Let me begin with sincere congratulations. The date of your firstborn child’s arrival approaches, and you probably couldn’t feel more excited.
You’ve also probably been inundated with advice from Dads like me, eager to help guide you through what will be the most exciting and challenging thing you’ll ever do (parent a child).
Most of that advice comes to you unsolicited. You tell someone you’re about to become a father, and this opens up on the flood gates. Do this. Do that. Get ready.
It can be a little much, especially now because your baby is weeks, maybe even days, from arriving.
I’m not much for telling you how to be a Dad because much of that you either a.) have to discover for yourself or b.) is based on your own personal experience and circumstances. What works for me or doesn’t may not apply to you.
There is one simple thing you can do, however, I want you to consider. You won’t regret doing it. It just might be the best thing you can do for your newborn and your significant other.
Stay in the hospital for as long as you can. I’m serious.
One little room, five amazing days
When both my sons arrived, insurance provided an astonishing five days in the hospital. You might look at that and think it sounds awful, but you’d be wrong.
I’d give anything to relive those days now.
Nothing alters your life and rearranges your priorities like having a child. The moment the baby takes his or her first breath and cries, a new world begins as your old habits and your understanding of how to live begins to evolve.
My wife and I chose a small community hospital, which meant we saw only two or three nurses regularly. We got to know them, they got to know us, and we bonded, which to us, meant better care.
They taught us so much we couldn’t get out of a book or a YouTube how-to video. And it was because we had time to learn.
I worked a corporate public relations job which meant my phone and email buzzed non-stop (seriously, 24 hours a day, non-stop), but so long as we stayed in the maternity ward, my supervisor and the rest of the world could not contact us. While our existence shrank to just that little room in the second floor of the hospital, we were free. Free to just meet our newborn son and for all of us to get to know one another.
Sure, we were anxious to get back home, to start our lives together. I slept on a cot while my wife stayed in a hospital bed. The vinyl twin-sized mattress I slept on in college was more comfortable, and it was a slight improvement over the hotel room floor I passed out on after a friend’s wedding in my early 20s.
We had support. The nurses and the doctors helped us learn the little things like swaddling, changing a diaper, how to calm the boy when he cried. We couldn’t, however, take these experts home with us, even though during our five days, many became like family.
Once you leave and go home, the real work of parenting begins. You don’t get to go back to the maternity ward. Life, work, responsibilities, all of it morphs into nothing you’ve experience before because now a baby is involved.
plan for a long stay
I know. You’ve painted and furnished a gorgeous new nursery, and the idea of eating hospital food for five days sounds about as awesome as getting the flu. You’re ready to begin your new life.
Take. Your. Time. One truism about parenting – everything, and I do mean everything, from phone calls to eating breakfast to taking a shower to watching TV becomes harder. I’m not kidding.
Nothing, no joy, compares to being a Dad, but this s*** is harder than anyone knows until they become a father.
So check your insurance and find out how long they’ll cover you in the hospital after your child is born. Then pack your bags. Get mentally ready. Plan to stay there as long as you can.
Because you’re now responsible for the well-being of a tiny human who needs fed, clothed, and poops a WHOLE lot.
So long as you stay at the hospital, the only responsibility you have, and it’s a big one, is to get to know your baby. After the hospital stay, you have to balance getting to know your son or daughter with your work responsibilities as well as others.
Oh, and one addendum — While you’re in the hospital, every time the nursing staff wheels your crying baby into the room at night to be fed, which occurs in roughly two- to three-hour intervals, you get up, too. Don’t leave the baby’s mother alone. Get up and support her even if it means just sitting there.
Consider it sleep deprivation training. You’re gonna need it for the next couple of years. At least at the hospital you’re allowed to take naps, but once you return home, your job probably ain’t gonna let you nod off in the middle of your shift.