Like most of life’s great events, the knowledge that one is to be a father brings its own special joys, rewards, anticipations and anxieties. The first thing for ato remember, is that all the chemical and glandular changes that are a natural accompaniment of early pregnancy, can play havoc with his wife’s body and feelings. She may, for example, suffer from nausea, sickness, tiredness, rise to great heights of happiness and plunge just as quickly into insecurity and despair.
All this can, of course, be very bewildering and wearing for a husband, but it is essential for him to remain rational, understanding, supportive and loving. Nothing is more damaging to a marriage than the turmoil of an action reaction situation. As the onus of bodily and emotional changes is on the mother-to-be, it is clearly important that theshould accept the onus for remaining calm and rational.
Some wives remain sexually responsive throughout pregnancy; others experience a lessening of sexual desire. Whatever the situation, a wife’s wishes should be respected and given first consideration. Fears that the loss of interest is permanent or that the sexual relationship will never be the same again are quite unfounded. Pregnancy is a unique time during which a couple’s love and devotion can be expressed in ways other than sex. Far from undermining a relationship, this can, in fact, deepen the love that a husband and wife have for each other.
A mother-to-be also needs time to adjust to the changes in circumstances. If, for example, she has been used to a career, she will, for a while, miss the working routine and all the friendships which this involves. She may feel very lonely at times, insecure about the new routine or the need to make new friends. Daily opportunities for quiet understanding conversation will do much to speed the necessary psychological and emotional adjustment. The more a father-to-be knows about pregnancy, childbirth and parenting, the better it will be for him and his wife. Family life is essentially a sharing of love and interests and pregnancy is a very good time to start.
The decision of whether or not a father-to-be is to attend the birth should never be based on, or biased by, what others do, but childbirth preparation classes and films are invaluable in helping a husband and wife decide. The important thing is that neither should feel pressurized.
At least three weeks before the baby is expected, a father-to-be should make sure that he has the telephone numbers of the doctor, midwife, hospital and ambulance service. If he is to drive his wife to the hospital, he should keep cushions and blankets in the car, check the petrol gauge and tyres each evening, and work out, in advance, the shortest route to the hospital and the precise location of the admissions’ desk.
Remember that father-love, like mother-love, may not be instantaneous. Some parents need time to get to know their baby. Newborns rarely look as beautiful as babies in television commercials and photographs. A father-to-be who takes time to study photographs of how a baby looks immediately after the birth will not be alarmed if, initially, his own baby looks like a red or purple wizened old man or woman.
Remember, too, that after all the excitement of labour and birth, the next few days may seem something of an anti-climax. Once again, as the onus of physical adjustment is on the wife, the onus of remaining rational and supportive should be with the husband. There is no doubt that pregnancy, childbirth and becoming a parent entails major adjustments for men and women, but both can be immeasurably enriched by the experience.
The maxim, ‘it is a wise man who knows his own child’ is as true today as ever it was. Equally, a wise man, especially a father-to-be, makes a point of knowing his own wife, and draws on this knowledge when deciding whether to be lenient or firm, vociferous or silent. Above all, he never forgets to bring reason to bear on a situation, whether during pregnancy or at any other time in his marital and family life.