Cal D. Ledbetter believes men can be more supportive to their pregnant partners—if they can identify their own worries.
When my wife and I learned she was pregnant with our daughter, we were both surprised and not surprised—surprised because it happened much faster than we anticipated, but not surprised because we had been trying. Pregnancy brought up an enormous, and unexpected, amount of fears and worries. For me—and for many men—this fear went unrecognized. In retrospect, though, it brought up numerous questions. The most significant of these questions were: Who will I be as a father, and, more broadly, who will I be when I’m a father.
Wondering who I would be as a father was rooted in one small idea, an idea that became an all-consuming obsession—I wanted to be a different kind of father than my father was, but I was afraid that I would repeat my father’s behaviors anyway. Wondering about who I would be once I became a father, though, fell more into the realm of an existential crisis.
Prior to getting pregnant, my wife and I lived a carefree lifestyle, travelling when we felt like it, going out with friends, eating dinner in the bar lounge, and going to see any band in any club any night of the week. What was fatherhood going to do to everything I knew about who I was? Would I have to completely change myself, the way I lived, and the people I interacted with? Would I slowly dissolve into the background, moving from the urban setting in which we lived to the suburbs, my metro pass traded in for a mini van, our friends and lifestyle traded in for pizza parties and playground playdates?
These questions, this existential crisis, brought on for me the same wave of coping techniques that I’ve heard several dads talk about—masking worries, anxieties and fears with a cocktail.
Years later, a second child, a master’s degree in psychology, and some of the above questions answered, I have begun to explore the experiences of expecting fathers on a broader scale outside of my own experience
It began with a paper I wrote in grad school, which was later published by the American Counseling Association. I combed through copious amounts of research. The overall theme of the paper went like this: stress experienced by women in pregnancy can lead to birth experiences in which they feel unsupported. Birth experiences like this can lead to postpartum depression, and in some cases post-traumatic stress disorder. Depression and PTSD can lead to not feeling connected to one’s baby, and not being connected to one’s baby can lead to behavioral issues for the baby as he/she ages.
There was a common thread I found throughout the research: Women who felt high levels of stress in pregnancy, women who had negative birth experiences, and women who ended up with postpartum pathologies more times than not reported not feeling supported by their partners. The hypothesis, then, was that if couples get counseling while they’re pregnant, these problems can be reduced.
What I was not able to find in the research, though, were the reasons why women felt unsupported—the reason for disconnection within the couple. There was no research on what was going on for men during their partner’s pregnancy.
Although this is research I would like to do in the future, for the sake of this article, I took to my friends and to Twitter to find out what causes anxiety for men while their partners are pregnant. First, answers came in slowly, and cautiously (if at all), which I took to mean that men do not want to talk about it. In reality, though, this could mean a few things. 1) All of my friends and fathers I’m connected with on Twitter are incredibly well-adjusted men who did not feel anxiety prior to their child’s birth. 2) These men were not willing to share their stories. Or 3) they were not able to identify the root of worry, fear, and anxiety, even years following the birth of their child.
Not being able to identify fears and anxieties, of course, is tied into a larger male issue of suppressing emotions to come off as “tough” and in control, but what was interesting about the answers I did receive was that any fears and anxieties were directed back to their partners. Men were worried about their partners’ and/or baby’s health. They didn’t know how to cater to their partner’s needs. Or their partner’s hormones/emotions were difficult to deal with. I wonder particularly if, perhaps, when trying to stay emotionally stable and in control, men end up focusing their own fears on their partners as a way to not deal with their own issues. For me it was easier to not deal with my own emotions and fears, and instead take another sip of an old-fashioned. It took a second time around (this time a son) to realize what I was escaping from by choosing to run from my anxieties and emotions was causing me to also disconnect from my partner. When I took time to turn inward and confront those fears (thanks to ongoing therapy), I was able to be more connected to my wife, and in turn have stronger relationships with my children.
What are some of the fears, anxieties and worries that you felt during your partner’s pregnancy? How did you deal with it?
Photo: the_luna / flickr