The instant I saw my daughter’s face for the first time, I almost fell over. Slammed directly in the chest with the proverbial two by four, I stood there enamored, trying to breathe. I stammered out her name in a near whisper. I was a completely stunned, happy idiot. My eyes watered. My knees went weak, and everything went blurry beyond her face. Prior to this she was merely the strange culprit behind my wife’s nausea and expanding abdomen. She was the reason I’d been waking multiple times in the middle of the night to whacks in the head from whirling elbows and flying pillows. My wife would grunt and sigh and mutter things like “Is it a hundred degrees in here?” as she tried to get comfortable. Once she nestled into an agreeable position, I would put my hand on her abdomen and feel my unborn daughter jab, roll, and rock. I had only been able to attempt to divine her face from the mystifying ultrasound photos. Now, after what seemed like a long strange dream, she had arrived. Seeing her actual face for the first time had me wobbling.
I steadied myself on my wife’s bedside rail and marveled at the dizziness. Prior to the birth of my daughter, I worked as a medical professional and even assisted in the births of a handful of babies. During military medic training, I crawled under live machine gun fire toward simulated casualties. I held C-spine on a man who’d been thrown from his vehicle on a road outside of Seattle, Washington, after a motor vehicle accident. I bandaged burn victims, drained abscessed wounds of homeless drug addicts, provided care to inmates who had beaten each other senseless while incarcerated over gang affiliation, and watched my grandfather deteriorate in the grip of diabetes. I thought all of these experiences would’ve prepared my nerves for the delivery of my own child. Not so. I exhaled, glanced at my wife who appeared exhausted but okay, and at the guidance of the nurse, followed into a side room where they were helping my daughter take her first breaths. Her cry filled the room like sunlight at dawn.
Soon after, we were at home, getting intimately acquainted with parenthood. I held her in my arms as she slept, bundled in our lamp-lit living room. I stared, watching her breathe, amazed at every feature. I was exhausted. My wife ascended the stairs to the bedroom an hour ago and hopefully was getting some much-needed rest. The stereo faintly played “Everything” by the band Lifehouse.
How can I stand here with you and not be moved by you?
Would you tell me how could it be any better than this?
I clicked repeat on the stereo remote and meditated in the music and the moment. What everyone had said was true. Everything had changed.
Recently we celebrated our daughter’s first birthday. As I reflected over the last year, I’ve recorded some lessons I learned that might be helpful to any fathers-to-be looking for advice.
They’re counting on you. Revel in your new role as a father. Be proud. It’s reassuring to your partner who is depending on you to be a solid rock. Look for opportunities to help as you grow into your role. Get tactically and technically proficient in all the baby gear. Study the developmental stages so you’re on top of things. Show your partner that it’s not all up to her. Every day is another chance to prove to your partner that she picked the right guy.
Logistics. You may have just grabbed your wallet and keys on the way out the door two weeks ago. Now you’ve got bottles, diaper bags, breast pumps, pacifiers, and car seats to coordinate. Get familiar with it all now, while the baby is still in utero. Trust me; it’ll minimize stress once the baby arrives. That’s when time and energy are not gold, they’re platinum.
It happens to other guys too. Try to have a sense of humor about the new situations you find yourself in. When my wife sent me out on a mission to find a breast pump and some sort of special breastfeeding bra the day after our daughter was born, I wasn’t too happy about it. But I sucked it up, humbled myself, and walked straight up to the first group of female sales associates I could find at my local department store, confessed that I was a brand-new father as of yesterday, and I had officially been given a list. I think every woman knows what that means. One of these ladies had mercy on me, walked me directly to each item, and spared me a ton of embarrassment. I nominated the saleswoman for beatification and am pushing for sainthood. Although it was really irritating at the time, it has turned out to be moderately funny to hilarious when I think back on it.
Be a team player. When facing a screaming, crying baby, a partner whose body has just gone through significant trauma and is experiencing intense hormonal changes, it’s important to work together. Add sleep deprivation to the mix and your ability to sense when your partner needs a break becomes an essential skill. Remember, you’re in this together. Present your needs to each other for the day, make a plan, then make it happen. Instead of letting the challenges drive a wedge between you, let it be an adhesive which seals your bond together.
Your freedom is not gone forever. The concept of sacrifice is foreign to our society. Although you have a child that is completely dependent upon you and your partner, be patient with these new responsibilities. Give yourself time to adjust. Keep your eyes on the reward and you’ll endure the cost. Pay attention to your child as he or she grows. As the baby grows, you just might become amazed at the miracle of life unfolding before you and find a new kind of freedom, one which comes from service. Balance this with your daily personal needs. Make the most of your time, and take your family and trusted friends up on their offers of help. Don’t confuse being a martyr or a superhero with being a father. Remember, you’re a man first, a father second.
Well, that’s all the advice I can give. I have a birthday party to clean up, a bath to give, a diaper to change, and birthday cake to clean off my baby’s face, the floor, the high chair, the wall, my car keys, the cabinets, the stairs…. Good luck!
Mack Dreyfuss lives in Wisconsin with his wife and daughter. He is a freelance writer and writes on a variety of topics while doing his best to enjoy all four seasons. He has been rumored to occasionally change a diaper one-handed, but his wife states that such a feat has never been witnessed.
Original Image: Conor Ogle
Mack Dreyfuss is a freelance writer and writes on a variety of topics while doing his best to enjoy all four seasons. He lives in Wisconsin with his wife and daughter. He has been rumored to occasionally change a diaper one-handed, but his wife states that such a feat has never been witnessed. You can read more of his work at themackdreyfusslounge.com.