A guide to pregnancy and childbirth

Chapter 9

Fatherhood Fundamentals

It is a wise father that knows his own child.

—WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE

image

With the birth of your child, the stuff you are made of passes into the next generation. From a purely genetic perspective your life is deemed successful simply by passing on your DNA, but as a human father, you have deep drives to be an active force in the rearing of your child. More than ever before there is the need and the opportunity for dads to be essential participants in the parenting of healthy and happy children.

You may or may not have had good modeling for an engaged father as you were growing up, but as the late Dr. Benjamin Spock once said, “The more people have studied different methods of bringing up children the more they have come to the conclusion that what good mothers and fathers instinctively feel like doing for their babies is the best after all.” In other words, if you are tuned into your inner voice, you will be a good parent to your children.

From the moment you learn that your wife is pregnant, your life begins transforming. As more and more of her attention goes inward to her developing baby, your role as nurturer and supporter expands. The rapidity of physical, emotional, and spiritual changes your wife goes through during pregnancy is on a different scale than most men will ever experience in their own bodies and minds. At times the ride is exhilarating and at times daunting, but be assured that since the beginning of humanity, the course of the next nine months has been successfully traversed by generations of men before you.

Over the next nine months the focus of your life will be on your wife and your developing baby. The promise of a new child rallies the love and attention of people in your life. Intense feelings are the norm rather than the exception for both you and your wife during this initial period, and you need to expect ups and downs as you navigate this new experience together. Let’s focus on what you can do physically, emotionally, and spiritually to maintain your balance as your world changes.

Caring for Your Body

It is nearly as important for you to care for yourself as it is for the mother of your child-to-be. Successful parenting requires stamina, and taking care of your own health will enable you to be in a better position to support your wife and your baby. Pay attention to the basics:

•     good nutrition

•     regular exercise

•     stress management

•     sound sleep

NUTRITION

Feed your body with nourishing food. Balanced nutrition does not have to be complex, but you do need to put attention on ingesting a wide variety of foods to receive the nutrients that keep you healthy and vital. Following a diet rich in six tastes and seven colors enables you to metabo-lize the health-promoting intelligence of nature into the healthy chemistry and physiology of your body. To cover your nutritional bases, we also encourage you to take a high-potency multiple vitamin for its long-term health promoting benefits.

If you are not already accomplished at cooking, this is a good time to learn. Learning to cook will enhance your sense of self-sufficiency and provide another opportunity for you to support your wife and baby. Pick up a couple of cookbooks and practice preparing some wholesome recipes. Being able to multitask will be good for the entire family.

EXERCISE

You need to maintain your physical fitness. The benefits of exercise are on multiple levels, ranging from reducing stress to improving sleep. Although exercise time is often one of the first things to be left out when life becomes demanding, we encourage you to make it a high priority.

There are three primary components to a balanced exercise program: flexibility, strength training, and cardiovascular conditioning. Each of these approaches enhances both physical and emotional well-being. Many studies support the value of exercise in lowering anxiety levels, raising the production of natural antidepressants, and reducing anger and irritability. In addition to feeling stronger and having better aerobic capacity, the mood-stabilizing benefits of exercise will serve you well over the next nine months.

Set your fitness regimen and stick with it. If possible, do something physical every day. An ideal program would be to perform ten minutes of yoga or other stretching exercise followed by strength training for twenty minutes three days per week and cardiovascular conditioning for twenty minutes three days per week. On the seventh day, take a leisurely walk with your spouse.

STRESS MANAGEMENT

It’s natural to feel some anxiety when a new baby is on the way. Your life is undergoing changes over which you have very limited control. The added financial responsibilities of a new member of the family may naturally create some concern. Learning to manage your stress will help you make the most successful decisions to maintain your balance.

Take time to quiet your mind in meditation daily. Practice a mindfulness technique, learn a mantra, or listen to meditation tapes. For over thirty years, studies have shown that people who experience restful awareness through meditation regularly are emotionally and physically healthier. Remember, you are of greatest benefit to your family when you are coming from a centered and calm place within yourself.

SOUND SLEEP

Your body needs sleep to rejuvenate. If you do not get the rest you need each night, you accumulate fatigue, which impairs your ability to stay centered in the midst of challenges. Studies have shown that inadequate rest results in immune weakness, lowered pain thresholds, impaired concentration, and poorer memory recall. According to Ayurveda, sleep is the nursemaid to humanity and one of the pillars of health.

To the best of your ability, try to follow an ideal daily routine that includes rising with the sun, meditating in the morning, exercising for half an hour, taking time at midday to eat a nourishing lunch, meditating a second time before your lighter evening meal, and getting to bed no later than 10:30 p.m. If you are having trouble falling asleep because you have too much on your mind, try the following simple sleep routine.

• Run a hot bath an hour before bedtime, adding a few drops of calming aromatherapy oil such as lavender, sandalwood, or vanilla to the water.

• Perform a slow oil massage on yourself while the bath is running. (See the massage description in Chapter 2, page 54.)

• After your massage, soak in the warm tub for ten to fifteen minutes.

• After your bath, drink a cup of warm milk with nutmeg and honey, or some chamomile or valerian root tea.

• Journal for a few minutes before bed, “downloading” your concerns so you are not ruminating about them when you shut your eyes.

• Read mind-quieting literature for a few minutes before bed, avoiding dramatic novels or distressing material.

• Avoid watching television or doing mind-activating work in bed.

• Once in bed, close your eyes and bring your attention into your body. Wherever you notice tension, consciously relax that area, then simply watch your slow, easy breathing until you fall asleep.

If you are lying still in bed quietly observing your breath, your metabolic activity is nearly as low as if you were in deep sleep. Even if your mind is still awake, your body is getting the rest it needs. Therefore, do not worry if you are not immediately falling asleep, and by not worrying, you will quickly drift off into a deep slumber.

Overcoming Emotional Turbulence

As a father-to-be you need to acknowledge that you cannot fully understand or appreciate what your pregnant wife or partner is going through. Her body is changing on a daily basis and the hormonal fluxes that are occurring inside her can contribute to rapid emotional shifts. Add these physiological and biochemical changes to her natural anxieties about pregnancy, birth, and mothering and you have the recipe for an occasional emotional meltdown. Compassion for your spouse is a useful quality to mobilize when occasionally she does not seem like her usual stable self. It’s important that you not take her emotional perturbations too personally, but, rather, look for opportunities to provide support and balance.

Your spouse wants and needs your unconditional love and nurturing as she experiences the physical and emotional turbulence of pregnancy. This means being willing to relinquish your attachment to rigid ideas about what you believe she should think or feel about her changing world. Intellectual analysis will usually not be of much help in navigating the emotional turbulence of pregnancy. Pregnancy is an opportunity to be a true spiritual warrior, cultivating flexibility without weakness, patience without negligence, and acceptance without resignation.

When your spouse is upset, remember that her distress is the result of a need that is not being met. Whether or not she is expressing her need in a fully conscious way, see if you can look beyond the emotion to the implied request. Sometimes you will be capable of meeting her needs, and other times you won’t, but the more centered you remain, the better you’ll be able to help her regain her balance. No one is expected to be perfect—neither you nor your partner—but try to seek creative solutions to the inevitable challenges that arise.

Review the principles of conscious communication developed in Chapter 6. Although ideally both partners consistently differentiate their observations and feelings from their judgments and interpretations, it is easy to fall back into a pattern of holding the other person responsible for your feelings during periods of emotional turbulence. Resist becoming engaged in emotional battles of attack and defend. Rather, identify what it is that actually happened, acknowledge the feelings that were triggered by the situation, uncover the need that was not met, and offer the behavior that will fulfill the need.

Your role as a supporting spouse is to maximize the safety, security, and stability in your wife’s life, knowing that this is the greatest value you can provide to your unborn child. Before engaging in conflict and confrontation, consider that your unborn baby is on the receiving end of the strong uncomfortable feelings that are generated. You wouldn’t have a heated argument with your newborn baby, so do your best to avoid one with your wife.

If despite your best efforts, the immediate stresses lead to an emotionally charged encounter, try to dissipate the strong feelings and resolve the conflict as quickly as possible. When you feel yourself getting emotionally overloaded and losing your center, practice the seven steps of emotional processing to regain your composure. Let’s take an example of a common scenario to see how this might work.

Driving home from a day at the office you get caught in rush-hour traffic and arrive at your house twenty minutes later than you had planned. Unfortunately, you forgot that your wife had a pregnancy yoga class she wanted to attend. Because you were supposed to be home in time to watch your three-year-old son, she is now at risk of missing her class. She is irritated and unloads on you about how selfish and irresponsible you are.

This encounter could easily go one way or the other. On one hand, it would not take much for you to react to her attack by taking out your frustrations on her over your stressful day and challenging commute home. However, engaging in a reactive response will only lead to more hurt feelings on both sides and possibly prolong the period before reconciliation, an approach that is not best for you, your spouse, or your unborn baby.

Alternatively, we encourage you to try a different tactic. Instead of mobilizing your psychological defenses, recognize that as a result of the discrepancy between the time you were expected to arrive and the time you showed up, your wife experienced strong feelings of frustration, disappointment, irritation, and anxiety. She has a need to attend her class, and the fulfillment of that need is in jeopardy. Rather than reacting to her reaction, simply say, “I’m really sorry I’m late. I didn’t leave enough time to account for the terrible traffic. I promise from now on when you want to go to your class, I will allow for extra time to drive home. Why don’t you leave right now for your class, and we can talk more about this later?”

Both your wife’s and your upset feelings are legitimate. However, at this time in her life it is especially important not to engage in a vehement argument. Once she is on her way to her class, sit for a few minutes and tune into the sensations in your body. Allow yourself to feel the strong emotions that have been generated and breathe into them. See if you can identify your feelings without using language that puts you into the role of a victim. Then do something active to release the pressure in your body that your feelings are creating: put your three-year-old into a jogging stroller and go for a twenty-minute run; put on some rock and roll music and vigorously straighten up the house; move your body with the intention to release the impulse to fight or run.

By the time your wife arrives home, you’ll be in a much better state of mind to discuss the incident without escalating the issue to an argument. Your commitment to minimizing the violence in your life is good for you, your partner, and your baby-to-be. Developing these healthy patterns will serve you well as your family grows. Your children’s style of communication is shaped long before they are capable of intellectually analyzing how they relate to the world. Help them establish healthy principles early on that will help them meet their emotional needs throughout their lives.

Awakening Your Spirit

According to Ayurveda, human beings have four basic needs in life: artha, kama, dharma, and moksha. Becoming a parent provides motivation and opportunity for you to meet each of these needs.

Artha means “things.” People naturally aspire to own things and derive pleasure from a healthy measure of material abundance. When you have children, it is natural to desire a comfortable home, a safe automobile, and adequate resources to provide for your children’s needs. On the other hand, if you expend all your energy on the acquisition of wealth, your financial assets may increase, but the other important components of your life will suffer. Manage your resources responsibly, strive for abundance, but never let it alienate you from your loved ones. No one at the time of their death ever regrets that they did not go into work earlier or stay later at the office.

Kama refers to love in all its expressions, including sensual love. We have an inherent need to connect intimately with people in our lives. Nourishing relationships are essential to healthy and fulfilling lives. A basic theme of this book has been to encourage you to make nurturing relationships the highest priority in your family. If your relationships are loving, you can weather all challenges in your life. Practice love in your life and teach love to your children. It is one of the most important responsibilities you have to maximize their potential for happy and successful lives.

Dharma means living in accordance with the laws of nature. According to the law of dharma, people are born with a unique set of talents, which when developed enables them to make a contribution to their community, while generating the artha, or material abundance they require to live comfortably. One of the most important roles that parents play is to help their children cultivate their special talents. Expose your children to as wide a range of experiences as possible and observe those opportunities to which they are naturally attracted or in which they excel. If your child shows talent in an area, encourage and support him, rather than imposing your idea about how he should be living his life. When people are in their dharma, they tend to lose track of time. Timeless awareness is one of the best signs that a person is living in accordance with their soul’s purpose in life.

Finally, moksha means “liberation.” According to Ayurveda the ultimate goal of life is liberating your soul through the transformation of your internal reference point from ego to spirit. Moksha implies that your self-identity expands in widening circles, so that you identify yourself less and less with your country, religion, ethnic background, or occupation, and increasingly as a sentient, spiritual being. As you expand your identity from local to nonlocal, your capacity for compassion also expands. Your actions become increasingly evolutionary and it becomes impossible to harm another being. Synchronicity and spontaneous fulfillment of your desires become commonplace, while your very presence generates peace, harmony, laughter, and love in those around you. Teaching your children these spiritual principles is our best chance for creating a world that is fit for them to live in.

Stand by Your Woman

While in most situations we are enthusiastic proponents of relationships based upon equality, during pregnancy the equation indisputably shifts in favor of your wife’s needs over your own. From the moment you discover she is pregnant until months after birth, we encourage you to be there for her, even when it means deferring gratification of your own needs. There are several important milestone events during the pregnancy when your support is critical and your presence should be your highest priority. At a minimum these include:

•     the performance of the pregnancy test

•     the first several health care provider visits

•     any and all ultrasound studies

•     any health care provider visit when there is a concern

•     all birth-education classes

•     preliminary visits to the hospital or birthing center

•     any test procedures

•     any health care provider visit when the results of tests are discussed

•     the birth

Be intimately involved in the pregnancy and birth of your baby. Your participation at significant moments will deepen your connection to your wife and your unborn child. These events are important and fleeting; if you miss them, you miss a precious opportunity to share in the development and birth of your child. You will never regret the time you take to be deeply engaged in this wondrous process.

Dos and Don’ts

For the sake of peace and harmony in your household, we offer a few suggestions that will serve any potential father well. Remember that your wife or partner is a somewhat different person than she was before becoming pregnant. There are now two people living in her body, and her reactions to you may be different than they have been in the past. People respond differently under stress than they do when they feel completely safe and secure. Stress is common during times of rapid change, and there are few periods in life where change occurs as rapidly as during the nine months of pregnancy.

• Avoid expressing concerns about your wife’s changing body shape. Saying anything approaching “Do you think you should be gaining this much weight?” is treading on dangerous ground. Trust that your wife’s body is going through the important changes it needs to in order to support your unborn child. In time, after birth, she will return to the shape you remember. Enjoy her voluptuousness now and look for every opportunity to express your appreciation for her beautiful pregnant body.

• If your wife expresses concerns about the appearance of her body, be supportive but do not suggest that you have been worrying about the same thing. If she wonders out loud if the stretch marks are going to be permanent, simply reassure her that they will improve after the baby is born. If she expresses anxiety about whether her belly or breasts will be permanently changed by the pregnancy, reassure her that her body will recover its prior shape in time. Do not say, “I’ve been wondering the same thing,” if you want to preserve peace in your household. Remember, your most important role now is to help reduce, not compound, her worries.

• Be prepared for fluctuations in your wife’s sexual appetite. Pregnant women often find their sexual desire ebbing and flowing. It is not uncommon for women to have little desire during the first trimester due to a combination of physical and emotional factors. If your wife is struggling with morning sickness, it shouldn’t surprise you that her interest in passionate love making moves to the back burner.

During the second trimester, women often experience the return of a healthy sexual appetite. The blood engorgement in your partner’s sexual organs enhances her sensitivity and pleasure. This is an opportunity to experiment with different positions that do not place uncomfortable pressure on her expanding womb.

By the time she is in her third trimester, your partner’s sexual enthusiasm will probably be waning. Carrying an enlarging baby is increasingly hard work and it is difficult for her to feel comfortable in her body. It is certainly possible to enjoy safe and pleasurable sex at this stage; you’ll simply need to be more sensitive and creative. Remember, even if you are not engaging in intercourse, you can still be affectionate and sensual with each other. Follow her lead and try not to take her lack of sexual passion personally.

• Make your choices bearing in mind the possibility that everything may not unfold exactly as planned. When it is time to go to a pregnancy checkup with her, leave enough time so you are not late due to unanticipated delays. Allow enough time until your next professional appointment so you will not feel pressure if the visit runs later than expected. Do not plan a business trip out of town within one month of her due date. Do everything in your power to avoid contributing to her anxiety. Letting your spouse know that being there for her is your highest priority will avoid unnecessary conflict.

• Identify someone with whom you can communicate, when it is clear that your issues and concerns are best not brought to the attention of your wife. Your father, brother, or best friend might be a good choice. Establish your own relationship with your wife’s doctor or pregnancy advisor and ask him or her the questions that are on your mind. Reassurance that your concerns are normal and easily addressed will keep you in your centered state of being, in which you are of greatest value to your partner and unborn baby.

First Impressions

There is no joy in the world that compares with meeting your child for the first time. Increasingly, fathers are given the opportunity to receive the baby as it emerges from the birth canal. After handing him to your wife, you may also be given the opportunity to cut the umbilical cord. If you have been taking pictures during labor and birth, ask someone else to hold the camera during the final moments of birthing so you can be fully present as your child enters the world. Life can be challenging, but holding your newborn baby at the very beginning of his life makes everything worthwhile at that sacred moment.

There is usually a period after birth—during which the placenta is delivered or tears may need suturing—that you can use to bond with your new baby. The child is often in a state of quiet alertness in which he will be very receptive. Speak to him; sing to him; welcome him into your family and into your heart. This is the beginning of a life-long love affair. You are your baby’s father. It is one of the most important and potentially rewarding roles you will ever play. Savor it from the magical beginning.

Enliven Through Your Attention

FOR THE FATHER

• Take care of your own body, mind, and spirit so you can be more available to your wife and new child.

• Flow with the inevitable emotional and physical changes your partner is going through during the pregnancy. Look for opportunities to provide your support.

• Identify your own support systems that you can rely on when you are feeling depleted or overwhelmed.

FOR THE MOTHER

• Place your hands on your belly a few times throughout the day and send loving thoughts to your unborn baby.

• Journal each day about your experiences.

• Early in your pregnancy, plant a tree or flowering bush to symbolize the growth of your baby in the womb. After your child is born, you can take care of the plant together.

• Read enchanting stories and heartfelt poetry aloud to your baby and listen to beautiful, relaxing music each day.

• Perform a daily oil massage on yourself before you bathe or shower.

• Diffuse an aroma while listening to music, while soaking in a tub, or while meditating to create the association between the fragrance and the relaxed state of awareness.

• Ensure that you have all six tastes available during your meals throughout the day.

• Choose to eat meals that are rich in color, aroma, and texture.

• Be mindful as you eat your meals. Eat at least one meal each week in silence with your full awareness.

• Practice meditation for twenty to thirty minutes twice daily.

• Pay attention to signals of stress that you experience during the day and employ stress-reducing behaviors to minimize the harmful effects of stress on you and your unborn baby.

• Perform yoga postures with awareness on a regular basis, being gentle and respectful of your body.

• Embrace your pregnancy as an opportunity to experience more natural healing approaches to common minor health concerns.

• Whenever an uncomfortable symptom arises, go through a mental checklist to ensure that you are taking time to relax, eating properly, drinking enough fluids, and exercising regularly.

• Develop an open line of communication with your health care provider and have a low threshold for calling about any emotional or physical concern that may arise.

• Commit to improving your conscious communication skills. When you are feeling upset, determine what you really need and ask for the behavior that will fulfill your need.

• Practice the seven steps for emotional clearing when you are experiencing emotional turbulence. Notice how empowering the process can be when you take responsibility for your feelings.

• Whenever you are finding it difficult to communicate with your partner about your feelings, create the opportunity to practice conscious listening.

• Become familiar with the stages and phases of labor and birth. Knowing the map will increase the likelihood that you get to where you want to go.

• Practice your breathing exercises so you can draw upon a wide range of centering techniques during labor.

• Explore with your birthing partner various massage, pressure, and breathing practices so you can build confidence that he will be there for you when you need his assistance.

• Commit to taking it very easy for the first few weeks after birthing your baby. Make bonding with your newborn your highest priority.

• Take care of your perineum and bottom, using sitz baths and herbal packs to reduce swelling and discomfort.

• Use all five senses to connect with your baby and create a nurturing environment for both of you.