Dear Mr. Dad: My wife is six months pregnant and she just signed the two of us up for a childbirth prep class at the hospital where our baby will be born. The problem is that while she’s all excited about the class, I have no interest at all. Don’t get me wrong—I’m excited about becoming a dad and I want to be there to support her and everything, but I’ve heard from a number of my friends that they didn’t feel particularly welcome in the class and that the entire focus was on the mom-to-be. Should I just suck it up and go to the class, even though I don’t want to?
A: In a sentence, yes, suck it up. Your friends are right: the focus of childbirth prep classes is definitely on the expectant mom (more on that in a minute). And there’s a good chance that you won’t feel welcome. But there’s an even better chance that your wife will never forgive you if you bail on the class. In her mind, there’s a direct connection between how much she feels you love her and how much interest you have in being a dad. And while to you, your excitement level about your impending fatherhood and taking—or not taking—a prep class are completely separate issues, to her they’re one and the same.
Now, back to the focus of the class. One of the problems I’ve had with childbirth education is that it’s entirely too mom focused. No question, delivering a baby is something we, as guys, will never quite understand—and I’m okay with that. But the reality is that psychologically, your transition to parenthood is just as profound as your wife’s. Your life is going to be turned upside down as much as hers. In fact, one could argue you’re your transition is even harder—she has so much more social support than you do. Unfortunately, that important bit of information is too often overlooked. (That’s exactly why I wrote The Expectant Father: Facts, Tips, and Advice for Dads-to Be, and did a DVD called “Toolbox for New Dads,” both of which focus on men and how they’re affected by pregnancy, birth, and beyond.)
The solution? First, slap a smile on your face and make sure you’ve cleared your schedule for the 6-8 evenings the class will last. You won’t be alone. In my research, most expectant dads who take prep classes with their partner do so for her. Interestingly, a recent study in Sweden reached the same conclusion. Second, sign up for a dad-only class. I’ve been teaching seminars for expectant dads for years and I can assure you that having a woman in the room completely changes the dynamics. Guys aren’t nearly as open about discussing the things they really want to know about, their fears, worries, concerns (which is why every time an expectant mom wants to sit in on the class, I—very gently—ask her to leave). If your hospital doesn’t offer a dad-only class, the DVD I mentioned is a good alternative. Third, read everything you can possibly get your hands on about labor and delivery. You need to know what labor looks like, how long it typically lasts, how you can best help your wife through it, what kinds of things typically go wrong (and there’s always something), medication options, who all those people are and why they’re running in and out of your room, and again, what you can do if there’s a Plan B or C or D.