Should dads really take paternity leave?

New York Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy has missed the first three games of the baseball season to be with his wife who went into labor with their son Monday.

According to Major League Baseball, players are given three days of paternity leave to spend with their wife and newborn, and Murphy took them. No big deal right?

Well, yesterday, former NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason shared his thoughts on Murphy’s decision:

“Quite frankly I would’ve said ‘C-section before the season starts. I need to be at opening day. This is what makes our money, this is how we’re going to live our life, this is going to give our child every opportunity to be a success in life. I’ll be able to afford any college I want to send my kid to because I’m a baseball player.”

Set aside for the moment Esiason’s apparent extreme controlling macho-ism whereby you can dictate exactly what your wife needs to do because you make the money, and look at what Esiason is suggesting–an, at this point, unnecessary surgery that carries with it complication risks and longer recovery times so that a player could be at Opening Day.

His co-host, Craig Carton, weighed in similarly:

“To me, and this is just my sensibility, assuming the birth went well, assuming your wife is fine, assuming the baby is fine — 24 hours, you stay there, baby is good, you have a good support system for the mom and the baby, you get your ass back to your team and you play baseball.”

I’ve blogged recently about Family and Medical Leave and the importance of a work-life balance. But even more so, as a father, Esiason and Carton’s comments are insulting. It’s part of a broader issue with parental leave, in that we’re often legally (or, in some cases, procedurally) entitled to it, but that using it isn’t responsible if your job is calling, but honestly, that would take too much time to explain.

The ultimate issue is why shouldn’t a father use the time to be there with his child in their first few days? It’s shoving off neonatal care solely on the mother, and that the father either doesn’t or shouldn’t play in a role in it–especially if they have a job. A man has a job, and it’s not to care for children, so think Esiason and Carton. Is this really how we want to treat dads who make a personal decision to take THREE DAYS off of work to help care and bond with their children? That being a real man-dad is about telling your wife to get a C-Section so you don’t have to worry about taking parental leave?

Daniel Murphy should be praised for his decision to take a few days to be there for his family, not taking heat for it.

An experienced dad’s guide for first-time dads: Third Trimester Edition

Guys, you’ve made it through the morning sickness and nausea, the glucose drink and “feeling pretty” good, to finally this point: the third trimester. But here’s some things you need to know:

1) Your significant other is probably going to grow a little more expeditiously than the first two, because the baby is growing faster. You may likely find yourself in situations where she says offhandedly, “I’m SO HUGE” or even worse, “I’m fat!” Let me say, I’m one of those men that occasionally strays from conversation and just generally answers “Yeah” when I’m not listening. The third trimester is when you learn to say “No” when not really listening, because you never know when this comment might be uttered, and you don’t want to agree with her.

2) The third trimester is where you pick up your paycheck, fellas. Pregnancy is a lot of “what have you done for me lately” and the third trimester is your chance to pick it up if you’ve been slacking or to solidify yourself in history as a coveted “Best Hubby Ever”. You may even get a Facebook post devoted to your excellence. That’s big time.

3) Mom is packing a bag for the hospital. You should too. But also, you need to start researching every possible path to the hospital. From the house, from work, from the store, from the highway. Map out routes in advance, throw in obstacles, what if there’s a wreck, where do you go? Also, research parking garages at the hospital. You don’t want to be incredibly efficient getting to the hospital and have no freaking clue where to actually park the car (you’re not going to be able to just park it in the middle of the road like they do in the movies). That’s just sloppy staff work.

4) It’s time to put together the nursery if you haven’t already. I’m telling you, hell hath no fury like a baby (and a baby mama) without a nursery that you’ve had exactly 9 months to plan for.

5) Your significant other will be likely complaining a lot about discomfort, everywhere. Don’t be dismissive. If you have to, get a backpack, fill it with like 15-20 pounds of stuff, and wear it backwards for 24 whole hours without ever taking it off.

6) It’s probably a good time to start talking about parenting decisions that you need to make. A lot of decisions you make will have to be on the fly or just adjusting to your kid, but you don’t want to be the parents arguing in the hospital about whether or not to use a pacifier, or even something like circumcision.

7) You really need to start reading up on things like contractions, water breaking, cervical dilation, etc. It just needs to happen. You don’t want to be the husband that’s like, “Oh, it’s no big deal”, but you also don’t want to be the one dragging your significant other to the hospital because she said she had a contraction.

8) Back to where the baby is…the baby is likely sitting right on your wife’s bladder in some form, which means she’s going to be getting up to use the bathroom a lot at night. Don’t make her walk through a freaking minefield to get to the bathroom. Make sure the path is clear before you go to bed. Also, you don’t want to be helping a pregnant, now irate, woman out of the toilet bowl at 2 AM. Make sure the seat is down before you go to bed.

9) She’s going to be going to the OB almost every 1 or 2 weeks now. If you have been going with her to the visits this entire time, you may have noticed most of them recently consist of a few questions and perhaps a quick fetal doppler. Well, they are going to start diving in there soon, you need to mentally prepare yourself for that and determine with her what you’re going to do when the OB is up there. If you need to excuse yourself, if you need to remain in the room and just not watch, or…something. Believe me, it can be a really awkward situation if you aren’t prepared for it, so if you know it’s going to happen, it will help.

10) I know finances and things might be on your mind, but take the time to get out and do some things, or just do special things together. It doesn’t have to be a full-on babymoon, but even just take advantage of date nights because you might be on a bit of a hiatus once your kid is here.

11) Compliment her. Even if she looks disheveled, she’s carrying your kid. She may not want to get dressed up, or do her hair, etc. You should be saying the same things to her when she’s wearing sweatpants and an old t-shirt as when she’s in a cocktail dress and heels. Alternatively, take the chance to be disheveled too. See who can out-skank the other. If she hasn’t showered in two days, tell her you haven’t showered in 3.

12) You need to start putting together everything for the big day. YOU’RE probably going to be the one that has to make phone calls, send emails, etc. Make sure you’re calling the parents, siblings, and yes, your in-laws. Also confirm ahead of the day who you guys want in the delivery room, both during labor and during the delivery. You may need to run pass-block that day, so carb up.

13) Newborns do these things: eat, poop, and sleep. You need to start figuring out all the stuff babies need. It’s your job to change diapers too. And let me tell you, newborn diapers can get naaaasty. If you need to practice, do it. Learn how to do a solid swaddle. Know how to prepare a bottle if you’ll be bottle feeding, read up on breastfeeding if you’re doing that. If you can help it, try not to use “I don’t know” as an answer when it comes to parenting stuff. You can certainly master everything you need to know for those three things. You’ll be learning a ton of stuff on the job, but there’s a lot you can learn beforehand. Don’t assume parenting duties all come down to mom, because before you know it, the kid likes her more than you and then you have to resort to bribery (and if you help out, you’ll be in the running for a possible “Best Daddy Ever” Facebook post–that’s big, man).

The killer you didn’t know was lurking in your child’s bedroom

Which of these are the most dangerous to your infant?

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Last year, 1,181 children under the age of 1 died of unintentional injury. 91 died in a motor vehicle accident, 45 died from drowning, 25 died from fire or burns, and 22 died from poisoning. We’ve accounted for about 16% of the total unintentional injury deaths. So where do the rest of come from? Would you believe…this:

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Suffocation was the leading cause of unintentional injury deaths among children, with 907, or 77% of the total deaths caused by unintentional injury. Accidental suffocation or strangulation in bed (ASSB) has for quite some time been the leading killer of children in this category. Rollovers during bedsharing and unnecessary crib bedding, including bumper pads, have been the primary cause. The recommendations are generally well-known against bedsharing between parents and infants, but many parents who put their infants in a crib may not realize the dangers that suffocation poses in a seemingly safe environment.

It’s important to understand that ASSB is not SIDS. SIDS happens mostly spontaneously, the causes, as well as the cause of death, are largely unknown, and while there are things parents can do to lower the risk of SIDS, it’s not necessarily preventable. ASSB is when we do know the cause of death for the child, and it happened in their bed. It’s known now that babies should be laid on their back for bed, with no loose blankets, pillows, or other obstructions that the child can entangle themselves in.

However, crib bumpers are still a very prominent piece to both cribs and crib bedding sets that are sold in stores. What’s not to like about them? They’re pretty, they match the sheets, and they provide a necessary barrier to keep your infant from getting his/her legs caught in the railings or hitting their head, right?

Not so much. Evidence is lacking that crib bumpers actually prevent bodily injury, for an infant can hardly propel themselves at a crib railing at the velocity needed to cause serious injury, and with the new regulations of crib railings, both in size and the ban on drop-down sides, children aren’t at risk for even breaking limbs, let alone losing one.

Instead, crib bumpers are becoming a hazard to children. Older children can pull themselves up on the bumpers and use them to fall over the side, the strings can become loose and cause a choking or strangulation hazard, and most of all, for small infants, they pose a serious suffocation hazard. The Consumer Product Safety Commission, a reactive consumer protection agency, has investigated incidents where a crib bumper was thought to have played a role in an infants death and indeed, has targeted dozens of cases where the crib bumper contributed or caused the death of the infant by strangulation or suffocation. Some descriptions are displayed in this table, though I warn you, they are graphic. Many of the children became wedged between the crib bumper and the mattress, many more simply had their face pressed against the bumper, and even a few died when their limbs went through the crib bumpers and they were unable to get their faces away from the bumper.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) in 2011 expanded its sleeping guidelines for infants, which included recommending that crib bumper pads never be used in infants’ cribs. According to the AAP, there is no evidence that the crib bumpers protect against injury, but that they do carry a risk of suffocation, strangulation, or entrapment because infants lack the motor skills or strength to turn their heads should they roll into something that obstructs their breathing. Some parents have turned to mesh, ‘breathable’, bumpers, but the AAP still sees no evidence that the bumpers are protecting infants, so why have something in the crib if it’s not there for a reason? Both the State of Maryland and the City of Chicago have banned crib bumper sales as a result and more locations are considering such measures.

At this time, the recommendation is a well-built fixed-sides crib, firm crib mattress, and a single, tightly fitting sheet. It’s boring, plain, and safe.

It’s getting really real–and definitely feels different

5 years ago, it felt a bit different.

You go through this whole thing the first time and I don’t think you really know what to expect. You don’t know what it feels like to be a parent, you don’t understand or comprehend the love that a parent has for a kid, and you wonder if you’ll even be very good at it.

It’s different this time around. I’m not feeling nervous at all right now, and really, I’m freaking excited. I’m really excited to meet my daughter. I’m excited to see her face, to hold her, and to be her dad. Don’t get me wrong, parenting is no breeze, but I think a lot of fears are dispelled when you just see your kid for the first time because there’s a very natural need to want to take care of them.

I always pictured myself as a father to a daughter. I have no idea why. It just always seemed like I would have a daughter. And I’m really excited to do this over again, but with a girl. And I hope that doesn’t come across as not wanting another son, because all I ever want is a healthy child and I would have been immensely happy to be the dad to another boy, but I’m also really looking forward to being able to experience both sides growing up. I’ll also admit that the learning curve is quite a bit steeper this time. I was a little boy once, so I know what little boys act like and what they think about. I’ve lived with two women my entire life–my mom and my wife, so there’s quite a bit of learning yet to do, and I imagine the bulk of that will be on-the-job.

I think a lot of excitement stems from my son. He’s so excited to be a big brother and some kids, I feel, are just meant to be big brothers. He is one of them. I love seeing his excitement build and talk about all the things he’s going to do for her. I remember how excited I was to be a big brother.

We’re done after this one–mutual agreement. Two is what we wanted, and we’re looking at having our second child before either of us is 30, which is exactly what we wanted. We’re having a boy and a girl so, in many ways, the family we always wanted together, so I think there’s a bit of looking forward to this as well. I’m happy to start on this journey for the last time and watch our kids grow together.

After this week will begin the process of visiting the OB every two weeks, before visiting every week starting in May. And she’s due at the very beginning of June.

I’m really excited to meet this little girl.

Do fathers have a ‘right’ to be in the delivery room?

Yesterday, a New Jersey court ruled that a woman delivering a baby has a right to bar the biological father from the delivery room. The father, previously engaged to the mother, but no longer, had, according to the court, no established legal right to be present at the birth of their children.

As a dad, it pains me to see a father not be able to be present at the birth–it’s an incredibly emotional moment. Pregnancy, to men, is very external. I will freely admit the first time I felt a full connection to my son was in the immediate moments after he was born. This was a dad that, by all accounts, appeared to want to be very involved in the child’s life.

As an advocate of medical privacy and women’s reproductive rights, I have a hard time ‘forcing’ a mother who is delivering a child to have someone in the delivery room that she clearly does not want to be there. It’s the very definition of fence-sitting, I know.

This case, I realize, it’s fairly unique. It’s an unmarried couple, they were by most measures estranged, and the mother had no objection to the father seeing the child through normal visiting procedures. Fathers being in the delivery room is really, a rather new concept. Humans have been reproducing and delivering babies for hundreds of thousands of years, and in modern history, fathers have only been part of the delivery room for about the last 50-70 years.

As a white male, I’m not big on “men’s rights”. I think fathers do have rights, and I’m encouraged that the father’s role in the family is more than simply financial these days. But do I think those rights supersede those of the birth mother, at least in pregnancy?

It’s a gray area. For the most part, while the baby is in utero, the mother’s wishes are supreme. The mother has the right to make medical decisions or decline medical care, without consent, including termination, but also any decisions regarding her or the baby’s health during pregnancy. Delivery, then, is still a medical decision, and one that the woman, as the carrier of the child, should have a right to decide who is in the room with her–even if the father wants to be there.

A little sensitivity never hurt anyone

This week has been one that has pushed the topic of sensitivity back into the front of my brain.

Earlier this week was the “Spread to End the R Word”, which encourages people to end the use of the word “retard”, “retarded”, or “retardation” either in a pejorative or clinical way. As tends to happen when the topic of cultural sensitivity comes up in a public setting, the “free speech/hate political correctness” warriors come out in full force, endorsing their right to apparently remain ignorant, I guess? Because it’s incredibly difficult to stop or change the use of a word in your vocabulary.

But the last few days, people have been spreading around the video from the San Francisco Times about the documentary, The Mask You Live In, covering how as a society, the three worst words we can say to our boys is “Be a man.” If you care to check out the trailer, you can do so here. To some, this may just be another case of “political correctness” or, one of my favorite faux-gripes, the “wussification of America”. But it’s an incredibly important topic that parents should be discussing. First of all, I’m nearly 30 years old and if someone told me to “be a man”, I’m not sure what that entails besides having the required anatomy, so I can only imagine what that sounds like to a 4 year old, or an 8 year old, or a 16 year old. But it’s a phrase that is used so casually and one that is likely setting up our boys for failure.

Masculinity has always had a love-hate relationship with sensitivity. Boys aren’t meant to be sensitive, it’s not masculine. Crying, showing emotion, or displaying really any sort of “feminine” quality is anti-masculine. But we go about teaching our young boys to “be a man” without giving them any direction on what constitutes being a man–as if there’s any right way to be a man in the first place.

As the parent of a 4 year-old, he’s still early in life but it’s clear he understands that society casts gender roles. He’s made comments about things that “boys do” and “girls do” that aren’t simply physical in nature, and I think to some extent, a healthy knowledge about sociological differences is important. But how do we also let boys know that it’s okay to display their own forms of masculinity without it being questioned?

I can’t presume to change this or even recommend how to do it beyond displaying a little of that sensitivity myself as a dad. To not impose on him a predetermined path to “being a man” and instead, allowing him to grow into whatever man he decides to be, and supporting him along the way.

Work-life balance, and we how should be demanding more

I came across an interesting article on Slate today. It reviews a Harvard Business Review study on work-life balance among executives. Among the most fascinating findings was that male executives, by and large, view work-life balance as a women’s issue–but to view that, and that only, misses the larger point about work-life balance. We don’t demand it enough.

It’s bad enough that the United States is one of the only countries without paid parental leave. And in fact, you don’t even have protected family and medical leave without both you AND your organization meeting a number of prerequisites such as working for the company for 1 year, meeting minimum hourly requirements, and also work for an organization that is actually covered by federal leave laws. Even then, your reward is 12 weeks of unpaid leave that allow you to return to a job with the same level of responsibility when you get back.

Most families are unable to afford two parents on FML at the same time. I know we can’t. One of us needs to be working. And I’m a fortunate dad. I work for an organization that permits me three weeks of paid parental leave without having to dip into my vacation or sick leave. Many new dads are expected to return to work the next day, or are forced to use sick/vacation leave to do so.

This is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to work-life balance. Many female executives in the study mentioned they didn’t have kids because it puts them on an unequal playing field in their careers. Males admit to not prioritizing their families–and don’t exactly seem bothered by that. As a result, we have gap. We have a gap between work and our families–drawn across gender lines. It was mentioned that we need to get men to see that work-life balance is an everyone-issue, but it’s more than that, we need to actually promote a work-life balance.

Instead, we have a work system where, with a few exceptions, work is expected to come first. The promotion of work-life balance in many organizations is simply a platitude–a byline in an HR policy. In the end, we’re expected to do our jobs often at the expense of our lives. Telecommuting isn’t expanding, it’s shrinking. Flexible schedules aren’t used by the great majority of American workers, or even offered by the majority of American work organizations.

The parent who chooses to telecommute is looked at unfavorably by co-workers as being “privileged” when the solution is to let the non-parent worker also exercise flexible schedules and telecommuting. Supervisors and coworkers are upset at the parent who takes off 12 weeks (unpaid) to take care of a new child.

We can promote work-life balance all we want, but until we choose to take action, work-life will simply continue to be work, then life.