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The (Absolutely Petrified) Expectant Father

By Amalah


Hi Amy,

I love love your column and blog! You are the best at bossing people around on the internet. Please help me.

I am married to the love of my life. We were engaged within a month of meeting and have been living happily ever after for the past 6 years, married for almost 2. Enter problem: I want a baby. I went from someday-possibly-in-a-few-years to now!now!now! somewhat overnight about 6 months ago and the feeling has just not gone away. Just like you said about yourself, not having a baby is making me actively unhappy. Whenever I hear someone is pregnant I sink into despair that it is not me.

Anyway, hubby on the other hand is more reluctant. He says he wants to have a family but he is terrified of all things baby. Seriously, the thought of changing a diaper makes him turn white and then green. He will not touch a pregnant belly because the baby is a “creepy alien”, a friend tried to press him on the issue and I saw actual terror in his eyes as he backed quietly away and “hid’ behind me. He runs from our nephew’s spit up like it is toxic and he says he would prefer to not be in the delivery room with me when I am giving birth (this one really hurts my feelings). Hubs is really not a selfish guy and I know part of the reason is that he is very worried about my physical and emotional health because I have anxiety coupled with the fact that we live in a country away from our families so we would be pretty much on our own raising a child. We’re planning on buying our own place soon and he seems to think that will help him feel more together and ready.

I haven’t really helped him get used to the idea by talking about babies and pregnancy every chance I get. I really don’t want to pressure him but I want a baby NOW its just such a strong and crazy feeling! I don’t want to make him do something he’s not ready for or disregard his feelings, we’re best friends and have been equal(-ish) partners in all things thus far. This is starting to make our intimate times tense and that’s just not right!

What should I do?

Please help,

Well, for the record, I don’t think this is THAT uncommon of a thing for guys, though your husband probably is a bit of an extreme case. My husband would not hold babies, before Noah was born. Friends would offer to let us hold their babies and I would leap over tables to get my grubby mitts on the baby!baby!baby! and Jason would cower in fear, steadfastly refusing to do anything more than maybe suspiciously poke at its little fingers, like yeah. Cool. I guess. He liked older kids, and did some babysitting back in high school, but just never had anything to do with babies or diapers or pregnancy or shudder.

And then Noah was born and he never put that baby down. Like, I had to remind him that it was my turn, that Noah needed to eat. He is now the most loving, baby-crazy, hands-on, in-the-dirty-diaper-trenches dad in the entire world. So. There.

That said, I do NOT think it’s a good idea to just assume your husband will just magically get over all his fears when the two pink lines appear, or when your own belly swells or your water breaks or the doctor attempts to hand him a squawling, goo-covered alien baby in the delivery room. Pregnancy is hard enough without your partner treating you like some kind of freakish ticking time bomb. When it’s YOUR BODY going through all the craziness, it’s REALLY HARD to feel sympathy for a weirded-out bystander. (Hormone-fueled rage, however, comes surprisingly easy!)

He says owning your own place will help…well, okay, whatever. This is another common thing, this “we need to buy a home” first. (Which is funny, I think, since homeownership certainly ain’t what it used to be, in terms of offering security and American Dreamness.) But it’s a mental hurdle, and you may need to go along with it, as difficult as it might be. Nothing good comes out of one partner pressuring the other into getting pregnant, ever. You can’t “make” him as ready for babies as you are. You just can’t, I’m sorry.

HOWEVER, real estate has nothing to do with poop and spit-up and creepy alien fetuses. He will still have to address these fears somehow, regardless of whether you’re in an apartment or your dream home.

I would suggest: childbirth classes, parenting classes, and some books. Your hospital will offer childbirth classes (and probably new-baby-care classes as well), with a variety of approaches and methods. (The Bradley Method, for example, is husband-coached childbirth, designed to help him feel empowered and involved.) And there are TONS of great books out there for expectant dads about pregnancy, birth and babies, totally written for guys like your husband. (Jason preferred to just read my books, for some reason, and the “for dad/birth partner” sections of baby websites.) You don’t need to inundate him with information or anything, but just help take away the “fear of the unknown” aspects of his terror.

Many, many men share the delivery room fear — they’re afraid of what they’ll see, that they won’t be able to handle it (i.e. fainting, puking), that they’ll feel helpless and not be able to give their partners adequate support. His presence, of course, is non-negotiable, but concessions can be made. If he genuinely thinks watching a video of a birth ahead of time will make things worse, listen to him and skip that session of your childbirth class. (Talk to the instructor ahead of time, too, and let her know just how deep-rooted your husband’s anxieties go. She’s probably seen it before, and can offer additional help.) Don’t make him watch birth story shows on TLC if he doesn’t want to. (Those scared the CRAP out of Jason and he demanded that I delete my season pass to all of them at some point in the second trimester.) If he wants to stay up by your head during labor and not cut the cord, FINE. If he remains terrified that he simply won’t be able to cut it, arrange to have another labor coach present as back-up. Hire a doula to make sure that you have adequate support when you need it. (A postpartum doula could also ease his fears about your lack of a local support network, as will meeting other expectant couples through the classes.)

What will happen, I think (since you two have an awesome relationship, and he’s a good guy, and all his fears ARE normal guy fears, albeit maybe turned up to 11), is that you will get pregnant and he will realize that it is YOU who are pregnant. That it is YOUR baby-blob-thing on the ultrasound. And HIS. That when push comes to shove, he’ll know that he needs to sack up and be there for you in the delivery room. And that all the cliches about it being different when it’s your baby are actually pretty true, even when it comes to poop and pee and all that jazz. He may just need a little extra help getting to that point, or to a point where he feels prepared to take the leap of faith in the vague direction of that point.

Photo by apdk

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • Cobblestone

    August 31, 2009 at 8:56 am

    Ok, there is one thing in this that just – ACK! I disagree with the fact that right now, today, having him in the birthing room is non-negotiable. I think that taking a stand on that right now just fortifies his feeling that now is NOT the time. When he really understands that the love of his life is going to birth his child then he may be willing to consider it and work on some of the adaptations that Amy suggested but for right now leave it as open as you can, he hasn’t had a chance to fall in love with the kid yet.
    Right now all he can imagine is agony (hers) and helplessness (his) – who can really get excited about that?
    good luck.

  • Heather

    August 31, 2009 at 10:34 am

    I have a book that I’d like to highly recommend. Neither my husband nor I had any experience with little kids before our girl was born 10 weeks ago. Not even babysitting. Well, I happened upon a book called “Be Prepared: A Practical Handbook for New Dads” by Gary Greenberg and Jeannie Hayden, and I bought it for my husband. Let me just say, we have both read it a couple times, laughed like crazy, and we still use it as a reference. It is very well-written, funny and contains everything an inexperienced dad needs to know without overwhelming him with minutia or the lists of things that can go wrong that inundate the books written for new moms. We both loved it.

  • Melanie

    August 31, 2009 at 10:55 am

    My fiance was pretty terrified of newborns. He has an 11-year-old nephew, but was away in college when he was born, so he’s had very limited exposure to newborns. His sister recently gave birth to twin boys (OMG they are so cute and I want pinch their little cheeks… SQUEE!) and he took the opportunity to get a little more comfortable with the idea of babies. Really, he was offering to feed them by the end of the weekend and just two weeks earlier he wouldn’t even touch my friend’s two-month-old.
    I guess my point is going along with Amalah’s that it’s different when it’s your own, or even family. There’s less fear of “OMG I’m going to break your baby” and getting yelled at by crazy moms.

  • cagey

    August 31, 2009 at 11:13 am

    My husband was always super involved with my nephews and more than willing to pick them up and take them around. I had an inkling that he would probably make a good father.
    Then, he was not very interested or involved in either pregnancies. WTF? This was really upsetting with the first pregnancy. Now? I just see it for what it was – Manoj is a very “here and now” kind of guy. Very matter-of-fact and not overly emotional or sentimental about things. However, once the babies were HERE, he was all about THEM and is very hands-on with our kids. However, until they actually arrived, babies were some sort of nebulous concept to him. I would say, try not to over-think it or pressure your husband. Let him have his space and you will probably be surprised. How a guy acts during pregnancy is absolutely NO indicator of how they will be with an actual baby. 🙂

  • Lisa M

    August 31, 2009 at 11:15 am

    A lot of men are terrified of losing their wives, too. Of becoming so wrapped up in pregnancy/babyland that you lose part of the relationship. My husband loves our boys, but he just wasn’t that excited about the pregnancies. It was still an abstract thought until the 3rd trimester. Just try to address his fears without dismissing him. Good luck!

  • Nicole

    August 31, 2009 at 11:34 am

    Darren wasn’t going to watch, and he wasn’t going to cut the cord. He was going to focus on me from the waist up. And he did a damn good job. He’d held our friends’ seven month old a couple of times, but that’s it, and the instant he squawked, he handed him back to one of the parents.
    And then he watched her come out and he cut the cord. That was his empowerment. And he’s generally a stoic sort, but he teared up. He discovered that its different when its your own kid.

  • rachel

    August 31, 2009 at 11:54 am

    I, too, disagree that the delivery room is non-negotiable. Of course it’s negotiable. My husband did not want to be there, and I didn’t feel the need to pressure him to be (in the end it didn’t matter, crash c-section meant that neither my husband nor my birth coach were there). I have never understood why people would want someone there who didn’t want to be there. For my husband it wasn’t gore or ooginess, it was that he is really awful when other people are in pain. He is not very good at comforting things he doesn’t understand (case in point: when a girlfriend at work held my hand during a flu shot which terrified me she talked to me about cute boys. The next year when husband held my hand he talked to the phlebotomist about times he had fainted. Not. Really. Helpful.) So, guess what? I asked the girlfriend to be my birth partner! And it was great, and I loved having her there–even if the birth part I was alone. And you know what? My husband loved having her there–when they whisked me away they had each other to hold on to; when they brought me back woozy with the baby and he was terrified of that little thing and I was no help it was the friend who helped him hold my little guy.
    So, decide for yourself: is it so important to me that I should make my husband uncomfortable and upset at the prospect of being there? It wasn’t for me. For us, the rule was that if the time came for the screaming part of labor and he didn’t want to be there he could go–if he decided he wanted to stay that was all good too.
    And to top it all off–in our childbirth class I saw the look in all the men’s eyes when husband said I had told him he didn’t have to be there. Ninety percent of them were wishing they had married me! 🙂

  • Doug

    August 31, 2009 at 12:07 pm

    I was that guy and I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is I’m now a stay at home dad with a darling daughter. The bad news is that we were married about 15 years before we started trying.
    I do think demystifying things is a great first step. The Expectant Father (which shows up high in Amalah’s link) and Be Prepared mentioned above were the most useful. Be Prepared in particular really gets to the point with no fluff.
    The one thing I really disagree with is that you need to be making demands about his presence at the birth. It seems incredibly premature and frankly I’m not sure I agree with the “of course” part. Somehow generations of babies got born without the father there for every minute. I was there, and at this point I wouldn’t give up those memories for anything but if my wife had really pushed that issue early on I’m positive it would have backfired. Let’s focus on priorities here – we don’t even have agreement to make a baby and what, you’re going to pre-negotiate where they go to college next?

  • Jamie

    August 31, 2009 at 12:30 pm

    My hubs had pretty much zero experience with babies before our LG was born. He wanted nothing to do with the cutting of the cord and I decided to make it a non-issue. We hired a doula for our birth and even though it was a harrowing experience we had her there to help me and for her to help him help me. She helped both of us feel much better about the whole experience. He was also able to take breaks without feeling like he was leaving me alone.
    Be aware that fathers ALL become fathers at some point in the process. Sometimes it takes longer for others and some are in the process from the positive pregnancy tests. My husband took until the 3rd or 4th month of my son’s life to really feel like a father and to start enjoying his kid. They are now inseperable.

  • Susan

    August 31, 2009 at 12:55 pm

    Yeah, what Amy said. And, also, my husband was very similar to yours in terms of his fears. But, in the third trimester, when I told him that if he wouldn’t be there for me during labor that my mother was coming – yeah, well guess who was there? And, he cut the cord and everything. He even changed the first meconium diaper. It IS different when it’s yours. Truly.
    That said, I went through waves of “must have baby now!” feelings, and ultimately waited until my husband decided HE was ready. It definitely made a difference. I didn’t feel guilty, and we were both ready.

  • Bitts

    August 31, 2009 at 1:29 pm

    As positive as Amy is that the LW’s partner will step up to fatherhood, I just want to throw out there that maybe he knows himself best and he’s REALLY NOT READY. Parenting is so tough and you DEFINITELY don’t want to go into it with a reluctant partner if you have the choice. In my book the NO carries. Don’t have a baby your husband doesn’t want. Wait for him and work on it together until he really IS ready.
    Warnings aside, we were 100% ready to be parents but my husband was still kind of ambivalent through both my pregnancies. He just didn’t ‘get’ it. Now he is an amazing Dad — totally hands-on and involved.

  • ms martyr

    August 31, 2009 at 2:03 pm

    Last paragraph – he needs to suck up, not sack up.
    Okay, I am of the older generation where having the father in the delivery room was still a fairly new concept. I never wanted children so it was a non-issue, but if I had delivered, I wouldn’t have wanted my husband there. I know childbirth is a beautiful thing, blah, blah, but I just wouldn’t want him to witness me going through that.

  • zaracat

    August 31, 2009 at 3:33 pm

    I am sorry, but I disagree with much of Amy’s advice. I have seen dads that kept saying “we are pregnant” and boasting about the impending arrival only to revert to a single lifestyle (such as dad plays golf on the weekends, goes out for drinks with his buddies) when the baby is actually there and the real work starts. I have seen dads who were unemotional and unattached during the pregnancy and weary of kids who then fell deeply in love with the baby once born and became hands on. I have seen dads who stayed involved and hands on throughout pregnancy and child-rearing. I have seen the opposite. The most important point I think is that pregnancy and who is there in the room with you during delivery are, in the whole process of “child-rearing”, the first hurdles. Children are lovely, but raising children is an enormously difficult task. You are the parent, you are responsible for everything. A child cannot wait for you to feel better, happier, more rested, more ready etc. to meet their needs. When your partner is repeatedly telling you he/she is not ready, you should listen to him/her. Making them sit through videos and asking them to read books may backfire. These are intelligent adults we have chosen as life partners, not three year olds who do not know what’s good for them and hence need to be convinced with less than gentle persuasion.

  • Rachel

    August 31, 2009 at 3:57 pm
  • ms martyr

    August 31, 2009 at 8:52 pm

    Hey Rachel, thanks for the vocabulary correction. I have flaunted my ignorance once again.

  • Kim

    August 31, 2009 at 9:24 pm

    My husband wasn’t nearly this extreme, but pulled out his “but babies smell bad” line all the time. He was sympathetic and supportive during my first (very rough) pregnancy, but was not above saying, “hey, I wanted a puppy” occasionally.
    2 1/2 years later, he’s the one who keeps looking at our daughter and saying, “We had a baby. Where did the baby go? What happened to our baby?” Turns out of the two of us, he’s the one who’s all about the widdle ittybitty babeh. Me, they’re cuddly and all, but it’s really just a phase they go through before they really get interesting.
    Still think puppies are excellent offspring training, through.

  • Baby crazy

    August 31, 2009 at 10:17 pm

    Hi Everyone! It’s me the questions-asker. Thanks so much Amy for your reassurance and also to all the commenters. I think what Amy picked up on was correct, my husband loves the idea of his own kids and is ready for the everyday-ness it all would bring but it’s the whole process and newborn helplessness that scares him. He said he wants a family but not a baby!
    I’ve been trying to do better at offering info as an option but not forcing it on him. Thanks for the male viewpoints too. I will definitely not pressure him into having kids no matter what the biological clock says, because having him as my partner in life and his happiness is the most important thing, period.
    The delivery room issue is more about me always being able to count on him no matter what, and I think I will need him for moral support in there! But yes, I think if I offer a spot to my sister or Mom he may change his mind and want to be there as well.
    Also, sorry I should have mentioned this earlier, its not about owning our dream home or him using that as an excuse to delay, its that we live in a very expensive city and thus share a rental flat with a friend and he doesn’t think its fair on our flatmate or comfortable for us to bring a baby into the cramped quarters.
    So Amy’s advice is spot on as always and thanks for the book recs guys, I will leave them lying around the house…

  • Emma B

    September 1, 2009 at 4:06 pm

    Pre-kids, my husband was always pretty adamant that he didn’t want to be in the delivery room, because blood and guts and ew. We talked about it at length during my first pregnancy, but he’s stubborn as a mule, and I eventually said, OK, fine, whatever you want.
    On the way to the hospital, he told me he’d changed his mind, and that he wanted to be the one in the OR with me (we knew I’d be having a CS). And he was, and he did fine, and he realized he’d been completely worried about nothing.
    You should also clue your husband in that the squick-inducing stuff doesn’t stop in the delivery room. Nothing like birth and nursing to completely shred your personal boundaries.

  • LauraL

    September 2, 2009 at 2:34 pm

    Just wanted to throw in my $0.02 about being in the delivery room vs. not and is it negotiable. Obviously, every couple knows best what works for them, but in defense of “OF COURSE he will be there,” in our case it wasn’t an ultimatum so much as I needed to know that he was going to be there *for me*, because I needed him there. So he had time to mentally reconcile himself to whatever he needed to, and it turned out to be a good thing because we didn’t make it to the hospital with our first (thank you, precipitous labor of 30 minutes!). So he HAD to be there – physically, mentally and emotionally – and not be flipping out so that I could ignore everything else and get that baby born.
    A few days later, I overheard him talking to a friend, and he said that he has never in his life respected anyone as much as he respected me for going through all that, and without complaining. So, in the end, him being there and watching (whether or not he felt ready!) ended up deepening and strengthening our relationship.
    Which is good, ’cause having a newborn that doesn’t sleep will make you contemplate killing your spouse over the littlest thing…

  • eva

    September 2, 2009 at 3:34 pm

    My husband STILL hasn’t gotten past chapter one of “The Expectant Father” because he just wasn’t interested in our daughter before she was born. He was there but not terribly “useful” during labour, then was uber supportive and amazing for those first two horridly stressful and awesome weeks. He had no previous experience with kids as the youngest of 5 in a far-flung family. He had no previous interest in having kids, but it became non-negotiable for me so we did it.
    Now that Megan is 20 months old? He is an amazing father. She adores him, he is fun and adoring in return and it’s all good. That’s not to say that he doesn’t still resent her presence sometimes, or the pressures that her existence can put on our relationship or on his hobbies (no extreme mountaineering for him for at least a few more years – too risky and time consuming). Now we’re starting to carefully think about a second. Every time I read about Jason and his love of newborns and desire to have more kids possibly, I definitely get a bit envious, because those feelings are not so automatic for my husband. On the whole he has come to be a wonderful father despite early fence-sitting.

  • lindswing

    September 2, 2009 at 7:09 pm

    I just wanted to add that reading Dr. Bradley’s book really helped my squeamish husband accept the idea of being in the delivery room (I made it a non-negotiable for us). Having a very specific job to do and a vast amount of knowledge about the stages of labor, as well as all of the practice we’ve done, makes him feel confident about going into our baby’s birth (which should be occurring any second now). Regardless of your perspective on medicated births (Bradley advocates the least amount of intervention possible), going into labor this informed is fantastically confidence building.

  • kari Weber

    September 5, 2009 at 11:54 am

    With my first delivery, I had asked my cousin (who is super close to me) to be our “third” in the labor and delivery room. My husband was nervous-terrified-super-not-sure-about-gross-stuff…She had a great sense of humor, and I knew she would be comic relief, if not a great support. I wanted my husband to be relaxed, but I also didn’t want to be left alone if he had to leave the room. Even if it was just for a breather and a break. And I knew that the possibility that he would have to leave the room was very real. His father had died from cancer when he was just out of his teens, and he was nervous and anxious in both hospitals and with doctors. I knew that seeing me in pain, or if something happened could be too much for him. And that was OK. Because it isn’t about the BIRTH… it is about the BABY. He was able to stay the whole time, and although I think it weirded him out, he did it with help. On my second delivery, we also asked a “third” in, his older sister, who is really close with him, and VERY funny and supportive. It was great to have her there, because this time, Chris JUST COULDN’T DO IT. He almost fainted, he thought he was going to be sick. He had to leave the room. We settled that he sat on the other side of that curtain in the doorway and talked to me. But you know what? My sister in law was there, I had a great nurse and an excellent Midwife. And I had and AWESOME birth. But more than that, I have a healthy baby, and that is what I am going to treasure forever. Think of it like what they tell engaged couples: “The wedding is only one day, the marriage is forever”.

  • JW,NZ

    September 6, 2009 at 7:05 am

    I should’ve added, hubby does the usual rough n tumble with our son to be fair, does do nothing or ignore them, takes him out to things, but seems to get stressed too easily. I find it sad for son Sam as our son’s fairly active and he’d like dad to do more with him but hubby not always into doing the kiddie things constantly – which I agreecan get a bit much as it’s pretty repretitive and constant at times!, but perhaps that’s partof the depression too, having good and bad days…?

  • JW, NZ

    September 6, 2009 at 7:07 am

    My husband wasn’t keen on kids until we got together and changed his mind, he even suggested startng our family at the time, but now they’re here, as happens with couples I know of, the reality!, the man can be less involved than the partner thought of course, prior to arrival!
    He loves our two to bits, but it hurts me that he sometimes even says he resents the change of lifestyle, lack of money, frustrated at the whining/fighting the kids do, finds kids stressful, even though he nows it’s just kids being kids (they are good together but I think hubby lacks patience!), the changes they bring, much as he loves them, cares about them, worries about them and wouldn’t not want to have them & does do things, but is selfish in that he wants his old life – is that normal?
    I think it is in a sense but perhaps as mums we’re more doting/devoted generally in some ways, protective Lionesses etc. don’t get me wrong, I also miss aspects of pre-kids life, so can understand that, lack of sleep, free time etc but wouldn’t change it & don’t have regrets about what I’m missing out on. Is parents are very blunt and to the point, so perhaps he gets that outspokeness that most people would keep quiet on to themselves. I love him and he is caring and have good times generally as a family/couple, but find his attitude selfish and comments hurtful(maybe overreacting? and want to know how to deal with that, as I find it hurtful and frustrating. It’s not the kids fault and don’t want them to feel a nuisance.
    He was also diagnosed with depression a few years ago, had counselling and is on meds, but to be fair perhaps he has the ‘blackdog’ days, feeling down, which doesn’t make it easy. I had counselling re the depression too, and was told it’s a self esteem issue and he does say he thinks he’s a useless dad, so it’s not personal he says in that sense, is more about his lack of confidence in his abilities, lack of patience.
    Still, they are ours, they’re here and I want him to make the most of it rather than being tactless at times, bemoaning on how full on/annoying kids can be – he’s being honest, they can be, but still love them, but want him to ENJOY them more. Should I try to be more supportive or is he being overly tactless and difficult? I’m not being a doormat either, I’ve told him he needs to be the adult and accept the responsiblity, stressful as it can be at times – they come first – counsellor did say as we know that sometimes men can be selfish creatures, whereas the mum will often put everyone else first, so is proably part of that I was told. I know some more are more involved, but everyone’s diff I guess.
    Anyone else experienced this, with a dad less involved/enthusiastic about parenthood than they envisioned/would like? Can’t help but feel envious seeing dads who seem head over heels with their kids. Sorry, on a rant, but you need to spill occasionally!

  • baby-crazy

    September 6, 2009 at 10:40 pm

    Umm hi it’s me the original question asker again. So umm… we’re pregnant O_O

  • Bear

    September 14, 2009 at 6:51 pm

    I feel like it’s worth emtnioning, at least, that this whole dad’s-there-during-labor thing is fairly recent – like, the last 30 years. My dad caught me when I arrived, even though at that time it was very unusual and his mother had all sorts of terribly dire warnings about how horrible it would be. Historically husbands have been considered utterly useless for labor and delivery, and a mother, sister with kids or other person who had been through labor a few times before was present for labor support (snacks, cheerleading, &c.)
    Let me say, I am totally keen to be in the front row for the arrival of my kiddo (at home, we hope). But I think some guys are just not cut out for it, for whatever reason. Is that terrible?