Let’s start with a few questions. Women, what do you expect of your partner during pregnancy? Men, what do you expect of yourselves?
Now let’s assess how much we actually know about men and pregnancy. How men feel and change, both physically and emotionally. What do we know?
Are you searching for solid answers past “being there” and “sympathy weight”? Me too.
Now let’s ask these same questions about women. Expectations? Quit drinking, eat better, see a doctor (again and again), take classes, buy books — in short, we expect them to become model human beings overnight. Changes physically and emotionally? There’s an infinite amount of in-depth, week-by-week resources about the changes occurring in women’s bodies and minds during pregnancy.
With B and I more than halfway through our pregnancy, I’m suddenly realizing just how imbalanced our expectations are. I mean, seriously, google “men and pregnancy”. It’s kind of sad. By the looks of things, we don’t expect much from men during pregnancy. And to me, that’s disappointing.
So in my ongoing effort to redefine our image of modern men, here are five things you should know about contemporary fathers-to-be during pregnancy.
1. We care about more than just sex. Yes, we think about it. A lot. I’ve come to terms with that. And take it from someone who doesn’t particularly like that fact: it’s out of our control. But it doesn’t mean it controls us. Or that it’s the only thing we’re concerned about.
You see, I get these emails. WhatToExpect.com, MyPregnancy, BabyCenter. You give them your due date and they send weekly updates about your pregnancy — how big the baby is, how you may be feeling, things you should prepare for. They are generally written for women, but I’ve found them very useful. On the rare occasion they speak directly to men, it’s mostly about sex. Like what’s going to happen to your sex life and what positions are safe. That’s nice to know. But what else? A woman’s direct perspective and their expectations of men would be a great resource. Or serious advice and insight from a man who’s been through multiple pregnancies. Maybe that’s a million dollar idea. Because there’s an audience for it, I promise.
2. We want to be good fathers. Motherhood is more immediate for women. Things happen to their body during pregnancy. They change, physically and mentally. There’s lots of science to back that up. Men, as it stands, can only bare witness. With exponentially more resources on pregnancy for women, men are often reduced to footnotes in the process. And that lack of information can be daunting. You don’t know how you should feel. How you should prepare. It also sends a message. That perhaps we’re not such a critical piece of the puzzle.
But if we are to expect more from fathers during parenthood, we have to expect more of them during pregnancy, too. Because we want to be good. And we’re changing, too. It’s just not so obvious to everyone, especially with so few outlets to express that change. It can be intimidating. It’s hard enough for men to talk about these things. It’s much harder when it seems like no one else around you is, either.
3. We want to be good husbands. One of the greatest things about our pregnancy so far has been the bond I’ve felt with B. I touch our child through her belly. That’s a physical intimacy you can’t duplicate. It’s truly moving.
But pregnancy is at times chaotic. Work, nursery preparations, registry, holidays, showers, and a zillion other things can potentially put strain on your relationship. Remaining a good husband during this time requires some effort. Maybe you attend every doctor’s visit. Maybe you make a pregnancy gift basket. Maybe you take on some extra responsibilities around the house. We’re not perfect, of course. But we’re trying. We think about it and we try.
4. Science says we’re changing, too. Only recently have studies on the physiological and neurological shifts in men during pregnancy been given any attention. Things like decreased testosterone, elevated cortisol and prolactin levels, and enhanced prefrontal cortex function are just a few things happening to men during pregnancy and shortly after childbirth. But it’s hardly a subject regarded seriously by…anyone. Obviously, much is overshadowed by the tremendous changes occurring in women. But if we’re to expect more of men in pregnancy and parenting, we need to shed light on these changes. Science is comforting. As a man, it’s nice knowing our bodies are also preparing for parenthood. It makes us feel less like a biological afterthought in the process. As if nature, too, is routing for us. Is counting on us.
5. We’re nervous, excited, concerned, scared, anxious, happy, and everything in between. Maybe some of us show it more than others. But there’s a lot going on upstairs. We’re thinking about what kind of father we’ll be, our own upbringing, how our life is about to be forever changed in every possible way. It can get jumbled and hard to articulate. One of the reasons I created this blog was to clarify these thoughts. An outlet to chisel definition from disorder. I humbly suggest men find some means of expression during pregnancy. And if you’re a woman with an overly silent partner, ask him questions. Give him an outlet. You might be surprised how eagerly he responds.