It is common during a high-risk pregnancy, when the focus is on the mother and baby, for fathers to question the importance in the childbearing process and to feel lost and alone as they cope with their own fears and anxieties.
Indeed, on the surface it may appear that fathers have no concerns, and that they are cool and aloof from the day-to-day rituals and events (such as periodic fetal monitoring) which become so central and emotionally stressful in the course of managing a pregnancy at risk. Yet conversations with fathers reveal that they are strongly and emotionally attached to their developing baby and have many concerns about the well-being of their wives which remain unspoken during the course of pregnancy. Fathers care very much.
There are a multitude of things which concern fathers during pregnancy. In one major 1989 study of expectant fathers, it was found that EVERY father worried during pregnancy. The study also showed that:
Unfortunately, fathers may not always share what they think and feel. Fathers may feel that it is their “duty” to hide their fealings of concern in order to support their wives with relentless up-beat messages. One father said, “I would have liked to talk to her, but I thought she had too much to deal with already.
I thought it was my duty to support her.” Little did he realize that the real support she wanted was for him to talk and share; she wanted to know he cared as much as she did. Still another father commented, “Men aren’t supposed to have feelings. We’re supposed to be strong. But what happens when you don’t feel strong? Where do you go? What do you do?”
Fathers also experience feelings of helplessness as they realize that there is nothing that they can do directly to cure the problems which threaten pregnancy. One father talked about this feeling of being powerless saying, “I cried for my helplessness and her pain.” Rather than addressing their concerns directly, fathers may cope with stress by spending additional hours at work, or by avoiding talking about the pregnancy as much as possible. They may focus instead on paying bills or doing household projects – things that they can have control over.
Because there is too little communication between a couple about what a high-risk pregnancy means to both partners at an emotional level, mothers often incorrectly assume that the fathers neither love them nor care about the outcome of the pregnancy. As a result, both partners may feel angry or frustrated and withdraw emotionally from each other, leading to feelings of isolation.
The following are suggestions which may be helpful in recognizing fathers and their important contribution to the process of pregnancy and childbirth:
Fatherhood affects and changes men just as motherhood does women. It’s important to realize that pregnancy is a shared experience and it marks the whole new beginning of a family structure. So, what about fathers? Fathers matter so much, as we must be careful to ensure that their involvement in the pregnancy experience isn’t minimized.
Susan Speraw, Ph.D., RN., has over twenty years experience in maternity nursing and holds a doctorate in clinical psychology. She serves on the Sidelines Advisory Board and is a Clinical Psychologist and Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Tennessee College of Medicine-Chattanooga Unit.