I was intrigued when I first saw this title. I’ll be honest and say I don’t think that we are often sidelined. I think it’s more accurate to say that dads can often sideline themselves during pregnancy. Ultimately the end result of feeling left out, neglected and useless is the same, but the root cause is quite different.
Let’s start with an obvious yet important point: it is not our bodies (as dads) that go through such a dramatic change (Couvade Syndrome and paternity weight gain aside), and nor do we get to experience the incredible and eclectic cocktail of hormones. Highs and lows like never before, often flying from one end of the spectrum to the next in what can feel like the blink of an eye. We will never fully understand how it feels to grow a tiny person (or persons) inside of us, and let’s just pause here to appreciate how amazing a thing it is to create and grow a life inside of us! Finally, we will never understand the experience of childbirth: the pleasure, the pain, the joys, the trauma. I can hear a few sighs of relief from here. And so, on behalf of all dads everywhere: new, old, experienced, or expectant, thank you from the bottom of our hearts to our wives, spouses, surrogates, women everywhere who have experienced pregnancy and childbirth. You are truly amazing.
Reading back and seeing what we miss out on, this is where I think we as dads sideline ourselves. It’s not an unfair system or society sticking us in a corner, I reckon we are overwhelmed by so much change that we take a step back to try and take stock of what is happening. This I think is where a lot of us begin to feel unimportant and uninvolved: we don’t really understand what is happening and so don’t feel we can fully get involved for fear of failing our partners or ourselves.
So, how can we get more involved?
For me there are two parts to this answer. The first is simply to show up and want to be involved: be there for your partner physically and emotionally. Taking an interest in what your partner is doing, feeling, thinking, experiencing. Maybe even taking on extra jobs at home. All of this will show that you care and could help her to relax, something that is so important throughout pregnancy but especially towards the due period.
Perhaps though the most important thing we can do is educate ourselves. When my wife was pregnant with our first baby, I admit to knowing absolutely nothing about what was going on with both my wife and the baby. What little I knew was the remnants of GCSE biology I think, but over the years my nugget of information had worn down to next to nothing: nine months; cravings; uterus; placenta; baby. Pretty ignorant to be fair, and I wanted to change.
The obvious answer was to learn, so I bought a couple of parenting books and read whatever my wife gave me. I also listened when she was talking about what fruit or vegetable the baby was at whatever week. I didn’t know much but I could tell you about the different stages of labour for example, or possible complications during pregnancy or birth. I was definitely a bit more informed and that made me more confident at the birth: I didn’t feel like I had to sit in a corner and let her crack on, I was there holding her when she needed it, encouraging her, holding her hand, supporting. It was empowering and I think it also encouraged me to bond with the baby.
The real breakthrough for me was with baby number two. We started reading up on hypnobirthing (highly recommended), and the foundation of this is understanding how pregnancy works. What the hormones do, how to release them, your rights during the birth etc. I kept reading and felt more engaged: I understood why stuff happened; the importance of creating a calm and relaxing environment and also how amazing the whole process is and the women who go through it.
So where to start? As with many things, there is so much information out there it can be hard to know where to begin. The NHS offer a free course which we did with our first: I found it informative, but it covered all of the things I had been reading so I didn’t feel I gained anything from it. The big one often mentioned is NCT, which tends to have a strong social side, but we moved back late from the US and were too far along to find a group (and couldn’t pay), so I can’t speak for that.
What I have found from reading and speaking to people is that these courses are all aimed at the mum to be (and quite rightly, she is the star of the show), but there isn’t really anything from dad’s perspective, and so a lot of the material may go over our heads or not engage us. To this end I would recommend the DadNatal course, which is informative and aimed at us dads. Lots of helpful information but delivered in easy to digest chunks and with enough humour to keep us on track, I really wish I’d had access to this with our first baby, it would have made a huge difference.
A final note before I sign off is to accept that things will change, whether physical, emotional, financial changes to plan for, not to mention changes to lifestyle, energy levels and maybe even dietary. Change is a necessary and healthy part of life and should be embraced. A little empathy will go a long way: however hard you find the pregnancy; it is also a real challenge for your partner too. Try not to cling to the way things used to be, instead focus on all the positives having a baby will bring to your lives, because there will be so many.
And remember, you are Dad AF!