Coaching the (Childbirth) Coach

Dear Mr. Dad: My wife is pregnant and wants me to be her “labor coach” for the delivery. This is my first baby and I’m really nervous. What can I do to prepare?

A: Congratulations on your impending fatherhood! The very first thing to do is banish the word “coach” from your childbirth vocabulary. When things don’t go perfectly with an NBA or NFL team, the coach is the one who gets fired–sometimes right in the middle of a season. And someone else comes in to finish the job. Thinking of yourself as a coach puts way too much pressure on you. You’re the dad. You can’t be fired.

Next, learn about labor and delivery by attending childbirth classes with your wife, reading books like my The Expectant Father and The New Father: A Dad’s Guide to the First Year, and taking a tour of your hospital or birthing center. Then talk with your wife about what the ideal delivery scenario would look like. But resist the urge to create a written birth plan. Labor and delivery rarely go as planned, so lots of flexibility is essential. Here are a few discussion starters.

  • Many hospitals require constant monitoring (via a big belt and an IV), which could limit your wife’s mobility. Sometimes hospitals don’t let laboring women eat anything but ice. How does she feel about these policies?
  • In what circumstances would your wife want a C-Section, an episiotomy (an incision in the vagina to enlarge the opening), or assisted birth (forceps or vacuum extraction)?
  • Does your wife want an epidural (for pain) immediately or does she want an unmedicated delivery? If she wants to avoid medication, what other pain management techniques will she consider? How will you help her deal with the pain?
  • Who’s in the delivery room? Unless your wife specifically requests someone else, you should be the only non-medical professional there.
  • Atmosphere. Does she have a favorite song? Does she want loud, thumping music or a quiet setting with soft lighting?
  • Does she want to capture every minute of labor and delivery or wait until she’s had a chance to brush her hair before you start shooting?
  • Does she want to see the baby crown (when the head appears) using a mirror? Do you want to cut the cord?
  • After the birth, who gets to hold the baby first? Does your wife want to try breastfeeding right away? Do you want to bank your baby’s cord blood (check out cordblood.org)?
  • Pack a hospital bag for yourself, including a change of clothes, basic toiletries, a snack (for you, not her), and a swimsuit (she may end up laboring in a shower or tub and there’s no reason why you can’t be in there with her).
  • Unless there’s a clear medical emergency, don’t hesitate to ask what the nurse or doctor is doing and why. If something isn’t going the way you and your wife planned, speak up (she’ll probably be too exhausted).
  • Tell her how amazing she is. Labor and delivery are tough, and your support and encouragement will make a huge difference in her ability to cope.

Finally—and perhaps most importantly—trust your team. Stories about doctors pushing drugs and C-Sections may have been true a while ago, but not now. Unless you’re an MD or Labor & Delivery nurse, you’re probably not qualified to make medical decisions. If you can’t trust your OB to do (or suggest) what’s best for your wife, you really need to find someone else.

High Anxiety and Expectant Fathers

Dear Mr. Dad: I’m a first time father-to-be, and the entire pregnancy has been going very well for me and my wife. But about two weeks ago, I started experiencing anxiety which was pretty severe at times. I got very scared about me or my wife getting ill or having an accident and dying. My mind went into total freefall mode and I started thinking about all the terrible consequences this would have. Is it normal for someone to experience some pretty heavy anxiety about these issues? I’m over it now, but I wonder whether other fathers-to-be go through the same thing. Also, do you have any advice on how I can keep calm (or at least try to!) for the last 10 weeks of the pregnancy?

A: What a fantastic question. The short answer is that what you describing is actually quite common. The difference between you and most other expectant fathers is that they keep their worries to themselves—and that just makes things worse.

Almost all fathers-to-be have some kind of anxiety (and I believe that those who claim they’re worry-free are simply not paying attention). The most common concerns are financial security, changes in the marital relationship, the impending lack of sex, the loss of free time and personal space, and, as you pointed out, fears of danger to the mom, the baby, or the dad himself.

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How being a new dad changes friendships

Dear Mr. Dad: My best friend just became the father. I used to spend three or four nights a week with them and he constantly called, texted, or e-mailed as well. Since the baby has been born it seems like he has begun systematically cutting me out of his life. Hardly any e-mails or texts, and I am only invited over once a week or so now. I have not talked to him about how I’m feeling but when we talk on the phone he acts like nothing has changed. I feel like I’m being very selfish but I really miss my buddy a lot. Is there anything I can do to get him back?

A: What you’re describing is pretty typical behavior for new parents, so don’t take his behavior personally. Chances are he’s not deliberately trying to cut you out and I’m sure he misses you too. There are a number of things going on. First of all, his primary focus is (as it should be) on taking care of his baby and his wife. Any spare time he’s got left he’d just as soon spend trying to catch up on the sleep he’s missing. Second, his natural inclination is going to be to spend more time with people who understand what he’s going through—and, since it sounds like you’re single with no children, you’re not on the short list. Sad but true. At least for now. Third, his wife may be jealous. If he spends time hanging with you, she deserves a break too, right? But with all the pressures of new motherhood, that’s not going to happen for a while. Bottom line: be patient. Your relationship with your buddy has changed—and may never be the same. But with time, you can use the foundation of the old one to start building a new one.