The (Absolutely Petrified) Expectant Father
I love love your column and blog! You are the best at bossing people around on the internet. Please help me.
I am married to the love of my life. We were engaged within a month of meeting and have been living happily ever after for the past 6 years, married for almost 2. Enter problem: I want a baby. I went from someday-possibly-in-a-few-years to now!now!now! somewhat overnight about 6 months ago and the feeling has just not gone away. Just like you said about yourself, not having a baby is making me actively unhappy. Whenever I hear someone is pregnant I sink into despair that it is not me.
Anyway, hubby on the other hand is more reluctant. He says he wants to have a family but he is terrified of all things baby. Seriously, the thought of changing a diaper makes him turn white and then green. He will not touch a pregnant belly because the baby is a “creepy alien”, a friend tried to press him on the issue and I saw actual terror in his eyes as he backed quietly away and “hid’ behind me. He runs from our nephew’s spit up like it is toxic and he says he would prefer to not be in the delivery room with me when I am giving birth (this one really hurts my feelings). Hubs is really not a selfish guy and I know part of the reason is that he is very worried about my physical and emotional health because I have anxiety coupled with the fact that we live in a country away from our families so we would be pretty much on our own raising a child. We’re planning on buying our own place soon and he seems to think that will help him feel more together and ready.
I haven’t really helped him get used to the idea by talking about babies and pregnancy every chance I get. I really don’t want to pressure him but I want a baby NOW its just such a strong and crazy feeling! I don’t want to make him do something he’s not ready for or disregard his feelings, we’re best friends and have been equal(-ish) partners in all things thus far. This is starting to make our intimate times tense and that’s just not right!
What should I do?
Well, for the record, I don’t think this is THAT uncommon of a thing for guys, though your husband probably is a bit of an extreme case. My husband would not hold babies, before Noah was born. Friends would offer to let us hold their babies and I would leap over tables to get my grubby mitts on the baby!baby!baby! and Jason would cower in fear, steadfastly refusing to do anything more than maybe suspiciously poke at its little fingers, like yeah. Cool. I guess. He liked older kids, and did some babysitting back in high school, but just never had anything to do with babies or diapers or pregnancy or shudder.
And then Noah was born and he never put that baby down. Like, I had to remind him that it was my turn, that Noah needed to eat. He is now the most loving, baby-crazy, hands-on, in-the-dirty-diaper-trenches dad in the entire world. So. There.
That said, I do NOT think it’s a good idea to just assume your husband will just magically get over all his fears when the two pink lines appear, or when your own belly swells or your water breaks or the doctor attempts to hand him a squawling, goo-covered alien baby in the delivery room. Pregnancy is hard enough without your partner treating you like some kind of freakish ticking time bomb. When it’s YOUR BODY going through all the craziness, it’s REALLY HARD to feel sympathy for a weirded-out bystander. (Hormone-fueled rage, however, comes surprisingly easy!)
He says owning your own place will help…well, okay, whatever. This is another common thing, this “we need to buy a home” first. (Which is funny, I think, since homeownership certainly ain’t what it used to be, in terms of offering security and American Dreamness.) But it’s a mental hurdle, and you may need to go along with it, as difficult as it might be. Nothing good comes out of one partner pressuring the other into getting pregnant, ever. You can’t “make” him as ready for babies as you are. You just can’t, I’m sorry.
HOWEVER, real estate has nothing to do with poop and spit-up and creepy alien fetuses. He will still have to address these fears somehow, regardless of whether you’re in an apartment or your dream home.
I would suggest: childbirth classes, parenting classes, and some books. Your hospital will offer childbirth classes (and probably new-baby-care classes as well), with a variety of approaches and methods. (The Bradley Method, for example, is husband-coached childbirth, designed to help him feel empowered and involved.) And there are TONS of great books out there for expectant dads about pregnancy, birth and babies, totally written for guys like your husband. (Jason preferred to just read my books, for some reason, and the “for dad/birth partner” sections of baby websites.) You don’t need to inundate him with information or anything, but just help take away the “fear of the unknown” aspects of his terror.
Many, many men share the delivery room fear — they’re afraid of what they’ll see, that they won’t be able to handle it (i.e. fainting, puking), that they’ll feel helpless and not be able to give their partners adequate support. His presence, of course, is non-negotiable, but concessions can be made. If he genuinely thinks watching a video of a birth ahead of time will make things worse, listen to him and skip that session of your childbirth class. (Talk to the instructor ahead of time, too, and let her know just how deep-rooted your husband’s anxieties go. She’s probably seen it before, and can offer additional help.) Don’t make him watch birth story shows on TLC if he doesn’t want to. (Those scared the CRAP out of Jason and he demanded that I delete my season pass to all of them at some point in the second trimester.) If he wants to stay up by your head during labor and not cut the cord, FINE. If he remains terrified that he simply won’t be able to cut it, arrange to have another labor coach present as back-up. Hire a doula to make sure that you have adequate support when you need it. (A postpartum doula could also ease his fears about your lack of a local support network, as will meeting other expectant couples through the classes.)
What will happen, I think (since you two have an awesome relationship, and he’s a good guy, and all his fears ARE normal guy fears, albeit maybe turned up to 11), is that you will get pregnant and he will realize that it is YOU who are pregnant. That it is YOUR baby-blob-thing on the ultrasound. And HIS. That when push comes to shove, he’ll know that he needs to sack up and be there for you in the delivery room. And that all the cliches about it being different when it’s your baby are actually pretty true, even when it comes to poop and pee and all that jazz. He may just need a little extra help getting to that point, or to a point where he feels prepared to take the leap of faith in the vague direction of that point.
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