By LAIKA P. ORDOÑEZ
Moms usually take center stage when a child is born, and rightly so. Childbirth isn’t easy. Mom puts on an extra 30 pounds during pregnancy, making her back ache and her ankles sore. She gets up to pee about four times in the middle of the night (nature’s strange way of preparing her for years of interrupted sleep when the baby arrives). Then, nine months later, she labors for hours and hours, and pushes her baby out, while dad stands by and watches.
And finally, when the child is born, he depends so much on his mother for, well, everything—for nourishment, for comfort, for his very survival.
A baby, in his first few months of life, is so dependent on mom, and I can argue (many have, too) that all a baby needs to live is his mom. Once the seed has been planted, it’s a mom’s work, all the way.
It was the same for me, when we had our firstborn, Inio. I was front and center in the narrative, and my husband, Nicollo was in the sidelines. Life grew inside of me, while Nicollo watched as my belly grew and grew and grew.
Life was ushered into the world through me, and Nicollo watched as I breathed and screamed through each push.
And this same life thrives outside the womb because of my body, which is his source of nourishment, and Nicollo watches as his son grows taller and chubbier every day.
I think that fathers often feel excluded in this symbiosis between mother and child. Many moms I know want so badly for their partners to be more involved in the whole process, especially in the newborn stage when the baby needs mom so much. But in between cursing our partners for being almost useless at times (especially when baby starts wailing for milk just as you’re about to fall asleep!), we often forget that dads (some of them, at least) share that same sentiment, too. Yes, they want to help alleviate some of their wife’s new and difficult responsibility, but more important, they also want to share that feeling of being needed by their new daughter or son.
My husband is no exception. Even if he hasn’t told me, I know that he wants so eagerly to feel more needed by our son.
When our baby was about three weeks old, I caught my husband bringing Inio to his chest as I stepped out of the shower. Nicollo was attempting to “comfort nurse” the baby who cried hysterically as I finished up my five-minute bath. It didn’t work, for obvious reasons—the lack of breasts in his chest was indication enough that it wouldn’t! And we laughed and laughed at the attempt. At least he tried!
Another more serious time, Nicollo held the baby for just a few minutes before the baby cried for me again. Inio was nursing very frequently and wanted to be near me all the time. As he handed Inio back to me, I heard my husband whisper to his son, “You don’t need me so much now, my son. Not yet. But soon, you will.”
Dads do want to be more involved, but physiologically (especially if a child is breastfed), it’s just more difficult for him to take up more responsibility. This is a newborn dad’s reality.
How does a new father become Dad to his new son then? The answer came easily for Nicollo: The best thing he could do as a new father was to show his son how deeply he loved his wife. While Inio depended so much on me, Nicollo made sure I could depend on him.
While I labored and prepared to give birth to Inio, Nicollo was in the labor room with me and helped me breathe and sway through the contractions as they came. He held my hand and stroked my face when I delivered the baby.
When the baby was out, Nicollo changed every diaper he could so that I could get a few more minutes of sleep. While I breastfed the baby, Nicollo fed me and kept me hydrated. When I broke down crying because of exhaustion, Nicollo held me and wiped away my tears. After a long night of feeding and diaper changes, Nicollo made sure to get Inio at daybreak to let me sleep in. Even when I felt so physically unattractive, he always told me how much more beautiful I was as a mother. He always reassured me and made me feel secure.
Nicollo knew that the most impactful and most lasting gift he could give Inio at that moment was love and security. And children feel most loved and secure when their parents love each other deeply.
The second best thing Nicollo can do is to fully accept that Inio may not need him so much now, not yet anyway, but preparing himself for the time Inio will.
And he prepares for that day every day when he goes to work wholeheartedly, without ever dragging his feet to the office. He prepares for that day when he shows up to every commitment he makes and doesn’t flake at the slightest inconvenience. He prepares for that day when he pours hours upon hours of work on his side business to add to our family’s savings instead of using that time for himself. He prepares for that day each time he drives to Quezon City from Alabang to talk to his spiritual director to enrich his soul.
Nicollo knows that his choices today model what kind of a person Inio will strive to become tomorrow.
Before we know it, Inio will be making decisions of his own. When that time comes, with hope, he won’t need too much guidance from his parents. After all, he’s seen his Dad work hard and live a good, honest life. But when he does need advice, his Dad will be ready with a lifetime of meaningful stories to share.