A Dad’s Advice: When Your Partner Is Pregnant
Welcome to imminent fatherhood! Whether you’re a first time dad or you’ve seen it all before, the time from now to your partner’s due date is both special and stressful.
I’m extremely lucky to be the father to three wonderful children and an amazing wife, which means I’ve had three chances to support my wife through her pregnancies. I cannot say I’ve always gotten it right, or that if new dads do these five or ten things then everything will be great. Each of my wife’s pregnancies have been different and challenging in their own unique way. My wife lived these pregnancies completely differently and we were in different stages of our lives for each one.
With each pregnancy, birth, and child, there was one constant: how absolutely amazing my wife was throughout. Creating life really is a miracle and something extremely profound that is hard to fully comprehend. With the benefit of hindsight, here are some of the things I wish I knew or did better to support my wife through her pregnancies.
The obvious changes in your pregnant partner will be physical, and these changes are something you need to be aware of, sensitive to, and supportive of. But do not ignore the mental changes that can sometimes be invisible, or underestimate the importance of mental health.
Hormones are going to be surging through your partner throughout pregnancy, preparing her body for the journey ahead. These hormones will have untold effects on your partner, they will impact her senses, her appetite, and her overall emotional state. They can translate into unexpected mood swings and even feelings of vulnerability at times.
Throughout your partner’s pregnancy, remember that she is creating life. She is doing something you are not capable of doing. Even if I did have the necessary anatomical parts to grow a child, I’m not sure I could actually do it. And if I did, I’m certain I would be awful to be around, whining and complaining all the time, wanting to make sure everyone knew how hard it was!
Keep this in mind and remind yourself of it when you find things difficult. Your partner is giving you the most beautiful gift, she is creating life, she is doing all the hard work. Try and imagine what it might feel like to be nauseous and suffer from morning sickness, to feel like you are losing control of your body, to have to drastically change what you can eat, drink and do, all in the knowledge you will eventually have to squeeze a fully grown child out of your body.
Your new baby is growing within your partner and you want her to feel as safe, secure and happy as possible. I believe that if your partner can remain generally happy and positive during her pregnancy it has beneficial effects on her and your little one. What has been proven is that prolonged stress or depression does have a negative impact – so your job is to help prevent that as much as possible.
Being the best you can be for your partner over the course of 9 long months, as you face your own challenges and difficulties, is easier said than done. Still, it is what you should aim for. Your partner is doing all the hard work, your only job is to help her do that in the best possible conditions.
She is Always Right
Here is my take on some of the common questions expecting fathers may have:
What are the best sleeping arrangements?
Whatever works best for her - she may want you close, she may want you far, you may need to get an anti-snoring aid or make room for a gigantic pregnancy pillow. Keep trying things until she is comfortable.
What are the best maternity clothes to buy?
Whatever makes her feel good. Maybe your partner prefers form over function, or maybe the other way round. Whatever you do, whether it is buying clothes or some other gift or choice, make sure it is returnable or exchangeable because pregnant women are extremely hard to predict!
Do I need to become an expert on pregnancy?
No, you don’t. But demonstrating an interest and learning some basic facts will help. Understanding some of the changes your partner will go through in the first, second and third trimesters is probably a good thing.
How can I help when my partner already knows everything?
That’s fine, help her do the things she is already doing. Remind her to take folic acid every day. Find out what her current cravings are and try to satisfy them. Suggest taking a picture of her and her bump every week. Help brainstorming baby names. If in doubt, ask her what you can do to help.
You Matter Too
I promise you that I had the best intentions during each of my wife’s pregnancies, as well as the benefit of experience for the latter ones. Despite this, during each pregnancy I had moments where I was selfish, impatient or unsupportive. No one is perfect. Whilst I’m not trying to justify or excuse any selfish behaviour, the reality is that you will also be selfish or disappointing at times during your partner’s pregnancy. You will probably have fights - in fact, of course you will. Both of your lives are dramatically changing and that is stressful.
Although we tend to be quite bad at this, it’s important to acknowledge your own feelings. Men also go through hormonal changes as their partners progress through pregnancy. For our first pregnancy, my wife bought me a ‘What to Expect’ book for new dads and it contained a gem my wife immediately came to regret. It described a medical phenomenon called Couvade Syndrome whereby men mimic their partner’s feelings and behaviours throughout pregnancy. I half-jokingly fell back on Couvade Syndrome to justify my own changing temperaments and growing waistline through my wife’s pregnancies! Whether you believe in Couvade or not, as a future Dad, your life is changing and that can be hard.
Despite (or maybe because of) the fact that having a child is a life-changing event, many expectant parents choose this moment to make other big changes in their lives. I’ve seen it with our friends and within our community - and we did it ourselves too. Maybe you are moving house, redoing the kitchen, adding a loft, thinking about changing jobs, or some other major life change. You will be stressed. You will have doubts. This may not bring out the best in you - but always try to strike a balance between your needs and worries and your partners’.
The Power of Conversation
Most importantly, communicate. I’m not advocating that you constantly complain to your partner or try to make it all about you, but you should, at appropriate times and in the best possible way, explain where you are at mentally. It is important for her to understand your thoughts and feelings and how they may affect your behaviour. Just be sure to remember and openly acknowledge that her challenges are exponentially harder than yours. You are in this together and nothing is better than open and honest communication.
Be aware that no matter how good you are, your partner will need a support network above what you alone can provide. Be it family members, friends, or other pregnant women, make sure that your partner has a support network in place around her and if not, help and encourage her to do so.
One of the easiest ways of doing this is to sign up for a local group or some pregnancy-related courses. Local groups are great because post-pregnancy, new parents have other parents to continue to talk to and meet up with throughout their maternity and paternity leave. Postpartum will bring a whole new set of challenges and experiences for parents.
If you struggle to find anything local there are a variety of online groups and forums where expectant parents can share their experiences and get support.
Whenever possible, try and enjoy this special time in your lives. Whether it is your first child or another addition to your brood, the moment you see that positive pregnancy test to the time your baby arrives is special and something you will not experience in the same way again.
Pregnancy is certainly hard at times but it is also beautiful and you will both have amazing moments – enjoy them as much as you can before being hit by the impending avalanche of poop and diapers.