There was shit all over the walls of our one-bedroom New York City apartment. My two-week-old son managed to simultaneously pee all over me and poop on our crisp, white, living room walls.
Aside from being somewhat impressed, I immediately realized that I was an unprepared and overwhelmed first-time parent. If you've ever seen the State Farm commercial where the main character keeps repeating "I'm never... (insert random life event here)" – that is basically me.
Marriage and parenthood have been the best experiences of my life. Our son was born a year ago and, after countless of sleepless nights, 'learning experiences,' and unnecessary doctor visits, my wife and I have at last become familiar with the territory.
Admittedly, I assumed but did not know what to expect. Today's your lucky day, though, because this list will offer some valuable insight into one of the most amazing and terrifying experiences of your entire life:
1 | Birthing classes
My wife was a marketing director prior to becoming a stay-at-home mom. Her ability to plan for the future keeps our little family in check and prepared. One of the most important things she did before our son's arrival was to sign us up for a birthing class.
We were lucky enough to have an energetic instructor whose ability to combine Enrique Iglesias's "Greatest Hits" with Lamaze breathing techniques kept us constantly entertained. You can only imagine the look on our faces as the yoga-pant wearing, granola eating, tenured nurse of 30 years straddled her living room coffee table illustrating how to squat and deliver a baby.
Not only did the classes bring us together in a comical and very informative way, but we were prepared for every step of the birth process.
2 | Photos
Leading up to the birth of our son, we basically relived our childhoods through pictures. Our families did not hesitate to share every photo of our youth that had ever been taken. Looking at our priceless memories made me realize how important it would be to create our own to share with our son someday.
Whether it's a camera phone or a DSLR, just make sure that you capture all the moments you can. I captured my wife's pregnancy and made a great photo book memento. I'm also compiling an album to share my son's embarrassing photos when he brings his first significant other home to meet us.
Disclaimer: If your wife screams at you to get the camera out of her face while she is in labor, don't be afraid to ask the nurse to take pictures instead. Your spouse may want to kill you then, but reliving the moment that your child came into the world is unreal.
3 | Prepared hospital bags
'Essential' doesn't even begin to describe this one. Below is my recommended checklist when planning for a stay in a maternity ward. Of course, you'll probably think of other things I may have missed.
Changes of clothes
Cell phones and chargers
Candy for the nurses
Medication (if applicable)
Anything you need to make the delivery room special for your wife (candles, pillows, pictures, etc.)
Safe car seat if you're driving your baby home
For those driving to the hospital, I would also recommend looking into the parking situation and pricing.
4 | Scheduled date nights
It's important to make time for your relationship. It's hard not to feel bad leaving your little one behind, but it's worse to forget about each other. A strong bond with your spouse will help during the stressful times. The first few weeks after childbirth can feel like your freedom is gone. It's not gone, it's just a change – a “new-normal.”
My mother-in-law actually kicked my wife and I out of our apartment to go on one date a week after our son arrived. Except for the tears during the appetizers, it was great.
5 | Dad-ready apparel
My son loves to be walked in his stroller, so a good pair of sneakers was key. Don't forget you're going to be carrying your child everywhere.
You'll also spend a lot of time celebrating moments in your child's life. Spruce up your wardrobe while you don't feel bad about spending on yourself. Whether for a religious event or work, a well-tailored suit is always a must-have.
6 | Sense of humor
There will be a lot of serious moments to come. Stay light-hearted and enjoy this special time in your child's life.
One of my favorite memories came after our son turned a week old. He was having trouble sleeping and woke us up almost every hour for a 48-hour period. We were mentally drained and feeling the physical effects of sleep deprivation. My buddy had given my son a large stuffed bear, so we decided it was time they were introduced. James's expression was priceless, and the laughter gave us the ability to power through the pain.
7 | Baby gear
After gallivanting around the city at our own leisure for five years, we immediately started to feel caged in our small apartment. Within the first few weeks, my wife and I knew we had to get outside. Our son was born in July, so we were able to take advantage of the summer weather.
I highly suggest a convertible stroller with a snap-in car seat. It's important to check the weight of the stroller and safety rating. At the end of the day, the stroller should be as comfortable for you as it is for your baby because it will be a constant staple in your life for awhile. Take the time to test-drive a few around the store to determine what works best for you.
8 | Defined responsibilities
My wife and I quickly assumed different roles taking care of our little guy. For us, this was a natural process because we both realized our specialties rather quickly and how they fit in with my work schedule. It's absolutely crucial that you are there for each other.
If you haven't done so already, learn to recognize your partner's 'breaking-points' and be prepared to step in to allow for some much needed sleep or a chance to just step away for a minute to take a breath. The first month is a test of true endurance.
9 | A good doctor
This is a big one. During pregnancy, it's paramount that you and your significant other find a pediatrician for your baby. Lots of pediatricians have scheduled meeting times or take appointments for interviews. I'd suggest meeting with a few different practices before selecting the best fit for your family.
Remember, you will spend quite a bit of time with your doctor in the first year of your baby’s life, so you need to feel comfortable and confident in their ability to take care of your child. Below are several items to think about when selecting a doctor:
What are the hours of the practice?
Does the practice have scheduled times for newborn visits?
Does the practice isolate the newborn and family from other patients when waiting for appointments? (This is important since your child's immune system will be weak early on.)
Does the practice take your health insurance?
How long has the doctor been practicing?
What hospital is the doctor affiliated with? Will the doctor be visiting your child after birth in the hospital?
Are there other doctors in the practice, and are you comfortable/confident with them?
What are the doctor’s philosophical beliefs about child-raising (e.g. thoughts on breastfeeding or vaccinations), and do they align with yours?
Is the doctor specialized in any particular area, and does this align with any known needs for your child?
What is the on-call procedure at the practice?
Make sure to examine the cleanliness, wait time, and upkeep of the office to ensure they align with your standards.
How far is the office from where you live? Is the location of the office convenient/accessible in the event of an emergency?
10 | Patience
Let's get real. While it's a wonderful experience, having a child can be very stressful. When things get tough, take a breath and remember that these moments are fleeting. Don't be afraid to ask your partner for help when you've reached your physical or mental limit.
I'm a strong believer that your child feeds off of and reacts to your energy, so you need to be confident and relaxed. If you have the support of family, don't hesitate to ask for their assistance when you feel your patience running thin.
I hope this list helps as you begin your journey into fatherhood. When you think things are stressful, just remember, in 17 years your son or daughter will be asking for the keys to your car.
Please share your must-haves in the comment section below!