In a lot of ways, expectant fathers have it easy. They're
spared the many miseries of impending motherhood: the morning sickness, the
weight gain, the pain of childbirth and the other physical discomforts -- petty
and profound -- of carrying a child. Nine months of pregnancy transform a
woman; her partner presumably looks more or less the same as he did before.
But while guys may not have the outward signs to prove it, the
effects of becoming a father can't be underestimated.
Men rarely see Thomas J. Weida, MD, for medical tests without prodding from a wife or girlfriend. When they do show up, Weida jokes that he “can see the drag marks on the carpet.”
It’s amusing, of course. But it can quickly turn serious when a man ignores important symptoms. Weida says he knows of men who got away with ignoring chest pain for a couple of weeks. Eventually, though, they died of heart attacks.
"First-time fathers might be in for a shock," says
David Swain of Sunderland, Mass., the father of a 15-month-old son. "Not
the astonishment over how beautiful their child is or how proud they are of the
mom, but the shock of how helpless their child is and how much they as fathers
must surrender to his care."
Armin Brott, the author of The Expectant Father and
Father for Life, agrees. "The psychological journey of pregnancy and
childbirth is no less profound for the father that it is for the mother,"
he tells WebMD. "He's worried about what kind of father he'll be, how he
can afford having a child, how his relationship with his wife will change.
These really aren't trivial issues."
But as important as these issues are, a lot of guys have
trouble talking about or coping with them. According to Brott, who has two
daughters and is expecting a third, being an involved father is a struggle, a
struggle against societal conventions and our own insecurities. While it may
not be easy, it may be the most important and valuable struggle of your
Feeling Left Out
After the initial excitement of discovering that you're going
to be a father, you may find yourself feeling a little aimless while your
partner is pregnant or even after she gives birth. While your wife is picking
out maternity clothes, being feted at baby showers, and urinating every 15
minutes, life carries on for you in much the same way. Your partner simply has
an inherent, physical connection to your unborn child that you don't; this may
make pregnancy and fatherhood seem frustratingly abstract. Besides being a
support and sidekick, what exactly are you supposed to be doing anyway?
This lack of focus can make many men feel a little shut out.
"What often happens is that fathers wind up feeling excluded really early
in the pregnancy," says Brott. "And that process can get worse as the
pregnancy goes on and after the child is born."
Excluded by whom? Is some sinister conspiracy at work?
Hardly, but Brott observes that traditional social forces can
push men away from embracing their roles as fathers. Many men wind up excluding
themselves, however unintentionally.