Myself and herself went to the Pregnancy and Baby Fair in the RDS recently to see if we could scope out some good deals for our upcoming Sir/Madam. I found myself looking around and I uttered to the ever patient lady at my side “You carry the Baby and I’ll carry the bags”! Yes, it’s fine in the grand context of the whole thing, after-all pregnant ladies shouldn’t really be engaging in manual labour.
However, it made me stop and think about things. OK, so the Mammy will be carrying the Baby, feeding the baby and overall (on average) spending more time with the baby, so everything around us at the moment is geared towards the welfare and education of the mother. But I started to think that I wanted to be more involved in the whole thing so I could get a handle on what my wife-to-be is going through and what she is likely to go through, ya know, try and put myself in her shoes a little bit. That may help me to lower the amount of times I ask; “Are you OK?”, “What can I do to help?”, “How do I fix this?” and that old panicky one “Should we go to the hospital? I think so, I’ll get the car ready”. By the way, the answer to these questions has started to become “Shut-up, I’m fine!”. So, I’m thinking that my knowing more will help lower both of our stress levels.
In the old days it was apparently fine to just stay in the background, do the heavy lifting, build stuff and change nappies when the Mammy took a nap for a little while. I’m very conscious of the fact that the task of being a Mother is not an easy one and how it may weigh heavily on both the physical and mental well being of a person (I now appreciate my Mother even more for raising 3 boys, each bigger and bolder than the last). Honestly, everything is aimed towards the Mother. When we go Baby shopping all the questions are directed to the fairer sex. I often get the feeling that I’m only along for the ride, so I have to be quiet and sit back. Of course my partner knows my thoughts on this so won’t place me on the back burner like so many sales assistants and reps have. We make decisions, not me, not her, we.
I intend on being very active in my child’s life and on sharing the weight of parenthood. However, I feel that we Irish men are very Ill equipped to do the task and to a certain degree we have been fine with our secondary care giving role. It’s not easy to try and get more involved sometimes though. It would appear that there is a lot of support available for the Mammies, all sorts of classes and groups. But for the Daddies, we’re kind of in the dark on the whole affair. Yes, I know, I can read the books, and I have. But not every pregnancy is the same and not every Mammy to be is the same, so basically there is no universally correct method to follow. What I want to know is how do I help? What can I do to help with the back pain, the cramps, the tiredness, the funny little muscle pains. A q&a session for the Daddies which runs alongside the Mammies classes would be greatly appreciated.
What would I like to see? More Father friendly support groups, more interaction and more inclusion. Lady M attends a Pilates class in Celbridge which helps with preparing her for the physical side of childbirth, but also has a section supporting the mental toll it will take. She has nothing but high praise for the Physio led classes. In addition to that she likes the comfort of being around other pregnant women, all heading towards the same goal.
I’m also very aware of the fact that I’m not the one who’ll have to give birth. So yeah, a lot of the support is designed around getting the upcoming Mother through that stage. OK, fair enough, but afterwards we’re both going to have to raise a real life human being and that will dramatically change our lives. When that day comes I want to be able to hit the ground running, not like I’m fumbling through a thick forest of gorse. Do I feel ready? Hell no! A new Mother should not have to be teaching both a child and father how to act, jaysus, they have enough to do.
That got me thinking. If I were to be bluntly honest I have a range of emotions going through my head. I’m nervous, anxious, worried, scared, excited, panicky (see above), scared some more and happy. Most importantly, above all else, I am happy and that at least gets me off in the right direction. What’s the issue then? The issue is that I have not talked to any other soon to be fathers about what they’re going through. It’s nerve-racking. It’s lonely. It’s frightening.
So what would help? Talking.
We still don’t like to do that here, we still see it as a sign of weakness. It’s not. It takes strength to talk. Talking can be very exhausting, relieving and difficult. I recall once running a 10km and going for a pint. Apart from a sore ankle I was mostly fine. I recall once talking, then crying and then feeling like I had just fought ten rounds, it was utterly exhausting. So that’s the issue, we don’t talk, we’re strong and silent, and that’s that. We also have one of the highest suicide rates in the world. Strong and silent; that’s not a trait I want my child to copy from me.
So what do I really want? I want to know I’m not alone, I want to know that other first time fathers are feeling the same way, I want to know that I can contribute equally and that I am a part of the whole thing. Above all I want my child to know I wasn’t afraid to look for help and advice. I want to be more than just the carrier of the heavy things, the builder of the impossible Ikea wardrobe and the slayer of all things creepy and crawly. I want to know how to actually help, what to (sorta) expect and I want my child to take that on board.