Mums rightly come first during pregnancy but let’s not forget about dads-to-be
The lack of regard for fathers in society extends to during pregnancy as we ignore the mental and emotional wellbeing of dads-to-be
No matter how much empathy one can offer, being pregnant is an experience that no man can fully understand. Pregnancy presents both an onus and a privilege for the mum-to-be in carrying a child. Indeed, when you consider the favourable aspects of pregnancy, there’s much of the experience to be celebrated such as the bond you’re able to establish with your unborn child and the fundamental role you play in their life before they’re even born. However, for most women, pregnancy can also present challenges as they approach the birth of the baby.
During pregnancy, your body changing means you aren’t yourself. Simple tasks such as bending down or quickening your pace become frustratingly impossible. Not to mention the effect changes in your body may have on your mental health and self esteem (particularly if you’re struggling to mentally link it to the pregnancy). There’s also the discomfort, irritableness, mood swings and anxiety, the latter being an obvious experience for most first time parents.
As much as society rightly celebrates pregnancy, for mums-to-be it isn’t always easy. Consequently, pregnant women typically receive the kudos, compassion and support they deserve for undertaking such an important role. Yet what about dads-to-be? Sure, our bodies aren’t changing therefore we aren’t experiencing the by-products of that either. Conversely, the regard for the role of men as impending parents, and their wellbeing, is given little if any weighting. Mums rightly come first during pregnancy but we shouldn’t be forgetting about the role and wellbeing of dads-to-be too.
Society has a tendency to diminish the role of fathers. Even during pregnancy, the message from society is that fathers are secondary to the mother. I’d be inclined to agree that during pregnancy a woman’s wellbeing and needs are greater than that of a man’s but that doesn’t mean they should be ignored. Although sadly that’s the message that’s being disseminated to those about to embark on fatherhood.
In the UK, women can take up to a year of statutory maternity leave; a generous allowance compared to countries like the US where the lack of universal healthcare provision clearly indicates how they regard motherhood. For the stress pregnancy places on a woman’s body, it’s only fair and provides an invaluable opportunity to bond with your baby before returning to work. It’s also hugely important for a woman’s mental health in allowing her to mentally recalibrate from the emotional experience of pregnancy, childbirth and becoming a parent. Alas, that’s in shocking contrast to the paltry two weeks of paternity leave available. Two weeks. It is possible to share parental leave but as the default, the perception of a mother’s value greatly outweighs that of a father.
What’s not realised is that the same mental recalibration and regard for mental health is necessary for fathers too yet it isn’t given any credibility.
Mentally, emotionally and physically, pregnancy can take its toll on a woman. Physically, that isn’t the case for man. Though mentally and emotionally pregnancy presents its own demands for dads-to-be. The anxiety that comes with being a first time dad especially is expected. Just as for mothers, it presents a huge shift from the status quo as you embark on parenthood. Will you be a good enough dad? Will you know what to do with the baby? Will you be able to manage the imminent change to your lives?
Then there’s managing the manifestation of your partner’s emotions. The mood swings and irritability are par for the course during pregnancy and the dad-to-be is likely to be a prime target whenever it’s articulated. Nevertheless, that too can be an emotionally draining experience in itself as you take it on the chin and put said utterances down to hormones, not allowing it to affect how supportive you need to be.
There’s also a frustrating helplessness in knowing that while your partner is experiencing the physical demands of pregnancy and childbirth, all you can do is offer support and encouragement. That support is undoubtedly valuable and appreciated but it’s hardly a substitute for being able to give birth yourself.
It’s only right that men step up their game during pregnancy and provide all the support that their partners should be able to expect. The wellbeing of mums-to-be needs to come first but amidst that stance, we’ve neglected to consider and support the wellbeing of fathers too. Instead, men are told in jest or otherwise that we don’t get a say in voicing any anxieties or frustrations because we aren’t carrying the child. All that does is lessen the role of being a father.
In some ways, perhaps men of yesteryear have caused this. Previously, men probably had less to be anxious about during pregnancy in a time when gender roles were much more rigid and the mental and emotional health of mothers was dismissed as a non-entity. Tending to the emotional needs of their partners wasn’t the consideration it is today and men themselves were more detached from the journey of pregnancy.
In contrast, men today are much more involved in attending antenatal appointments and classes, providing massages on tap, cooking whatever their partner’s cravings demand and generally doing anything their partner wants or needs. Not to mention picking up the slack on anything the mum-to-be is no longer able to do with the same ease as their pre-pregnant self. It might be to varying levels but modern men are much more involved than men of previous generations which is undoubtedly a positive.
That involvement requires the wellbeing of both parents to be acknowledged. Society has progressed for that to be the the case for women but it’s still not the reality for men.
Good mental health for both parents makes for better parents. If the wellbeing of mothers isn’t in tandem with the wellbeing of fathers, it continues to diminish the role of the latter in a disturbing message that has managed to permeate society throughout successive generations. If dads-to-be are supporting the wellbeing of mums, it begs the question who’s making sure they’re ok too?
We shouldn’t pretend that men have the same experience during pregnancy as women do. It’s a reality that the overall needs and changes that a pregnant woman is subject to will outweigh those of a man. But when it comes to mental and emotional health, there are bound to be some parallels. We might not be able to carry a baby but we do carry the emotions that come with becoming a parent. If we want to see mothers and fathers as equal entities within parenthood, we need to have the same regard and attitudes in ensuring that the wellbeing of both parents is supported to achieve that.