My wife and I have three children. And I have been fortunate enough to be at all three of the births. It’s an amazing experience, to say the very least. A room can be filled with five or more people and then, within a few moments, the room is filled with one more. It’s the closest thing we have to teleporting a human, even if that person has been there the whole time — resting, waiting to be born.
It’s not all smooth sailing, of course. There’s a lot that can go wrong in the delivery room. There’s plenty you can’t prepare for. For example, our first child came a few weeks early. Our second had to be suctioned and our third became an emergency C-section after four hours of pushing on the part of my uber-tough wife. Indeed, just as every pregnancy is different, so too are the deliveries.
It’s in these moments, as a husband, where I find myself in awe of my wife. Not only does she endure immense pain, she is subject to all manner of last-minute decisions should things go sideways. And leading up to the birth, she’s had to withstand a completely separate set of aches and bodily changes for the better part of a year. Her appetite has fluctuated, Her hormones have jockeyed between madness and serenity, and all the while she’s had to watch as her husband goes through limited, if any, physical changes of his own. The entire process can feel isolating, especially if no one else around you is pregnant.
But my wife has proven to be more than resilient, she has been expectant in her role as a mom-to-be. She embraced each pregnancy with fervor, even after a miscarriage gave her doubts about whether she’d ever be pregnant again. My job, it seems, was to be one-part reassuring and one-part confident that the lie of failure was not indicative of who she was. Or who she is. Thankfully we became pregnant again and now here we are with three rather than two.
As it turns out, the role of a husband is more than just moving heavy things or killing spiders (though these are absolute requirements, I’ve found). There’s an emotional strength a husband is required to possess as well. Though this part of the job description has been mocked and parodied over the years, my experience has proven these competing narratives to be false. Your wife, the one who is capable of bringing a new life into the world, needs a soft place to land as much as she needs a pillar of stone. It’s a tall order, but a husband can receive love only a wife can bring as reciprocity for his investment.
Taking a step back, the whole process of childbirth is really quite amazing if you take the time to soak it in. Women are uniquely equipped for the daunting task of childbirth. They are built in such a way that every detail builds upon the other. From the size of their hips, to the arrangement of their internal organs, to their breasts — everything contributes to the perfect sanctuary for housing (and then feeding) a new human being. If one were to do a comparison with her male counterpart, it’d be easy to see who is the holder of the more critical toolkit for expanding humanity.
And what’s more, a woman’s body carries another unique strength — visual magnetism. In other words, the sight of her body alone can ping a man’s interest and charge his libido like lighting a powder keg. He may find himself motivated to the point of exhaustion having come across a form so stunning. He’ll work hard for the chance at an intimate encounter. He’ll climb mountains; he’ll work longer hours; he’ll stand out in the rain. He’ll do any of the romantic and crazy things he needs to do — all for the sake of achieving some measure of joy.
But those acts are all tied with the initial pursuit. We’re talking about postpartum here. We’re talking about the reality of parenthood, not another season of the Bachelor or Bachelorette. We’re talking about what awaits a man when he adds another title to his resume: father.
What adventures are waiting once the baby arrives? For the husband’s part, everything can feel overwhelming, even burdensome. Becoming a new dad may not have the same appeal as when he was actively seeking his bride. Those days were fun and exciting. The days of changing diapers are not. A subtle dissonance can settle in. I didn’t sign up for this. She wanted this more than me. Was I really ready? No one told me it’d be like this. Being a dad is not as fun as I thought.
The time he had for himself — or for his wife — is absorbed by the presence of another. And one would think that this invasion of time would be welcomed. But what if it isn’t? The danger would be to believe that the time he’s spending is time lost. Again, a subtle dissonance can come creeping in when he least expects it, if he expects it at all.
This slight turn inward is where things can go awry for fathers. And they can miss out on the joy of fatherhood. So rather than fixating on himself, there are tasks he is still capable of doing. He could do the extra chores at home after they’ve left the hospital. He can defend his wife’s beauty in public for the weeks following the birth. He can work to keep his eyes — and heart — from wandering for the six-plus weeks his wife is unable to have sex. He can encourage his wife when she thinks she’s not doing enough as a new mother (but he’ll also be willing to step in when necessary if things aren’t going so well). He can stop scheduling late nights with friends so he can be at home with his wife and child. He can limit himself on media consumption or prioritize his day so that entertainment is never first on his agenda. The list goes on….
These are all the things he can do. But will he? I’ll concede, none of the above sounds very heroic and to the unlearned husband who is following the ebbs and flows of life without a guide, the temptation to give in to a trimmed-down version of fatherhood is very real. He’ll settle in to the status of a warm body because that was the least risky of his options. He may post pictures of he and his family on social media just to give the presentation that he is “all in” — when in fact, he’s just trying to fit in. In doing this, he may fail to realize that his proposed shortcomings as a new dad were just another part of the noble trade-off of a husband and wife. No one may have told him that even though a man is not designed for birth, he is designed for other things. Where he may be lacking in the birthing toolkit, he can make up for in many (if not more) of these other areas I mentioned previously.
He need only realize there’s joy to be had in these new pursuits. Real, actual joy.
But again, that’s a thick veil to see through when you’re having conflicting thoughts. When will my wife be herself again? When can we go places without worrying about the next feeding? Is there any way I can sleep through the next feeding tonight? I don’t want to lose any more sleep if I can help it. I’m the one working, she’s the one with the couple months off, after all.
These thoughts, as we’ve explored, can steal what lies ahead. These feelings and thoughts are momentary when brought into the context of the bigger story. Your wife’s body has undergone a massive undertaking. It’s something she may do only once in her whole lifetime. The repercussions can be life-altering and damaging if not attended to. She may struggle to achieve bodily equilibrium as this is happening. The baby will struggle to understand why anything is happening. The husband’s stance will be to act as both pillar and a soft landing. For these reasons, his attentiveness to mom and baby becomes even more crucial. His value has been amplified in this situation, not diminished.
Therefore, his posture must change to realize that. A husband can upend the narrative of feeling “left out” and instead be ushered into an opportunity to foster and invest in the life he helped catalyze. What a wondrous relief that can be! To know that he’s more than a paycheck and more than a warm body. To know he can give more to his wife than his sperm. To know he isn’t the center of the universe — a real relief considering no man can withstand the burdens of the world without being crushed beneath them.
If he can do this, he will experience the results of a changed posture: a new joy will reveal itself. His active response to new responsibility will set him free; it won’t anchor him to the ground like he may have been led to believe.
But he must be all-in; sold out; in it 100% if he’s get that joy — a joy that’s rightfully his if only he’d chase after it with all his might.
I do feel guilty at times for not being “all there” for my kids. My mind will wander when I’m tired and oftentimes I’ll be reminded of how much more patient my wife is than me. But that doesn’t make me a ‘bad dad’. It doesn’t even make me an incapable one. All it means is that I am being afforded the chance to see where work needs to be done. I need know my convictions are not meant to condemn me, but to grant me some further insight. Otherwise I’m beginning the process of making agreements with the very things that’ll take my joy away.
It’s similar to working on a large project. When I take the proper time and give something my full attention, the satisfaction of a job “well done” is only intensified once the project is complete. A new child is a person, not a project, but the mindset is similar. If a man can cultivate this mindset, then he will see the rippling of joy burst forth as the project, aka this little person, matures. That’s the joy a husband is after.
A child is proof of a husband and wife’s agreement with one another. It’s not an arrangement to be taken seriously by one party and less by the other. Marriage is a co-adventure between two people who have unique offerings. My children may run to my wife for comfort and to me for a wrestling match. As they get older, our children will create and do things I never thought them capable of. And one day, our children will fail miserably at something and when they do, I’ll want them to seek me or my wife to help them interpret their failure. These are opportunities for joy. But the foundations for a life-long relationship must be laid first. A husband cannot experience this joy if he is complacent at the beginning; if he is dialed out. He could always get lucky, of course, but why leave that up to chance?
If we know these things at the outset, shouldn’t we be running towards joy? Not backing away from it? Is that not an admirable goal of life? To seek joy earnestly? To not make a mockery of one’s opportunities? In contrast, the world has no problem putting our failures on full display. My wife may feel like she failed in the delivery room. The scar from her C-section has the power to remind her that she couldn’t do it naturally. But I don’t see it that way and I know my job will be to encourage her in knowing that too. I see it as something we both share now. It’s not something she needs to face all alone. She’s taken part in something bigger than both of us. And I get to be there right along with her. There’s joy in knowing I’m the one suited for this journey. Nobody else gets to know these struggles, to see through this next phase of life with her but me.
That journey ought to be fought for with ferocity. It takes a man out of complacency and into uncharted waters. And that’s the point. For just as my wife has given birth to something new, I too have been given the chance to birth something new in myself. A new kind of joy that comes with being a husband — and now a father.