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Congratulations, you’re gonna be a daddy. Now is the perfect time to panic.
I’m not ready for this. Will I be a good parent? Oh God how will I pay for this unborn baby’s college?
And that’s when it hits you: You’re freaking out.
Good. You should be. It means you care.
If I ever met a first time father-to-be who was steady-handed I’d be so suspicious I’d have to ask, “You’re about to have triplets, how are you not freaking out?”
“Well it’s because tomorrow, I’m, leaving forever.”
Step 1: Freak Out (It’s going to be okay)
When my wife opened the door of the bathroom we locked eyes and I instantly knew she was pregnant. I didn’t even know she had taken a pregnancy test but the look on her face was unmistakable. I blurted out “you’re pregnant” so fast if we’d been playing charades we would have been accused of cheating.
I didn’t say anything for a while as I grappled with this colossal revelation. I was happy and excited but also the world seemed kinda foggy like I was a quarterback who’d been concussed 10 too many times. The only fathers I know who didn’t flip out at least a little bit are the ones like my grandpa, who already had 11 children. After a certain point it’s just like, “Uh, just throw the baby on the pile. It will find it’s way within the pile.”
Temporarily losing your mind is a natural reaction to learning you’re about to be a father for the first time. What’s in your control is how you proceed after.
Everything’s going to be okay, just take it one step at a time and roll with the punches.
Now if you’re concerned about a flame-up of the freak outs, do what I did and develop a mantra that’ll shirpa you over the mountaintop of parental anxiety. I took comfort in the fact that over the course of human history countless children have been born and raised and if all those people did it, I surely can. When I was distressed about the birthing process I thought, babies used to be born in caves. When I became perturbed about raising a child in the claustrophobic confines of New York City I imagined generations of immigrants living together in crowded tenements and realized my apartment wasn’t so bad.
Step 2: Steady As She Goes
You want to be a good father? Well, the first step is being a good husband during pregnancy.
The most important duty a dad has during pregnancy is to be there for their partner. Put down the phone and be present in the moment. Listen to her fears and hopes and dreams for your prodigy and share your own. Perform acts of kindness, help with preparations and be vigilant with your patience because we’ll never know how hard it is to be with child. And just wait until you watch her give birth — that’ll make you feel real stupid for complaining about that bad paper cut you got a few weeks earlier.
Studies have shown that the more engaged you are during pregnancy, the more engaged you will be as a parent. You know how I know that? BECAUSE I READ THE F–ING BABY BOOKS THAT’S HOW, which brings me to my next point…
Step 3: Preparation H(ubby)
Nothing soothes pre-baby jitters like preparation. As Founding Father Benjamin Franklin said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
Read the baby book(s). Your 5th grade health teacher probably didn’t cover which cheeses your wife can and can’t eat during pregnancy. You’ll know what questions to ask the doctor, better understand what your baby’s mama is going through and you’ll be shocked about how little you actually know about human gestation and anatomy in general. The baby is gonna be kicking your wife in the lungs and pushing her stomach up below her throat giving her intense heartburn — the list goes on and it’s all nuts. I liked to read about each trimester as my wife entered said trimester which broke up the books nicely and I wasn’t left pulling an all-nighter trying to to cram in the 36th week like I was a college student snorting adderall, racing to finish a term paper.
Also, help feather the nest. Nesting is a natural part of the process, soothes anxiety and pregnant women who nest tend to be better mothers after the baby is born (again, those baby books are chock full of these knowledge nuggets). So paint the room, buy the onesies, have the baby shower and assemble the crib – because once you bring home your lil’ poop factory, you’re not going to want to be operating tiny Ikea wrenches.
What else is worrying you? Identify what’s giving you the most apprehension then learn more about it and take actions to prepare. Not only will you feel better, you’ll be making yourself a more effective human being and father in the process.
Step 4: Have The Baby And Start Freaking Out Again (It’s going to be okay)
Holy shit I just had a baby, I thought as I ran through the crisp March evening air from my double-parked Zipcar to the hospital lobby.
My wife stood there holding the car seat which contained our tiny, warmly wrapped newborn. She too was in shock.
“I had a baby.”
“Yes, you did,” I confirmed.
“Then they just give you the baby and tell you not to come back.”
“I know,” I replied. “These nurses and doctors are crazy.”
We had no idea how to care for this new, fragile human life we were now responsible for but we soon discovered that instinct, preparation and a healthy dose of winging it takes over and sure enough, you become parents.
So go ahead and freak out, but know it’s going to be okay. And be sure to enjoy yourself as you experience the highs and lows of one of the defining adventures of human existence.