Am I ready to be a dad?
So you find out you have a baby on the way, when a question pops into your head - ‘Am I ready?’ Or even sometimes a statement- ‘I’m not ready!’ If you have experienced this, then you are not alone. At some point the majority of expectant dads have had this thought cross their mind, and yet still go on to be great fathers. These kinds of thoughts just mean that you are aware of the enormity of it all – and it could be argued, this awareness means you will make a fantastic dad!
Having a baby is always a huge life change, and it is completely normal to have one of those ‘what have I done?!’ moments! This is just what your brain does before a major life event, and they don’t come much more major than this.
While these feelings and thoughts are normal, it is also important to think about how you react to them, and gaining understanding of them so you can make choices about how you deal with them is crucial.
There are many possible thoughts and fears which can cross the mind of a newly realised expectant dad and make him wonder if he is ready – so here are some of the key ones:
Who’s the daddy?
Believe it or not, research has shown up to 6 out of 10 expectant fathers at some point in a pregnancy will ask themselves the question ‘Am I the father?’ This is not a question just reserved for the drama of punch up and paternity test on Jeremy Kyle, this question can occur to men within what are the most committed, stable and loving relationships. Sometimes it is a fleeting question, and you may instantly dismiss it as being ridiculous. Sometimes it may linger a while longer and you are not sure why.
So why does it pop into our heads?
The reason for thinking this in 99% of cases, has absolutely nothing to do with the fidelity of our partner. We don’t actually think they have been unfaithful, which is why this thought popping up confuses us even more! The thought actually stems from the perfectly normal fears and anxiety we have about fatherhood – and it manifests itself as this thought. It can be because we are in shock about having created a new life. Sometimes it is because we are in denial because we don’t feel ready to be a dad. Maybe we didn’t have a great relationship with our own father, and we don’t want to turn out like them. Maybe we had concerns about our own fertility. Maybe the baby was not planned and it was a bit of a surprise. The list goes on, but the pattern is clear, it is solely linked to our self-doubt and not to do with our partner.
Acknowledging the thought first, and then understanding that it is most likely linked to our own self-doubts, is the first step for overcoming it. Usually it will disappear as fast as it arrived. However, if it does continue to plague you despite your attempts to get past it, then it might be helpful to speak to someone to try and resolve it. It is an important fear to reconcile rather than ignore, as it can affect your behaviour during pregnancy, attitude at birth and relationship with both your partner and your baby.
Money, money, money…
It is also common to wonder if we are really ready on the financial front too. Have we saved enough? Do we earn enough? Can we cope with our partner being on maternity pay?
Doing the sums, working out what the financial impact will be, worrying about how our family will cope financially – that’s the evolutionary inbuilt hunter/gatherer instinct kicking in!
There is never a right time, whatever your situation you will find a way to manage. There might be more budgeting, shopping in a different supermarket or something else but these things are worth the trade off in the end.As Hugh Laurie said“It's a terrible thing, I think, in life to wait until you're ready. I have this feeling now that actually no one is ever ready to do anything. There is almost no such thing as ready. There is only now. And you may as well do it now. Generally speaking, now is as good a time as any.”
Two becomes three…
There is no point being in denial about this (unless you want lots of arguments once baby has arrived) - once your baby has been born, you will find that your life has changed forever. Your baby might be tiny, but once that little person arrives, his impact on everything you know is huge – especially when it is your first baby. Yes, one thing is for sure, being a dad is a whole new beginning.
If this is your first baby, then you are no longer simply a couple, you are now also a family, as well as both being two individuals learning how to be a ‘mum’ and a ‘dad’ – that’s a lot of changes! Communication between you and your partner is key through these days, keep talking about how you both feel, don’t feel pressured into expecting life to ‘get back to normal’– you are living in a new kind of normal now and it just takes a while for everything to settle back down.
Allow yourselves both some time to adjust – it can be a big shock to parents how much things change, but having realistic expectations helps make the journey a little easier. Life has changed and you will all adjust – one day you will look back and won’t be able to imagine life before baby.
Some of us are petrified or very uncomfortable at the thought of being present for a birth- this is not that unusual, and through preparation and understanding, for the majority of dads, this fear can be eliminated as we tend to be scaring ourselves with things which are not really real. If you want to be at the birth of your baby and you feel apprehensive, then preparing for your role is really important, and good antenatal classes which specify deal with what you need to know are crucial.
However, for some of us, the fear or discomfort might remain no matter how much effort we put into preparation. If this is the case, then it is perfectly sensible to question if we are the best person to fulfil the role of birth partner, or at the very least, if we should be the main/only birth partner.
While dads as birth partner has become the norm of recent, there is always a choice. What is most important is that your partner has someone who is able to support her through the birth in the way that she needs. Maybe you could ask a close family member or friend that you both feel comfortable with to also be with you both at the birth, or you could look into hiring a doula for the role - a doula is a birth professional who can offer you and your partner extra support during the labour and birth. Thinking about who will be the birth partner/partners is an important part of planning a birth, and if you don’t feel like you are jumping for joy at seeing your partner in labour, it does not mean you are not ready to be a dad.
This worry is often a big one for dads-to-be: what if we don’t get to the midwife in time and I have to catch the baby? This really does not happen that often, and it is more likely that you will have plenty of time. If it does happen, you call 999 they will talk you through what to do while they send backup. In short, usually if you just stay by your partners’ side and don’t interfere, her body will do everything it needs to birth the baby, and all you need to do is make sure they are both kept warm and safe while you await some extra help.
It is common to feel unprepared to be a dad because we are not used to being around babies. We might never have really held one before, and so can be anxious about how to handle a baby, worrying we will be a bit heavy handed or just simply not know what to do.
If you are worried about now knowing what to do, then you have a chance to do something about it! Take control and prepare yourself, attend good quality antenatal education classes which will give you a chance to learn the skills and practice in advance, spend time with friends or family who do have children.
Remember one thing though: you will learn what to do and if you put a little effort in you will do just fine. Once your baby has arrived, it is normal to be a bit nervous at first, but practice makes a huge difference, so be a hands-on dad and get involved from the start. In the early days and weeks, there is the possibility of you feeling like spare part – unless you get actively get involved and get hands-on with dirty nappies and all!
So there you go, whatever your doubt or fear is – whatever it is which is making you think ‘I’m not ready’ - you are not alone in thinking it. If you need some support to deal with it, go to an antenatal class, talk to a midwife, join the Dad Info forum, but do something. Don’t let self-doubt spoil the most amazing thing you are ever going to do.