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Being Pregnant: How Much Should Dad Be Involved?

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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