I’m in my early 30s, nearing the tail end of a stretch of years when babies seem to just fall out of the sky onto my various social media feeds. I’ve enjoyed my time as a dad so far, challenging as it has been. It’s been easy to forget about the nine-month period when I was a dad-to-be. It was an exciting, anxious, and surreal experience which nature mercifully ended just as it reached its most intense. For you, the dad-to-be, It’s watching your wife/girlfriend/whomever go through the craziest physical changes of her life and having almost no ability to help her through any of it.
This is a guide to what your next nine months will be like. For simplicity’s sake, I’ll refer to the woman as “your girl” or something similar. Given how many permutations on family there are, the only constant is that a woman you know will be carrying your baby. You can gauge how relevant the rest is to your situation.
The First Trimester
So, outside of angry people on “news” channels, most of us only ever use the word “trimester” in the context of pregnancy. It’s a bit of a misnomer as the actual pregnancy is 40 weeks, or ten lunar months, but because our calendar is ridiculous, it’s actually nine months. Anyway, most pregnancies can be observed at the tree-top level as having three distinct trimesters of… well, let’s call them “symptoms.”
The first trimester for her is pretty damn rough. The first few weeks happen without her knowledge until Aunt Flo fails to stop by. The next two months can be a nightmare of morning sickness, cramps, bloating, headaches, and on and on and on. As the guy, this will be the second-most frustrating time (behind only the delivery itself) because your girl will be on a roller coaster of misery and you will just be a spectator. Very little you can do will be at all helpful. You can rub feet or shoulders, get medicine, ice packs, heating pads, and hold hair as she empties her tummy into the potty* time and again, but she’s doing all the heavy lifting and you both know it.
Your only contributions at this stage, aside from the contribution that started this whole thing, are little more than physical and emotional hand-holding. You’ll occasionally get to provide input on decisions like who you should tell about the pregnancy and when, but for the most part, the first trimester is a waiting game for you. You wait for her to get through a rough couple of months, and also to tell other people about the biggest life change you’ll ever have.
A word about mood swings. They suck ass. Any conversation can be a minefield. Your girl may go from euphoric about the sunrise to weeping into her breakfast with no provocation. A Hallmark commercial is practically the same as injecting depressants into her eyeballs. You can neither predict nor prevent any of these swings. You will measure every word and action, fearful of setting off another feelings bomb. But they’ll go off anyway because she’s got enough hormones in her body to grow a new person. And then your primary job will be to absorb all that emotional shrapnel and be ready to rub whatever part of her is achy or swollen or both. This will go on for a couple of months, but even after the first trimester, the danger is still present, if a bit more stable.
She’ll also be tired all the time. Apparently, it’s pretty exhausting to start a new life from scratch. Naps will be frequent, or at least the need to nap, and evening sleepies will elide right into nighttime sleepies. She’ll more or less be a tree sloth that vomits all the time.
You will not have sex during the first trimester.
The Second Trimester
Months four, five, and six are, hands-down, the best of the pregnancy, for her and for you. Her energy level will be back to something resembling normal human levels, though there will still be some napping. She’ll probably be done throwing up, too. Bonus!
On top of all this, the best part for you is the glow. It sounds corny as hell, but she will be glowing. I’ve seen it twice, and it’s for real. She’s not, like, radioactive or anything, but all the things you ever found attractive about her will be amplified. She’ll be showing a bit now, too, so if that’s your thing, enjoy. Beyond that, her hair will be full of body because she will not lose any hair between now and several weeks after childbirth. That sounds weird, but think about every time you comb your hair. Even if you’re not going bald, you still find a hair or two every day. It’s totally natural, and it’s how we make room on our heads for new hair. This will not happen to her. She’ll grow new hair AND keep the old hair. For you, It’ll be like co-habitating with a shampoo commercial. Her breasts will start to get bigger, her hips wider, and her skin beautiful. You, on the other hand, will continue to look like a schmuck, especially by comparison.
You will also be able to find out the gender of your baby, if you so choose. Most people I’ve known have opted to learn this information, but there could be some fun in the surprise, I suppose. You’ll probably get to see an ultrasound. It’s, for you, a bit like watching TV. In fact, during Jen’s last pregnancy, the sonographer was able to display the images on a TV monitor installed in the room so we literally got to watch it on TV. They also have something called a 3D ultrasound. Make no mistake, this is just a gimmick to take your money. It’s basically a 3D-rendered image of your baby which sadly no longer has his tail and gill slits (no, really). It’s not covered by your insurance (thanks, Obama), so you’ll pay a lot of money for something that looks like a black and white Play-Doh model of every baby you’ve ever seen. Have fun with that.
You also get to start telling people you’re having a baby. Er, she’s having a baby. Whatevs. Most miscarriages happen in the first trimester, so once you get to that 12-week milestone, the gag order is lifted and you can (and will) tell everyone you’ve ever known, including people you’ve just met. Friends, family, video store clerks**, everybody gets to know that you had sex three months ago. Mazel tov! The people closest to you will be appropriately happy and congratulatory. The video store clerk is unlikely to care.
If you are lucky, your girl will involve you in selecting items for the baby registry. Jen was wonderful about this, and we approached all of it together. Other couples I know were less balanced, but this may have been for the best as an XBox 360 does not make a good baby gift.*** Shopping for baby stuff can be a lot of fun, though it is absolutely a hole of your own design into which you will ask your loved ones to throw their money. Some of the stuff you will use daily (crib, changing pad, etc.). Some of it will still be in its packaging when you have your second or third child. You’ll have to write thank-you notes just the same. The entire baby industry conspires to make you register for as much crap as possible. You won’t know any better, your wife will be gargling with baby-making hormones, and friendly baby store workers are well-trained at convincing you that a bottle warmer is not only a good idea, but is the difference between a happy baby and a dreary child who has given up on life before his first birthday.
A word about cravings. This is probably the most useful you can be during her pregnancy. She wants something, and you go out and find it. It’s human relationships at their most primitive. Jen’s cravings were pretty mild compared to some I’ve heard about. She wanted a lot of fried chicken, at one point getting increasingly larger quantities from Popeye’s over three consecutive days, culminating in a 20-piece bucket of chicken tenders. Popeye’s is about ten minutes from our house, so that was no big deal. Her mom, on the other hand, sent her dad out across most of the state in search of maple candy. My mom wanted nothing more than some banana popsicles from the grocery store. Whatever the craving, this is Be A Man Time. You go out, and you find it and you don’t come home until you do. Consider it the earliest test of your ability to care for your family. That’s a ridiculous comparison to make, but your brain will make it, anyway, as you wait patiently in the drive-thru at Popeye’s at 8:30 in the morning for them to open for the day.
The second trimester is also, whether you know it or not, Bucket List time. This is the last time that you and your girl will have time to yourselves and the energy to do something with it. Make it count. In the next trimester, she won’t have the energy (and may not be medically cleared to travel), and after that, you’ll be semi-permanently tethered to your house for the next two decades.
Plan to have sex in the second trimester. It will probably be your last opportunity for a while.
The Third Trimester
This is nature’s end game for your girl. She’ll be back to being tired, and she’ll be comparable in size (and function) to a Volvo. All of her will hurt at various times. In the midst of all this, there will probably be at least one baby shower. You will not be welcome. No one denies your contribution, nor your role once the baby is born. But for the few hours of the shower, you basically don’t exist. I’m not saying you will want to be a part of the shower — you won’t — but the fact that men are uniformly excluded from these events is a bit of a foretaste of your life as a parent, ESPECIALLY if you are the primary caregiver.
You will nest. The nesting instinct isn’t exclusive to women. You’ll look around your home and all you’ll see are the odd jobs and home improvements you’ve left undone. You’ll be overcome by a desire to clean out the gutters, repaint everything, add on a wing to the house, build a garage, or rearrange furniture. You’ll remember everything you’ve ever wanted to do to your home, and you’ll want to do all of it in three months. You will think of yourself as Bob Villa. You will actually end up doing something like this.
The doctor’s appointments, which used to happen monthly, will ramp up in frequency until you begin to plan your days around them. Given how tired your girl is, you won’t be doing much else, anyway. There may be another ultrasound or two, and you’ll be offered all kinds of nightmare fuel in the way of testing for an alarming number of birth defects and disorders. Jen and I opted not to be informed about any abnormalities because we couldn’t imagine how that information would affect our love for our child. The perfectly valid counter-argument is that, with that information, you could better prepare your home and lifestyle for any issues that may arise. The choice is a gigantic ethical quagmire that will be your real first taste of parenting. It ain’t all diapers and wipes.
Near the end of the third trimester, you’ll have an opportunity to tour the hospital where your child may be born. You might opt to do a home birth or something else, but you could still get a tour, anyway. It’s free and can be done in a few hours without a lot of notice. You’ll get to see a delivery room, the nursery, and the post-delivery room where you’ll feel like time has stopped, and from which you will one day be terrified to leave. Someone will tell you about visitation hours, parking, check-in procedures, security measures to make sure no one runs off with your new kid, and how awesome they are at everything. You’ll retain 0.3% of this information when your girl wakes you up before the sun rises to let you know that her contractions have become regular.
And during the third trimester, those contractions will happen a lot. They don’t necessarily mean that childbirth is imminent. It’s her body getting things lined up for the big show. The first one will scare you both. When they eschew regularity, you’ll both breathe again. This is your prelude to the pregnancy’s ultimate frustration for you — the indescribable pain your girl will endure as she tries to force a person out of a way-too-small opening for something like that. Those contractions will increase in frequency until they finally settle into a rhythm when D-Day hits.
Your job will be getting her to the hospital. When you get there, you will find that you’ve forgotten everything you were told about how to check in. You’ll park in a fire lane or on the sidewalk and you won’t care. You’ll also find that your panic and anxiety will be irrelevant as you’ll be calmly taken to a delivery room and asked to begin filling out paperwork. You didn’t know there’d be a test, did you? I guess you should probably go move your car out of the lobby before it’s towed.
Even after you’re checked in, they will want to monitor your girl for a while to ensure that what’s happening is, in fact, labor. The number of false alarms that come into the hospital is huge, so they screen for that first. Once you’re over that hurdle, the final turns of the screw begin.
Oh, and you’re back to not having sex again.
Waiting is the game now. Some women pop their kids out relatively quickly. Some don’t. Jen was in labor with Joshua for about 18 hours, start to finish. Some others count the time in days, though most doctors won’t let labor go that long. Labor is insanely stressful. An epidural is a magical thing, but not every woman wants it. You have zero input on this, and it affects you in no way, so just shut up and let your girl make the call.
If she opts for one, you may or may not be permitted to be in the room while it’s administered. I got to be present while they rammed a needle into Jen’s spinal cord for Joshua, but I was kicked out when they did it for Jack. You could ask about it during your hospital tour, but you probably won’t remember it. Whatever the case, note that an epidural blocks pain, but it doesn’t make things any easier for her. Also, hard as it may be to believe, having a needle inserted into your spine hurts like hell. Let her squeeze your fingers. It’s all you can really do.
There’s a chance your girl will have to have a C-Section. There was a time thirty years ago when doctors would do damn near anything to avoid the procedure. Now, they’ll do it at any sign of distress on the baby’s part, or on the girl’s. Jen wanted a natural birth, but Joshua got his umbilical cord wrapped around his neck and had to be cut out. Jen wanted to try another natural birth for Jack, but he tried to push his way out through her hip, so he was also cut out.
If she has to go under the knife, you’ll be asked to don full surgical attire. You’ll be tempted to imagine yourself having to take over the operation after the doctor has a heart attack/stroke/seizure, but I’m pretty sure they won’t let you do that. In any event, the procedure doesn’t take a lot of time, but you usually won’t be permitted into the OR until they’re just about ready to
harvest deliver your baby.
Once you’re in, it happens more or less out of your view as they’ll position you near your girl’s face so you can talk about movies or politics or something. It’s a surreal experience trying to converse with someone while a team of people have their hands inside her abdomen. Also, you’re dressed like an astronaut.
In a few minutes, you’ll have a baby. Here’s an interesting situation. If she delivers normally, she’ll be the first to hold the baby. You’ll cut the cord (they helpfully tie it off in two places and tell you to cut anywhere between them; it’s anti-climactic to say the least), and the baby will be deposited into mom’s arms after the nurses are done cleaning it off and sucking fluid out of its nose and throat (the miracle of childbirth!). She’ll also have to deliver the placenta during this time, though it’s not the same ordeal as the kid.
But, if she has a C-Section, the honor of being the first to hold the child is yours. I got to hold both of my boys when they were a mere minute old. Jen was busy being sewn back together like Raggedy Ann, but she got to see them, at least.
And that’s it. Nine months have gone by, and you have a brand new life with a brand new life in it. You’re a real parent now. Everything that’s happened is insignificant compared to this, and the last 3,000 words or so you’ve read no longer matter.**** Go read the rest of my blog posts for the next part.
Oh, and no. You won’t be having any more sex for a while.
*Get used to words like these. You’ll be using them a lot over the next few years.
**Is this even a job any more?
***You know who you are.
****You’ve read this far? Man, there must be NOTHING on TV right now.