Let me start with a cliché: nothing can prepare you for parenthood. Yes, you can read how to take care of a newborn baby, you can watch documentaries, you can ask other parents, but there’s nothing and no one who can give you the slightest idea of how you will feel in and with yourself.
When I found out my wife, Dora, was pregnant, I felt I had suddenly become an adult. And I was already 38! I had lived on my own for years, worked in different countries, travelled across the world, married a beautiful and intelligent woman, and it only took a simple phrase, “I am pregnant”, to realize that I was not a mature teenager anymore. It was the time to bring my A-game.
Within an hour, I had downloaded a few fatherhood apps about what I needed to do. The most important thing was to take care of Dora; so I did. She had to deal with dietary restrictions, physical changes, hormone imbalances.
I have a theory here: the hormone imbalance pregnant women experience is also a test for the suitability of the partner/father; a practice for their ability to react positively and to juggle multiple balls without dropping any of them.
As I read in this amazing book, Dora needed someone to contain her feelings, to satisfy her demands, to support her, and to reassure her that everything will be fine. I wasn’t sure myself that everything would be fine. She wanted me to be in the room when she would give birth. I doubted I could go through the experience without fainting, but I felt too embarrassed to admit that. Dora had to go through the actual experience, probably the most painful and demanding experience humans endure; how dared I say it’d be too much for me to be there to hold her hand?
I worked with my therapist on how to manage the labor, and how to take care of myself in order to take care of my wife. Suddenly, everything I did mattered. What I ate mattered. My physical conditioning mattered. My ability to focus and discipline myself mattered. My ability to remain calm under pressure mattered the most.
I discovered the benefits of plant-based diet and intermittent fasting; I restarted my daily meditation; I tried to sleep more; I learned how to exercise in chunks – a couple of sets here, one stretch there, a 20-min run between work calls. I booked medical appointments that I had repeatedly postponed for months. I wanted to take care of myself, because I knew it was the only way to give my best to my wife and to my future baby.
As Dora’s belly grew, she started forming a connection with our baby. She could feel him moving, kicking, playing, and I could feel nothing other than well-intended jealousy. For me, it was merely a cognitive experience. There was a growing belly and there was a baby in there; the doctor could show us in real-time what our baby did and even what he looked like in 4D. It amazed me, but it left me feeling sad for lacking any fatherhood emotions.
The only thing preventing me from feeling guilty was the idea that maybe evolution does not want fathers to form real feelings towards unborn offsprings. Maybe our role in this whole thing is secondary, that of someone who needs to be around just in case the mother needs something.
Don’t worry, the other dads told me. You will feel it when you see him, when you hold him in your arms.
And I did.
He was here, and I was different. And my wife was a hero.
I no longer felt I had to bring my A-game. I started playing like an all-star player, because I had trained myself. I was ready for it.
I never cared how long I would live. I do now. I want to be around for as long as I can. I want to see my baby boy becoming a happy adult, compassionate with himself and others, dedicating himself to what truly matters to him.
And I want to take care of Dora, so we can both grow old together and feel proud of raising a beautiful human being. What a noble purpose in life that is… This is what parenthood is all about.