The Programmer's Guide to Pairing on Pregnancy

You don’t have to be physically carrying a child to be involved in a pregnancy. If you pair program, you know that you don’t have to have your hands physically on the keyboard to contribute to the experience. I’m currently on track for my second little one and wanted to give a shout out to some things I’ve seen that partners of all genders have done to help with pregnancies. While I cannot physically carry my child to term, that doesn’t mean pregnancy is a passive event for me. Let’s get started.

Note: I’m using the word partner to refer to anyone related to the person carrying the child.

Go to Appointments

It may seem like a small thing, but go with your partner to pregnancy checkups. Even if you’ve got that big meeting the next day, it’s something both of you should be there for. Besides being supportive and holding their hand while bloodwork is drawn, there are a few excellent reasons to go together.

While everyone plans for the best, one out of five pregnancies ends in a miscarriage. If you find out something is wrong during a visit, your partner shouldn’t have to be there alone.

Even when things are going well, there are so many details the doctor may talk through, that it can be helpful to have a second set of ears. Heads up: there will be handouts, and you may consider taking notes (if that’s your thing). There were more than a few times my wife and I had slightly different takeaways, and after comparing notes, we were forced to clarify to make sure we had the right information.

Another way to think of this: if your partner cannot skip something, neither should you. You’ll never be able to contribute equally to the carrying and delivering of the child, so the least you can do is be there through every step of the way.

Birth Plan

Want to delight your partner when they’re not pregnant: surprise them with flowers for no reason. During pregnancy, you can be the “best partner ever”™ by proactively considering things you’ll need to do and driving them forwards instead of waiting for your baby-momma to take charge of everything.

One of the first things you’ll need is a birth plan. At a high level, this consists of where the two of you want to give birth, where you want to have your checkups, and how you want to give birth. There are more details for an actual “birth plan”, but at the beginning these are what you’ll need. I bring this up early because the answers to the three questions aren’t independent. If you find an OB you like and start doing your checkups there, and the find they will not support your method of delivery, you’ll have to switch doctors, and that will be a pain.

Tell your partner you want to talk about a birth plan. You’ll need to do some research on available options. At a very high-level, there are birthing centers, hospitals or home births. We gave birth at a birthing center that was attached to a hospital, so there are also spectrums. You can take tours of hospitals and birthing centers. I highly recommend doing this. You can look up times and book the tours. Afterward, talk about what you like and what you don’t.

I didn’t do this with my first kid, and I wish I had. It kinda sucks that not only did I make my wife carry a child and deliver it, but she had to do all the paper-work of booking tours and bringing up all the various “talks” that we had to have early on.

Read a Pregnancy Book

Not assuming all partners are men, but don’t get a “dude” book. Not just for pregnancy but in life, if something has “dude” in the title in a non-ironic way. At best it’s light on information and heavy on assumptions. At worst it might be misogynisticly awful. At the end of the day reading anything is better than nothing, but quality varies wildly.

The first time around I chose a book that was awful. It had a bullet point list of things that will happen at each phase of pregnancy and while it was written for men, it had little advice on how to help my wife. It was mostly “don’t watch too much football”.

There are two categories of baby books: “what to expect,” and “after the birth event.” Many books try to cram in both subjects. I think as someone who has never experienced pregnancy first hand, you want a good book focused on pregnancy. I recommend “From the Hips”. Often books tend to lean one heavily towards one philosophy; this book presented many along with science to back them up and different quotes from real pregnant women to give you a very well rounded view.

If you don’t like a book, get another one. If you’re not retaining information, it’s no good.

Birth Classes

There is as much variety in birthing classes as there are in ways to give birth. While your center may offer a one day “birthing” class, I recommend finding a way to supplement the information. The amount of information and topics is overwhelming. The more spread-out, the better you’ll retain it. Do some research, find a few classes around town and ask your partner which ones they would like to check out.

We used a doula (which is another thing you should maybe check out) and as part of the service with the doula collective, Austin Born, there were classes. Some of them were free as a way to meet the doulas, others were a part of our doula experience. We even signed up for an extra one day intensive “what to know after pregnancy” class. Topics varied: for example, a class on breastfeeding, or the different types of medical interventions that might come up while giving birth, and what kinds of rights we had as well as good questions to ask to make decisions.

Whether you hire a doula or not, I do recommend getting some form of birth coach training. Labor lasts a long time, especially for the first pregnancy. If you can support your partner, even a little bit it can help the overall process tremendously. You’ll learn things like different labor positions, phrases you can say to coach your partner to breath. Things like holding a partner’s hands or rubbing their shoulders can have a big positive effect. Be prepared with food and drinks that are easy to eat in small bites. It’s also your job to time contractions and record them (there are apps for this).

Protip: Depending on the place where you’re giving birth, some won’t let women eat once they are admitted (ask at your location). Even if they can, they might not be in the mood when they are far along, but it’s important to consume calories, so they keep up energy. You can buy “mini” ice cube trays from Amazon and fill them with a sugary liquid your partner likes. Keep them in a Ziploc bag in the freezer until it’s ready to go to be admitted to your birth place. We made raspberry leaf tea with honey, let it cool and made ice cubes out of those. In the last few hours my wife described them as “a lifesaver”. On this note, don’t forget to eat and drink yourself. The longer labor goes, the more your partner needs you.

Practice Being your Best Self: Brush and Floss

Close your eyes and imagine what the “ideal” version of you would be. What activity do you know you should be doing that you aren’t? While pregnancy may be stressful to you and your partner, having to wake up 8 times a night will push you past mental and emotional limits you didn’t know you had. Not to scare you, humans have coped with infants for many generations, and most of our ancestors turned around and signed up to do it multiple times. I’m going back for seconds, but don’t kid yourself that it will be easier after the baby comes out. You’ll be more successful if you build a plan and start sticking to it now. Don’t wait until it’s too late.

When you lose sleep, you lose patience, and willpower. Once you find out that your partner is pregnant, you have 9 months to cement all the best habits you wish you had. If it takes willpower to do it before you give birth, it will be virtually impossible after.

One item for me was brushing my teeth. I always hated it. Because of this I intentionally took this time to develop it into a habit. Now I sometimes find myself laying in bed with no memory of brushing my teeth and only a minty fresh breath to prove that I did.

Maybe you already brush your teeth, maybe there’s something else you wish you could do. Nick Means gave a great talk about building habits and not needing to rely on willpower at RailsConf.

Wean Coffee and Alcohol

One thing I wish I had done in the first pregnancy: limit coffee and alcohol. I love coffee, I love the taste, I love the feeling when the caffeine hits your blood stream early in the morning.

I also love a good craft beer, or a scotch, recently even Texas bourbon. I still love these things. The problem is that when we have a bad day, or when things go south, we are primed to say “geez I need a drink.” After the baby comes, you’ll not be able to leave the house as much, and it’s tempting to turn parenthood into a drinking game in the evening. Baby is crying: have a drink. Baby spit up on itself: have a drink.

The problem is that your body is already being pushed to its limits by a lack of sleep. Want to know what’s worse than having to get up in the middle of the night to quiet a screaming infant? Trying to do that with a hangover. Even if you didn’t drink that much, you might find your predisposition for brain splitting headaches after a drink has substantially increased. You’ll also get even worse sleep than without the booze. But the worse part is that it’s a cycle of dependence, the next day you feel even WORSE, so what do you do when you had “a bad day” at the end of the day? Reach for a pint of course. Don’t go down that path.

For this pregnancy I’m trying to wean myself off of booze. I’m not going entirely off of it. My wife suggested that I don’t drink at home, so that I don’t associate everyday tasks, like unwinding and reading a book with also having a beer. I still have a few drinks when I go out. I’m hoping this will make it less tempting to drink when I’m stressed. It’s only been a few weeks and I’ve already lost weight and I feel better, so far so good.

I weaned off coffee because I have a hard time napping. Through the first pregnancy I maybe took 3-4 naps total. It would have been much easier if I could take the standard advice “sleep when your baby sleeps.”

If you don’t have this napping problem, don’t worry about it.

If you want a decaf that is 90% as good as regular, I recommend Third Coast Coffee Roasters. I know it still has some caffeine and also that the process of removing it isn’t the best in the world. You do what’s right for you and your life. I’ve lost my regular coffee habbit, you can pry my decaf from my hot, freshly brewed hands.

Side note: drink lots of water. I recommend a Camelbak Podium because you can drink it in bed without having to get up or without spilling. After the birth, you’ll be waking up a lot more, and every little thing to make your life a little easier is worth it. Also, get your partner one as they’ll be waking up to go to the bathroom well before the big event comes.

Morning Sickness & Cravings

The biggest misnomer in pregnancy is “morning sickness,” because, surprise, it happens all day long. It’s usually portrayed as a minor inconvenience; a woman throws up casually as a way to indicate to the audience she is pregnant (squeeeee!!). In reality, they may never throw-up, they may have overwhelming nausea for days at a time, or anywhere in between. While it’s different for each woman, my wife once described it as worse than labor when taken as a whole. It’s no joke, so you need to be ready to help any way you can.

One way to help is to observe the things that they are sensitive to. Usually women have smell sensitivity. My wife could not stand toothpaste, so we found a salt based toothpaste that was unflavored. With kid number two she is set off by changing diapers. That means all number-twos from kid number-one are on me to change. It’s a small thing to do for the woman carrying your child.

Pop culture represents pregnancy as somewhat of a running joke on partners. They’re seen running to the store at midnight while a woman in full makeup sheepishly asks (or demands) for pickles and ice-cream. They lug themselves to the store and back, only to find the items are no longer wanted or their partner is peacefully asleep by the time they get back. They slouch into an oversize chair, look a the pickles with a sense of defeat and the studio audience laughs.

The real joke, of course, is expecting Hollywood to be remotely similar to real life. Cravings are different for every woman. Usually, when my wife asked me for some very specific food it was because she was feeling nauseous. We’ve found that coconut water helps her, so I try to keep it around or ask at virtually every restaurant if they carry it regardless if it’s needed yet. Other times, it was just a matter of being flexible. Being willing to get her food while we are both in bed, or making an unexpected stop at a fast food restaurant for something fried.

Gear

You’ll need a minimum amount of baby gear coming home from the hospital. A car seat, a baby hat, and some clothes. Once you get home you’ll also want some swaddles, plenty of fresh diapers (maybe consider cloth if you’re the environmental type) and a fair share of onesies. You will also need somewhere for the baby to sleep. There’s other things like mittens (so they don’t scratch themselves, babies are weird) and bigger items like strollers or swings. You can do research on these things without waiting for your partner. Of course you should talk with them before either of you buy big items, but having some knowledge of the available options will make these conversations much smoother.

Try

The most important part of being a good partner is being there for your baby-momma. You might not get everything right, and there’s almost always room for improvement, but the least you can do is make a conscious effort to make the process easy on her and the two of you. While I wrote a lot here, and things can get overwhelming remember that 9 months is a long time. It means that you can take things step by step without having to rush it all. It also means that you have no excuse for skipping out on classes, working towards building better habits, or learning a thing or two about pregnancy. Above all else pay attention to your partner. From my favorite baby delivery joke: it took two of you to get that baby in there, it will take at least two to get out.