Kristin talks with David Arrell, author of Welcome to Fatherhood. He talks about why he wrote the book then gets into some great tips for Dads and how to best support Mom! This one is a must listen! You can listen to this complete podcast episode on iTunes or SoundCloud.
Welcome. You’re listening to Ask the Doulas, a podcast where we talk to experts from all over the country about topics related to pregnancy, birth, postpartum, and early parenting. Let’s chat!
Kristin: Hello, hello! This is Kristin with Ask the Doulas Podcast, as well as co-owner of Gold Coast, and I am joined today by David Arrell. I am so excited. He is the author of Welcome to Fatherhood. He’s also an entrepreneur, and he is an educator and father. So welcome, David!
David: Thanks for having me on! I’m excited to chat with you here today.
Kristin: So it was perfect timing. I am teaching a new course with my partner, Alyssa, called Becoming A Mother, and we have all these women who are engaged in the course and prepping for their pregnancy, their birth, and their postpartum phase, and they’ve asked me about resources for partners and fathers. I didn’t really have anything to share, and then you popped up in my inbox, talking about your new book, Welcome to Fatherhood, and so I wanted to get you on our podcast. You did a video for our course, which I’m so appreciative about. So please fill us in a bit more on your background, what led you to, first of all, teach the courses, and then get into the long journey of becoming an author and getting a book out into the world.
David: Sure. Thank you. I think one of the things that I learned with speaking with a lot of the other expectant dads out there and their partners, as well, is there are some good resources out there for us guys, but a lot of them just aren’t as clear or direct as I appreciate and as some of the fellow guys I would speak with would appreciate. There’s some great learning materials out there, but they kind of tend to drift towards the encyclopedic. Like, this is everything you could possibly want to know. Which is great for people who have those deeper curiosities, but as far as, hey, I have some questions. I really want to be a helpful, supportive partner. But I don’t really know what that looks like, and what can I specifically do to better connect with my partner on her journey and also better prepare for what’s coming up? So as an expectant dad, for our first pregnancy, I was very energetically committed to being that helpful and supportive partner, but as I was trying different things and learning different things, I found, looking back in hindsight, that there were a lot of things I missed or opportunities I just didn’t fully appreciate because I didn’t quite understand sort of what was at stake or how important something was. And so those are the kinds of things I wanted to investigate more and kind of get a better sense of myself.
Kristin: Great. And so as you’re investigating, did you always think you wanted to write a book, or was teaching classes to fathers the top priority? I’m interested to hear about that specific journey.
David: No, I think, honestly, a lot of the energy for me that came, that I was able to marshal to getting first a workshop series and then the book, was born out of combination of excitement, of wanting to help other expectant dads who really wanted to be as helpful and supportive as they could, but also my own frustration with going through that process on my own and really feeling like there wasn’t nearly enough good information out there and also good direction for us dads. Like, there’s so many times I felt frustrated where I eventually sort of discovered something, and then I was annoyed that it wasn’t just clearly presented to me right off the bat in any of the six books I looked through or the classes I took. And I was like, well, this seems really obvious. Why didn’t anybody tell me, as an eager dad-to-be who wanted to be a great teammate for my partner, why wasn’t this something that was told me on day one, and I had to kind of like figure it out. And then going back and looking through the materials, most of the things I kind of touch upon either weren’t mentioned at all or were just sort of glossed over. And it’s like, no, this is a big deal. I wish somebody had grabbed me by the shoulder and been like, hey, this is important. You need to understand. And I’ve have been like, oh, good, thank you, rather than hearing it on page 7 in the middle of a paragraph and then moving on to something else. So it was a combination of wanting to be a helpful contributor to the conversation and then also a little bit of frustration on having not received as much helpful information or input from the larger birth space as I felt I really should have as a guy who really wanted to be there for my partner.
Kristin: Yeah. That makes sense, and obviously, you could get a lot of questions and test things out for the book with these live workshops. So you’re talking to dads directly, and they’re asking you questions. What a great way to begin the book project.
David: Yeah. The workshops were a lot of fun. I had some great – you know, we all have our own experiences, and we all learn from those, but having those workshops where there were other guys coming in with their own experiences, their own questions, I was able to kind of get a better sense of what was not only important to me but important to some of these other guys. And then also I got a lot of great questions about things that just didn’t occur to me, again, that also weren’t mentioned in some of these other resources for dads. So the workshop was definitely an evolving format. I found that initially I was very earnest, and while that is important, I needed to bring a little bit more humor in there and a little bit more of an icebreaking element. A lot of us guys, we have these uncertainties, and we’re feeling a little bit vulnerable. We have questions, or we know we don’t know what we “should be doing,” but we don’t even know what’s the right question to ask. So that’s something that really became a part of the forefront of the workshop and in the book, also; balancing out that sort of sincere, earnest, like, hey, man, this is important, but also having some fun with it and some jokes without it getting to bro-y and becoming just another beers and boobs kind of book type thing. So trying to find the balance of sincere and this is important but yet also bring some of that humor in, too.
Kristin: Yeah, I loved it. It was easy to read and a lot of fun. I know I’m a planner by nature. It sounds like your wife is, as well, so I, with both of my pregnancies, took all of the classes; read the books, watched documentaries, watching birthing videos. My husband is more of a go-with-the-flow kind of guy, but he wanted to support me, and I remember him, like, falling asleep as we’re reading Husband-Coached Childbirth and The Birth Partner and some of the books. He was so bored at the end of the day as I’m trying to do all this preparation. So he would have loved a book like that.
David: Awesome. And what you’re speaking to there is that, and this might be a good way to kind of jump into one of the first things that I talk about, is that for a lot of these guys, obviously, our partner is pregnant, and they’re having their own experience of that, but for us, it’s sort of this – it’s not an abstract thing, because we know it’s real that they’re pregnant, but this idea of, what does that mean, and when is the baby coming? Like, I remember a funny story. My wife got me a father’s day card when she was pregnant with our first baby. And I was so perplexed. I’m like, well, I’m not a dad yet. This is – I haven’t – you wouldn’t give me a graduation card before I graduated. Like, that’s the same kind of thinking. And what’s important is that it’s true for us guys, but our pregnant partners are having very different experiences. They’re a mom as soon as that positive pregnancy test registers, for most of those mamas out there. Like, right away, oh, I’m a mom. My baby is growing inside of me right now, and that’s very real for them in that moment. For us guys, we’re kind of sort of hanging out on the sidelines, thinking we’ll be a dad when the baby gets here. So that’s the big idea, number one. We can circle back to the concept or the structure, but right away, big idea number one is what I call instant mama, which is: hey, guys, check this out. Your pregnant partner is a mom now, and everything about that is very real for her. She’s watching her food intake with vitamins and avoiding sushi, being specific what to eat, what not to eat. She’s thinking about all of these things. And a lot of the guys are like, yeah, I get it a little bit, but they don’t quite understand the implications of what that also means. And that’s the first thing I want to tell the guys, as soon as you open up the book. Right away, understand that this is real for her, and while you have your own truth that’s real for you, that bridge-building of better connecting really falls to you to reach across the relationship and really understand and appreciate that that’s really what’s going on for her.
Kristin: And I love that you give so many ways to support your partner or wife during pregnancy and even using the code words for different situations in pregnancy or at the birth. It’s a really great tip for dads.
David: Yeah, the code words are one of my favorites. This one, I get a lot of – I’ve gotten some really good emails from people who have tried it. That’s Dad Tip #14, which is, code words are key. By code words, I mean that you and your partner figure out a simple word that communicates whether a situation is a green light situation, which is, everything is good; we’re fine; let’s keep going. Whether it’s a yellow light situation, which is, okay, let’s pause and maybe revisit what the plan is; or whether it’s a red light situation, which is, we need to stop now or do something different. We used avocado for green, lemon for yellow, and tomato for red for us because that was kind of easy to fold into a conversation in a social situation where the people around us weren’t necessarily aware that we were having a second-tier or meta conversation. So it’d be like, oh, do we need to add avocados to the grocery list, which is my way of saying, is this green? Are we still good here? Is this okay? And Jen would reply, yeah, avocados sound good, but maybe we want to think about adding some lemons, also, which is, okay, we’re good but maybe we need to maybe shorten the plan. I mention a couple anecdotes in the book. One of my favorite ones was a red light situation we had. We’re nearing “overdue” in the sense that my wife was 40 weeks pregnant and 2 days. So for those of you who have that date circled on your calendar, that’s two days past the so-called “expected due date.” So she’s ready to have the baby. We joke that she showed early and often. She had a baby bump right off the bat and loved wearing all the horizonal stripes and really embracing her pregnancy, but by this point, every time she walked into a room, people would almost think they had to get ready to catch a baby. So we’re in line at this little ice cream shop near our house. It’s August in Omaha. It’s hot. The ice cream shop was popular, so the line is about 30 people deep. And we get into the line, and we’re already both a little dismayed because we were hoping magically there’d be nobody in line. So we get up there, and this lovely older couple walks up behind us, and the lady, without missing a beat, says, “Oh, my. I hope you don’t have that baby right here.” And I kind of laughed initially because, you know, that was kind of funny. Like, me too. I don’t want to wait 30 minutes and not get any ice cream out of this deal. But I looked over at Jen, and one look at her face, and I could see that the last thing she wanted was to have people talking about her pregnancy and the baby being late or due anytime. She just wanted her ice cream and not to deal with it. So I quickly perceived that she was not thinking this was funny, also. So I said, “Hey, babe, there’s a bench across the street there in the shade. Do you mind putting together our grocery list? I know we need tomatoes. What else do you think we might need on our list?” And she kind of glared at me at first, and then she realized, oh, yeah, tomato. Code word red. She’s like, “Oh, that’s a fantastic idea. I think I will go wait over there.” So she happily went over to the bench across the street. Nobody’s talking to her or remarking on her belly or questioning when the baby’s due. So she was happy to kind of get out of that social situation, and then I was able to sit there and joke with the couple about baby names and all kinds of stuff. Everybody was happy. But just using that code word was easier for us to address that uncomfortable social situation rather than trying to have an explicit conversation about it in front of the couple and now the couple is worried that they accidentally said something. So those code words go a long way. There’s lot of ways you can bring them into conversations around other people where you and your partner can have that meta-conversation about how she’s feeling or how you’re feeling and stay connected as a team, especially later in the pregnancy when things might change a little quickly, whether somebody’s tired or wants to sit down or whatnot. So code words are fun, guys. Some people pick sports team jerseys. Some people pick one with food, cleaning products, any number of things. So have fun with it. But yeah, code words are key. That’s Dad Tip #14.
Kristin: Love it. Yeah, if you can illustrate a couple of big ideas that would be most helpful to partners, a couple dad tips, and then some scary moments to share.
David: Sure, sure. You touched up on the three main kind of components that I work with. The big ideas are these foundational concepts. Like, this is something – once you kind of understand it on a deeper level, it really clarifies a lot of what the journey ahead looks like and how best to respond in any given moment. The dad tips are more specific action items, like do this or don’t do this. And the scary moments are just a couple times during the course of the journey where us dads need to be aware of something that’s really kind of important, and we might need to kind of step up or step in or pay a little bit more attention to something. So I mentioned the first big idea, instant mama, about how mothers become – you know, women become mothers as soon as they see a pregnancy test. Another one that I think is really important, especially as you get further into the pregnancy, we talked about that due date. So back to big ideas: a big idea that I think is really important in that second trimester when you’re well on the way of the pregnancy journey; the morning sickness has kind of subsided down; everybody’s sort of adjusted to where this is going, is the concept of teamwork. Something I see with a lot of the guys out there is that teamwork is a kind of, “I do this; you do that.” It’s sort of a divide and conquer sort of approach to things, whether we’re teaming up with our friends to play basketball; you stay over there and guard that guy, and I’ll stay over here and guard this guy. Or even if we’re working on a project, like team lifting; like, you turn this way, I’ll turn that way. A lot of the mamas I’ve spoken with, their sense of teamwork is, “Help me here with this,” which is very different, and equally valid. So for this pregnancy journey, mamas and dads works best when they work as a team, but that different idea of what teaming up looks like, I’ve seen cause a lot of unnecessary glitches in that better connected relationship where the guys think they’re being a great teammate by going out to the garage and kind of sketching out a plan for the nursery or they’re going to go do these things over here, where for a lot of the mamas, they really want their partner with them by their side and helping. Let’s have a conversation about cribs, or let’s have a conversation about nursery décor together. So that teamwork idea; when you hear your partner – guys, when you hear your partner asking you to go to the store to look at some birth registry things, what she’s really asking for you is to team up and be with her on this adventure. She doesn’t necessarily really need your objective analysis of which baby monitor system might be the best one. That’s not quite what the thought process is there. So guys out there, I always say, when you’re listening to your partner and you’re talking about things, listen with an ear for, how can I team up to be a partner with my girlfriend or with my wife or with this person rather than teaming up by going to do something else. So that’s a big idea that we talk about that becomes more relevant as we get into that second trimester, when you start those bigger picture planning conversations.
Kristin: Right. Yeah, it’s about just being together as a couple. I totally agree with that. And of course some birthing persons might be more indecisive where they would really want their partner to do the research and make some decisions on the correct monitor, but most of the time, it’s just the company and doing it together and getting close in that way emotionally.
David: You’re so right there, Kristin. That better connected is one of the main taglines of the book. Like you mentioned, sometimes it is helpful to have a second opinion on, whether it’s the baby monitor; do we want to do an elephant-themed nursery or a giraffe-themed nursery. It’s good to have an opinion, guys. Nobody is asking you just to show up and stand there. But at the end of the day, that sense of, like, we’re in this together. This is our baby. It’s our adventure. That’s really one of the most important parts of this whole process. That’s that real helpful and support you keep hearing about. That’s that feeling like we’re in this together as a team on this journey, and that’s the question I ask you guys to listen for underneath the specifics of, which teething ring do you like better. So you may not have an opinion on the teething ring. You probably don’t, as a matter of fact. But entering that conversation with a sense of connection, and that’s the real idea, is what I recommend.
Kristin: Do you have any other big ideas to share before we move on to dad tips?
David: One of my favorite big ideas – we’re going to go to the labor and delivery section because this is where, for a lot of guys, all of a sudden it becomes very real. Like, oh, these aren’t Braxton-Hicks contractions. These are real contractions. We’re going to have a baby – oh, my God, soon. And we see this sort of flash of recognition across the guys’ eyes as they realize, it’s no longer when; it’s now, and oh, what do I do? So taking some birth classes, you may have had some great conversations with your doula; you may have read some books. And you’re going to hear, do this, do that. But at the end of the day for the guys out there, the most important thing to do, and this is your new mantra, which is to be attentive to mama; be calm, and be competent. That can look a little bit different as you go through the different stages of labor and into the actual childbirth, but the plan still remains the same. Focus on mama; be present for her. What I mean by that is, be attentive. Ask how she’s doing. Offer her a sip of water. Make sure your phone is put away. No video games or social media, as tempting at that may be during some of the slower parts of the labor process. Be attentive. You’re there to be her support person. Be calm. Sometimes there can be some challenging moments with different shift changes of your support staff or going through the transition and pushing. It can be a little bit adventurous, but dads, unless you’re on the side of the highway and it’s just you and mama, you probably have some birth professionals there with you who have very specific roles and jobs to do, and yours is to be calm and not make that any more challenging. So, again, focus on mama. Be attentive. Be calm. And then the last part of that is be competent. And that ranges from some of the things you’ve learned in your birth class or from your doula about how you can apply some pressure to mama’s back or shoulders or – I was kind of like, let me jump in there and help out, so I was holding a leg with one arm and holding a hand with another and wiping my wife’s brow and helping some of those, that tension in the face where I could easily sort of just brush her forehead and tell her how awesome she was doing. So this is definitely a big idea where this is what you need to do. You don’t need to be the OB. You don’t need to be the midwife or the doula. You just need to be the dad and mama’s number one support person who’s there to specifically focus on her. So that’s a great one I like to tell the dads, especially when they get that deer in the headlights look of, oh, this is happening now; what do I do? That’s what you do.
Kristin: Right. And if you have a doula there, our job is to make partners look good, so we’ll whisper in partner’s ear different things to try out and can show some of the hip squeezes that you mentioned and physical support techniques. I always like to find out what the dad or partner is comfortable with in their role. Is it more of the coaching? Is it hands-on support? Is it hand holding? Do they have fears, if it’s in the hospital or even at home, and how do we best support them both?
David: And that is so important, Kristin. That’s a great segue into one of my favorite dad tips of all time, which is Dad Tip #7: Dude, hire a doula. I talk about in the book with my various dad tips – most of them are sort of like recommendations or suggestions, but this one, I’m really strong on. This is a definite, please do this. And it’s not just for the awesomeness of support and help that doulas provide to your birth partner, but it’s for us guys, too. I’ll share a quick anecdote about that. This is one I talk about in the book. Our doula for our first pregnancy happened to be our Bradley birth class instructor, also. So both my wife and I had a good relationship with Barb. Barb, great shout-out to you once again. One of my favorite people on the planet these days. So Barb and I had a good relationship. We interacted over the course of a few weeks with these Bradley classes. So as we got later into the pregnancy, nearing our expected arrival, I have some concerns because the Bradley birth class – our philosophy was, we wanted to go as natural as possible, as unmedicated as possible. But my wife, as awesome and amazing and strong as she is, has a pretty sensitive tolerance when it comes to pain. I’d seen her stub her toe, and she literally goes down like a sack of potatoes, and she’s holding her toe and there’s tears and a very appropriate sense of, this really hurt and this is how I’m going to respond. But as the expectant dad who really wants to be supportive of our plan, I was concerned that she was going to have a lot of struggle with the natural childbirth where we’ve heard you can really feel some pretty intense sensations. And I was internally struggling because I wanted to be 100% helpful and supportive to Jen, but at the same time, I couldn’t get over this cognitive block I had about her pain tolerance, or at least my perception of it. So I pulled Barb aside and I had a private conversation and I expressed my concerns to her, and she was awesome. She was like, look, David, I get it. That’s a pretty common question a lot of guys have. But I’ve seen you and Jen up close. Jen is capable. She’s strong. And more importantly – this is something for all the guys out there to know – going into the actual childbirth process, mamas kind of transform into a different person, into a different being. Their true maternal power shows up, and being able to work through some of these challenging moments is something that comes a lot easier in that moment than it would be like stubbing your toe or something like that. So Barb was able to reassure me, which was super helpful because once I got that reassurance from Barb, I was able to drop my own concerns and fully commit to being helpful and supportive, rather than helpful and supportive but still having this large concern. So that was just one simple conversation Barb had with me that reassured me, and there were several other times in the journey where she was a great resource for me as the dad, as well as an amazing, awesome resource for Jen during that process, too. So dude, hire a doula. It’s one of the best things you can do for everybody’s comfort and peace of mind and support going forward.
Kristin: Yeah, I feel like a lot of dads are hesitant to hire a doula because they don’t want anyone to replace their role. I know with our second, we hired doulas, and my husband felt like he worked so hard and we achieved a lot of our goals with the first, and he didn’t want to be replaced. But after having doulas, he felt like he was able to relax more and didn’t have to know all the things and look at the workbook anytime a decision had to be made from our childbirth class and that he actually enjoyed the experience more rather than kind of feeling like he had to be the gatekeeper in some ways and make important decisions. He had someone to talk it through, knowing that the decisions were still ours, but I was relying on him a lot so I could do the work of labor the first time. And he enjoyed it and was able to emotionally connect more at our second birth.
David: And that exactly mirrors our experience. Having that doula there allowed me to fully step into my role as dad-to-be, as my wife’s partner in this process. I mean, obviously, I’m standing there holding her hand, and she and the baby are doing all the work, but that’s where I needed to be. That was my job, and my role was to be right there with her. There were times in the pushing where she couldn’t hear what anybody else was saying. The whole room was like this blur, and she could only see my and my face. And that’s again back to that mantra of being attentive, being calm, and being competent. Being able to have that doulas as my wingman to really monitor the room and monitor things and only tell me what I needed to know allowed me to do my job much better, and my wife was super appreciative of having the doula kind of in the background but having me in the foreground where I wasn’t worried about what was happening in the room. I wasn’t worried about watching the tone of that new nurse that came in that maybe hadn’t read our birth plan yet. I wasn’t tasked with doing all those different things. I could just be fully relaxed into my role, and having that doula allowed me to do that better than if she wasn’t there.
Kristin: Agreed. So let’s get into another dad tip before you move on to the scary moments.
David: Sure. One of the funnier ones – and this one, I think I’m going to stick with the labor and delivery thing, which is Dad Tip #16, that mama’s water breaking is not an emergency. For us guys out there who, you know, 99.9% of us have never been around somebody when their water actually broke, this vision we have is largely informed, or I should say misinformed, by all the romantic comedies we see on TV. Somebody’s standing there; their water breaks, and all hell breaks loose. It’s pandemonium. People are running around, and they’re sprinting to the car and weaving through traffic like a maniac. It’s like, no, please. That makes good TV, but it’s the opposite of what’s actually true. Again, this is on the dad tip side. It’s not an emergency. Obviously, you want to document the time, depending on your birth plan and how you’re planning on having birth. Some places will want to be kind of pretty closely monitoring that within that 24 hour window. You want to be kind of aware of what the water breaking situation looks like. I don’t know how graphic we want to get here, but you want to look to make sure – both you and mama want to be aware that there’s not any sort of excessive bleeding or anything that looks problematic, but just a “normal” water breaking is not an emergency. It’s a sign that you’re into labor, for sure, at this point based on how we want things generally to go, but again, this is a great chance right away to practice being attentive, being calm, and being competent. Running around like a chicken with your head cut off is none of those things. So, oh, okay. Let’s mark the time. Let’s sit down. How else are you feeling? How are contractions – coming along or not? Let’s call our doula, obviously, so we keep the doula in the loop. Some of your other birth professionals, you may want to let them know, as well, or some support people. If you have a pet at home and you’re planning on birthing elsewhere, you may want to give that person a heads up that the pet needs that they’ve agreed to kind of help you with, you may be needing them soon for that. So there’s some heads up you want to give people, but definitely guys, not an emergency. This isn’t a bad episode of your favorite TV show where everybody freaks out. Again, attentive, calm, and competent, and keep going with your birth plan.
Kristin: Yeah, baby’s not necessarily going to be born right away after water breaks. It can be quite some time. Occasionally, we’ll get those where they’re pushing right after the water breaks, but you’re so right, David. That’s not the typical situation. Good tip.
David: One more dad tip I like to mention here, and this is again right here, we’re still pre-baby because the postpartum period has its own sort of – it’s getting a lot more focus these days, thankfully. There’s a lot of things – that’s where us dads kind of are really brought into the journey, but prior to that, leading into the labor and delivery – this is still back in that third trimester – I recommend the guys to watch a few birth videos. That’s Dad Tip #15, birth videos. There’s a lot of reasons I think this is a good idea, not the least of which is it’s a good way to team up with your partner and sit down together and like, oh, let’s watch some birth videos, especially if you have some clear ideas of how you are imagining you want your birth to go and your birth plan. You can sit down and search for videos that are like that, whether it’s going to be a water birth or a home birth or a full hospital birth. There’s ways you can search for those particular ones and get a sense of how that goes. What does that look like? What does that sound like? I kind of get a little bit detail in the book, and again, I want to keep it PG here on the podcast, but there’s a lot of good information and experience you can get by watching these birth videos so that when you get to the real event with you and your partner, there’s not as much novelty, which is inherently kind of a little bit confusing. You kind of have seen some childbirth. You know what to expect and how your role can change throughout that journey. So great final dad tip to mention here is watch some birth videos, guys. That’s Dad Tip #15.
Kristin: Great. Love it! So scary moments. Or would you like to cover some postpartum and some of the ideas and dad tips before we get into scary moments? How should we best cover that postpartum phase and being supportive?
David: That’s a good question. I think we can kind of time a couple of those together here. So Scary Moment #4 speaks to our larger cultural issue that’s impacting all of us here in the US with limited maternity leave, limited paternity leave. A lot of us are living away from where we grew up with our inherent community. So what’s happening here in the US is that postpartum depression and even now postpartum anxiety is finally being recognized as a separate but related concern, and a lot of new families are struggling with adjusting with not having that traditional support mechanism in place and not really being supported as strongly through their work environment. So I tell dads that this postpartum stuff is real. It affects up to 20% or more of new mams out there. And us guys, we need to be that first line of awareness. Usually in your follow up visits with the pediatrician for the new baby, there’ll be a sort of informal questionnaire about how are you feeling, what’s going on. But there’s a lot of reasons that mamas may be not as aware of how they’re feeling in any given moment and also a little bit concerned about how honestly they want to speak about that, especially in the hurried environment of a baby visit. So us guys, we need to be that front line of defense on observing our partners, staying connected with them, and helping them make these adjustments. So that’s a scary moment for us guys. Like, hey, you got to take this seriously. Just be a little bit more mindful. It doesn’t mean anything’s wrong or anything’s going got wrong, but we need to be mindful of our job to kind of be a frontline person for our partners to depend upon, but also a frontline person to kind of observe and track how our family is adjusting to having that new baby. And one of the best things we can do to really support that positive postpartum journey is what I call lavish sisterhood and limit stuff. That’s Big Idea #11. And what I mean by that is, by lavishing sisterhood, all of those great forms of community that are kind of our evolutionary heritage of having lots of other birthing mothers nearby, other new babies, maybe older, wiser grandmothers or aunts or respected community members – we want to do everything we can to encourage and support our partner to have as much of that as possible, whether it’s some new mama meetup groups. I know a lot of doulas are now doing a lot more postpartum visits and help, as well. All of that sisterhood, we want to lavish that on there. Helpful guests; not the baby tourists that want to show up and hold your baby for a few minutes to “allow mama to get caught up.” We want the helpful guests. Like, hey, you lay on the couch and rest with your baby. Just give me a few pointers of what would make you a little bit happier, and let me go. I’ll go run the vacuum or put away some dishes or warm up some lunch for you. Let me be a helper. All these helpers are what really are awesome and really great experience for all new families to have. The other side of that is: limit stuff. And what I mean by stuff is basically everything that’s not that sisterhood. Like, you know, you may want to have all your friends and family come over and visit and see the baby. They might want to come and do that, but that may not be the best plan to help mama really rest and recover and focus on her relationship with her brand new baby. Lots of quiet time is great for mamas; lots of time where they’re not worried about anything in the background, whether it’s all the things that go with being at home, whether you look and you see there’s some dishes that have piled up or the laundry bin is getting more full. These are all things that us guys can do our part to make sure that these things aren’t impeding upon mama’s experience, whether objectively or just sort of in the background. So these are things we want to limit. So we can jump in there. We can take care of these things. We can also just encourage mama to really focus on baby and do everything we can there. That’s super important to mitigating that scary moment but also just really helping those new bonds of new family – not just mama and baby, but also dad and mom. That’s the new relationship you have, and dad and baby, too. So lavish sisterhood; limit stuff.
Kristin: Yes. And postpartum doulas can help with all of the household tasks and newborn care. Our agency does day and overnight support, so we can come in so couples can get rest, and we help with all types of feeding. So that is a good idea, again, to focus on, especially with COVID, because you really need to have those code words figured out in not only limiting the number of guests but who do you feel comfortable with in your home right now and what kind of questions do you need to ask as a couple about their precautions, or are they vaccinated, and holding baby is a whole different thing than it used to be now.
David: Yeah, that’s very true. Very true. And the more us dads can do what we can do to be a great asset, but also that understanding, of understanding where mama is and what she feels comfortable with. These are all important things to help that teamwork and that better connection really thrive in this newfound space you’re all in as a new family. I’m a terrible illustrator. Otherwise, in the book, I would have drawn a picture of a stick figure mama and a stick figure dad and a stick figure proportionally-sized baby in between them, really small. Like, this is what you imagined your new life was going to be. And then for the second illustration, the baby would be as big as the Michelin man, like a giant in between. This is the experiential reality where this baby is not a small addition to your previous life. This baby is your new life, and all the things that means, all those implications for time and energy and experience are important for us dads to really get behind. There’s no bouncing back. We’re bouncing forward, and the more us guys kind of get on that page and can be awesome teammates and partners and also fathers to a new baby, this bounces us forward to where we’re going. There’s no going back.
Kristin: Right. Your life will be changed forever, in many beautiful ways, but it’s a change. I love just the focus on the relationship as a couple but also in the new roles as parents and as a family, if this is your first baby or any time you add a baby to the family. It’s still a change, or as you mentioned, to some of the traditional societies, a rite of passage every time. And then if there are twins or triplets in the mix, there are multiple Michelin babies.
David: Exactly. That’s a whole different reality.
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Kristin: Yeah. So getting into another scary moment?
David: I would say staying in that labor and delivery time, Scary Moment #3 is that your birth plan is good, but expect the unexpected. I’m sure anybody listening to this has probably already got a birth plan sketched out with kind of how they want things to go, whether it’s what kind of music they want or what kind of comfort measures, what their ideal set of circumstances is. But it’s important, and this is where this part falls on us guys when we’re sort of tasked to be the protector and room preserver as mama gets deeper into that labor and delivery process. The birth plan is a great idea. It’s sort of like an optimal situation, and many times, you know, experiences largely follow that birth plan, and there’s times where exactly what you’re asking for is what’s going to happen, such as the general music in the room. Nobody’s going to come in and tell you you can’t have that music. But there’s always other things that may happen, and all of your birth professionals have one goal in mind. That is the safety of mama and the safety of baby. And the birth plan is workable as long as, from their professional opinion, it’s not somehow impeding on that. So that’s where I tell these guys, this may be a little bit of a scary moment where the birth maybe isn’t proceeding exactly according to plan, and that’s where having your doula and your midwife or OB or whoever these other professionals are to kind of help you understand where things may be shifting or changing. But the birth plan is not a hill that you want to stake out and defend at all costs. A birth plan is a guide, and there may be circumstances that arrive where baby has a different plan in mind, or your birth professionals do, and you need to remember that they’re all focused on the ultimate goal of healthy mama and healthy baby, and that’s a successful birth, not if it checked every box along your birth plan. So I call this a scary moment because it may be a little intense if things are changing differently than what you had wanted and what mama had very strongly communicated to you, but you need to be able to flex and flow with the circumstances to preserve that optimal goal of healthy mama and healthy baby. So that’s why it can be a little bit scary sometimes. It gets a little bit intense in there.
Kristin: Yeah, and you mentioned that you had taken HypnoBirthing with your second in our previous conversation that we had. In HypnoBirthing, we like to call it a birth preference sheet versus a birth plan to be flexible, and labor is so unpredictable. And for people who really feel like they can chart it out and plan their way into it, I mean, it’s up to how baby responds to labor and how the mother does. And so it’s a great intro into parenthood because we can’t always plan everything, and our children – you know, things come up, and we need to be flexible and adaptable. So I feel like it’s a good start for new parents.
David: Yeah, and I think that’s such a great point, Kristin. So much of what life throws at us is real, moment-to-moment experiences where we have our plans that we’re sort of referring to, but we have to remain flexible and adaptable to focus on those people right in front of us and what’s really happening, and thankfully, I think that’s where one of the bigger cultural shifts is happening for us guys. Us guys are finally – I don’t know if finally is the right word, but we’re being more and more welcomed into the larger conversation and the larger trajectory. You know, the old stereotype of dads pacing in the waiting room with a pocketful of cigars ready to give out, or even being told, you need to stay here. You’re not allowed back here. Your job is to not be here. That’s all shifted where us guys can be brought further and further into that conversation, further into the delivery room. A lot of the guys I’ve talked with had opportunity to be the one to “catch the baby,” and these are awesome experiences for us guys that we now have the opportunity to have. So it’s good to have our plans, but it’s also good to be more focused in adapting to those people right in front of us and what we feel is going to be our best decision or action for our relationships and our family and what we want to have with those expert opinions being helpful pieces of the bigger puzzle. So great point. Stay flexible in the moment. Have your plans, but understand that reality will often have a different plan.
Kristin: Yeah. And then again, if there’s a doula in the room and you need guidance, asking the doula, but just having a calm face and not – because, you know, your life partner will look at your cues, and if you’re looking very stressed, she’s going to be stressed. So, yeah, being that rock and empathetic and just focusing, and as you mentioned, talking directly to her, looking at her, regardless of how the plan changes, is so important.
David: And you mentioned having that doula partner there. Our second childbirth was much easier for me and for my wife because we’d been down that road before and we had a doula our first childbirth. We had a different one for our second one, and I was very – we both loved our doula. We trusted her 100%. So I was able to really be focused just on my wife, and we had a doula and a birth photographer who also was a doula, but she was there as a photographer, not as a doula. And I was able to focus on Jen and be connected with her to such a degree that after Dottie, our daughter, was born, the doulas were laughing. They were saying that they almost felt like they were invading our space. Like, it was such an intimate – Jen and I had such an intimate, strong, powerful connection through that process because we were able to relax into that experience with having our doulas there. The doulas almost felt like it was a honeymoon and they somehow got stuck in the room because it was such a charged, emotionally strong connection that Jen and I were able to have because we were free of those worries because the doulas were there to kind of have our backs. So again I’ll circle back to Dad Tip #7: dude, hire a doula. It’s great for everybody concerned, for all the reasons.
Kristin: Yeah, and we focus on a couple’s connection first, so I love that you say that, and just remaining calm and supportive. Any other thoughts or tips that you’d like to share overall?
David: You know, I think I’ll wrap up with one of the early big ideas I have for dads, Big Idea #3, which is dude zone to dad zone. That is sort of the – that line of thinking is the backbone that runs through the whole book, and it gets even bigger once you get into the postpartum period when you have your new baby and you’re “officially now a dad.” And that journey has lots of little steps along the way. It’s not a one time event. And that is the goal. Being a dad and having – you know, some of my proudest moments are when we’re out at the park and I have my little baby strapped to me. We had this cool baby-wearing device that allow them to be on the front or the back, facing in or facing out, and being fully in the dad zone and having my brand new baby up against my chest, walking through the farmer’s market and seeing the other parents and the other dads. Like, the other guys with kids would look at me and give me that wink. Like, yeah, dude. Welcome to the club. That’s a real thing, and those were some of my – you know, I’ve had some other opportunities to have some success in my life, but these moments of really being a dad and feeling like I was in it and doing it right and getting that recognition from both my wife and also just random strangers on the street, that’s real. The dad zone is a real place, and there’s a lot of awesome experiences waiting for you guys there. So that’s the goal. Dude zone to dad zone, full speed ahead.
Kristin: Love it. All right, David. Thank you for sharing a lot of the bigger concepts of Welcome to Fatherhood! I’d love to have you share how our listeners can connect with you on all the social channels, what else you’re up to, and then of course how they can buy your book.
David: Sure. So right now, I’m really focused on continuing to talk about Welcome to Fatherhood. I love this stuff, and I’m always so excited when I have an opportunity to chat with people about childbirth and childbirth education. So for right now, I’m fully in the zone for this. Welcome to Fatherhood, I have a website up that, if you’re curious about the book or me or want to learn a little bit more about some of the free resources I have available, you can go to the website. Like I said, I have great resources on there from birth plan templates to go-bag lists to all kinds of cool things on there, great educational materials, as well. It’s all free. Just click on the links there. I have a Facebook page, but I wouldn’t say I’m active on there. It’s sort of more of a hey, this is what’s going on, whether it’s a new review or a podcast or something cool I discovered. I’ll put that up there occasionally. So that’s just Welcome to Fatherhood. You can find that on Facebook. I’ve been getting more requests to do some Instagram stuff and do some great Instagram live videos, so that’s sort of a backburner idea as well as putting together a virtual sort of WTF – Welcome to Fatherhood is also WTF. I didn’t mention that earlier, but the double entendre is intentional there. There’s a lot of questioning moments us dads-to-be have with a certain sort of inflection, and those are the kinds of questions I speak most directly to, so getting an Instagram live feed for WTF would be also on the backburner. It’s available on Amazon, though. There’s links directly from the website or you can just to Amazon and search Welcome to Fatherhood. It’s available on paperback and Kindle, and hopefully the audio book’s coming soon. I’ve done all my work on the recording of it, so I’m exciting.
Kristin: Amazing! That would be so fun!
David: Yeah, that was fun, so I could actually read it with the proper emphasis and what not, because the book has lots of bold and italics. There’s a lot of emotional emphasis communicated through fonts and whatnot, but it’s hard to do that with someone else reading it. So I did the reading for that. It’s not finished yet, so hopefully that will be soon.
Kristin: Keep us updated! I’d love to share it when that’s out. That will be great!
David: Yeah. I’m looking forward to that. A lot of guys enjoy that format, whether it’s a podcast or audiobook in the car, so you’re going to get the real me for the audio book, not some paid narrator who doesn’t quite understand where to put the emphasis. So it should be fun when that’s ready.
Kristin: Love it. Well, thank you so much for joining us today, David, and we look forward to looking at some of your Instagram lives in the future. Keep us updated about a potential virtual class!
David: Awesome. Thanks, Kristin. I appreciate you and the rest of the Gold Coast Doulas team for inviting me on. It’s been a great pleasure.
Kristin: It’s great to have you. Take care!
David: Thank you!
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