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Once a couple announces their pregnancy, it’s not unusual for the man to become the target of a little good-natured ribbing. His wife is suddenly a mother, and he’s a father — and the obvious inequality of the burden of pregnancy is a little ridiculous. The man’s contribution to his new child’s life was fun and quick, and his wife gets stuck with the short end of the stick. At the bare minimum, the next nine months are all her problem and while she’s pregnant, the man couldn’t take care of that baby even if he wanted to, right?
Wrong. Not only can you, dad, take care of your unborn child, but it’s your duty to do so. Just because the baby isn’t born yet doesn’t mean that you don’t already have a new child, and every child needs a mother and a father. A father’s duty to raise his child starts at the moment of conception, not at the moment of birth.
But how the heck do you act like a good father to an unborn child? Well, not the way the mother does, that’s for sure. You don’t have to provide space for the child, and safety, and nutrients, and antibodies, and essential gut microbes, and milk, and the irreplaceable maternal attachment that an infant needs to thrive.
But here’s the thing: You know how sometimes you look at your pregnant wife and marvel at how strong she is, going through the radical changes that every new week seems to have for her? You’re right to marvel, because pregnancy really is that amazing, and hard. But a woman was never meant to go through pregnancy alone. Even before the baby is born, a mother’s job is a lot less difficult when both parents have an active role in the baby’s life.
While she’s taking care of your child’s developmental needs — since she’s the only one who can directly do that right now — your role is to take care of her needs. She and the baby are sharing the same resources right now because that’s how a pregnant body acts. Your choice has to be a conscious one. You have to look at your own resources — your mental and physical energy, your physical strength, your relative normalcy compared to hers — and choose to put them at the service of your family.
When you choose to take care of dinner and dishes, so she can take a nap, you are making a gift of your physical resources to your wife, but also to your child. Your little acts of love, like taking over the grocery shopping, and spending extra time with the older kids, and rubbing her back, and listening to her fears, and getting the house ready for the baby, and a million other things… these are acts of love to your wife, and just as much acts of love towards your newest child.
Your role in your wife’s pregnancy, and your role in your child’s life looks the same right now. Every act of love toward one is an act of love toward both. It’s easy to fall into thinking that you aren’t really a father till you get to meet your baby, but that’s just not true. Your fatherhood is already as indispensable as it is going to be through your child’s whole life. Your baby needs you right now. And if you’re not sure exactly what your baby needs? Well, just ask your wife.
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