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The New Dad's Survival Guide
By Scott Mactavish
Little, BrownCopyright © 2005 Scott Mactavish
All right reserved.
LET'S DO THIS
SO YOU'RE GOING TO BE A DAD. Take it from me, there's nothing like it, bro. Nothing. Sure, you'll have a few bumps in the road, but just wait until you hold your son or see your daughter smile at you for the first time. They're moments you'll never ever forget. Believe it.
But until then, you have a steep learning curve, and that's where I come in. Before we start, however, let's clear up a few things:
First, I've tried to cut through the psychobabble and useless filler and get right to the straight dope. The contents herein are based on my own unique experiences and are by no means the final word. They are honest, though, and you can learn from my hard-earned successes and mistakes. Take it as one man's straight-up report from the trenches.
You'll also be relieved to know I spoke to dozens of doctors, nurses, new parents, midwives, mimes, Eskimos, and ninjas to get a full picture of new parenthood. They provided extra bonus information you'll enjoy wrapping your head around. So strap on your thinkin' cap, Gus.
When you see BCF, that means be cool, fool, borrowed from that profound and deeply moving contemporary philosopher Mr. T. Many of your anxieties and stresses, while valid, can be eliminated if you'll just take a deep breath and chill. You'll see what I mean.
And finally, this book is all about the birth and the following few months, when you'll be ramping up to full-on fatherhood. Though pregnancy is a whole different can of worms, there are a few important points you'll need to know in order to survive, and I've included them as well.
Enough said. Let's do this.
EARLY IN THE GAME ...
IF IT'S EARLY in the pregnancy game for you-say, three months or so-pat yourself on the back for thinking ahead.
You may think that at this point most of the details are handled by the FPP (female parenting partner), and in some cases they are. But preparation is key, and to truly understand and enjoy the birth process (and, ultimately, the first few months of fatherhood), you should get involved now. Trust me on this, it won't kill you and you may actually have some fun.
GET TO KNOW YOUR OBSTETRICIAN (OB)
FIRST, LET'S CLEAR UP a couple of terms.
An obstetrician is a doctor who cares for pregnant women and their babies, from conception through delivery.
A gynecologist is a doctor who specializes in women's equipment.
Often doctors specialize in both areas and are referred to as OB/GYNs. (You've heard this before.)
By now your FPP has chosen the OB who will deliver your NFU (new family unit). At least I hope so, unless you're planning to do it yourself in the den, next to your recliner. If that's the case, I urge you to drop this book immediately and check yourself into a psychiatric ward, or at least get yourself some nice restaurant-grade salad tongs, just in case. Otherwise, you should be attending the periodic checkups along with the FPP, not only to get a status report on the NFU's progress but also to acquaint yourself with the OB and her or his staff.
They are very knowledgeable and accustomed to clueless fathers-to-be. And if you're lucky the way we were, they'll be very cool people, too.
"This will make you moody and temperamental."
During these visits the FPP is, of course, the star of the show. You sit quietly and listen and will probably be confused most of the time. This is natural and expected. However, you are allowed to pipe up with questions when they arise and you should get familiar with the key physiological terms: vagina (you already know this one, obviously), uterus, placenta, and umbilical, to name just a few. And for God's sake, no giggling. You need not attend every single appointment, but definitely go when a sonogram is scheduled, so you can see the NFU in its alien form. You may even get a picture to stick on the fridge.
A SPECIAL REPORT ON C-SECTIONS
CESAREAN SECTION (C-section, or "section" in nurse-speak) delivery is when the baby is unable to come out via the regular tunnel and must be taken out through an incision just above the pubic bone. Your OB may tell you months before the birth that a C-section is necessary, or in some cases, you may find out after the FPP goes into labor and exhibits difficulties. Reasons for C-section include low levels of fluids in the womb, a distressed fetus, or health problems with the mom, such as high blood pressure.
Even if your FPP is healthy and the sonograms indicate "all's well," it would be wise to familiarize yourself with the C-section protocol, just in case. Many OB offices have books and videos that explain the process and prepare you for the procedure, should it become necessary. And if it is, don't sweat too much; it's a very common operation. Upward of 50 percent of deliveries are C-sections.
More about C-sections later.
DRUGS AND STUFF
NOW IS THE TIME to discuss the different types of drugs available during delivery (for her, not you, although you may want something after you see a head pop out of your FPP's nether regions). You should ask about epidurals and analgesics and the pros and cons associated with each. Of course, it's her decision, but you'll definitely want to know what's going on when they stick a needle in your lovely girl's spinal column and start pumping in strange fluids. (See the Glossary for an explanation of the epidural.)
It's beyond the scope of this book to recommend any type of drug, but I've seen an epidural turn a snarling, thrashing alligator into a kitten in the span of five minutes. You do the math.
EDUCATION = SERENITY
THERE ARE FEW TIPS more important than the one I'm about to lay on you. You may resist and go kicking and screaming, but believe me, on the big day you will be glad you went. Most obstetricians offer these classes or can refer you to a good teacher. Here goes:
CRITICAL SURVIVAL TIP Attend childbirth education classes with the FPP. Doing so will prevent a major freak-out when a human pops out of your FPP's private parts, as well as preparing you for your role as a birthing coach.
The classes usually take place one evening a week for two months and are attended by eight or ten couples, all about as far along as you in the pregnancy cycle. The classes cover everything from the actual mechanics of the birthing process (which is pretty damn cool, actually) to breathing exercises to postpartum psychology.
But mainly you learn how to be a birthing coach.
Your role as birthing coach is to keep your FPP as comfortable as possible and handle the logistics outside the birthing room, such as calling grandparents and fetching ice chips during the labor process.
"I coached ice dancing at my college."
The breathing exercises are very important, and you will use them in the delivery room. Pay special attention because the FPP will need your help while your son or daughter squirms out through the exit chute.
You also learn how and when to give proper backrubs, the mechanics of the womb (very cool, incidentally), relaxation techniques, and when to hold the FPP's legs, among other topics.
CRITICAL SURVIVAL TIP Pay special attention to the breathing exercises. You will use them during the delivery.
READ NOW, REJOICE LATER
AS YOUR NFU DEVELOPS, he begins to pick up sounds from outside his current quarters at the Hotel FPP. He hears music, voices, dogs barking, and horns honking. In fact, he hears a muffled version of nearly everything you hear. Your voice becomes especially familiar to him, and on the big day, when he is jerked from his warm womb with a view and placed on a cold, bright table and you talk to him face-to-face for the first time, he will recognize your voice and it will calm him down and you will remember that one moment for the rest of your life. Believe it.
You can establish early communication with your NFU by reading to him through the FPP's belly. Though it may seem odd at first, you will get the hang of it and he will respond with kicks and punches-his way of telling you, "Hey, I like Sports Illustrated, keep it up, big guy." And you can read anything; he doesn't care: the York Times, a magazine, a children's book ... as long as he hears your voice, he's happy. However, it may be wise to avoid any type of adult material, as the FPP may swat the back of your head if you tell the NFU the one about the blonde, the priest, and the chicken.
One very cool residual effect of womb reading is kids' response to books as they grow. Aside from his soccer ball, my NFU's favorite possessions are books. At three months he would instantly calm down when read to and at six months knew how to flip through a book from front to back. (Hell, yes, I'm a proud dad!)
SEEMS SIMPLE ENOUGH. Just budget for one more person, who probably won't eat much anyway, right?
I weep for you, brother, if that's your outlook. Your whole financial life is about to get flipped-but with a little planning, you can get through it just fine. The following are a few of the issues you'll need to attend to:
1. Insurance. Time to add baby and watch the premium jump. If you're covered by your job, and I hope you are, make certain pediatric care is part of your coverage. Also get yourself a nice life insurance policy covering the family in case you get smoked (God forbid). A thirty-year-old guy can purchase a term life insurance policy offering $500,000 in coverage for about $200 a year.
You are about to make your insurance agent very happy.
CRITICAL SURVIVAL TIP Check your health insurance to ensure that all of your expenses are covered, including the anesthesiologist (if the FPP receives an epidural), obstetrician, hospital stay, aftercare, etc. Virtually everything in and around the hospital is expensive, so check the policy closely to avoid nasty surprises.
2. Will. Get yourself a good lawyer to write up a will, or to cut the costs, buy a software program and do it yourself. (You'll have to have it witnessed and notarized.) Either way, be sure your assets have a place to go other than probate, for probate is a pain in the assets.
Don't you wish.
3. College savings. I don't need to explain this one. Anyone who's been to college in the past ten years knows what the costs are like. And when your NFU is ready eighteen years from now, who knows what kind of hellish tuition bill will arrive in one of those annoying envelopes with plastic windows. Better to plan with a competent financial adviser now than to sell the boat later. Oh, and if you aspire to enroll the NFU in private school in a few years, be advised that the tuition for the better schools matches the gross national product of several small Caribbean nations.
And that's just for textbooks!
CRITICAL SURVIVAL TIP The miracle of compound interest should be fully exploited when choosing a college savings plan. For example: $5,000 @ 6% interest 3 18 years = $14,271.70 That's if you don't touch it. It would obviously be much more if you added $1,000 annually for the eighteen years or if you found a higher interest rate. Also, be sure to discuss tax benefits with your financial planner when setting up a college savings plan.
4. Baby gear, food, and clothing. Dear God, women love baby gear. Yes, much of it is necessary, but be prepared: every bit of your beer money on onesies, sippy cups, binkies, and bouncy chairs. (Don't worry, I explain all of these in the Glossary.) Baby does indeed need a new pair of shoes, so be prepared to fill every single free inch of your home with baby paraphernalia. And forget about the beer money, you won't have time to enjoy it anyway.
5. Transportation. Go ahead, grab the Kleenex. You will soon trade in your pickup for a minivan, and there's not a damn thing you can do about it.
Say hello to your new set of wheels and good-bye to your manhood.
YOU SHOULD FIND a good pediatrician a few months before the birth. Your best bet is to get a referral from friends, relatives, or your OB. Get a few names and set up interviews at their offices if possible. Obviously, you want a physician with great credentials, reputation, and education. But you also want a doctor you click with on a more personal level. Why? Because the first time your NFU comes down with a fever or the croup, you'll freak out and need someone you can trust on the other end of the phone at 3:00 A.M. Pediatricians, like OBs, are a unique breed and are accustomed to wigged-out parents who call at midnight or burst through the clinic door with wild eyes and a feverish baby in tow. It's good to have a physician with an even temperament; he or she will keep you calm.
Here are a few questions to ask at the interview:
* Are there other doctors in the practice? Who will take over if my primary physician is away?
* How many offices are in the practice, where are they, what are the hours, etc.?
* Will the doctor visit the NFU as a newborn?
* What is the protocol for emergency calls, late-night calls, emergency visits, etc.?
* Does the office have walk-in hours, or is it appointment-only?
* How does the billing work in relation to my insurance policy? (Take an insurance card to the meeting.)
* Who are the nurses and assistants?
But ask any other questions that chap you.
CRITICAL SURVIVAL TIP Once you choose a pediatrician, put the office numbers on speed dial on all of your phones, including your cell. You will inevitably need it while driving and don't want to crash or break the law trying to find the number.
COUNTDOWN: ONE MONTH TO D-DAY
OKAY, SO NOW YOU'RE EDUCATED and the paperwork is done.
Get ready, big guy, it's party time. You've been through eight months of pregnancy (fun, ain't it?) and birthing classes, and now Junior's 'bout to break on out.
Or maybe you've spent the better part of three years trudging through the adoption process, chopping away paperwork like vines in the jungle, and now your new recruit is on the bus home.
Either way, Slappy, your life's about to change big-time, and no matter what you anticipate, it will be a thousand times more intense than you ever imagined. The lows are low, and the highs are better than any drug on earth.
Sure, you're nervous now, but just wait until that little guy wraps his hand around your finger or smiles up at you with those gnarly gums. Your heart will break a million times, in a good way, and you'll forever be Daddy and you'll wear your stripes proudly. But there are a few more cats to skin-nasty, screeching cats with claws like razors.
Excerpted from The New Dad's Survival Guide by Scott Mactavish Copyright © 2005 by Scott Mactavish. Excerpted by permission.
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