...and never will be again.
Being with my wife while she went through labour was the toughest thing I’ve ever done–and I say that with full knowledge that it was infinitely tougher for her. A few months down the line I’ve come to realise that’s pretty much the way fatherhood goes too.
You don’t get into it for the glory and you certainly shouldn’t expect any. Because even though you sometimes feel like your whole life has become about providing and supporting and sacrifice, you’re not giving up the half of what mum is.
It begins at the birth
Having experienced a grand total of one childbirth firsthand, and read or heard about quite a few others, I can safely guestimate that ours was mid-range in terms of difficulty.
It was not as hard or terrifying as what some people go through, but it was no Sunday afternoon schooners at the bowls club either.
Our baby had stopped growing properly, so the doc decided to induce labour three weeks early. This meant getting to the hospital the night before for the initial baby-cajoling injection and spending a sleepless night in a stuffy hospital room before the real work began.
We were both excited but nervous and pretty damn scared too. One of the baby books we read said being pregnant was like knowing months in advance you were going to be in a car crash and having to mentally prepare yourself for the pain. Well, the car crash had been initiated and we felt we were still fumbling around with our seatbelts.
Baby-cajoling phase two happened first thing in the morning to get things properly underway.
The next 16 hours were an ordeal. While my wife was going through waves of fierce pain, I was doing my best to soothe, humour, encourage—and all those other fluffy verbs the books make clear are dad’s to distribute during labour.
My job was to hold her hand, remind her to breathe, rub her back (but not when she suddenly doesn’t want me rubbing her back) and count her into the contractions. All the while feeling like I wasn’t really helping that much anyway.
The worst part was the sheer mind-and body-wrecking length of the whole thing. You’re worried to the point of nausea for her and the baby. You’re probably starving. You’d be very, very tired if you weren’t so wired. Basically, it’s a never-before-experienced level exhaustion and angst.
At the end of it all, out came an ugly-cute midget goblin, hiccupping and covered in grey goop. And of course, it kicked off a fabulous adventure that was more than worth it.
Fatherhood is more of the same
So, you’ve just gone through one of the most arduous trials of your life—but don’t expect anybody to care. Nor should they. Attention is now completely focussed on the little one and, to a lesser extent, mum.
Think about it from her perspective—she’s just battled through the Nine Circles of Hell and all people want to talk about is the baby’s cute dimple chin. Consider yourself lucky if someone even throws you a token, ‘Oh, and how’d you go, dad?’
And fatherhood, it seems, is more of the same.
This isn’t a plea for sympathy or praise. As it says on the tin (or in the banner at the top of the page), it’s advice. Get your head around this as quickly as possible; it’s no longer about you, and never will be again.
It’s not easy to switch from being an individual with your own interests and needs to someone who has to be completely and utterly selfless for most of the day. But you’ve just got to suck it up and do it.
Wondering why you should help out with the kid’s night-time routine after spending all day at work? Because mum has been stuck at home that whole time with a tiny, completely helpless, crying, hungry infant! That’s much harder than what you do at work.
Annoyed that your social life has died in the arse, or that you hardly get to watch sport anymore? Your partner’s whole body has gone haywire and she might go days without seeing other humans apart from you and her helpless, crying infant!
Your struggles, no matter how significant they are in the context of your life, pale in comparison to hers.
Learn to reward yourself by other means, because you won’t be getting any money, much praise or many brownie points for your dadly endeavours.
Giggles, cuddles and cuteness are now the currencies you trade in, and those things are much more valuable.