Roughly six months ago, after many prayers, tears and anxious months of waiting, my wife, Miriam, and I learned with great joy that we are expecting our first baby later this year. The months of anticipation since have been filled with the typical joys and nervous concerns that I suspect all parents experience particularly with the first child. This period of preparation has also proved to be a time of great opportunity for spiritual growth both individually and together as a married couple.
I think that pregnancy requires married couples to sacrifice, trust, and love each other to a degree and in ways previously unknown to most during their marriage.
No doubt the sacrifice, trust and love required will only increase upon the baby’s arrival but pregnancy is a unique time most especially for mothers but for fathers too. There are countless ways for fathers to use this time as a springboard to further their spiritual growth. Below I list a few that you new expecting fathers might want to try.
Pray—Use this as a time to put forth the effort required to deepen your prayer life. If you’re expecting your first child, this might be the last time for quite a while when you can actually find some time for silent reflection and prayer. Make use of it. Additionally, if you don’t do this already, start praying together as a couple. It might be a bit cliché to say that “the couple that prays together stays together” but there is clearly truth in that statement and for many couples it not only deepens their faith but also strengthens the marital bond.
Miriam and I have been praying together since before we were married. There are countless types of prayer including, the Liturgy of the Hours, scriptural meditation, the rosary, novenas, Adoration, spontaneous conversational prayer, etc. However you pray, do your best to set aside a quiet time and place minimizing distractions. This is easier said than done, but give it a try. Miriam and I have found we enjoy praying while walking surrounded, as we are, by God’s beautiful creation in Western Montana. In your prayer, attempt to devote some time to the five basic forms of Christian prayer: Blessing and Adoration, Petition, Intercession, Thanksgiving and Praise (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2623-2662).
Daily Mass—In Lumen Gentium (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church) the Church reminds us that the Eucharist “is the fount and apex of the whole Christian life” (LG, 11). The Eucharistic celebration is the pre-eminent form of prayer for which there is no substitute. Is there a better spiritual practice available to new parents? Many new fathers have schedules that do not allow them to attend daily Mass. However, if your schedule allows, try to develop the spiritual discipline of participating in daily Mass. Offer there your joys, worries and concerns seeking the strength and wisdom you need to be the kind of father and husband your child and wife need and deserve.
Devotions to Mary and St. Joseph—As you begin this new journey into fatherhood, this is a particularly appropriate time to develop or grow devotions to the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph. Mary and St. Joseph know what it feels like to be parent and spouse in a time of great uncertainty. They know the joys and sufferings of parenthood and the great sacrifices required. Their faith should serve as a model for all fathers. The Church offers to us a treasure house of prayers and devotions many of which are particularly fitting for new fathers. A particular favorite of mine is the Novena to St. Joseph, Protector. As a new father you are both the physical and emotional protector of your wife and child. You are their support system. St. Joseph can serve as both model and intercessor as you seek to embrace and fulfill this role.
I suggest too, spending some time reading, learning and reflecting on the first and second chapters of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. There we read about Mary and St. Joseph as they prepared for the coming of Jesus and catch a brief glimpse of his early life. Husbands, I also suggest embracing what St. Paul tells us about how we are to love our wives. In his Letter to the Ephesians St. Paul writes, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church . . .” (Ephesians 5:25). Gentlemen, the bar has been set. Embrace the challenge with joy!
Attend to and Anticipate Your Wife’s Needs—Dads this really shouldn’t require any explanation but, hey, we all need a good reminder from time to time. I think that for husbands whose wife is working outside the home or caring for other children this is especially important. Our wives need us at this time. Everything they do requires greater effort physically and also mentally and emotionally. They are more fatigued, sometimes sick, and filled with understandable anxieties, especially if this is her first baby. While pregnancy is certainly a time filled with great happiness and anticipation, daily life can be a real struggle for pregnant moms. Do your best to make things a bit easier for her. Offer to get up and get her that glass of water she wants. Run errands for her. Massage her back when she is sore and tense. Offer to make dinner (if she is brave enough to allow you).
Most importantly, be her encouragement and support. Share in the joy of new life together. Remind her how she is already a wonderful mother and how the strength, love and compassion she demonstrates are such attractive and awe inspiring traits. And remember to remind her how beautiful she is throughout the pregnancy. We clearly live within a culture that views women as beautiful to the extent that they are thin. That is a lie. Your wife’s pregnant tummy holds the fruit of your love. What is more beautiful than that? Kiss that belly and talk to your baby.
I have listed above a few suggestions that I have found helpful. However, there are countless ways to grow in faith as you embrace the wonder of fatherhood. Please feel free to share some of your suggestions.