Dad For The First Time

The birth of one’s child ranks as one of the most significant events in our lives.  Despite the obvious joys of bringing a new life into the world of your family, the powerful emotions leading to and surrounding the arrival of your child, especially the first one, have the potential of wreaking havoc on a relationship and one’s sense of well being. One particular concern has been expressed to me by a number of men when their wives have become pregnant for the first time.  I have often heard a prospective father say that, “My wife is really into the whole baby thing yet even though I am excited my enthusiasm doesn’t come close to hers.  I am feeling guilty and wonder if there is something wrong with me?”

This question raises some key issues that are foundational for the change in identity from simply husband and wife to husband – father, wife – mother.  To begin with, we need to understand that a woman begins the transition to motherhood before a man.  Once she knows she is pregnant and her body begins to change, her sense of herself also changes.  The baby is totally dependent upon her for its very survival.  She must take good care of herself physically and as the baby grows there is a direct connection between the child and herself as the baby shifts position in her blossoming womb.  She has a number of months before the actual birth to help prepare her and process what is happening to her both physically and emotionally.

Men, on the other hand, are merely observers during the period of pregnancy.  They have no direct childcare responsibilities and are largely relegated to the role of bystander.  No matter how sensitive and responsive a husband is, he still cannot possibly completely empathize with his wife.  Unlike his partner, a man’s emotional transition to the role of father doesn’t really fully begin till the birth of his child.  When a man sees his child being born and holds his baby for the first time the flood of feelings brings an abrupt change in his identity.  Instantaneously he begins to assume the roles of protector and provider often overwhelmed by the sudden change.  Clearly, there is a huge disconnect about becoming a parent before the birth that if not paid attention to can lead to discord and distress. 

To make sure this does not happen with the resultant damage of misunderstandings, hurt feelings and unmet expectations particular attention must be paid to effective communication practices between husband and wife.  The ability to express oneself, be listened to, be validated and to reach consensus on issues requiring planning is basic to good relationships as a couple and as parents. 

In the case of a man’s confusion over his lack of synchronicity with his expectant wife, his ability to express to his wife about what he is experiencing without being stifled by guilt is directly related to his partner’s ability to hear him and acknowledge that what he is feeling is real and difficult for him.  Of course, good communication is a two way street.  A man must also be able to validate the very powerful feelings about motherhood that his wife is going through even though he is not able to share them during the pregnancy. Successful communication before the birth of your child will lay the necessary groundwork for a harmonious resolution to the many challenges of parenting that await you in the future.

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