“A grand adventure is about to begin.” –From Winnie the Pooh, by Alan Alexander Milne
As we all know, life has its ups and downs, and emotional states are in constant flux. There is never a guarantee that moments of bliss shall endure, but there is always the possibility that joy may arise from the depths of any sadness. Life produces very few moments with an emotional clean slate, let alone an event that starts from its highest pinnacle. There is one instance, however, that provides a nearly universal potential for happiness, that moment you hear the words: “You’re going to have a baby.”
When most people first hear this news, they experience euphoria, full of the richness of what the future holds. First steps, spelling bees, little league games, and valedictorian speeches all serve to mark the way in the minds of the parents for the creation and maturation of this newest addition. Gender is guessed, family and friends are notified, names are discussed. Excitement rules the day.
Then, suddenly, the second wave hits. The one in which parents turn to one another and ask: “What do the next nine months hold in store?” This is where panic sets in.
Pregnancy should be one of the happiest periods in a couple’s life, a time to build upon the bonds of commitment and forge new traits within their relationship as they learn together what it means to become parents. All too often, however, the stress brought about by uncertainty of what is to come, changes in the roles within the family, and questions raised by advances in modern medicine can place undue stress on a partnership, just when it most needs a strong foundation on which to build.
As a hospital administrator and expectant father, I have had the privilege of witnessing the stages of pregnancy from both a medical and personal viewpoint. What follows are tips I have learned in my attempt to maintain an even keel both in my own mind and in my relationship with my wife throughout the challenging, often tumultuous process of creating a child.
Work Together in Separate Roles
Though expectant parents often focus on the mental and physical trauma of delivery, pregnancy is an endurance run, not a sprint, and it is important to set the stage early for a relaxed and healthy overall experience. One of the keys to maintaining as happy and stress-free a pregnancy as possible is to remember that a positive outlook goes a long way toward reducing the hills and valleys inherent in the journey. To do so, it is imperative for each partner to communicate his or her needs and respect the changes in the other that begin to take place as new roles are defined and redefined throughout the coming months.
From the moment the good news is handed down each parent assumes a specific persona, one which may last a full nine months. Incorporating as they do the physical as well as the mental, women undoubtedly face the greater challenge. Nesting, mood swings, and cravings are all part of the biological process, which can be difficult to understand from the outside looking in. A wise man would do well to remember that his partner’s hormones are in flux as her body regulates itself to accommodate another life force. Though they may make her moods a bit quixotic, this is an essential step in the process of creating a healthy child, and its effects are temporary. What is needed now is patience, plain and simple.
To this effect, the father-figure must try to recognize and accept that though his part in the pregnancy is largely secondary, it is by no means unnecessary. While the father-to-be will never fully realize the physical trauma of childbirth, this is no reason to discount him or send him shuffling off to the waiting room. Many men of today who are used to some semblance of control now find themselves forced to the sidelines just as they want desperately to take as active a role as possible, which can easily result in frustration and feelings of being superfluous.
While his role may not be as instrumentally “hands-on” as that of the female, the male is largely responsible for providing, even during the early stages. This is not limited to the traditional notions of food and shelter, mind you, but includes comfort, understanding, and creating a feeling of security for the mother that is in many ways essential to the smooth development of the child. For their part, expectant mothers should keep in mind that it is not their partner’s fault that they alone must carry the child. When you feel compelled to yell at him because you’re doing all the work, Mother Nature just smiles.
Go Easy on the Research
As in all things, it is good to be prepared when entering pregnancy. Understanding what lies ahead can go a long way toward warding off irrational fears and maintaining a level head throughout. However, the Modern Age has placed so much information at the click of a mouse that Wives’ Tales now rub elbows with medical certainties at virtually every turn, and it is nearly impossible to know who or what to believe. Even the most casual web surfer can find something to worry about in a matter of seconds, and a research-oriented prospective parent can find contradictory evidence to practically any argument or study with a few quick queries.
To maintain a level head, there is no harm in talking with your partner about your mutual expectations for the process and begin your research early. By finding a few sources or authors whose philosophies and principles suit your own or come reasonably close, and sticking with them, you can greatly reduce the fear factor that necessarily comes along with such an important life event. When it comes to the philosophy of childbirth, too much information can have a crippling effect on the prospective parent, adding undue emotional stress at the worst possible time.
Trust Your Doctor
For most of us, gone are the days of local midwives, hot water and torn bed sheets. Advances in medical gynecology and obstetrics have greatly increased the chances of giving birth to a healthy child or saving one who is potentially in danger. And yet, in some respects, this very progress comes with its own set of worries, which can compound as the big day draws nearer and overwhelm even the most level-headed parent-to-be.
With so much at stake, it is only natural that prospective parents fear the worst.
Nowadays, couples in the first months of pregnancy find themselves confronting an array of diseases they have never before encountered. The science of fetal testing has advanced so rapidly that an OB/GYN can give a couple estimated chances on a number of conditions by simply factoring the age of the mother against the results of a few minimally intrusive tests. While these statistics are meant to inform the parents and warn them in the unlikely event of potentially life threatening conditions, the numbers often get buried beneath the newfound paranoia of a couple who has just learned that they are expecting. At this point it is important for partners to talk over concerns with one another and then address these issues with their doctors. Should you and your mate feel overwhelmed or confused by the information presented to you, listen to your physicians and follow their lead. Though this may be your first time down this path, rest assured they have done it all before, and their primary goal is to make sure mother and baby are healthy throughout each stage.
As the big day draws nearer, keep in mind that modern medicine has also come a long way in combating infection and improving conditions for birth. While the maternal instinct has remained constant over time, medical science has made great strides in learning how to control many of the most important variables in delivery, thereby greatly reducing risk. Though in the end the process itself is more or less the same as it was for your great-great-grandparents, now is no time to harbor the fears of a pioneer.
Take it Step by Step
The nine months of pregnancy are convoluted, to be sure, and often involve navigating unfamiliar territory. For this reason it is important for partners to counterbalance one another when paranoia or fear sets in. To best do so, focus on all stages, not just the upcoming delivery. By breaking the process down into manageable steps, a path is made clear and the big picture does not seem nearly as daunting. What’s more, when you go through each stage of the process together, the bond at time of delivery is apt to be that much stronger.
Each trimester offers a new set of questions and presents a new round of decisions to be made, from whether or not to receive certain tests to scheduling maternity leave to debating c-sections versus natural birth. Whenever possible, talk over each subject and weigh the options together. The psychological bond between parents is in many ways as important to the child’s future well-being as the physical bond is between mother and unborn child.
When at last the time comes and the expectant mother is on the hot-seat, it is of great consolation to her to see her partner’s face and hear his voice as delivery begins. Often, the reassurance of knowing that she is not alone during this life–changing experience can go a long way toward bolstering her spirits for the grueling yet rewarding task that she must physically undergo by herself. Never more is the union between two people so apparent as in that one joyous instant in which you and your partner realize that life will never be the same.
This article was originally posted on PBS This Emotional Life.