Surviving a Sideline Seat to Pregnancy

Apart from mourning the devastations of the current pandemic, COVID-19 has given me a gracious gift — uninterrupted time to reinvigorate and relive all the mistakes I’ve made in my life. (Thank you, undercooked bat!) I’ve been using this time to ponder my pregnancy in 2018 — what a wild, wild, misguided ride!

I remember expecting my husband to jump at every opportunity to serve me during my pregnancy. Would he hand-feed me grapes? Would he risk his own life to stop slow-moving traffic while I crossed the street? I was sure he had read myriad articles in GQ about how to execute such activities. And surely his parents had groomed him for this role?


Today, I’m wise enough to realize these assumptions — not my husband — had let me down. Much to my chagrin, the anticipation (and prevention) of pregnancy was not the steady, constant backdrop of my husband’s younger days. This was a difficult discovery but painted a clearer picture of the things growing boys miss out on, mostly due to lack of exposure. I had spent countless hours accumulating wisdom and advice about becoming a mother from a wide variety of sources— where were these opportunities for my husband?

My husband was certainly eager to help me during my pregnancy, but he had no clue what to do to support this hormonal force, and I had no idea how to invite him along to help during the ebbs and flows. I should have let my assumptions and discontent gracefully bubble to the surface, but I stayed silent or yelled rash thoughts very, very loudly and waited for the epiphanies to come to him.

As it turns out, the “sending wants and needs telepathically” technique has never worked for anyone in the entire universe.

When I was pregnant, I grew aggravated when my husband didn’t read my mind. I remember thinking: “How unfair! Why should I have to teach this dude about his role in my pregnancy while I cart around a watermelon in my underbelly?” In fact, I had an obsession with making pregnancy feel fair and wasted 9 months trying to arm wrestle biology to do it. I had been raised to believe men and women are equal, but I’d never appreciated the vast injustice of childrearing and had certainly never thought that this inequitable distribution could, in fact, be okay with the right approach and partnership.

During quarantine, I scoured my memory and my journals for insights on the path we should have taken to welcome my husband into my pregnancy. I came up empty. I had never had a heart-to-heart conversation with anyone about how powerfully a partner can impact the pregnancy journey. My husband and I avoided deep discussions and focused on the perfunctory, mostly materialistic aspects of bringing a baby to earth. We both had unspoken, preconceived notions that the other person would just know what to do, and we could meet in the middle.

What I know now: the middle does not exist, and accepting this divide and starting the discussion early are pivotal steps toward better partnership.

If I had taken the time to understand, organize, and communicate my sticky wants and needs during pregnancy in a way that matched my husband’s inexperience, I do believe that entering parenthood could have been a funny disaster instead of just a disaster disaster. Better communication and honesty could have gave us more space to acclimate to our new relationship as parents.

I’m late to the game, but I’m taking the time now to translate the raw emotions I felt into action-oriented solutions that (I hope) inspire men to take control of their vital role as partners during pregnancy.

Simple rules to better support your pregnant partner

Note: These rules are laid out as if a group of pregnant women are yelling at you. This is intentional. If you follow these rules, you may avoid actual pregnant women yelling at you. You’re welcome!

Pronoun definitions
YOU = anyone trying to support a pregnant woman
WE = a group of pregnant women

1 Do not underestimate the immensity of pregnancy

For some reason, people who are not pregnant tend to think of pregnancy as a natural phenomenon, and that women will know how to adapt to the immense changes that arise at unimaginable speeds without a second thought.

This is not true.

Pregnancy is barbaric; it’s hormonal warfare. The physiological volatility women face during this time are some of the most metabolically-intensive reactions that exist on the face of the earth. (Think: the volcanic eruptions of human physiology). The laws of physics are at work here, too. Similar to the combustion of a launching rocket, we have a lot of leftover energy that has to go somewhere.

What’s more — the advice and cultural expectations for new mothers that have been shoved in our face for the past few centuries feels antiquated, biased, and unhelpful. Ask us about it sometime, but please, please do not dismiss the severity of this situation.

· Women have been having babies forever!
· Your body is going to know what to do!
· I’m sure everyone goes through this!
· Calm down
· Relax
· Take it easy
· Don’t worry

Our bodies and our brains will never again be the same. Embrace the immensity of it, and stand before us in awe.

2 We like the path of greatest resistance

There may come a time when you feel like we haven’t made a logical decision in weeks. This may very well be true. Our hormones are guiding us down the path of greatest resistance, and there is no fork in the road. We aren’t getting off this emotional roller-coaster anytime soon.

When you feel the urge to label whatever thing we’re doing as irrational, go gulp down a large glass of water instead. You’ll stay hydrated, and we won’t feel like locking you in a dark closet.

We like trotting down the path of greatest resistance. You can quietly stay put on rational road, but don’t expect or ask us to join. We’ll meet again one of these days. Until then, patience and kindness are everything.

3 Help pack the hospital bag

Imagine if you had to pack a bag for down-and-dirty weekend camping trip, one that ends in a pool of bodily fluids after the fight of your life? What would you bring?

Glad you asked! We would love some help packing the essentials for this raw, real adventure. We’re going to need a comfy robe, something nice enough so we don’t feel like a walrus hobbling around the hospital floor yet not too fancy so we feel badly when we soil it beyond repair. We’re going to need our favorite product(s) from home, even the rose water spray that smells like a great-grandmother. And, yes, we’re going to need potato chips that you secretly hand over against medical advice while the nurse is away.

Whatever it is that we think we need, can you offer to place it nicely in a travel bag and leave it by the door? Packing the bag is a testament that we’re in this together, and the bag will wait sweetly with us until it’s time to go.

(Don’t forget your toothbrush. No one likes bad breath, even when you’re sitting in a pool of bodily fluids.)

These 3 rules represent a small handful of the moments I missed to give guidance to my husband so that he could do what he wanted to do my entire pregnancy — support me and our growing child in a valuable way.

Learning to clarify our desires, communicate our needs, and let go of our assumptions gives our partners a fighting chance at new-parent success.

In an ideal world, this learning would have looked something like this:

For my husband — amassing an enormous amount of information about the female anatomy, cultivating his nurturing side, and asking difficult questions that have no ready answers
For me — letting go of old stories about the roles of mothers and fathers and learning to listen to and express my deepest desires for our growing family, even in the midst of hormonal disarray

These ideas seem simple but have taken us years to upend and are still very much a work in progress. I am always looking for ways to make room for love and laughter in my life. This quest was never more difficult than during pregnancy and early motherhood. Now that I have had time to reflect, the hilarity was plenty, but I was too busy to notice it while waiting for my husband to read my mind.

My goal with this outpour is two-fold: (1) for partners to receive standing ovations for their performance as the confident supporter of a pregnant woman and (2) to say ‘so long’ to my pregnancy resentments — go fly with the undercooked bats!

*Experiences are highlighted from a heterosexual vantage point, but the pregnancy-related considerations at hand may feel relevant for same-sex or transgender couples because unlike human jerks, estrogen does not discriminate.

This post was previously published on A Parent Is Born and is republished here with permission from the author.


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