by Elizabeth Soutter Schwarzer
The story is legend in my family: After a protracted labor that nearly killed my mother, my brother emerged battered and shrieking. Through the weighing and washing and swaddling, he screamed without pause. From doctor to nurse and back again, he vented his fury inconsolably until in desperation someone handed him to Dad in whose arms he instantly silenced.
This is the power of the Daddy -- that quiet steady presence, so often ignored and undervalued, and so vital in the life of a newborn. My tiny brother knew who his father was, and felt instantly safe in his arms.
It isn't true that just because he isn't carrying the baby, the Daddy isn't vital to the pregnancy. From conception, there is only one Daddy, and he has a very big job to do.
Moms do the gestating, that's true, but they need more help at it than you might expect. A mom who is experiencing morning sickness, for example, can't cook, take out the garbage or clean things the way she could before. If she loses a meal, baby does, too. Mom needs lots of help keeping that baby fed and cared for. Moms who are on bedrest need tons of encouragement to stay there so the baby stays inside. Moms who are tired, frustrated, or put out with the aches of pregnancy need lots of support so that they can continue to do the best job of caring for the unborn baby. Daddies care for unborn babies by nurturing, protecting and caring for Mom.
There's a high expectation these days that men will participate in every intimate detail or prenatal care and delivery. The truth is, this isn't necessary. Some Dads relish this role and do well in it, but it isn't the ticket to Daddyhood to be the best birth coach ever. The man who helps his mother-in-law care for a laboring Mom is just as much a Daddy as the man who knows all the details of dilation and effacement. Daddies help bring their babies safely into the world by making sure Mom gets the help she needs in the way that she needs it.
Pregnancy guides tell expectant mothers that their babies can hear sound at five months. They frequently neglect to point out that it is the lower register of the male voice that most easily crosses womb and water, and is most easily recognized outside the mother's body. Baby isn't just listening, he's listening to Daddy. What's more, babies who are read to in utereo respond to the same book and voice outside the womb by sucking harder. Daddies take on fatherhood before the baby is born -- loving, nurturing and talking to their babies so they know that Daddy is there.
Baby is going to need a place to sleep, a place to play, and a place to eat. Baby will need diapers, and soft blankets and clothes to wear. Daddies start working right away to make a place for their babies, painting rooms, setting up cribs, and even thinking ahead to college funds and financial security for their families. Daddies figure out paternity leave, and with Mom figure out a plan for baby care.
Daddies care for their children by honoring and respecting their mothers, and by learning how to be good fathers. Daddies read books on parenting, talk to fathers they respect, and start asking themselves about the kind of Daddy they want to be. Daddies know that fathering is the toughest job they'll ever have, and they have to work really hard at it to be good.
Fatherhood doesn't begin with birth, but at conception, when a couple is transformed into parents and a small baby begins to make her way toward the family that will be hers forever. Being a Daddy is a gift and an honor, and a sacred responsibility.
Elizabeth Soutter Schwarzer is a writer living in Northeast. She is a former Congressional Press Secretary and radio talk show host. She is married with three daughters.
Copyright © Elizabeth Soutter Schwarzer. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org.