There are a number of things which concern fathers during pregnancy. In one major 1989 study of expectant fathers, it was found that every father worried during pregnancy.
It is common during a high-risk pregnancy, when the focus is on the mother and baby, for fathers to question the importance in the childbearing process and to feel lost and alone as they cope with their own fears and anxieties.
Indeed, on the surface it may appear that fathers have no concerns, and that they are cool and aloof from the day-to-day rituals and events (such as periodic fetal monitoring) which become so central and emotionally stressful in the course of managing a pregnancy at risk. Yet conversations with fathers reveal that they are strongly and emotionally attached to their developing baby and have many concerns about the well-being of their wives which remain unspoken during the course of pregnancy. Fathers care very much.
There are a multitude of things which concern fathers during pregnancy. In one major 1989 study of expectant fathers, it was found that EVERY father worried during pregnancy. The study also showed that:
· 95% worried about their baby being born healthy and normal, and about their wife experiencing pain in childbirth.
· 94% feared unexpected things that could go wrong during the birth process.
· 63% had anxiety which resulted when their partners did not understand their changing feelings and problems.
Sometimes father’s anxieties are reflected in physical symptoms which are similar to those felt by the mother, such as heartburn, fatigue, changes in appetite, or abdominal cramping. The universality of concerns experienced and expressed by fathers reflects their ongoing involvement with pregnancy, a commitment to fatherhood and their emotional bonding with their child.
Unfortunately, fathers may not always share what they think and feel. Fathers may feel that it is their “duty” to hide their fealings of concern in order to support their wives with relentless up-beat messages. One father said, “I would have liked to talk to her, but I thought she had too much to deal with already. I thought it was my duty to support her.” Little did he realize that the real support she wanted was for him to talk and share; she wanted to know he cared as much as she did. Still another father commented, “Men aren’t supposed to have feelings. We’re supposed to be strong. But what happens when you don’t feel strong? Where do you go? What do you do?”
Fathers also experience feelings of helplessness as they realize that there is nothing that they can do directly to cure the problems which threaten pregnancy. One father talked about this feeling of being powerless saying, “I cried for my helplessness and her pain.” Rather than addressing their concerns directly, fathers may cope with stress by spending additional hours at work, or by avoiding talking about the pregnancy as much as possible. They may focus instead on paying bills or doing household projects – things that they can have control over.
Because there is too little communication between a couple about what a high-risk pregnancy means to both partners at an emotional level, mothers often incorrectly assume that the fathers neither love them nor care about the outcome of the pregnancy. As a result, both partners may feel angry or frustrated and withdraw emotionally from each other, leading to feelings of isolation.
The following are suggestions which may be helpful in recognizing fathers and their important contribution to the process of pregnancy and childbirth:
· Share your feelings, thoughts or questions, even if they seem silly to you. Your partner will feel comforted to know that you care as much about what is happening as she does. Make time to talk to your partner every day.
· Make a list of fun things you would like to do together, and that are permitted by her medical condition (such as giving each other a massage, taking a shower together, creating a new recipe, or making plans for your dream home).
· Keep a diary or journal for your baby – a special, on-going “Letter from Dad” that you can give to your child as a record of the pregnancy and your feelings as a father in the months or weeks before he or she was born.
· During quiet, sharing time, talk to your baby.
· Go to doctor visits with your partner, ask questions, and listen to the baby’s heartbeat.
· Ask your partner to share his questions, concerns or thoughts with you. Let him know what he can do to show you that he cares.
· Write notes to your partner letting him know how special he is too you.
· Encourage him to attend prenatal visits with you and to talk to the baby.
· Share with him your physical sensations of the baby (kicking, turning, hiccups) or information you get from books and articles.
· Participate with him in creating a list of fun things you would like to do together, and set aside some time each day to spend together.
Fatherhood affects and changes men just as motherhood does women. It’s important to realize that pregnancy is a shared experience and it marks the whole new beginning of a family structure. So, what about fathers? Fathers matter so much, as we must be careful to ensure that their involvement in the pregnancy experience isn’t minimized.
Susan Speraw, Ph.D., RN., has over twenty years experience in maternity nursing and holds a doctorate in clinical psychology. She serves on the Sidelines Advisory Board and is a Clinical Psychologist and Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Tennessee College of Medicine-Chattanooga Unit.
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