Becoming Dad: An Humbling Birth Experience of a New Father and Nurse

Not to sound conceited but I’m a great nurse. I’m competent, compassionate, levelheaded and a reasonable critical thinker. I’ve run codes, deescalated agitated patients, inspired students and led healthcare teams. I’m reminded daily that being a nurse is a privilege and we owe it to our patients to continue to learn and grow professionally. With that being said, nothing I’ve experienced in my career could ever prepare me for becoming a father for the first time. Nurses General Nursing Article

Most people who know me from this site know that in addition to being a practicing nurse and graduate student, I'm also a new dad. For the entirety of my wife's pregnancy, I read everything I could get my hands on about babies and fatherhood and my free time was spent reviewed the current literature and evidence-based practices about childbirth and care of neonates. As you can imagine, my wife's OB/midwife and the nursing care team found my incessant questions helpful, thought-provoking and refreshing. Throughout most of this pregnancy I was able to form intelligent thoughts and remained relatively coherent, but as soon as we were admitted to the labor and delivery unit I felt my IQ plummet and all that I have learned as a nurse escaped me.

I started writing this from the comforts of a plastic pull out chair in our delivery suite. Its not because I'm disengaged from the process but because my wife has ordered me to do something that will keep me busy and provide her with a moment of peace from my dissent into madness. Now that we are heading into the tail end of this adventure, here are a few things I have learned so far.

1. Pack the car early, be ready for anything and realize the birth plan is merely a wish list.

My wife and I arrived at the OB/midwife's office for our 40-week routine check-up appointment, and within 15 minutes of the visit she was being transported to the labor and delivery unit for admission because of hypertension and possible preeclampsia. This was certainly not in the birth plan but thankfully my wife insisted that pack the car earlier in the week "just in case". Even though my wife and I are both nurses, the whole situation left us feeling confused, overwhelmed, and frightened. Thankfully it has worked out well and we have our little guy safe and sound.

2. Television and movies often make childbirth appear as if it is quick and results in the perfect child.

My wife ended up being induced for medical reasons and then delivered our son lady partslly 30 hours later. I'm not saying that there aren't people who come to the hospital and deliver their child within a few minutes/hours (especially for multiparous women and those waited until the later stages of labor before leaving home). However, many women come to the hospital actively in labor and end up waiting hours before delivery (a fact emphasized by the nurses on the labor and delivery unit). I'm by no means an expert, but Dads need to be patient and realize that you may be waiting a while for your little one even after Mom gets admitted to the hospital and is actively laboring.

The second part of this is that Hollywood has a nice way of showing newborn babies as chubby, normocephalic and free of any and all blemishes. Babies are amazing and beautiful little creatures, but sometimes they look a little funky when they first arrive. Case in point, If a woman is delivering lady partslly, there is no way in heck that the baby isn't going to have the characteristic baby cone head. Cone head is expected and will resolve within the first few days of life but I have yet to see a television show or film that depicts a real cone head baby. They also don't show a lot of babies with blemishes such as stork bites, cafe au lait spots or Mongolian spots and yet 80% babies have at least one type of birthmark. Why do I mention this? I say it because your baby is likely to have a few birthmarks and maybe have a little cone head going on but when you see them for the first time you are blinded by their perfection.

3. Treat the nursing staff well and they won't forget it.

My mother told me that when I was born my father made a point of buying the OB nurses a ton of snacks and took every opportunity to remind them how much he appreciated all of their support during the delivery and postpartum phases. Interestingly enough, my mother found that her medication was never late and many of the nurses volunteered to sit with me so that she could have time to sleep while recovering from delivery no matter how busy the unit was. As a nurse myself, I know that we are usually not paid nearly enough for all that we do and any acknowledgment or sign of appreciation from a patient only inspires me to work even harder. The unit we were on has been very busy over the past few days and I have taken the chance to buy food (pizza, cookies, fresh fruit/veggies, etc.) for the nursing staff on a few occasions during our admission to show our thanks. I'm not sure if it has influenced my wife's care but I've noticed that all of the staff seem to go out of their way to ensure that she and the baby remain comfortable. Besides the potential of gaining the love of the OB staff, its nice way to show the appreciation for all of the hard work that they do including: labor coaching, breastfeeding assistance, parenting education and administration of direct care. My next step once we are settled at home is to write the hospital a letter of appreciation that will include the names of all of the nurses that helped us during our stay (I made a few quick notes so I wouldn't forget).

4. Take help whenever you can get it.

I realize that we are lucky to have such a supportive network of family and friends and not everyone has such a support system but if you do don't be afraid to accept help when it is offered. We have had people bring us food, help with household chores, help to watch the baby for short periods of time while we rest and just provide a supportive listening ear or shoulder to cry on. Don't be afraid to set limits with visiting and having guests to see the baby but also realize that if you are clear with what you need for help many people are understanding and willing to do whatever it takes.

5. Sleep is by and far the most valuable commodity.

Money means nothing to us anymore, I am exhausted but I have been able to catch more naps than my poor wife who is up constantly to feed our little guy (cluster feeding is a sick joke of mother nature by the way). I joked with some of my new Dad friends (I'm already working on getting "Dad friends") that I would sell my soul or empty my life savings to buy my wife some much-deserved rest. Right now we are just taking it day by day and I know that it will get better with time but I remain firm that sleep is the most valuable commodity.

6. Childbirth is the messiest and yet most beautiful process in life.

My wife actively labored (pushing at 10 CM and 100% effaced) for 2 hours before our son was ready to come out. For the first hour and a half, it was her nurse and I coaching her, holding her legs and helping her to push before the OB arrived in the last 30 minutes to catch the baby. In my wife's own words, the whole ordeal was hot, sweaty, messy and a "crime scene of body fluids". Nurses aren't squeamish and I have seen more than my fair share of body fluids so it wasn't a big deal for me at all but for some dads it might be a lot to process all at once. All I can say is that even when she felt "hot, sweaty and disgusting" I was in complete awe of her and couldn't have been prouder of her. She was as beautiful to me in those moments as she was on our wedding day and I will never forget it. All I could do was continue to whisper in her ear that I was so proud of her and she did such a good job.

7. Don't be surprised if you suddenly forget everything you ever learned about being a nurse.

I am an experienced ED nurse, I have cared for children of various ages and when it is someone else's child I can remain calm and collected even when they cry and appear in great distress. When I hear my boy cry I become a stupid and clueless mess, on some level I know logically that as long as he is clean/dry, warm, and fed that he is not suffering and just needs to be held and settled but that doesn't stop me from going into crisis mode. I know that in time this will get better and we will eventually get settled into a routine but for now his mother and I need to cut ourselves some slack. The hardest thing to and realize that we aren't his nurses/healthcare providers

I know that there is more but I think that sleep-deprived delirium is beginning to set in so I will call it a wrap for this article. I ask you readers (dads, moms, grandparents, etc.), what stories or advice do you have to share about childbirth, becoming a parent for the first time, and the challenges of switching from "nurse mode" to "mommy/daddy mode"?

Congratulations! I too just became a dad for the first time in November. You are so right when you write about the frenzy that is childbirth! Even though things may not be going by fast time-wise (my wifes labor ended up being around 20 hours or so), everything just turns into a blur when you try to remember it.

To be honest, I don't know how ready I was to be a dad. Sure, I had 9 months notice, but I'd never done anything like it before. I was scared that I wouldn't know what to do or how to do it, but I have been pleasantly surprised of my experience; being a dad isn't like woodworking or construction (or nursing!), there isn't a manual or instructions. No matter how much preparation I had done prior to my daughters birth, it all kinda went out the window when she was born. Not because it was all worthless, but because I just knew how to take care of her. Hope you have a similar amazing experience! Enjoy your little one!

Specializes in ICU; Telephone Triage Nurse.

I graduated with my BSN 7 months pregnant, drove to Phoenix to sit the last pencil and paper NCLEX 1 1/2 months later, then delivered my only child at 27 years old via C-section 2 weeks afterward.

Everything I learned about L&D and neonates from a nursing perspective is far, far different as a patient. Because they knew I was a nurse I got less information than the usual postpartum woman. I learned a C-section incision is really, really painful, and thought I may dehisce and my intestines would spill out the first time I sneezed. Sleep became an elusive pipedream, and I also discovered a bit tearfully that returning to the work force 6 weeks later was not enough time off.

My son didn't sleep through the night for the first 3 years.

I would have sold my soul to get some sleep.

My son turns 23 tomorrow (February 24th). And on this end of the timeline I would now sell my soul to be able to do it all over again. :)

Congratulations! You may not know it yet, but being a dad will make you a better nurse. I agree with everything you said but I already knew that stuff because I did labor and delivery and lots of other stuff before having kids. If it involves me or my kids, I lose my brain much of the time. Too personal.

When I was in labor I trusted my team so I had them turn the monitors away from me so I could be more "mom" and less "nurse." When the baby came out and she as floppy, pale, and had the "deer in the headlights" look from a nuchal cord, secondary apnea, etc I remember being super annoyed that the nurses were still drying her off when I wanted her bagged/given PPV. I was doing sign language type stuff - "bag her! I dont give a sh#t if she's skin to skin." Would've gotten out of my bed and done it myself but my epidural wouldnt let me :-) Ah, what a relief with that first good cry. Then I could relax.

I didnt do a birth plan - what's the point? The more flexible & open-minded you are the better off your labor will be. The OB/nurses need to know - epidural or 'natural', breast or formula, circ or not, who's cutting the cord, that's about it.

You can spend your life caring for babies but like somebody told me once - cant remember who - we're all amateurs with the first one. It's all good.