Men and Fatherhood: Pregnancy and Birth

by Bruce Linton, Ph.D

pregnant couple talking Becoming a father and a parent can be a transformational process for a man. When a man becomes a father, through loving his child, partner and family, he comes in contact with a deep paternal masculinity. When a child enters a man's life, a new depth of feeling and emotion are awakened within him.

In my work with fathers, what I hear new dads talk about most is their interest in being a participating and active parent. They want to be able to nurture their child and family by being more than just the "breadwinner" -- as many of their fathers were. They don't want to just put bread on the table for their families, they want to sit down and eat dinner with them too.

A whole world of feelings are awakened in a man through the process of pregnancy and birth. It has been my experience that although women often appreciate this new awakening of feeling in their spouse or partner, they don't really understand what it means to the new or expectant father.

Men's involvement in pregnancy and birth and their participation in the early years of their child/children's lives has changed dramatically over the past 25 years. In 1965, about 5% of fathers attended the birth of their child. In 1989, almost 95% of fathers were present at childbirth. Men are clearly asking for more participation in the childbirth process. It is also interesting to note how, in a recent survey on men and work, 75% of the men would accept slower career advancement if they could have a job that would let them arrange their work schedule to have more time with their families.

At the prospect of becoming a father, men are filled with excitement, fear, wonder, worry, love, and confusion. (Just to name a few feelings!) Throughout the pregnancy and birth, the man, who is now becoming a father, is trying to find ways to express and integrate these and many more feelings.

PREGNANCY AND MEN

Men in western industrialized countries get little preparation as to how to make the transition from man to father. Participating in prenatal classes, going to prenatal visits with your partner are ways in which expectant fathers can be both supportive of their partners/wives and at the same time include themselves in the pregnancy process. Many men begin during the pregnancy to develop a bond with their child. Expectant fathers in my groups have talked about how they-enjoyed laying their hands on their partner's belly and talking to their babies. This very personal and private communication is very powerful as a prenatal bonding ritual. Helping choose the birth attendants, midwife or doctor, and being involved in the choice of where the baby will be born is another way men begin becoming involved.

In my work with fathers, through the Fathers' Forum, I see men seeking to understand the journey from man to father, and I see how something very special happens when this "search for understanding" is shared with other men/fathers. Finding a relationship with other men/fathers during pregnancy is an important way in which we can help "initiate" each other into fatherhood.

BIRTH AND FATHERHOOD

Men today want to participate in the birth process. They want to be there with and for their partners. They want to be involved in offering support and love.

Fathers who are able to participate in the birth of their child often report that the sharing of this experience with their partner/wife remains one of the most important moments in their relationship and in their lives. Even if the birth is difficult or a cesarean delivery, men still feel strongly about being together at this special time. Fathers' importance in participating at the birth is finally getting the acknowledgment it deserves.

Expectant fathers also need to explore what they need at the birth. What kind of support does the expectant dad need to ask for? Many of the new fathers I have worked with talked about how important having a male friend available for them was.

THE NEW FAMILY

Engrossment is the term researchers use to describe the father's total absorption and preoccupation with the presence of a newborn. This term could be expanded to describe the early weeks of family life. The first few hours after the delivery are a very important time for the "new family" to be together. The bonding triangle of mother, father, and baby is facilitated by both parents talking to the baby. The most important aspect to family bonding and new fathers is the aspect of "time." If the new father can have the time to be with his partner and child, the natural process of bonding will take place. There is nothing the father needs to do but spend the time with his new family. As fathers get to know their newborns, they often find a new level of feeling is awakened in them.

This too is an especially important time to be with and talk to other fathers about your experience. It can deepen your own experience, as well as validate your growing sense of what "being a father" is all about. Not being isolated as a new father and having other resources than your partner to share the many changes new fathers go through is important. Being in a father's group is one way to find affiliation with a group of men/fathers.

Fathers are looking for a psychologically satisfying place within their families. There are many benefits to the father's involvement in pregnancy, birth, and the early years of his child/children's lives. These benefits are not only for his child and wife/partner but for his own understanding of what it is to be man and a father. What I have seen in my work with fathers is that we, as fathers, need to share our experience and support each other. Our dialog as a community of men/fathers helps us understand and appreciate the most important and dynamic life transition: becoming a father.


For Further self-reflection and discussion:
1. What preparation, training or classes did you have in preparation for becoming a father?
2. Can you find two other expectant fathers or "experienced" fathers to meet with and find out how they feel or felt about the pregnancy and birth of their children?
3. After reading this article, what is "one" question you would like to ask another father about pregnancy or birth?

Bruce Linton, Ph.D. is founder and director of the Fathers' Forum programs for expectant and new fathers. He is a former contributing editor to "Full-Time-Dads" magazines, and columnist for Parents' News in San Francisco, California. He is the author of Finding Time for Fatherhood (Berkeley Hills Books, 2000). Bruce is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapists and received his doctorate for his research on men's development as fathers.

Copyright © Bruce Linton. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org, LLC.