand about his experience.




Upon your update...

I don't know if Mr. jbenben will talk about it, but I was in labor for a very painful 21 hours (totally unexpected) and then had a c-section. Then I was illl again (shock) from the surgery. Then I didn't heal well and became severely anemic in the weeks afterward and had to be on bed rest for 2 months...

I'm pretty sure watching his beloved wife in that much pain for so many hours (and then weeks) hurt my husband. He's pretty emotionally healthy, but still, that whole deal was unexpected.

There came a point at about 4 months where (a) we hired a regular cleaning service, and we should have done this sooner in our position, and (b) I had to tell him to stop carrying all of us and simply take care of himself because he was spread way way too thin.

Hey, Dad! There's comes a point where you are not doing anyone any good by running yourself ragged. Anticipate that point and adjust. If you are not OK, your wife and child can't be OK, either.

You are a TEAM now. Communicate! You don't have to do it all!
posted by jbenben at 10:44 PM on November 3, 2011 [12 favorites]

I also wanted to say there may be moments when you understand why ancient cultures left babies exposed in the woods to be raised by wolves. Accept that emotion. Roll it around on your tongue a little and then change the diaper, warm the bottle, giver your partner a break, rock them till you wear a rut in the floor and realize how quickly you've forgotten what your life was like before.
posted by MasonDixon at 10:55 PM on November 3, 2011 [3 favorites]

If there's a shower involved, bring a wetsuit. Seriously. Sitting on a plastic stool for hours on end, in the small hours of the night, hosing water in her direction & getting splattered yourself sucks arse harder than John Howard. And don't think that it'll be an awesome mutual shower. It won't.

Later, buy yourself a nice expensive bottle of single malt.
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:35 AM on November 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Normal is over for you. Now you have a machine that takes all your money and most of your time and turns them into joy. It's okay, though. You were just wasting them until now.

As Louis CK says, "Parenthood is pretty easy. You just have to make them not die."

Just be cool. Let her sleep as much as she can and just do shit for her. If the baby cries at night, go get it. If she freaks out and wants to hold it, let her. Her emotions will be dialed up to 11. Try to keep yours down around 7 even though you're flipping out inside. Be Samuel L. Jackson. Frank Sinatra. Fucking Gandalf.

Post-partum depression is real and it's scary. Figure out how to give reality checks without seeming like a dick. If it gets severe, mention it to your pediatrician even if she doesn't want you to.

Tell her as much as you can how beautiful she looks, with and without the baby. Pregnancy and motherhood can fuck with bodily self-image. Don't go pawing at her right away, though. She could be pretty torn up inside. Doing little things like lifting even moderately heavy stuff and getting things before she has to ask for them is best. She'll be sore and weak for a while. Go to the store. Make sure there is enough of everything. Clean up.

Take tons of pictures. Write your thoughts down even if you're not normally the sort to do that. Become the guy who jots down every stat the pediatrician gives you. Sing to the baby. Even if your voice is weak. Even if all you can remember are the lyrics to shitty Billy Joel songs.

Talk to the baby even though it feels awkward and contrived. It will be months before you get any response. When you finally do, the shock of it will tear a hole right through you.

Take as much time off from work as you can. Hang out in bed with the two of them. Let the waves of emotion wash over you. Bond with each other. Nature knows what it's doing.

Don't worry that it doesn't smile or react to you for longer than you think it should. When your sleep-deprivation psychosis is at its height and you are actually contemplating violence against a screaming infant at 3 AM (it'll happen...), the kid will suddenly look at you and smile beatifically.

Then it'll fart.

Right now it feels like there's an invisible freight train bearing down on you. Your life is about to change totally and you don't know what that means. You're weak, maybe. Your life is a mess and there are so many things you think you should have done already that you haven't. You're incomplete. But man, you were built for this. There are reservoirs of strength and instincts to nurture inside you that you didn't know were there. There will be relief in knowing that your life has a concrete purpose now, and that if you bear down and work hard and take care, you can live up to that purpose and feel real, tangible joy in the doing of it.

It's going to be wonderful.
posted by R. Schlock at 1:47 AM on November 4, 2011 [43 favorites]

I am not male. I have been a birth partner several times, so I'll just quickly add: read The Birth Partner if your wife hasn't suggested another specific book, and make sure you pack a bag for you as well. Labor can be long. You may appreciate snacks, a book, an iPod for down time (yes there can be downtime!), a change of clothes, comfy socks and a toothbrush.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:16 AM on November 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

My wife's best friend from high school was a support person during the delivery. It worked really well - we're not best buds, but we get along well, and having someone there who could go get wheat packs or cups of water or whatever, or stay with my wife if I needed a toilet break or food, was absolutely fantastic. It has to be the right person, but if you can swing someone both of you are happy with, it makes it heaps easier. The fact she's a professional photographer so she could take happy snaps of the new family was just a bonus.

Having some snacks for the labour? Sounds wierd, I know, but it was great when some friends dropped by to deliver some eats. 27 hours of labour, well, my wife wasn't exactly in an eating mood, but something to keep my blood suger up was welcome.

My daughter was 3220g on delivery. It's one of those things that the experience etched in my mind. It's the sort of thing that'll go after everything else. It's that kind of experience.

The weirdest thing was that after 27 hours of labour and an early morning delivery, people looked at my wife, looked at me, and the general consensus was I looked worse than her. A little odd, you know?

Job 1 pretty much became managing access. Everyone wants to come and play with the baby and Talk About The Experience. If your partner likes that, great. If, more likely, she wants some rest, some time with her baby, and some time with you, well, you need to fend folks off. Relatives with a sense of entitlement are the worst on that front...

The first month or so is a bit of a blur, but mostly a good blur. I discovered that the single most relaxing, blissful, magical sleep in the world is the sleep of a dad with a baby sleeping on him. She'd flop down, face-first, head resting on my neck, and I'd be gone within minutes, no matter how hard I tried to sleep. Sleep when the baby sleeps, indeed.

I took 5 weeks off work (unpaid, since I'm a contractor), and wish I could have afforded more. It was precious bonding time with my daughter, support for my wife. I cried leaving the house most morning when I had to start going back to work. I felt like I was tearing my heart out every morning. It's probably the hardest thing I've ever done emotionally.

Don't be surprised by the sheer contempt often demonstrated to fathers. For my daughter's second round of immunisation jabs a nurse snatched her out of my arms to "comfort her properly." Don't be shy about getting angry at that crap. I had her sacked from the medical clinic our family uses.

That shitty situation was merely a high point on a mountain of subtle through to overbearing unpleasantness: my daughter was going to carry her mother's surname, but (unprompted by me), Maire was so ticked off at the hospital's generic treatment of dads that when she was given the naming forms, Ada ended up with my surname instead.

Make a connection. I've got little greater contempt for the idea, repeated to me a few times, that an infant is "mothers' business" and she should be making all the calls, and experience, not only of my own, but of friends and the advice of midwives and Plunket nurses, reinforces that contempt.

Handling babies is a skill, and the earlier you get comfortable dressing, changing, burping, comforting, and generally interacting and looking after your kid, the better you'll be at it; that's one reason, but it's the mid to long term that's really important: I know guys who spent the first 6 - 12 months with little to do with the baby, and they spiral into a sort of vicious circle where mum does everything because dad is hopeless and dad is hopeless because he never gets left to cope and learn, and they've subsequently spent literally years
learning how to connect with their kids.

And the mothers... they burn out. My wife flirted with post-partum depression, and the first thing her Plunket nurse wanted from her was a run-down of who did what around the house and with the kid. I was at work for the conversation, but the nurse, who specialised in these situations, told my wife that when there's an overload contributing to driving a mother into "baby blues", half the time she has to give the dad a bollocking to get him pulling his weight, and the other half she has to drill into the mother that she has to let other people look after the kid sometimes. And yes, that means dad. Get into healthy patterns from the start.

On top of that... you're going to be making decisions about your child together for the best part of two decades. Get in the habit early on.

House-proud? Get over it. You have a baby, if people don't like that you can't be arsed putting laundry away, fuck 'em.

Comforting babies: I often had an easier time of it than my wife. It's a common thing, talking to a few other parents, as well; we put it down to the fact that small babies can't really tell if they're upset because they're hungry, tired, sitting in their own shit, or have wind, or just need a cuddle. But when they smell that breast milk, well, they're upset, the boobs are there - that must be the answer! Then they get agitated about not getting a mouthful of tit, even if that's not going to help. Since Daddy doesn't smell of milk, little Miss 1 month old went along with, say, laying on me until we both went to sleep.

Try and fall into a routine that gives mum some breaks. I'm an early riser, so I'd get up at 6, take Ada away, get her out of her night gear, changed, into fresh clothes, ready for the first feed, make breakfast for my wife, and then get ready for work. Getting home I'd take Ada, play, snuggle, whatever. My wife's evening bath would be sacrosanct: unless the baby actually started squirting blood or something, I was on my own for 30 - 60 minutes. Small things, all of them, but part of trying to keep everyone sane and happy.

The first 3 months Ada was pretty low-maintenance, for me; adore her, change her, dress her, play, what have you. Tiny babies are, food and wakefulness aside, generally pretty easygoing. Around 6 months it felt like one of those hockey-stick graphs. "Sleeping on daddy's knee while he argues on the Internet" was cool at 2 months, but a six month old needs way more active attention. Don't be surprised if you have a storm, a lull, and then start getting really busy again.

That whole "your sex life is over"? Yeah, not so much. Do remember breast feeding's not actually a contraceptive, though.
posted by rodgerd at 3:16 AM on November 4, 2011 [21 favorites]

Can't give you a husband's perspective, as mine is an ex. He was a pretty bum husband and a worse father, but one moment stands out so brightly, these 43 years later: I was breastfeeding, and there's no getting around the fact that the first day or two, until your nipples toughen up, it HURTS. As I was picking up our son and bracing myself for the pain, my husband said, "That's the bravest thing I've ever seen." A moment of real noticing, and appreciating, and saying it out loud to her, can be an amazing gift.

I can tell you that you would sell your soul to the Devil for a night's sleep, but then it gets okay. I can tell you to treasure every baby/toddler/teen age moment, because they will pass so quickly. I can tell you that you will turn around one day and realize you have an adult who calls you Dad. But it wouldn't make the smallest bit of difference. You'll just be swept up into it. It's such a great ride, even the bad bits! Very best wishes to all of you.
posted by kestralwing at 3:58 AM on November 4, 2011 [4 favorites]

No matter what the plan is, be prepared for it to fly out the window at a moment's notice. C-sections happen, and they alter the plan in a big way. Make sure your house is ready for mom not to be able to move much for 2-3 weeks, particularly if you have stairs.
Postpartum depression is really frightening. I'm not sure I have any useful advice beyond read up on it, and have a qualified mental health professional at the ready.
Do not underestimate the messiness of the meconium. Yikes.
Have fun, good luck, and remember: you can do this. You will feel like you can't, and soon (I promise), but you can.
posted by willpie at 4:36 AM on November 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

P.S. Contra rogerd, my little baby was anything but easygoing for her first 5 months. But she mellowed. His point that the amount of work they need varies almost constantly stands, but I wouldn't make any assumptions about how or when.
posted by willpie at 4:39 AM on November 4, 2011

Best advice I can give:

--For the birth, don't get hung up on anything. "No plan survives first contact with the enemy" and all that (not that there are enemies here, but you get my drift.)
--There is just little that is directly rewarding in the first few months. Newborns eat/sleep/poop; they don't play or smile or realize what an awesome daddy you are. Realize that, when you feel like you're getting absolutely nothing out of it, that this is a completely normal feeling. Then you start getting real smiles and it's great! (Of course, holding a sleeping infant is it's own reward, but that's a different layer of positive feedback.)
--Sleep when they sleep. Yes, get laundry/food/necessities done, but don't try to squeeze that hour of Arkham City in. This is probably true until you get to one waking period a night. We were lucky and ours slept through the night at about four months and continues to do so as the default state.
--"Normal" changes on a six-week basis for a while, and through toddlerhood that's more or less still true. What my girl will eat phases in and out, nap cycles change, etc.
--My wife and I alternated the routine overnight care, so that barring illness or disaster, at least one of us was getting a full night's sleep. I think that was helpful in sanity preservation.
--When you start to get overwhelmed, when you've tried every consolation technique and every possible baby want three times and the child still screams, it's ok to take a timeout. If the child isn't bleeding, and isn't in his/her own waste, he/she can scream in her crib for five minutes while you crawl back from the end of your own rope in the next room. I found that useful for regrouping and coming back appropriately calmly, so as not to get into a vicious circle of emotional overload with my girl. (If you are a more naturally mellow person than I, you may never get there--and I only had to do it a few times.)
posted by stevis23 at 4:51 AM on November 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

Something I realized was that doctors will give them medicine for pain, the hospital gives them food but no one really makes sure that she sleeps! The hardest thing about the first few days (months) is lack of sleep especially for someone who just basically ran a marathon. So make sure your wife gets some sleep. If she is not going to nurse give the baby to the nursery for the first night. It seems like you ae not being a good parent but if she gets a good nights sleep it will benefit everyone.
Also stay with her in the hospital. I made the mistake of going home to take care of our dogs (which my wife wanted me to do) the first night. It is a very emotional time and she needs you there.
Finally limit the hospital visits. This goes back to the sleep and rest thing. People can see the baby in a month or so ...yes I said a month, thats what cameras are for. You may allow parents etc. to come but you dont need everyone on facebook showing up.
Did I mention sleep??
Also when you get home accept help if you are lucky enough to get it.
If she is going to nurse the baby talk to the lactation specialist and ask alot of questions and possibly set up a home appointment fro a few days after she leaves. Sometimes its not as intuitive as everyone thinks. Also get a good breast pump, like the hospital grade if you can afford it.
We're four months in...it gets better.
posted by Busmick at 5:03 AM on November 4, 2011

Personally, I enjoyed this story immensely.
posted by leigh1 at 5:30 AM on November 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

i guess whatever experience you have will really be representative of the type of people you and your wife are. Laid back? it'll probably be a laid back experience for both of you, all the way past that 1 year mark. I think we swung into something normal prettymuch right away, but life will never be like it was before, and tickling a baby is fun.

first off, that kid will come late, much like Logophiliac said. So if you're planning time off then make sure your work understands it could happen in 3 weeks or 5 weeks.

Second, be prepared to sleep uncomfortably (hospital rooms are not known for being good for husbands) and be unable to physically help your wife outside of getting her a burrito or something.

Don't let her eat mexican in that time period. There will be poop, and sometimes it can be embarrassing (I've heard some great/terrible stories)

Job 1 pretty much became managing access. Everyone wants to come and play with the baby and Talk About The Experience. If your partner likes that, great. If, more likely, she wants some rest, some time with her baby, and some time with you, well, you need to fend folks off. Relatives with a sense of entitlement are the worst on that front...
rodgerd got that pretty on the nose

gotta run.

Good luck
posted by zombieApoc at 7:00 AM on November 4, 2011

Contractions were keeping Mrs. Plinth awake, so realizing that one of us should get some sleep, I headed to the couch and caught some shut eye.
Mrs. Plinth started getting contractions that were pretty damn close so she woke me up and we went in to the hospital and got her all checked in. We walked around, sat down, stood up, and so on. She tried out the whirlpool bath they had and I sat down on the floor next to the tub and fell asleep. She said that if should could have reached me, she would have hit me.

The put on a fetal heart monitor and noted that the baby's heart rate went down on every contraction - not what they expected. The also noted that there was next to no cervical dilation, so it became time for an emergency C section. There was another mom-to-be who had a scheduled C section. We took her team. They gave me scrubs and I changed. We had just seen the movie Catch Me If You Can and I assured Mrs. Plinth that I would NOT go wandering off impersonating a doctor. This was not as reassuring as I had hoped. Apparently, once I said that, she realized that I could probably pull it off. Oh well.

Before going in to the OR, I went into the bathroom and took a picture of myself. I was silently scared because I had not considered the possibility that I might lose both my wife and my child and that was now more likely.

They transferred the Mrs onto the operating table, set up the curtain of death and started prepping her. I sat next to her head and talked to her and made jokes with the anesthesiologist (hey, how often do you get to tell and ether bunny joke). They started cutting her open and I resisted the urge to stand up and look past the curtain of death. I'm not squeamish, but I know that two patients is enough - they don't need a surprise third. They pulled out our daughter, covered in vernix, blood and other bodily fluids and started cleaning her up.

At this point, the doctors started working on our daughter. Not in a good way. They were working on her in a way where one doctor takes lead and the others follow. They were trying to get her lungs cleared our and working on their own. It was very serious time. Very serious. Once things had calmed down a bit, we were told that they had to get her on a respirator and transfer her to a hospital with a NICU. All this was going on while the surgeon turned my wife's uterus inside out, scraped it clean, inverted it again, reinstalled it and sewed everything up. Before they took her away, I insisted that they bring her over so that Mrs. Plinth would get to see her (and me too). I fell in love on the spot. I knew it because I've only really felt that a few times in my life.

Mrs. Plinth was wheeled back into her room and I told her what I knew.

Then the world changed.

The entire crew that had been in the operating room came into our room. Everyone. The doctors, the midwife, the nurses. They all looked worried and terrified. The main doctor who booted our daughter's lungs said one sentence that was the start of a flood of bad news.

"We think your daughter has Down syndrome."

We also found out that she had aspirated meconium and they thought she had pneumonia and that she likely has a heart defect (comes with 30-40% of babies with Down syndrome), and she had had a seizures shortly after birth. Once she had been transferred and after I assertively insisted that the Mrs. was going to be transferred to that hospital too because fuck you otherwise, they ran a battery of tests and scans and verified trisomy 21 through a karyotype and that she had had a fairly serious stroke when she had the seizures.

After this, life settled down to normal. That is, if you consider normal to be my wife staying in the hospital, my daughter wired up like a Borg, and making 3-4 round trips to the NICU per day.
posted by plinth at 7:08 AM on November 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

Things I learned helping my wife through labor:

~ Your wife will be herself, only more so, during labor. At some point, all filters will be off. If you know your wife well, this is nothing to fear.

~ Depending on your personality, it may be more emotional for you than you expect. I was near tears through the last couple hours of labor. It's an intense experience, and though I was doing everything I thought I could to help my wife, I still felt a little helpless. Every labor is different, so it may not be like that for you, but the physical challenge is just part of it.

~ You will need to be the one paying attention. Doctors and nurses are likely to tell you all kinds of important things, and your wife probably won't be able to take it in. I'm not even talking about all the big medical stuff; little things like reminders to drink water, eat a snack, when the nurse will come back to check on you if s/he's not in the room all the time, etc. It's not a flood of info, so don't stress it, just be ready to listen.

~ Be ready to be your wife's spokesperson. My wife was so focused on the labor that it was hard for her to exchange information with the nurse or midwife, so I did a fair amount of interpreting for her.

~ Take care of yourself too. Not eating is bad; do you want to pass out at the wrong time? It's happened to men who forget to eat, rest, etc.

Things I did after our boy arrived that helped my wife:

~ Be the one paying attention. Immediately upon the little one's arrival, you will start learning things about him/her, most of it fascinating, some of it really useful: keeping him/her warm, swaddling, watching for jaundice, changing/cleaning him/her, etc.

~ Do all the diaper changing. Your wife will be busy trying to rest, learning how to nurse (yes, it's a learned skill, and baby will need to figure it out along with mom), being in pain. You should be ready to do all the diapers because it's quite possible your wife won't be able to stand up without help for a day or more after the birth.

~ Log feedings/diapers. The hospital will probably provide a sheet to write down when your baby eats and gets a new diaper (and if it's wet, soiled, or both) for at least a few days.

~ Be ready to take the baby out of the room for a walk down the hallway or to sleep on you/in your arms for a while. It may be hard for you wife to rest with the baby in the room all the time because she'll probably be very focused on him/her and alert for potential needs.

~ Be on car seat/car warming, packing up to go home, etc duty.

Return to equilibrium:

It probably took us 4 months to get to a point where we felt comfortable in our new routine. Partly this is because your routine will change almost constantly. Partly this is because you will be learning how to sleep with a baby nearby, and helping your baby learn how to sleep on the outside.

You will probably hear lots of advice like, "mom should sleep when baby sleeps," which is great if mom has an off switch. That shit didn't work for us. Taking shifts overnight worked better for us, but is still a challenge. Also, my wife breast-fed our boy, so I couldn't do any feedings for the first while (to make sure he learned to nurse well and her supply came in strong). If you plan to bottle feed, the sleeping in shifts plan should work even better.

Now, at 9 months, we have a system down, which involves alternating early morning duty so one of us can catch a little extra sleep. Your little one will be different than ours, so I can't tell you exactly how this will play out for you, of course. The key thing we have found is that if a task (dishes, laundry, cleaning, etc) can be done right now, it should be. Procrastination will destroy you because you will be waiting for a good time that never comes.

A note on fatherhood:

I didn't really know what to expect of myself before our son arrived. I was nervous about how I would feel, whether I would bond with him immediately (of at all), how my life would change. Now, I'm deeply in love with him, and in a way I didn't expect at all. This, however, is not true for everyone. I think it's important to give yourself permission to feel weird and tangled up if that's how you feel. Also, give yourself time to settle into the idea of being a dad. You don't need to explode into a ball of shining love and pure selfless joy as soon as your baby arrives. It wasn't like that for me, and now I couldn't be happier to have him around.

Good luck and good health to you, your wife, and your new baby!
posted by that's candlepin at 8:36 AM on November 4, 2011 [4 favorites]

In those first couple of days, I remember my husband being genuinely shocked that newborns sometimes cry even though nothing is "wrong," and being really upset about it, thinking that the baby must be terribly ill or injured or something. He calmed down considerably when his parents came a few days after the birth, and exclaimed about how quiet and mellow the baby was, only crying for a few minutes here and there.

He also found the birth more tiring and emotionally wrenching than I did, by a long shot. Your wife will have a wonderful soup of hormones that are designed to get her through it, you're not as lucky. Trust that she knows what's what.

You'll find there's a lot of definitions of "returning to normal", and each one will be a little victory. Slight semblances of normalcy came within a few weeks. When I went back to work everything went to hell for about a month. Things got vastly better when he started some solids at 6 months because it meant that we could trade off baby duties; before that it was "baby constantly on mom, dad doing all chores" and I think that made us both a little resentful. He's a year now and we're still picking up bits of our old lives here and there.
posted by tchemgrrl at 8:51 AM on November 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

Oh my. As others have said, be prepared to love this child more than you ever thought possible. Be prepared to burst into tears at crazy moments because it just HITS YOU how amazing this little person is.

And be prepared for frustration and worry and anger, but learn to control those (especially the last) and realize they are the price for the amazing journey you are on.

My wife was induced. 24 hours later she had a C section. The labor process was tiring, and honestly I don't know I remember much of it. She was in pain, and I was just there to do anything I could to help her. Get her ice chips, hold her head, rub her temples, massage her feet, help her move, anything.

The surgery itself took my out of my body. I knew I should be worried - they were cutting my wife open fercrissakes. But I couldn't worry, all I could do was sit down by my wife's head and talk to her, tell her what wonderful parents we were going to be and how lucky we were going to be to have this child in our lives.

A word of advice - if your wife has a C, they will take the baby out and most likely take her or him behind you to clean the little one up a little. They will then call to you and tell you to get up and come see your baby while the doctors finish with the surgery. When you stand, turn AWAY from your wife's torso. I did not even think about, turned to my left and saw my wife's belly torn open, organs, etc. and almost passed out. Turn AWAY from the belly.

Anyway, once the baby is here, your job is to help. And maybe you already do this, but do more - do the laundry, hold the baby and let your wife sleep, cook and clean like there's no tomorrow. This is being a man. And spend lots of time holding your new child, looking in her or his eyes and talking. Silly talk, serious talk, nonsense - doesn't matter, just talk and rock and hold. Clean up her or his messes, and walk through this part of the journey with your wife.

Everyone has offered good advice, and I'm not sure what more I can add. Our Sophie Rayne is now a little over three, and a day doesn't go by when she doesn't make me smile and laugh, when she doesn't make my heart break with so much love and admiration.

There is no path. You make the path as you walk.
posted by tr33hggr at 8:55 AM on November 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

We were just visiting friends and their new baby and my husband passed along this advice which I didn't know he had: when the baby starts crying and you feel like you're going to panic, watch the clock. Give yourself 1 minute, 3 minutes, 5 minutes of soothing and rocking the baby. Chances are, if after you've done all the usual things: fed, burped, changed diaper, the baby just needs soothing. And a crying baby feels like an eternity but it's really not. Also keep in mind, that you can put the baby down somewhere safe and walk a way for a couple minutes to regroup. The baby will be okay.

I didn't know my husband had his own soothing/coping skills. However, I do know that him not panicking and rushing the baby back to my arms is responsible for his connection to her and our stability as a family now. It's a little thing that means so much.

Get a yoga ball if you don't have one. I think bouncing on that ball with baby is way more effective than a rocking chair. Lord, we bounced on that ball interminably for the first few months.

Return to normal? I have no idea. She's almost 11 months and I don't expect things to maybe ever get normal. However, things slowly get easier. You hopefully get more sleep. She gets more independent, and you hire a babysitter here and there and suddenly you find most of yourself again. At least that's how it feels on my end.

Please update us 10 months from now!
posted by amanda at 8:58 AM on November 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

I didn't read all the responses above due to lack of time, but after my wife giving birth twice in recent years, these two things popped into my head immediately:

1) Crowd control (e.g. visitors), both at the hospital and at home. When we were still in the hospital with the first one, my wife's family (large, needy, and way too close for me) thought they could all stay all day long for two days. Even though I was dealing with some of them, I couldn't handle them all, so my wife had to escort her parents and uncle out of the room, hours after giving birth, in her revealing gown, to get them to leave. The hospital staff was no help at all. They had some type of "free visiting hours" where there were 24/7 visiting hours with no limit of visitors at a time. At one time, we had 9 people in the recovery room and no one would leave!

This also goes for at home. My wife was trying to nurse. She is no prude, but she didn't want to nurse in front of people, especially during the absolutely grueling starting phases of nursing. But her whole family, men and women, couldn't understand why she wouldn't just sit on the couch and whip out her boob to nurse in front of everyone. I was the bad guy for kicking everyone out, but my wife comes first.

2) As far as things returning to normal. NEVER. I have been a parent for three and a half years and nothing is normal, still. I still feel "off" every day of my life and haven't found a balance at all. This may just be me, but I have talked to other parents about this over the years and even my friend with a 12 year old says he still can't get his balance back on track, even after 12 years! YMMV.
posted by TinWhistle at 8:58 AM on November 4, 2011

A few months after our son was born, my husband shared with me the fact that he had a quick and quiet nervous breakdown in the parking lot of the birth center on day 4 of my labour (shortly before the birth... yes, I had a ridiculously long labor). I appreciate that he took it outside because by that point I was not sure if I had the stamina to get the baby out and any indication that my birth team was also unsure would probably have led to me giving up. But I'm proud to say that my son was born with no interventions whatsoever, only 74 hours after labor started and after only 11 hours of pushing. And yes, my husband did fall asleep and I did wake him up to hold my legs during pushing, and I did get cranky with him for falling asleep but he did not get cranky back for which I am forever grateful.

So... during labor: infinite patience, do not show your doubts to her, try not to fall asleep but if you do, apologize and be nice about it.

I still don't think our life is "normal" and the baby is almost eleven months old now, but you get used to it. Yes, do understand that making many demands on your partner during the first year will strain the relationship, and that baby does come first pretty much all the time. Do the dishes or the laundry or whatever if you see that they need doing.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 9:00 AM on November 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Infants... kind of suck. Some people talk about it being the most emotional, bonding, spiritual experience of their life when their baby was born. It took me about a month for that to happen. Part of that is because babies aren't very interesting. She screamed and pooped and ate and slept (sometimes all at once), but there wasn't a personality there. Something started changing at about a month, when she started smiling at me even when she didn't have gas. I'd be feeding her at 3AM and she'd think that was the funniest damn thing and start chuckling. She's fun now. Really fun. But it took a while.

It's okay if it takes a while.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 9:28 AM on November 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

My wife and I had our fifth kid two weeks ago (Oct. 21). I am now an expert.

My advice: wrap the baby firmly in a blanket like the nurse teaches you to. Babies are used to being compressed inside a belly and if their arms and legs are free to stretch out, it startles them awake.

Having said that, our two-week old already likes to stretch out, so it didn't take her long to get used to things. Our other kids took a lot longer.

When my first kid was born, I remember the first time I left the house to "do something" (it was to watch "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" by myself at a theater) and it was about six weeks after the birth. So expect to be at the mercy of baby and mom for several weeks at least.

"Normal" returned for us, on average, after about 3 months. Once you can lay the baby in a crib or car seat to do daily chores without worrying, things get a lot easier.

One last note: you can't feed the baby. This isn't your fault, but it does mean that the workload during the middle of the night is lopsided toward the mom. Do what you can during the day to make things easier for her to offset the times you are asleep while she feeds the baby in a comatose state. Rocking chairs are lifesavers for these times.
posted by tacodave at 12:15 PM on November 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

A word of advice - if your wife has a C, they will take the baby out and most likely take her or him behind you to clean the little one up a little.

Then, after a quick cuddle, wifey will be taken off to an observation room for an hour or two. YMMV, but apparently in many / most hospitals the baby won't go with her, as the recovery room staff aren't trained in neonatal care, which is the responsibility of the labour ward or birthing centre (you may be able to ask about this beforehand, so you both know what to expect). This means you get the baby all to yourself for that initial period. Insist on it if you need to; otherwise they *might* think that an anonymous crib is the way to go.

All our classes & books & things stressed immediate skin-on-skin contact, so this involved me holding onto lil ubu with one arm, and undressing him & getting my shirt off with the other. Then just lying back with this snuffling, gurgling, wriggling thing on my chest & talking rubbish to him - they'll recognise your voice from all that time within the womb. The baby's just starting to learn about its new environment, and that familiar voice is comforting, as is the skin contact. They'll be looking all around (OMG visual images WTF?) until at one point they lock gaze with you, which is something I'll never forget.

I agree with others who say that you shouldn't bow to any perceived pressure towards the mother being the main carer. Obviously there's at least one thing that she can do that you can't, but there are other things you can make your own - in our place bathtime was mine by default, and remains so to this day. It's one good way of having your own intimate one-on-one time, and I'd recommend it. Our daily pattern is usually also for me to get up early & spend around 6-8am with him, while ms Ubu catches up on a bit of sleep. This is also good because early mornings are usually fun; they seem to be in their best mood then. I've just started on a year's worth of long weekends (dropping down to a 4 day week) which will also be awesome, but that's a different story.
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:47 PM on November 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

First - if you're three weeks from your due date, your wife is essentially full-term. Congrats. Now be prepared to get thee to the hospital at any moment. You'll hear that first babies are often late, but the data says that lots of first babies come as much as three weeks early. Make sure you have your car seat ready, your hospital bag packed (or whatever you need for wherever you're planning to have the birth), everything ready to go.

On the day my daughter was born: we went in to the hospital at something like 8pm. Neither of us slept a wink all night, because they had hooked up a rather loud heart monitor, and the baby's heart rate kept dropping every ten minutes or so (turned out she had the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck). I can still hear that monitor slowing down and getting fainter, I can see the nurses rushing in to roll my wife's hips to get the heart rate up again, over and over and over. Around 1pm the next day, when our daughter was born, I was already completely exhausted. I can only try to imagine how tired my wife was, after so much amazing work.

I felt amazingly useless during the birth. I helped my wife count, I held a leg up (the anesthetic made her leg fall asleep), I tried to encourage her.... but I help with the real work, and that was incredibly frustrating. Turns out, though, that her biggest motivation during the event was a giant fruit juice cocktail that was sitting on the table for her for when she was done. After about ten minutes of pushing, she wanted that juice. Badly. So much that she was willing to do anything to get it, including giving birth.

You will be amazed and awed at what your wife is capable of. I will never forget the look of determination and power on my wife's face as she pushed that baby out. And I will never, ever be so foolish as to underestimate my wife's strength. She could kick my ass, no question.

The days/weeks following the birth: you will not sleep nearly enough, and it will never come in long stretches. I say this as an instruction: you should be doing everything you can to share the burden with your wife. If she is breastfeeding, the baby could be eating every hour and a half, and probably at least every three hours. And it can take the baby 45 minutes to eat... so your wife could be waking up every 45 minutes - around the clock. And babies don't fall asleep without help - this is one place where you can really do your part. Take over as soon as the feeding is done - bounce, rock, sway, swaddle, etc. until the little one is asleep. Do whatever you can, whenever you can, to make sure you're doing your share. But also recognize that you and your wife will each reach points where you can't do any more. Make sure you each know you can tag out, and call the other in to cover when you've reached your breaking point. Make it explicit - "I'm tagging out - I have to have a break now."

Normalcy? Doesn't really exist for us, and we're 13 months out. She still goes through periods of waking up in the middle of the night, fussiness, illness, teething, etc. And her bedtime makes getting out on dates somewhat challenging. But it does get better. We feel like we have a handle on things for now, our daily routine is reasonably predictable, and we're as happy as we ever were before. It's a thrill ride, a rollercoaster - which can be amazingly fun, even if it is absolutely terrifying at times. The first couple of weeks are really tough - but the baby grows and changes pretty quickly, so just try to take the long view and remember that the child will grow out of whatever issue is making you lose your cool at any particular moment. Good luck!
posted by dilettanti at 2:53 PM on November 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

You'll hear that first babies are often late, but the data says that lots of first babies come as much as three weeks early.

Well, not really; what the data actually shows is the average length of a first pregnancy is 41 weeks 1 day.

OP: Your wife will more likely than not go past her due date, and this is very frustrating and discouraging for many women. Try to be as gentle as possible with her if you guys end up waiting longer than you expected for your baby to arrive.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 3:40 PM on November 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

My baby was three weeks old yesterday! Some tips:

Pre-hospital: There may come a time, before you're at the hospital yet, where your wife is really hurting from contractions, very tired, and getting kind of down. Give her the best moral support you can, tell you she's gonna have a baby in a just a few hours, she's doing a great job, everything's going fine. Also, she may want you to touch her, she may not. Massages might be welcome.

Hospital: Bring snacks. You, and maybe but probably not her, are gonna get real hungry if you have a longish labour.

Wear the most comfortable clothes and especially shoes you can.

Pack togs for showering together.

Some mid-wives are pretty down on epidurals; ours didn't actually mention it at all. It was necessary; be prepared to advocate on your wife's behalf - she won't be in any position to. Make sure, if you can, your wife sees you being strong, calm, and confident. Also be ready with water when she needs it, and make sure you display a real confidence in her and what she's doing.

After hospital: Because you don't have boobs, nights will be largely on your wife. This means you have to do as much as humanly possible between feeds during the day. Not just baby maintenance, but house maintenance or whatever, too. Do everything the way she likes it, even if you didn't do things like that before. Don't be afraid to reach out to family and friends for help, and make sure your wife doesn't feel afraid either. Change as many nappies as possible. Do the baths yourself if you can.

You are in for a tough, wonderful, time. Our baby has brought us so close together. Seeing my partner do something so courageous, and her fortitude before, during and after the birth; the wonder of creating something so cool together, and working hard on something we both really care about is the best. Even in just three weeks it's bought us even closer together.
posted by smoke at 5:44 PM on November 4, 2011

Our experience must have been very different than most of the people here. Yes, life changed but it hasn't been apocalyptic. I don't believe that having a child has to be so all consuming that you have to lose yourself or your relationship. But you asked about the day of the birth.

Bring layers of clothes for yourself. I was surprised at how cold it was.

Labor can take a while. Bring something for the two of you to do. I know how goofy it sounds but trust me. If you end up waiting for a while, try to get a nap together, if possible.

Remember to take care of yourself too. That means getting food and liquids. If you don't take care of yourself nobody else will. When it comes time to get food, get food. Make sure you are hydrating through the day.

Labor is messy. There is a certain smell. I am not trying to be offensive or make some insult about vaginal odor. It was just something I remember. I can't describe it but it was strong.

My wife had trouble delivering. The doctor had to use forceps to assist. I could not believe the amount of force he applied. When her head was out, the doctor said "oh, that is what was causing the problem, the cord is around her neck." He calmly unwrapped the first loop. "Oh, it was around here twice." The time between his first comment and when the baby cried the first time was the longest few seconds of my life. I hadn't thought about that. Nor was I prepared for the baby to be that color, even though I had watched birthing videos in college. My point in this story? Don't start to panic until the doctor says there is a problem.

Despite all that, the birth was one of the most wonderful things I have ever seen. I suggest watching it.

Babies are more resilient than you think. You aren't going to break the baby.

Life settled into a new routine relatively quickly. I think of it as an alternative normal. Now I can't remember what it was like before. Nor would I ever want to.
posted by Silvertree at 7:21 PM on November 4, 2011

You'll hear that first babies are often late, but the data says that lots of first babies come as much as three weeks early.

rabbitrabbit: Well, not really; what the data actually shows is the average length of a first pregnancy is 41 weeks 1 day.

The abstract rabbitrabbit links (I don't have access to the full article) only discusses the mean gestational period - but says nothing about the width of the distribution. My point is that the lower tail of the distribution is plenty fat at the 37-week mark, such that prospective parents would be wise to be prepared for the very possible (though not necessarily probable) event of an early birth. I don't disagree that first births on average go later than 40 weeks, but one would be foolish indeed to rely on making or beating the average.

I can't find data at the moment separating out first births, but Figure 1a in this study shows a basic distribution of gestational age at birth for singleton births after 22 weeks (with weight >= 500g) in the US between 1997 and 1998. Notice that about 20% of the births occur in or before the 37th week. Many more are born between the 37th and 40th week. Some raw data available from the CDC here, that I can't play with at the moment.

Sorry for the minor derail, but seriously - make sure you have your carseat ready, even while you are steeling your resolve to blow past the due date.
posted by dilettanti at 11:14 AM on November 7, 2011 [3 favorites]

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