Keep Calm and Carry On: The ‘Irrelevance’ of Dads During Pregnancy
Mums achieve magical things during pregnancy while dads ultimately just stand on the sidelines to cheer them on, which is a somewhat strange experience – admits theAsianparent’s Dean Carroll. Is there nothing left for a man to do except “keep calm and carry on”?
Pregnancy: As a dad-to-be, the word has a very different meaning to what it represents to your spouse. After all, she is the one incubating your bundle-of-joy to come. Mum provides the food, the warmth, the lifeblood and the safe haven. All this allows for a wondrous and exponential growth story over nine months in the womb.
Men sometimes feel slightly left out of this existential journey during pregnancy. Yes, you can feel the kicks, but only on the outside. You can even see what size your baby is on theAsianparent pregnancy tracker (a rockmelon for my little one, in case you are curious). However, it still all feels very – how to say it? Well, abstract.
Your partner, meanwhile, is living pregnancy through her body. And it is this same body which is rapidly transforming into a highly-advanced nurturing machine before your very eyes – something almost superhuman in its strength and tolerance. In short, pregnancy is a magical happening. It’s a monumental achievement by mothers all around the world.
The Role of Dads During Pregnancy: A Support Act?
A man, on the other hand, is merely a (not-so-innocent) bystander. As a result, you feel a bit useless. After all, only mum will experience the physical pain of childbirth and the months of discomfort prior to the big moment. Dad is in the room, of course, but he is just there to help in any small way he can. A support act, at best.
In fact, all you can offer are kind words and physical reassurance. Personally, I can’t help but feel a little guilty. Men play an equal part in the initial conception, and then they step out of the way to let the real work happen between mother and child. It doesn’t seem fair.
Of course, this changes after the baby is born. Dad then has more of a role for sure. Although let’s face it, he ain’t breastfeeding is he? Traditionalist patriarchs will talk about the role of the hunter-gatherer for the father, but that all feels very last millennium to me.
The Burden on Mums
All of this doesn’t reflect modern society at all. It’s 2020, and we live in much more equal times where roles and responsibilities are quite rightly shared – except when it comes to the hardships of pregnancy, that is. That burden is on the woman alone.
You might argue that this is perhaps not the right forum for metaphysical questions about who designed the weird and wonderful pregnancy process. But one thing is for sure, mums matter more. And so they should.
What then should be the strategy for dads during pregnancy? How do we rationalise our irrelevance? What more can we do other than the admittedly-important task of providing a safe, stable and caring existence for mum and baby? And is it a bit self-centred to even be asking ourselves such questions when our better half is suffering hormonal and physical changes beyond our wildest imagination?
When Fathers Overthink Things
In my last opinion piece for theAsianparent, I wrote about what a minefield taking paternity leave was for new dads. With the role of the father during pregnancy, it also feels just as hard to navigate. The age-old societal norm of “keep calm and carry on” seems as equally as outdated as the guilt trip fathers experience over taking even a short period off work to spend time with mother and baby after the birth.
Maybe I am overthinking all of this. Maybe dads can’t afford to be too introspective about these issues at such a crucial time. Conversely, maybe there is a reason why no dad has written an article on this website with such an editorial stance before. It could be that the topic is taboo because it needs to be, in order for the world to keep spinning on its axis.
I certainly don’t have the answers to the questions I’ve posed above. And there is no textbook that maps out what the pregnancy experience ought to look like for dads. One thing is for sure though, it’s been cathartic just to put these words and thoughts out there in the public domain. Now back to the default: Keep calm and carry on.