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Pregnant Fathers

[ 0 ] July 5, 2011 |

Chapter 4 of 32 in A Father’s Journal
By Forrest Seymour
www.fathersjournal.com
Originally published in March, 1994.

At our birthing class the other night, Jack, the eldest of us expectant fathers (with perhaps the youngest partner) , joked about his symptoms of pregnancy, weight gain, nausea, and not a weak nesting instinct. I chimed in with my sympathies, glad to find another man to commiserate with about what seem common complaints , yet none of the other expectant fathers in the room seemed very amused or even interested in our conversation.

Perhaps they were shy, or hadn’t experienced the things that Jack and I had, or maybe they just felt uncomfortable discussing their experience of pregnancy in public. I do not doubt that this third option helps greatly to explain things. Pregnancy can be very hard for a guy.

Men get very confusing messages about how to be during pregnancy. Hang tough? Be vulnerable! Get involved and then get out of the way. All these attitudes can be heard from men or women or the more amorphous culture at large. As a society, we have little consensus about how expectant fathers should be.

Part of this is because women are so good at being pregnant. Not that women universally like being or want to be with child, but their bodies usually seem to know how to do it pretty much without any help. Go to the midwife or doctor, the birthing and yoga classes, read a million books, tolerate the nausea, discomfort and anxiety, but mostly a pregnant woman’s body just does its thing. It needs little help. This is a thing of amazement.

But it also leaves the father wondering what to do. If the mother is the incubator, what is the father, chopped liver? Just when it is appropriate for our culture to step in and give men a role in all this, it fails; that is, we fail ourselves. This seems to be more and more so for men in general, that our society is increasingly unsure about what our roles should be.

Rather than a delineated pregnant father role, or even a clear set of options, we get instead mixed messages. On the one hand, expectant fathers are supposed to get involved, go to all these appointments and classes, read the books, know the lingo, be able to hold his own in a conversation about perineal massage, placentas or Braxton-Hicks contractions. And yet, when people are doling out sympathy about what a pain pregnancy is, it’s the mom who gets the attention. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve stood in a group and felt basically invisible as everyone twitters on about Nancy’s pregnancy. Men and women alike exclude the father from pregnancy conversations. I’ve even caught myself doing it. The mother of course is the one who is, in fact, pregnant, but, if we want fathers to include themselves in the pregnancy, then we must include them in our attentions.

Some women seem to feel a certain kinship with pregnant women and to resent it a bit when the father is fully included. A traditional baby shower serves to meet this need to some extent, as a place for women to share pregnancy with other women. The bind for men here is that there is no equivalent event for them, no bachelors party of pregnancy. (The bachelors party, a strange rite to begin with, would do little anyway to include a father in pregnancy.) So, frequently these days, men participate in baby-showers, which is nice for them, but takes away that all women time from the women.

Ideally, I suppose, we’d all have three baby showers, one for just women, one mixed gender, and a third for just men, though I doubt most men are ready for this (even me), and I’m also fairly sure that most attendees would grow sick of buying presents for pregos.

It’s a sticky situation. Do we want men around or is it too much of a pain? This double message syndrome that men ofttimes experience is delineated at length by Jerrold Shapiro, PH.D., in his book, When Men Are Pregnant: Needs and Concerns of Expectant Fathers. (To get a taste of the degree of skepticism out there about men being involved in pregnancy, try carrying this title around in public for a few days.)

Shapiro talks about how expectant fathers, full of hopes and dreams and fears, are told to both let themselves be vulnerable and emotional while simultaneously being stoic and strong for their partners. It is common, according to Shapiro, for a father to feel unable to talk with his partner about his emotional world during their pregnancy out of a fear of imposing upon and alienating her. I can certainly attest to this tendency. This can lead to all sorts of weird emotional dead-ends for men, according to Shapiro, and, he goes on, frequently the man is correct that his partner wishes that he wouldn’t please be so needy just now, thank you very much.

Men are rarely given much consistent support in our culture for being vulnerable, and during pregnancy the messages are particularly garbled, just when a man’s needs are greater than ever. I am honored and proud that Nancy and many of our friends have been willing and eager to include me the rites and pleasures, as will as the hassles, of our pregnancy. It is an empowering and humbling experience which I wish all men could share. Clearly, however, this wish is not universally held.

When Nancy and I first found we were pregers, I started researching (my role) about what resources our community had to support pregnant and newly parenting couples. I called our local hospital in hopes of finding a parents group or play groups or somesuch. I reached a pleasant woman in the education department and queried her. She told me about the “Mom’s Club.”

“Can fathers come to a ‘Mom’s Club’ meeting?” I politely inquired.

“Sure.”

“Do any?” I asked in an even tone.

“Well, no,” she admitted, but added perkily, “but they could!”

“Have you ever considered calling it something other than a ‘Mom’s” Club,'” I asked, not sure if I was trying to be funny or not. “Maybe then more men would come.”

“Why, no,” she said with a slow pause. “But that is a real good idea. I’ll pass it on.”

Maybe as we pass on to another millennium we can dream up routine, institutionalized ways to include fathers in pregnancy, to help fathers get their needs met and feel less excluded. I think this might make an awful lot of children a little happier.

Pass it on.

___________

By Forrest Seymour
www.fathersjournal.com
Originally published in March, 1994, in the Valley Times Journal, Walpole, NH.

Category: Father's Journal

About Forrest Seymour: See my LinkedIn Profile Forrest Seymour is a social worker, psychotherapist and violence prevention consultant.  He has worked in community based programs, hospitals, schools and colleges supporting individual and institutional efforts to prevent sexual violence and promote emotional and community health since the mid-‘70s.  He has consulted with State Department International Visitor Groups and serves on the Cheshire County (NH) Domestic Violence Council, the New Hampshire Violence Against Women Campus Consortium and the steering committee of the Association for University and College Counseling Center Outreach.  Since 2006, Forrest has been at the Keene State College Counseling Center where he is a Counselor and the Coordinator of Sexual Violence Prevention & Education.  He counts amongst his inspirations the many men he has collaborated with locally, nationally and internationally who seek in so many creative ways to end men’s violence, but most especially, the male and female students at Keene State College who step up as Mentors in Violence Prevention peer educators, Walk a Mile in Her Shoes march organizers, Shout Out Against Sexual Assault speakers and witnesses, Take Back the Night marchers, “Vagina Monologues” and “No Zebras, No Excuses” performers,  and as violence prevention activists in countless large and small ways every year and every day.  These students are victims, survivors, allies and active-bystanders; they are leaders, role models and inspirations for their peers, for their faculty and staff, and for Forrest. View author profile.