Fathers Make
a World of
Difference
 

May
Chapter 4. Beginning the Journey - Pregnancy


“What a father says to his children is not heard by the world, but it will be heard for posterity.” - Richter

For many men this time of becoming a father can lead to thoughts and feelings from a whole range of possibilities. They may include everything from excitement, to ambivalence, to panic. Important questions will also arise. What am I supposed to be doing? How will the baby affect my relationship with my partner? What about me? How can I get support for myself through all this?

Some men can find it difficult to ask for what they want or need. It can be easier, or more comfortable, to jump into the providing role and taking care of the needs of your partner. But you have your own legitimate needs. Meeting them will help you support your partner and your baby. First is getting in touch with what you need, then comes asking for it. If you are willing to invest some time in this the dividends will be great.

Following is an exercise that will help you identify your needs. Remember this is about what you need and want, not your partner or baby. Find somewhere comfortable where you can have a quiet moment. I invite you to write the answers to the following questions or close your eyes and contemplate them.

As a father what are you experiencing during this time? What kind of support do you need right now. What information or experience would help you to be more relaxed and present in your role? Do you need a confidant or mentor? How can you get support for yourself? What will allow you to engage more fully at this time and in the best way possible, for you? Relax, imagine and if you like, write about what it is that you need and want to support you as a father.

Sex Intimacy Relationships

These three topics are so closely connected that they can seem as one. Almost any discussion about one will encompass aspects of another. These can also be among life’s most exciting and fulfilling yet challenging issues. This period will certainly bring them into focus and present you with new opportunities for your personal development.

Sex

Sex is where this whole process started and it will be a central theme right the way through. Conception, giving birth and breastfeeding are all sexual experiences; they involve a woman’s sexual anatomy. There are many dimensions of this to explore which could transform your experience of fatherhood.

A pregnant woman’s body is a hormone factory, as well as a baby incubator. Her body produces biological cocktails which do wondrous things to support her and the baby’s developing needs. One by-product is a shift to new and different priorities for her. Some of this is conscious; however, much of it is instinctual. Her attention has altered significantly from that of being a woman to include becoming a mother. Each woman will be individual in her experience and response.

This time can bring with it a new phase in a couple’s sexual relationship. Some women will have an increase in their libido, others a reduction. If her sex drive is reduced it is important not to take this personally. It is not a statement about you or the importance of your relationship. Most importantly, it will change. During this time her physical, emotional and spiritual energy is focused on her baby. This may be more pronounced near the end of the pregnancy and for a time after the birth, particularly if she is breastfeeding. It is best for the two of you to speak about it regularly.

There are diverse cultural and spiritual beliefs and practices regarding this and it will vary as to how couples are with their sexual intimacy during this time. Some women feel inclined to abstain from sexual intercourse while pregnant. This may be an instinctual response for some. Certain spiritual practices recommend abstinence during the pregnancy as they feel the baby needs this space to be private and preserved for him alone. There are also cultures where the father is totally excluded from sexual contact during pregnancy and right the way through breastfeeding, for months or even years. What is most important is what works best for each couple. Also making love has many forms, penetration is just one of them, and this is generally safe throughout the pregnancy. Be gentle and allow your partner to guide you in what works best for her physical and emotional comfort. Speak about it.

If your sexual desire is higher than hers at this time acknowledge it, however, be conscious as to how you resolve it. Infidelity can appear to be a solution but rarely is a satisfying one in reality. It can also have long lasting consequences on your relationship and family. Also be aware of infidelities of the mind, which may not actually manifest physically. It is possible to redirect your sexual energy into another form of intimacy which you can all benefit from. If you find yourself straying, mentally or otherwise, work with your thoughts and find new ways to become closer to your partner and to express your love. Try a cuddle.

Just about every part of a woman’s body can change during pregnancy. Some men are fine with this and others may be reticent about it. If you are in the second category, you may want to see if you can adjust your perception to one of acceptance. It is good to be honest with yourself; and use care if you speak with her about it. A woman’s body image can be very sensitive during pregnancy and after the birth for a time.

Perhaps now may also be a good time to examine your personal views on women’s bodies in general. The stereotypical ‘body beautiful’ standard that our culture exemplifies for women may deserve an adjustment. We have become prisoners to this image through advertising, film and other forms of commercial media. I think pregnant bodies are stunningly beautiful and a miracle of nature.

Using affirmations may support you. “Change is safe” ,“I love my partner as she is”, “I am satisfied with my life”.

Intimacy

Intimacy typically involves a close and loving connection between two people. Intimacy can be expressed and experienced in various ways; sex is only one of them. This time has the possibility to bring you and your partner closer together and provide you with a focal point for your love. Having a baby can be the most intimate and creative process two humans will ever know. Patience and the willingness to open your heart and trust the process will enhance your experience considerably.

A very important detail for men to know is that a woman’s desire for intimacy, touching and holding is often increased during this time. Make an effort to tell her how special she is and how much she means to you. Express how much you appreciate who she is, as well as what she is doing through nurturing your child. What follows is one possibility.

Come together with your partner. Be sure you have the time and space to be alone and undisturbed. Make yourselves comfortable and sit facing each other. Gently, lovingly gaze into each others eyes. You may also want to lightly hold hands. Notice your breathing, perhaps even breath together; within the same cycle of in-breath and out-breath. Take the opportunity to ‘fall in love’ all over again. Notice this amazing and extraordinary person before you. Recall each other’s qualities and attributes that attract you. Look deeply into each other’s eyes and notice who is there, really there. You may also want to lie down and hold each other while eye gazing. You could do this regularly throughout the pregnancy. Working your way up to 20 minutes or more at a time would be great. A similar approach during labor can also be mutually supportive.

Remember she is your life partner, friend and lover. It is important to treat her as a woman, but not always as a pregnant woman. Of course connect with her belly, touch it, kiss it, and speak to your baby inside but individually acknowledge her. Pregnancy is a facet that has expanded who she is as a woman, but not the sum total of her parts. She, usually, does not want too much of her identity attached to her growing belly or the baby inside. An error many people make when communicating with a pregnant woman is that they relate to her belly first and foremost. The same principle applies once your baby is born. Mother and child are individuals. Acknowledge and recognize each of them, individually.

To me, love is an action verb. It is not just an emotional concept. It is an expression AND demonstration of how we feel (as opposed to just a feeling) and as such involves a type of doing. How many ways can you find to express your love to your family?

Some sample affirmations are: “I love my partner”, “I welcome the changes that are happening”, “I love being part of their intimacy and supporting it”, “I am always included”. Listen in and be gentle with yourself. What are your underlying thoughts and what new ones will better support everyone?

Relationships

Research, in the fields of science and psychology, has found that babies in the womb are aware of the experience they are having. They are also making complex decisions about these events. According to Dr. Yehudi Gordon, a UK pioneer of active and integrated birth healthcare, “During this period, your baby will learn more than in any other decade of her life. In the womb she hears noises and senses emotions.”6

For each of us our time in the womb and early infancy was the beginning of our experience of intimacy and relationships. This is our original point of reference for relationships. We were in the center of our mother’s world and we were experiencing life with and through her, physically and emotionally. Depending on how that was for you and your mother it could provide you with a fantastic model for your own relationships. If it had ‘negative’ elements it could also influence your own ability to form, keep or trust relationships. You may be compelled to leave or abandon relationships if that experience was dire in some ways. Decisions made regarding relationships, even ones from your preverbal time in the womb, can have an impact and be long lasting. And you can change them.

You may want to reflect on your own experience of relationships to see if you can identify any patterns you want to explore further. Memories of your time in the womb may seem inaccessible. However, you have access to your experience during that time through noticing how relationships have worked out for you, throughout your life. If there have been repeated patterns in your personal relationship history this may be a clue regarding earlier events and decisions you may have made. There are also numerous therapeutic approaches you could use for exploring and healing this.

A mother-to-be is growing a baby, inside of her body. Once she becomes pregnant there is an inner directed, non-stop process underway. As men we will never know just what being pregnant is like for a woman. However, what we can do is gather information and prepare ourselves, as best we can, so we can make the greatest possible contribution to our family. Welcome this opportunity to build on your relationship. Giving her regular massage is usually welcomed. This can be head, neck, shoulders, feet or whole body. Many women also place a high value on men doing things like projects around the house, things that will help prepare the home for the baby. This has actually been known to be a turn-on for some women.

You may think a father’s physical experience came and went some time ago. Well not entirely. There are men who experience pregnancy symptoms of their own. Some fathers have hormonal changes and resulting emotional shifts. There are also those who have food sensitivities and cravings as well as lower back pain and weight gain. This is well documented and actually common. It is called the couvade. I suspect it is the result of the depth of connection between the parents and between a father and his child. There are also cultures where the father goes off to ‘give birth’ while the mother is in labor.

Reducing Stress

Life today can be full to overflowing with fast paced activities and demands on your time. In addition, your lack of familiarity with pregnancy, birth and fathering may evoke uncertainties, which can engender various fears. Stress can be the result. This is normal and there are a variety of ways you can assure your own wellbeing and that of your family.

Interestingly, the original use of the word stress was in relation to structural engineering. It denotes how much pressure or strain a piece of building material or a structure can withstand, before collapse. It is little wonder society uses the same word to apply to a human condition.

Stress can be compounded by how you think about a situation or activity rather than just the actual thing itself. Perhaps, with the proper guidance and practice, you can avert some of the stress in the first instance.

Fear

Fear can come from thoughts about possible ‘bad’ outcomes of future events. Think about life: fear about money (I will not have enough), fear about safety (possible injury, birth), fear about time (there will not be enough), and fear about fathering (I will not be good enough). Without diminishing the importance of any of these concerns, it is valuable to notice they are all fears regarding the future. They are not ‘real’, in present time. We can have trepidation about what might happen. A very large percentage of what we tend to be concerned about never actually comes to pass. It is also these types of mental distractions that are likely to generate stress.

Fearful thoughts can also deprive us of experiencing the joy and satisfaction in whatever we are doing at any moment. In this way, we devalue our current activity. We miss part of the value by becoming distracted with the thoughts. It is important to remember that you have a choice about what you are thinking. Choose your thoughts with care. Remember to use the numerous tools and techniques presented throughout this book to support you in making helpful choices.

We often make decisions and hold beliefs from the past that we are not consciously aware of. If these were ‘negative’ in their impact on us, and left unresolved, they can add significant stress to our lives. There can be a contradiction between what we believe, reinforced by past experiences, and what we want now. This is especially true during important events or activities like relationships, birth and fathering.

My F2B colleague Elmer Postle wrote:

As we approach the subject of birth, we may notice feelings and bodily sensations arise. I was recently driving with a work colleague and our discussion landed on what we thought about birth. He said that every time he got into a conversation about birth he would notice his throat tightening, breathing speeding up and becoming flushed. It seemed our chatting in the car was touching the same sensations for him. I suggested it might be a memory from his own birth. He looked surprised though immediately said: “I was born by caesarean, they said I was too big to fit down the birth canal, I was a 'fat bastard’''.

This was clear information to me about the nature of his birth. It was also accompanied by a sense of shame and wrongness and linked with how others held him responsible for the manner of his delivery. The symptoms he described suggested the issue was unresolved for him. In a few seconds the pace of our interaction was showing signs of speeding up considerably. I felt both blessed he had told me this about himself and concerned about properly dealing with the feelings that were arising. I told him that the feelings and sensations he reported were ‘of interest to me and were significant’. The sense of emergency and the pace in our conversation then slowed down and we were able to pleasurably re-enter everyday conversation and finish our day’s work.

I later asked myself: What unresolved story is he carrying towards becoming a father and the birth of any children he might ultimately have? What could truly be helpful? My simply saying, “yes, those could be relevant and accurate responses to something that happened at your birth”, allowed another gentler option to be considered.

Begin to notice when your body and mind are giving you signals. Repetitive, fearful thoughts can compound each other and their effect on you. If you notice yourself clenching your fists, having a knot in your belly, fidgeting or your heart rate increasing then pause and take a few deep breaths. The ‘activation’ of these responses may be a result of experiences from your past. Current events can resurrect past traumas. Notice what the actual truth about a situation is. Is there a genuine reason to be afraid? Is there a real threat of some kind? If not, aim to restructure your view of an event or situation. Affirmations could be useful.

“I am safe”, “My partner is safe”,
“My baby is safe”.

Time

Time is a key area people tend to stress over. Managing time can be a challenge when becoming a father. You may have many tasks and people wanting to have your attention, in addition to the requirements of your new role.

Two significant factors regarding time are how we think about it and how we priorities our use of it. Time has an illusionary quality to it. We each have twenty-four hours in a day to accomplish our lives, and we do. However, if we are not careful, we can fall into the trap of thinking that there is not enough time. How we think about it is important to our mental, emotional and physical wellbeing. Remind yourself regularly that you always have enough time to do what needs to get finished now.

There is a modern day concept called ‘multi-tasking’. Perhaps this is a misnomer. Can we actually do more than one thing at a time? My computer can do several things at one time, if I tell it to, but I make the requests individually and sequentially. The very nature of this multi-tasking concept is perhaps indicative of modern society and how we view our relationship to time. We think that we need to do multiple things at the same time in order to accomplish what is required of us. Slow down; be with what you are doing now. Allow yourself to enjoy the task at hand.

At this point in your life prioritizing your use of time will become more important than ever. You will want to thoughtfully balance your work commitments with your new family ones. Speak with your partner about this and together do your best to get the balance that works for your family.

It is important to take the opportunity to engage with your new baby, while in the womb, and allow bonding to begin. You could get very close to your partner’s belly and speak to your child. You might even speak so quietly that only your child can hear…it will be your little secret together. Acknowledge the relationship that already exists between you. This early period is precious and endearing. Take time off work if possible, a day or afternoon here and there, to be with your partner and your child. Take walks, hold each other and take time to connect. Speak about your new family and life together. Include your baby in these conversations.

Being Present

Another way we can become stressed is by doing one activity while thinking we should be doing something different. Being with your partner, while you are thinking that you should be working (or vice versa) will diminish the quality of your experience of both. If you are fully engaged in an activity it can be referred to as ‘being present’. This is having your mind, body and emotions all engaged in the same activity.

We have all watched a sunset, danced a dance or been with our lover and had no other thoughts or concerns during that period; there was a timeless quality. These are typically the type of events during which we are fully present. You may notice there is no stress involved in such activities. You can expand your capacity for being present. Being with your partner in this way, truly present, is what each of you deserves.

Working with the following affirmations can be helpful. “I always have enough time”, “I am enough, I do enough, I have enough”, “I am always in the right place, at the right time, doing the right thing”.

Breathing

Utilizing the breath can be a very useful for releasing and managing stress. The breath has the ability, when used with awareness, to positively influence your physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.

Physiologically, breathing is automatic; you do not have to think about it. This is similar to your heart beating; however breathing is also under your conscious control. In stressful situations you can alter your breathing to help you manage the energy in your body and still your mind and emotions. At peak times, for example during birth, if you notice you are breathing hard or fast you can consciously slow down your breath and you will begin to relax. Likewise, if you notice you are holding your breath, you can begin breathing, gently. Your mind and body will favorably respond by becoming more calm.

During a quiet time, observe your breath coming and going; give it a color or visual representation that works for you. Perhaps see your breath as a wheel, circular, so that the in-breath and the out-breath are continuous, flowing around or through your body. You can make use of your breath at any time and during any activity. Notice that by becoming aware of your breathing and creating a rhythm and pace with it you tend to be more peaceful.

There are also therapeutic uses for the breath which can be immensely valuable. Therapeutic Breathwork is guided by a practitioner/counselor. Various methods use conscious, intentional breathing to explore and release unconsciously held beliefs and emotional attachments to past experiences.7

Meditation

Meditation can be utilized by anyone in very simple forms. It could provide you with valuable support at this time. Find relaxing surroundings, a quiet place where you can be alone. Simply sit or lie down, make yourself comfortable and close your eyes. You could visualize a place where you feel relaxed if you like. This may be in a garden or by water. You might imagine a make-believe place or one you know. Allow yourself to go into deep relaxation. This may or may not come right away for you. With patience, the sensation will grow. Allow your thoughts to slow down and become fewer. During meditation it can also be useful to watch your breath and regulate it to enhance your experience.

Another option with meditation is to choose a word (known as a mantra) to help you to focus your attention. Find a word that represents something peaceful to you. Repeatedly and gently call the word to mind as you relax. This will help to draw your attention away from thoughts about the activities of life. Focusing a part of your mind on a mundane task, like repeating a word, allows the space for the rest of the mind to relax. Meditation will contribute significantly to your wellbeing.

It can also be mutually supportive to meditate with your partner. Sit quietly together, in silence. This is also a great time to get in touch with your baby. He is very receptive to contact with you.

You can practice for a few minutes here and there or, even better, 20 minutes twice a day. Relaxing music may be helpful or you may prefer silence. Choose what works for you. Any amount of practice is beneficial.

Father’s Circle

The Father’s Circle is another technique for creating calm. It will be particularly useful during the birth. Sit quietly with eyes closed and recall a time when you were at peace (imagine one if memory does not serve). Remember the circumstances and the feeling of peace you had. The more emotion you bring to the memory the better. Add whatever elements, colors or sensations which will make it more vivid for you. Really sense it.

Now, while holding that memory, firmly squeeze together your thumb and first finger on your right hand, forming a circle. This will cause a physical ‘anchor’ to link with that particular emotion. Keep your Father’s Circle firmly intact while you replay your peaceful memory several times. Now do it again a few more times. The deeper you can go with this the better. Allow the calm feeling to flood through your mind and body. This may be quite subtle at first. Ultimately, when a stressful situation occurs, all you need do is form your Father’s Circle and relaxation will set in. The physical anchor has been established.

If you like, you can take the Father’s Circle for a test drive. Sit quietly with your fingers relaxed and apart. Recall a situation from the past which caused you some mild stress. Now, bring your fingers together to form your Father’s Circle. Notice relaxation in your body and/or mind, however subtle. Imagine this situation being resolved peacefully. Practice this technique and allow the sensation of calm to build and become more pronounced. This is a tool that you can call on again and again when you notice yourself becoming stressed. Practice works.

©2009, Patrick Houser


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Patrick Houser is a father and a grandfather. His second son's arrival was the first waterbirth in the U.S. This led him into nearly 25 years of support for both choices and working with parents. He has gained wide experience from various fields including a degree in marketing, owning a construction firm and a natural health centre. Patrick is a Life Coach and co-founder of Fathers-To-Be, a new concept in antenatal education, for men. Fathers-To-Be also offers consulting and training for health service providers. E-Mail or www.fatherstobe.org These articles are excerps from his book Fathers-To-Be Handbook: A road map for the transition to fatherhood.


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