Showing Emotion: A Letter to Dads-to-Be

Whether or not you’ve given it conscious thought, you are feeling emotions about becoming a parent. You’re excited, nervous, unsure, maybe even terrified. It might be the first, the second, the last. Maybe it’s twins. Maybe it’s a planned c-section. There are a lot of feelings to be had. So, how do you feel? Can you label what you’re experiencing? If you’re in tune with your heart and have explored what this birth means for you, bravo. If, like many men in our culture, you’ve learned how to hide your feelings, stuff them down so they don’t show, I have news for you. They will hit you like a ton of bricks when your partner is in labor and your baby is born.

I don’t mean to imply that women, both as birthing mamas and as supportive partners, are always in tune with our emotions or that this post is only for men. The truth is, I’ve only worked with heterosexual couples. This is NOT by choice. I am 100% open to working with any partnership or single mama that comes my way. This post is simply a reflection on my experiences.

Not too long ago, I walked into a delivery room to meet a couple preparing for a c-section. Surgery had been scheduled for numerous reasons and mom had had ample time to prepare herself. The couple had requested a doula’s presence and I was meeting them for the first time while their nurse entered mom’s information into the computer. She lay in the bed calmly answering questions; dad sat on the couch close by. A few minutes after the nurse left the room, I turned to him and asked, “And how are you feeling today?” He looked at me and immediately teared up. “No one has asked me that. I’m so excited but I’m so scared.” We had a good laugh about me being the mean doula who makes men cry upon meeting them. We talked about what to expect during surgery, but then we chatted about what makes a good dad. It turned out that most of his fear was due to being unsure whether or not he’d be a good parent. And THAT is a fear to which all of us can relate.

One of my first doula experiences was with a couple preparing for the birth of their second baby. When their baby girl made her debut after a beautiful three hours of labor and twenty minutes of pushing, dad had tears streaming down his face. One of the things I grew to appreciate about this partner over the course of our prenatal meetings was how comfortable he is with his feelings. He isn’t afraid to be vulnerable, to show it if something upsets him. But even in this moment, as he held his newborn daughter, he apologized for getting emotional. Why? Why apologize for allowing the joy, relief, and pride to show?

For many of my clients, labor opens a door for honest communication that may not always be available to them in daily life. What I mean is, when your partner is in the midst of intense contractions, feeling pain, pressure, and all kinds of sensations, she needs YOU to believe in her deeply and honestly. I remember getting surprisingly emotional myself at a birth early in my career at the amazing love in the room between my clients. She had gotten herself through most of active labor with music, meditation, and turning inward, but things had gotten intense and she needed her partner’s support. Instead of feeding her platitudes about being strong and capable, he began talking about why he fell in love with her. Half telling me, half reminding her, the openness and honesty pouring from him gave her the boost she needed. She was at her most vulnerable already. It made all the difference in the world to have her partner do the same. Usually I cry when babies are born. That time I cried during transition.

And then there are the partners like my very own whose stoicism knows no bounds. He made it through our first birth and subsequent three days in the hospital without showing an ounce of raw emotion. I knew he was proud because he said he was... when I asked. I knew he was relieved both our baby girl and I were healthy because he said he was... when I asked. I knew he was as nervous as I was because he was biting his nails. He made it through that first drive from the hospital back to our house. He made it up the stairs. It wasn’t until he opened the door to the bedroom of his newborn baby that it finally hit him and tears came to his eyes. I don’t know what happened next, of course.

My partner, my love, my sometimes-robot.

My partner, my love, my sometimes-robot.

Partners, becoming a parent is as emotional for you as it is for your baby’s mother. The sooner we all embrace that idea, the better. It’s not only moms who allow our hearts to go walking outside our bodies with the birth of our babies. It is you, dads, as well. We do not create these babies alone. We do not birth them alone. We do not raise them alone. Go ahead and feel your emotions. You have them. Share them. Admitting vulnerability during what is likely to be the most beautiful, challenging, and inspiring moment of your life does not make you weak. It makes you relatable, honest, and whole. It makes you human.