“Would you like to cut the umbilical cord?” I heard the doctor say. This was not the first question I expected to be asked eight seconds into fatherhood. With the rush of emotions I’d been riding all night, I knew my jittery hands were not to be trusted with a sharp object anywhere near my newborn daughter. I declined politely, and watched the trained professional finish the job.
Read more: All about the placenta and umbilical cord>
In the lead up to childbirth, most of the attention is focused on the mom-to-be (and rightly so). Guys aren’t known for speaking openly about what labour is really like.
Anjali Aggarwal, an obstetrician at Toronto East General Hospital, has witnessed a range of partner reactions up close. “I’ve seen dads faint, or not able to watch, or freak out if they’re not happy with how things are going,” she says. Sometimes, what men really need is advice from a friend rather than technical details from a birth book. Here’s what I wish I’d known before the big day:
Better get comfortable
We were lucky—our daughter’s birth clocked in at just four hours, including the panicked cab ride to the hospital. However, labour can last for days, and there’s a lot of waiting around. Scott and Kristen Spencer, a Toronto couple, found themselves bored after eight hours in the hospital. To help pass the time, Scott bought magazines from the hospital gift shop. As Scott says, “You can only hang around and hold hands for so long.” Consider bringing a laptop loaded with episodes of your latest binge-watching obsession to soothe nerves while you wait.
You will never get comfortable
You’ll quickly discover that birthing suites are not designed to make partners feel at home. I suspect this is to encourage us to go out for a walk once in a while, thus giving the nursing staff a break from our expert medical advice. You might notice signs warning that the in-room shower and the free juice are for patient use only. (My advice is to ignore these signs.) You’ll also notice some kind of padded vinyl window seat or reclining pleather chaise. This, I regret to inform you, is your bed. And remember to bring an extra pillow, because at some hospitals, they’re for moms’ use only.
Read more: Newborn essentials checklist>
There will be blood
According to Aggarwal, your partner can expect to lose at least a half-litre of blood during childbirth, which sounds truly terrifying. I have a tendency to shriek at the sight of a paper cut, so witnessing this felt like watching the elevator scene from The Shining on a loop. Comfort yourself with the knowledge that much of what looks like blood is mostly amniotic fluid (and it’s supposed to come out). If the medical staff isn’t freaking out, you shouldn’t either.
Newborns aren’t always cute
Amazingly, infant heads can reshape to fit through the tiniest of openings. However, the result is not so amazing—I’m talking about cone heads. Newborn noggins can look like something from Picasso’s Cubism period: misshapen cranium, flat or crooked nose, swollen or asymmetrical eyes, plus bruising on the face and body. Being born, it turns out, is like going 10 rounds with a young Mike Tyson. Most of this will clear up quickly—I promise that babies get cuter by the day.
Knowing what you’re in for can reduce the chances of losing your cool when your partner needs you most. Remember you’re there as support, and that a positive attitude is more important than an extra T-shirt and stick of deodorant (also advisable). That said, there is such a thing as being too relaxed. “I’ve seen situations where the mom is pushing and the dad has fallen asleep,” says Aggarwal. “You want to ask him, ‘What are you doing?’”
Read more: Colic: One dad tells it like it is>
We asked our editors what they wished their partners had known about childbirth beforehand.
* Being attentive and encouraging is great, but sometimes, silence is golden.
* Two words: bodily fluids.
* Some women prefer partners “stay in the bleachers.” No need to “get in the game, down on the field,” if you know what we mean.
A version of this article appeared in our February 2014 issue with the headline “Dads tell all,” p. 39.
Stay in touch
Subscribe to Today's Parent's daily newsletter for our best parenting news, tips, essays and recipes.