Even though I’m a father of three, each pregnancy has been its own learning experience. I was the youngest in my family, so my wife was the first pregnant woman I’d ever lived with. I felt remarkably unprepared for the whole ordeal, particularly considering that pregnancy is something that’s been around since the dawn of human kind. It feels like I should have known more. Here are a few things I didn’t know about pregnancy. My hope is that it will help enlighten those first-time fathers out there.
1. Pregnant women cry a lot.
When Mel was pregnant with our first child, I asked her to water the Christmas tree and she cried. “Don’t you realize how tired I am?” she said. Then she called me a jerk. I’d seen a million movies where a pregnant woman lost control of their emotions, and it was hilarious. But when faced with the real thing, it isn’t that funny.
I was 24, and my knee-jerk reaction was to get pissed. But first-time dads, here’s some advice: If faced with this situation, just apologize and water the damn the tree. In fact, apologizing really should be your default. During that first pregnancy, Mel cried because the bank was closed, because the car was low on gas, and because I ate the last string cheese. I hate to say this, but a pregnant woman crying is normal.
Pregnancy changes a woman in a lot of ways, and one of them is a new inability to govern her emotions. It took me until our second child to realize that my job as the father is to support her as she struggles to navigate her new emotional landscape. Be understanding even when she isn’t rational. And above all, don’t be a dick, and even if you weren’t, just apologize. Be understanding. Give out lots of hugs.
2. Pregnant women talk a lot about pooping during childbirth.
As it turns out, one of the biggest fears pregnant women have is pooping during childbirth (didn’t see that coming…nope). Women admit to pooping on the delivery table in front of doctors, nurses, God, and everyone. They talk about how it happened, and how they got over it, and every first-time pregnant woman in the room goes pale.
As a man, I suppose I didn’t realize that this might happen. But when I think of an 8-pound child squeezing out from between a woman’s legs, it makes sense that there would be a lot of pressure, easily enough to squeeze out a turd. But I suppose the most embarrassing part of pregnancy to me would be being naked in front of all those people and pushing out a baby. The real problem for me is that I’m as mature as a 12-year-old boy, and I still think poop jokes are funny. It’s easy to laugh about all this and make a few jokes, but don’t. It’s serious shit. I’d suggest acknowledging that it might happen and confirm that you will still love her. And if/when it happens, and you see it, don’t mention it — ever. Don’t tell all your friends at a dinner party what happened in the delivery room. Don’t ruin that wonderful moment when the two of you are first holding your child by leaning in and saying, “You totally dropped a duke in the delivery room.”
3. Pregnancy changes a woman’s body in ways I never expected.
My wife’s midsection gradually got bigger — this I expected. What I didn’t realize was that everything from her neck to her ankles would also swell. Even her fingers became rounder. Near the end, she developed red blemishes on her skin and stretch marks along her stomach and chest. Just plan on a mother’s body changing in ways you didn’t expect.
But the real secret to all this is to not comment: Don’t compare her ankles to bratwurst or her stomach to a house. In fact, just don’t make comparisons at all, because I did, and I can tell you now from experience that while I thought it was all in good fun, the fact is, I was being an asshole. All of my comments went over like the Titanic. None of this helped her emotional state (see above), and it didn’t make her feel like what she was going through was appreciated. A father’s job is not to make observations or sausage comparisons. A father’s job is to make sure that a pregnant woman realizes that even though she’s changing, she’s still beautiful, and what she is going through to bring a child into the world is valued.
4. Sex with a pregnant woman takes patience and ingenuity.
I had no idea how much sex would change. This isn’t to say that we didn’t have sex or that she didn’t want it. In fact, sometimes she wanted it more. But things changed with each trimester. Some moves that were comfortable before were no longer comfortable. We talked a lot more during sex, gauging this or that, almost like two struggling teenagers trying to figure out how this whole sex thing works. It took more time and thought, and it meant a lot more communication. Not that it wasn’t good, but it was different and in some ways took more thought and planning. I wasn’t anticipating all that the first go-round, and I didn’t know exactly what to make of it. I found it frustrating at times. Sometimes I wondered if sex was forever ruined. I had to really take a step back and think about all the other changes she’d been going through, accept this was one of them, and realize that it was temporary.
5. Childbirth is terrifying.
People often talk about the miracle of childbirth, but the actual act was, for me, frightening. I don’t want to give away the ending, but trust me, if your stomach turns easily like mine does, just don’t look. Instead, huddle next to the mother of your child, hold her hand, and be the supportive husband she needs.
They say pregnancy is eye-opening, and I am the first to say that it is for both the father and the mother. But it is eye-opening in ways I could never expect. Mel and I had been married for 11 years, and we’ve been through the whole pregnancy thing three times. The crazy thing is, by the end of each pregnancy, I gain a new respect for her — and all mothers.
Pregnancy is something that I can’t fully understand, but I understand it well enough to know that it should be respected and cherished. My advice is to keep that in mind next time a pregnant woman in your life sends you out for tacos at 3 a.m. What she’s going through is something special and horrible all at the same time, and helping her feel comfortable and supported really is the least you can do.