Just like Mutita’s similar article “mum’s view” – what we see on social media very rarely reflects reality. For new parents, I expect this would be especially true. From Harvey’s birth for the first year, life was both fantastic, exhausting and challenging…. Here is what really happened and some tips for new dads/parents.
1. Wow, childbirth is scary.
Nothing really prepares you. Sure, you’ve seen movies, watched a few YouTube births and done all your pre-natal classes. Generally, you THINK you’re prepared – even though you are probably still petrified of the “unknown”.
I can tell you that the hardest thing about childbirth as a man is being largely helpless.
Us men have this instinctual need to provide and protect our partner – and in our minds i’m sure most of us think we succeed day-to-day. Childbirth however, is a situation unlike most in normal life. She is going through massive discomfort, fear, some extreme pain and, in general, something you will never be able to experience yourself…… but there is almost nothing you can do to help! My general advice is, just keep it together! If you fall to pieces, it will be MUCH harder for both of you. To use the classic cliche, “man up!”.
One unexpected outcome I had from watching Mutita give birth was an intensely new-found respect for her. Harvey’s birth was very quick and there was no time for epidurals etc, but Mutita simply powered through it like a machine and a couple of hours later, Harvey was in her arms. There was screaming, cutting, stitches, and LOTS of blood – but she just got the job done. So much respect and I have never forgotten that morning.
If men had to give birth – I reckon we would be at least 50 years more advanced in pain killer technology!
2. There has to be “give and take” with your partner AND your old life.
There will be lots of “advice” given to new or expecting dads about how your life will change.. Goodbye hobbies, goodbye pub with your mates, goodbye intimacy and goodbye whatever “me time” you had. Don’t listen to everything you read – it doesn’t have to be that way!!
Like most things in life – it’s give and take. In this case, you need to both give and take with your partner AND your “old life”.
I personally know two new dads who [in my opinion] fall into the extreme ends of the “give and take” spectrum. One of them seems to have continued life almost completely as it was before baby. He still goes to the pub all the time (weeknights even), has kept up his hobbies – and hasn’t even been impacted by a lack of sleep.. since he sleeps in a separate room to his wife and baby! The other dad I know has almost become a recluse and has completely given up his hobbies or any form of a social life. I think you can see that neither situation is sustainable in a way that will keep you or your wife happy and fulfilled in the long term.
I’m by no means claiming to be an expert, but if you read Mutita’s article on HER first year experience, you will read that we strive to equalise our responsibilities as parents. We actively try to be 50/50 on Harvey and home duties. the housework, nappies, getting up at night, getting Harvey to his regular commitments and almost anything else.
Because of this, we have been able to continue our hobbies and a reasonable semblance of a social life. Practically, this is organised by a shared calendar which we both maintain.
For example, lately I am preparing for a car race with some friends which has seen me working on a car very late one night per week. I also have work drinks and a few other social events spattered throughout the month. Mutita has some regular activities too along with the occasional dinner or weekend away with girlfriends. It has been quite easily to maintain this whilst not feeling like one of us is not pulling their weight.
It is true that your life won’t be the same as before, but trust me your old life doesn’t have to disappear!
3. Toughen up, buttercup!
The first year is not all roses and sunshine. MANY of the things you read will be true. You will never get as much sleep as you did before (well, I sure haven’t!), some nights will be almost sleepless, there may be hospital and or other unexpected things, and mood swings (you AND her).
As you might expect – being whiney about it will not help, so resist the urge (at least with your partner). This is one of those times where you just have to suck it up and keep your emotions in check. Your partner is also going through the same thing and in many cases is a complete ball of hormones and going through far worse than you mentally (and probably physically) – so there is absolutely no point in complaining!
It almost always does get better though. I can’t tell you when exactly, weeks, months, years…. but the hard things will get easier.
4. Relationships 101. Make time for your relationship. Make time for your relationship. Make time for your relationship.
What I didn’t mention in my second point above, is that you need to be especially diligent in keeping your relationship healthy after your child is born. This is nothing to do with your child – and in essence, he/she also needs to undertake some give/take with you as parents to ensure that you can maintain your relationship.
Apart from your now even busier life, balancing work, hobbies and home/child duties, there needs to be regular and meaningful time between you and your partner. This absolutely does not need to be the cliche “date night”, coffee dates or a weekend away – just something like a weekly catch-up or debrief. Even if life is manic – put an hour in your diaries at 9pm on a Wednesday night to dedicate to talking with each other. Turn off the TV, put your phones on charge and talk honestly.
I am definitely guilty of letting Harvey, our routine and my own hobbies let me neglect our relationship at times. Whilst my respect and love for Mai increased significantly after Harvey was born – it isn’t often enough that I actually show her that – or that we talk about how we feel. This article for instance, has taken me months to finish as I did not prioritise it over whatever else is going on in our lives.
yeah, I need to take more of my own advice here!
Thanks for reading – I’m sure I will have further insight for you in future articles – but I hope you enjoy my first article!