These are a few of the totally understandable fears men can experience on the cusp of fatherhood. There can be a ton of joy, excitement or just plain blind optimism, too. But during pregnancy it’s normal for men to be a little anxious about something. And it’s important to address those concerns, just as we support and reassure pregnant women about what they are going through.
Everyone — and every circumstance — is so unique, it’s tough to generalize how this life transformation will affect a guy. But there are common themes. When researching the pregnancy and baby book I co-authored, From the Hips, we surveyed hundreds of expectant parents and gained valuable insight into the worries of both women and men. Since then I’ve been working with expectant couples in childbirth classes and hear similar questions and concerns every week. So on that note, here are 10 common fears guys have during pregnancy — and a few ideas for how to cope with them.
1. Provider Anxiety¨¨ 1 of 10Though men aren't the primary breadwinners they once were, there's still a lingering sense that a man isn't "stepping up" if he can't provide for his family: If she's carrying the baby, he can at least pay the bills!
The fantasy of the perfect father who bears the burden of his family's finances unfailingly and unquestioningly can undermine a new dad's confidence. During hard economic times, this anxiety is compounded. While the solution to stable finances is never a simple one, dropping unrealistic expectations can certainly help minimize excessive anxiety. All parents figure out a way to make ends meet. That's what parenthood is all about: facing challenges and rising to the occasion. If a couple can stay flexible and open about who does — and earns — what, they can figure out the balance of family workload (in and out of the home) that works best for everyone.
Photo: Alexander Cornelius/Flickr
2. Saying or Doing or Ordering or Suggesting the Wrong Thing¨ 2 of 10"How could you buy this cheese?! It's not pasteurized." It can be hard enough for moms-to-be to keep up with the endless warnings and "recommendations" for a safe pregnancy; dads can feel like they're always playing catch-up. But here's the deal: most dads don't do the wrong thing. Most dads don't know a hell of a lot about pregnancy and birth — why should they? — but are very interested and curious and learn fast.
There's a terrible stereotype of the bumbling idiot dad out there that can make that kind of future seem inevitable — but it's not. It's okay to not know everything or get it all right. It's not okay to give in to the idea that all men are hopeless.
Photo: Emery Co/Flickr
3. Your Sex Life Is Over¨¨ 3 of 10Some women find pregnancy increases their sex drive tenfold. Men can also be very into the new or enhanced curves of a pregnant body or just find the whole thing very sexy. But this isn't always the case. Some women feel numb or turned off by sex — especially in the first trimester. This very likely has nothing to do with anything except (bad) luck of the draw in terms of hormones and the inclination to swell in certain areas. For those men who notice a sudden decrease in sex and find their partners absorbed in something else, like the pregnancy or impending motherhood, anxiety about the future makes sense.
When it comes to sex and parenthood there's really only one rule: roll with the changes and don't get bogged down. Sex will likely ebb and flow. Don't let it ebb for too long, but let it ebb if it has to. Most long-term couples go through less sexually active periods that are heavily influenced by changing circumstances.
Photo: Jon Hartman /Flickr
4. Never Being Able to Have Fun Again¨¨ 4 of 10Pregnancy can be so exciting and even romantic: the two of you made a baby! It's rad! But it can also be a drag. If your partner was once a very social, wining-and-dining type or jet-skier and mountain climber, you may feel like you're suddenly living with a stranger. Now it's 9 pm bedtime every Saturday night. Rest assured, pregnancy is a temporary state. Even the states within pregnancy are temporary; the first trimester floors most women in a way that is, arguably, "un-fun."
But the real problem here often has nothing to do with mom and her backaches, it has to do with the specter of parental life. People literally say, "You'll never have fun again." Well, I say, Bah humbug! Yes, you'll need to mourn the loss of a life before kids because there is loss in this transition. But saying goodbye to fun? So long as you remain somewhat adaptable, open-minded, and make things like laughing and having fun a priority, you won't have to.
Photo: Baby Lux Designs /Flickr
5. Being Shut Out¨¨ 5 of 10She's got kicks. She's got appointments. She's got a pile of books on what she's going through. You're squished in the corner of a tiny obstetrician's office wondering if you should sit, stand, lean, talk, or keep quiet.
It can feel isolating when you're both having a child — but only one of you is, literally, having the baby. It's not so much that men wish they could be pregnant — though some do— it's more that they can feel like a third wheel sometimes. This is unfortunate because dads are absolutely going through a huge life change, too. It can be reassuring to know that feeling alienated (at times) is normal and most definitely not a sign that you're no longer relevant. You'll be much more tangibly involved once the baby is born. Be open about your thoughts and worries. Women take on a special status during pregnancy, but that doesn't mean you have to disappear.
Photo: Photo: Patrick A Wilson/Flickr
6. You Won’t Get to the Hospital in Time¨¨ 6 of 10This is your one job — don't screw it up! Very rarely is a baby — especially the first one — born on the way to the hospital. Talk to your care-provider about when to go to in, but remember: first-time moms tend to be in early labor for an average of 6-18 hours. And in early labor, she's just warming up — not even close to actually pushing the baby out. If all is fine, no one wants you in the hospital until early labor has passed. They'll even send you home.
At the heart of this concern is a fear of not being prepared. In some ways it's easier for moms because their bodies give them information that is often, amazingly enough, reassuring. Dads are just looking on, thinking, There's a woman in labor in the house, and I'm not a doctor! (Movies haven't helped with this fear, either.) While so much about this experience feels out of control, here's what you can do: get educated about when to go in and how you can track the labor, and be in touch with your care-provider throughout early labor.
7. Labor Will Be Painful, and You’ll Be Useless ¨¨ 7 of 10The movies always show dads either freaking out or being totally useless in the labor and delivery room. But this is not what I see in real life. I teach childbirth classes and see expectant dad after expectant dad come into the classroom with insights, jokes, and a boatload of concern for his pregnant wife or girlfriend. I also go to births and see how immensely valuable dads are, even if they don't know some fancy hip squeeze or counter-pressure maneuver.
It helps to read a book about labor or take a good, open-minded childbirth class. Educating yourself can reassure you there are lots of ways women can cope with labor, and arm you with specific things you can do and say that will help. Mostly it's your love, support, and confidence in your partner that will matter most.
Photo: Kelly Sue/ Flickr
8. Dropping the Baby 8 of 10I've heard seasoned parents answer this fear in two ways. One: You won't drop the baby. Two: You'll drop the baby, and she'll be okay. Both are sort of true. The first answer reassures you that parents are instinctively protective, the latter emphasizes the resilience of babies. The bigger picture here is that you're afraid you won't be able to properly care for your baby. The bigger answer here is that you willlearn how to handle and care for a baby. It's okay if you don't get it all now because you haven't even really started! Anxiety about babies doesn't completely go away when they are born, but amazingly it can be a lot easier to solve problems when they are actually out of the womb.
9. IKEA Assemblage, Gear Acquisition¨¨ 9 of 10I don't want to stereotype here. I am much more relaxed about IKEA assemblage than my husband. I grew up with parents who subscribed to This Old House, so I've been stripping banisters since I was 12. But I do see that, in the face of not being able to get involved in other things — like, say, growing the baby — men can focus their anxieties on things like car-seat installation and crib assemblage. It's reasonable to do this. If your worries are assuaged by reading Consumer Reports, go for it! But if you find the unprecedented number of consumer choices daunting, turn off the search engine and walk away.
Photo: Buy Buy Baby
10. Your Kid Will One Day Grow Up and Think You Suck¨¨ 10 of 10Sigh. It's a fear all parents have: no matter how lovely and deep the bond you form with your child, it'll eventually somehow "go bad." It's not an outlandish worry, either, especially if you pulled away from your own parents in a more or less hostile fashion.
The backstory of your own childhood will come to the fore when you have a kid. The more you are aware of it, and talk about it and think about it, the better. Parenting brings up some painful feelings from time to time, but it also provides you with an opportunity not to "make everything right," but to learn and grow and make mistakes, just as your kids will.
Photo/Brian R Sellers/Flickr