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Being Pregnant: How Much Should Dad Be Involved?

By carolyncastiglia |

The blog department here at Babble is expanding like a pregnant belly! Our latest addition, Being Pregnant, gives you all the news you need about how to get by during those fascinating nine months.

In a recent post, Ceridwen Morris – a childbirth instructor at Tribeca Parenting in NYC – weighs in on how much involvement fathers can and should have during pregnancy.

Dr. Jonathan Ives of the Centre for Biomedical Ethics at the University of Birmingham says “dad’s involvement in pregnancy and childbirth might actually be setting him up to fail as a new father.” Morris says the logic behind Ives’ controversial statement is this: a man is expected to empathetically experience the pregnancy with his partner, “but hard as he may try the fact is he’s not the one doing the work. So he begins to feel like a passive, useless partner and this lack of mojo carries over into actual parenthood.”

I’ve seen the same argument used to explain why some modern men develop passive-aggressive personalities: because they don’t feel like men anymore. Have we, in our struggle to eradicate gender bias, lost some of the benefits reaped by our innate differences?

I’d always assumed that the reason men of today were encouraged to be more involved in pregnancy and the birth of their children is so they’d be more attached to the baby when it was born. But Morris actually thinks Ives is onto something.

She says, “America really loves equality. For better or for worse, it continues to be the primary force behind the women’s movement. But gestating and birthing a baby isn’t something men and women can share equally. It’s a time in our lives when the differences between men and women are starkly apparent.”

I agree. And as a divorced parent, I’ll tell you one reason among many that my ex and I split is because of how frustrated we would get with each other while trying to care equally for our child. I, like a lot of mothers, felt my husband just wasn’t doing it right. While I don’t want to romanticize the notion of 50′s and 60′s housewifery, I can imagine despite any difficulty women faced raising children effectively alone, I think separation of household duties based on gender — child-rearing among them — has some perks. Whatever keeps you from fighting, I say. I think men need some freedom to be Dads, and that happens much more easily for them when their children are old enough to walk, talk and play.

Morris thinks when it comes to attending labor, “We cannot send the dad back to the waiting room with Don Draper and a bottle of rye.” But she notes, “French obstetrician Michel Odent announced that women do better — with shorter more straightforward births — when they labor with just one other woman in the room with them. No men. No male doctor. No male partner. Guys slow things down. Labor, in other words, is woman’s work.”

Woman’s work! What a gem of a phrase.  There’s so much strength and oppression crammed into those two little words. Takes me back to my college days when I was a hairy, pseudo-lesbian (not much has changed) watching my friends do modern dance to the strains of Kate Bush (and later R&B God Maxwell).

Morris boils it all down by saying Dad finds himself in the delivery room because “lack of support in pregnancy and postpartum correlates with postpartum depression. Women need to get it from someone. So, instead of keeping dad away, maybe the answer is as simple as acknowledging that the period of pregnancy and birth can be weird and awkward and alienating for him. We can talk more about the differences between men and women’s experiences. I don’t talk about how (men) can go through labor, but how (men) can support it. And I do see an up-swing of confidence.”

Fatherhood today is more complex than it was a generation or two ago, but Strollerderby blogger Madeline said it best when she said, “I think most kids today would pick their modern fathers over the cigar-smoking in the waiting room ones. Because weren’t those also the ones who worked too late, drank too much, never made dinner and only said ‘I love you’ once during a child’s whole life?  I think dads, by and large, are actually relieved that they don’t have to pass a  newborn child through a normally rather small orifice and that giving baths and changing diapers and reading and shoulder-rides, etc., more than make up for their inability to carry a human fetus to term.”

Photo: Amelia Nishimoto Cullen via Flickr

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About carolyncastiglia

carolyncastiglia

carolyncastiglia

Carolyn Castiglia is a New York-based comedian/writer wowing audiences with her stand-up and freestyle rap. She’s appeared in TONY, The NY Post, The Idiot’s Guide to Jokes and Life & Style. You can find Carolyn’s writing elsewhere online at MarieClaire.com and The Huffington Post. Read bio and latest posts → Read Carolyn's latest posts →

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0 thoughts on “Being Pregnant: How Much Should Dad Be Involved?

  1. Tanya says:

    Ya know, having recently gone through this whole labor and new baby phase with my husband right next to me, I think one major thing that helps my husband is his pride in making both baby and me comfortable and secure. I have noticed that things about baby’s care come to me instinctively much more than I expected, and that he is left out of that. The flipside, however, is that I’m a bit of a one-trick pony and when my method doesn’t work it stresses me out. For him it’s like a problem to solve, and when he succeeds in making the baby happy (or sleepy) it’s a BIG source of pride. My role is to give him plenty of time to work through rough patches (and not swoop in to *save* the baby), and to acknowledge when parenting goes really right for him. Today he blew me away by figuring out that our detergent was causing the boy’s rash. He got major daddy points for that one.

  2. Tanya says:

    Oh, and he got to be very involved in the pregnancy and labor in the sense that I was a major pain in his ass.

  3. ann05 says:

    Labor etc was way too much for my spouse. He tried, but he’s just not equipped to be the kind of birth coach/partner Bradley classes urge. I would have done better to hire a female doula and leave him out of it.

  4. Cameron says:

    Carolyn,
    You wrote:
    “And as a divorced parent, I’ll tell you one reason among many that my ex and I split is because of how frustrated we would get with each other while trying to care equally for our child. I, like a lot of mothers, felt my husband just wasn’t doing it right.”
    You’ve just brilliantly shown why many women wind up married to men who are uninvolved fathers.
    The term for what you describe is called, “Maternal Gatekeeping,” and it can be hideously destructive to a marriage. Maternal gatekeeping comes about when a woman, despite her calls for more help raising the kids/keeping the home, can’t bring herself to give up control. The end result is something like this–”Honey, I really need you to be a more involved partner with the kids” is shortly followed up with, “You are going to take our child out dressed like THAT!!!?”
    I don’t think that woman who gate-keep are doing it maliciously. I think they are doing it because society still makes a woman feel like, no matter how successful she’s been in her career, she still feels ultimately judged by how good a mother she is (much the same way men’s self worth can be entwined with how good a financial provider he is.) A recent U of Texas study recently showed that women whose husbands are “more competent” fathers, actually suffer from lower self esteem as a mother–they are having their primary identity inadvertently devalued.
    In your case, if your ex was negligent and putting your child in danger, than I’m right there with you. However, if your definition of him “not doing it right” was simply because he packed the diaper bag differently than you did, than I think you need to reconsider how fair you were being to a man who, it would appear, wanted to be an active co parent. Clearly, I am not qualified to comment on your failed marriage, but from the little you’ve exposed in your post, it sure sounds like gatekeeping to me.

    If this was a study about, say, why women should be excluded from being fire fighters because men are better equipped, there would be outrage and lawsuits galore. We should be equally outraged that this study says that men don’t belong where they absolutely do!

    We need to recognize that society sill works to keep old gender roles in tact. It tells little girls that they will grow up and be the natural parent, and it tells men they are of most use to their family being away from the family working long hours at the office.

    Dads can’t give birth, obviously, but every step should be taken to include men in the parenting process. Otherwise, we all become ensnared in antiquated gender roles which does nothing to promote healthy families.

  5. carolyncastiglia says:

    Hi Cameron – I wasn’t a gatekeeper, but I know some women are. And as you say, I think it’s often done with good intentions. I meant that my frustration was owed to my feeling that he wasn’t doing it right, but my ex and I agreed that parenting is men and women’s work.

  6. Cameron says:

    Thanks for your clarification.

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