Last week, my husband and I were having brunch with friends who were three weeks away from having their first child. Since we ourselves are six months into parenthood, we found ourselves — almost instantly — blurting out all of the advice that we once hungrily received when we were sitting in their position (it’s funny how quickly the tables turn).
We got plenty of advice, but no one gave us any new parent hacks for the first week with our new babe. And that might have made all the difference.
As we dined over eggs and Cholula (apparently my craving for spicy foods lingers even after pregnancy), my friends kept apologetically barraging us with questions, and we happily (even giddily) answered them — grateful to be able to share our newfound experience. It was a pretty special moment to realize that we were actually on the other side of it: the unknowns, the questioning your parenting skills, the sleepless nights, the everything (of course, we aren’t on the other side of it, but we are at least on the other side of the newness of being a parent, wondering, “What the heck happened to my quiet life?”).
It wasn’t so long ago that we were sitting in their shoes, nervously asking the exact same questions to parents who had done it before us, no doubt sporting the exact same wide-eyed expressions on our faces: a mixture of terror and butterflies-in-your-tummy-worthy excitement, and the burning question in our hearts:
Can we do this? Are we ready to do this? And perhaps more importantly, are we cut out for this?
As the meal came to an end, I found myself particularly concerned about my friend’s husband. The conversation left him noticeably shaken up. “Will I still be able to get any work done? I really need to work,” he said, directing his concerns to my husband — who works for himself — desperately hoping for answers he wanted to hear.
“Well … no,” my husband said gently. “You won’t get much work done, at least not in that first week.”
My friend’s husband’s shoulders dropped as my own husband went on to comfort him. On our drive home, my husband decided that he needed to reach out to his fellow new dad-to-be in order to help him through the first week. Because listen up, papa-to-be: if you can make it through the first week (which you can, because everyone does), you can make it through the rest of it. (And side note: “making it through” will quickly turn into “stop growing up so fast!”.)
In his own words, here is what my husband had to say …
First of all, going into the actual labor, you have to trust the process — because nature is way bigger than you are. It has been doing this for thousands of years. There’s a tendency for parents to want to have a perfect birth or for dads to want to be able to control the situation. Let that go. Nature is — and has always been — smarter than you are.
Which brings us to my first piece of advice for the first week:
Let go of expectations. Use the force.
As much as you want to be, you’re not 100 percent in control. But things will go more smoothly if you’ve prepared for it, so just make sure you’ve done what you can to get ready for the baby’s arrival (i.e. make sure the car seat is properly installed, you have diapers, clothes, blankets, etc.). Let the rest go.
Clear your schedule.
The first week is all encompassing. Everything about your life before baby is unrecognizable. And it happens overnight. Give yourself and your new family the space to go through those changes. And as the proud father, you’re going to want to be there 100 percent with your wife and new baby.
Whether you work for yourself or someone else, make sure your work or clients know not to expect to hear from you for a while. That way you won’t be stressing out that they are wondering where you are. You’re biggest job in the first week is to bond with your wife and new baby. There is nothing like that first week. You’ll remember it forever — both how intense it is and how amazing it is. Life will never be the same again. Give yourself the space to live into that.
Drink lots of water.
You probably won’t sleep very much that first week, so you’ll definitely need to be hydrated. You are mostly water, after all, so hydration will help to make up for the lack of sleep you’re almost certainly going to experience.
Have a food plan.
You won’t have time to grocery shop, much less cook, that first week. If possible, have someone else do it, or else order in. If you’re in a secluded area, have friends drop off food that you can just heat up. Trust me — it will make all the difference. You both need to eat, and you don’t want to waste your time preparing food when all you really want to do is be with your family.
On that note, don’t question your wife’s ferocious appetite.
Get her all the food she wants, especially her favorite stuff, and tell her she’s beautiful when you do it. Comments like, “You’re eating again?” are both not welcomed and not warranted. If she’s breastfeeding, she’s now feeding herself and another human, multiple times a day. And even if she’s not, she needs energy to heal, and that includes calories from food.
Become the diaper-changing champion of the world.
Don’t know how to change a diaper yet? Learn. Because that’s your job this first week (and as often as possible in the next … forever!). Your wife’s job is to feed the babe, rest up, and heal in between scream fests and food fests. Like it or not, you are now the best diaper-changer that ever lived.
Be comfortable with your new role: Servant.
Your job in that first week is to basically serve your wife and her needs with the baby. Bring her water before she asks for it (just make sure she always has some close by), food when she’s hungry (she’s always hungry — we covered that), and anything else that she needs.
If you have a housekeeper, great. But if you don’t, roll up your sleeves because it’s your job now. It’s important to keep the house in order as much as possible because of how much everything else will feel out of order.
And whenever you’re not doing something for your wife or the baby, just be with them, together, as a family. This is not the time to reorganize the garage or your music collection.
She’s just gone through a pretty traumatic experience. You have too, of course, but it doesn’t touch what she has gone through and what she’s going through to heal now. So without expecting anything in return (even a thank you), buy her flowers. Give her a massage. Get her favorite meal from her favorite restaurant even if it’s a million miles away (but get someone else to do it so you don’t have to leave her side). Buy her a nice pair of nursing pajamas that make her feel comfortable. Do whatever you know she loves, and would appreciate you doing for her.
The first week is rough, I won’t lie. But with a little preparation, a lot of faith in the process, and a ton of love in your heart, you will make it through.
Welcome to the wildest and best journey of your life, new dad.