If there’s one thing I learned as a first-time father-to-be, it’s this: Nothing will be what you expect. That goes as far back as the very beginning. I didn’t even expect to be a parent, but that was before my wife came along. Funny how meeting the girl of your dreams can change everything.
We spent a few years as newlyweds, happy with just each other, able to disappear to a movie at a moment’s notice, two against the world. We had never ruled out kids, but it wasn’t something we talked about a lot.
Then my wife started mentioning having a baby. Eventually, she flat out said: “I want us to have a baby.” It took me longer to come around, not because I was opposed to having kids, but because I had thought we were on the same page for so long. Then I started noticing babies everywhere we went (I had baby blinders on previously) and fell in love with pretty much all of them. It took a few months, but I was ready.
Getting pregnant took us the better part of a year and a few minor medical procedures, but nothing compared to what I know other couples go through. When it finally worked, it seemed so unreal, like hurling a basketball from the half-court line and being amazed when it sinks in. Like everything baby-related, those feelings go away quickly as you’re onto the next thing.
The next thing was my wife’s neverending nausea. I spent weeks scrambling to find foods that would settle her stomach (first it was only lemons, then ginger snaps, then a specific flavor of ice cream, etc.). Everyone assured us that the sickness would go away around the three-month mark. That date came and went, but the nausea remained for another month-and-a-half. That all-important lesson reared its head again: Nothing will be as you expect.
Of course, once the nausea didn’t clear up new voices began chiming in: “I was even throwing up at the delivery.” Or, “I was never sick at all.” Comments like these became the standard, all designed to help but really just painting vastly different pictures of the process. If we didn’t know what to expect, the advice we received gave us no better indication.
The rest of the pregnancy went more smoothly for us. Except for some leg swelling, things were ok. I found myself trying to remain necessary. With 100 percent of the attention being paid to the mom-to-be, it’s easy for a partner to feel sidelined. I wanted to feel that I was contributing and doing my part. It’s hard to see your partner do all the work and not do anything you can to be involved. Especially when getting pregnant was half your doing.
For me, being involved meant always making sure that my wife and baby were being taken care of. It also meant holding my wife’s leg during the delivery, putting my hand against her foot to give her something to push against. While I expected to be in the delivery room, I hadn’t anticipated assisting in the actual delivery. It was kind of cool.
Whether deliberate or by necessity (besides the delivery nurse I was the only other person in the room), I became part of the process from the very beginning. In just a few minutes, my fears about being marginalized disappeared, setting the stage for what my life would be like as a father. Go figure.
I had still been nervous for months leading up to the delivery, largely because my wife doesn’t exactly have a high tolerance for pain. She puts up with a whole lot (namely me), but doesn’t suffer pain lightly. Given the years I’ve spent watching movies and seeing women in labor scream and punch their spouses, I had steeled myself for the worst. Instead, my wife didn’t so much as say ouch. Sure, the pain medication helped, but she was talking and smiling and even laughing all through the 90 minutes it took her to push our baby boy out.
Charlie is seven months old now, and he is happy, healthy and adorable. My wife is back to teaching and being a fantastic mom. I’ve even found a pretty major way to be necessary by staying home with the baby during the day. Nothing may be as expected, but everything is as it should be.
Patrick J. Bromley is a freelance writer in Chicago. His five favorite years have been spent married to his wife, Erika, who makes everything possible.