A guys guide to having a baby
You're not in love with your pregnant wife's body. Not crazy about witnessing the birth. Not even sure you want a kid. So? You're just a normal guy. Here's how to recognize and cope with the taboo thoughts many men harbor.
Attention soon-to-be dads: Are you afraid of what seeing your baby being born will do to your psyche? Do you fear sex will be terrible after your wife gives birth? Are you even ambivalent about becoming a father? Do you feel guilty just thinking about this stuff?
"So-called taboo thoughts about fatherhood are common and to be expected," says Scott Haltzman, M.D., a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at Brown University in Providence, R.I., and author of The Secrets of Happily Married Men (Jossey-Bass, 2005). "You're crossing a major milestone full of firsts and unknowns, so it's only natural to experience many fears and anxieties."
The problem is, many expectant fathers are so ashamed of having these thoughts that they won't admit to anyone--sometimes even themselves--that they think them. Not a good policy, according to experts, who say acknowledging and understanding fatherhood-related fears is the best way to conquer them. So, with that in mind, let the confessions begin!
Taboo thought No. 1
"I'm not sure I want to be a father."
For many men, the idea of sacrificing their freedom and fun for a life of sleepless nights and dirty diapers is terrifying. Scott Kelby, author of The Book for Guys Who Don't Want Kids (Peachpit Press, 2005), was one of those men. "I was finally making money, taking nicer vacations and seeing how the other half lives," he says. "Then my wife got pregnant." Kelby believed the days when he could skip out and watch a game with his buds or enjoy a spontaneous night on the town with his wife would soon be over. And he was right.
"There is no question that having a child makes your life different, but different does not mean worse," says Armin Brott, author of The Expectant Father (Abbeville Press, 2003) and host of a popular parenting radio show in San Francisco. Brott acknowledges that, yes, you do lose some freedoms when you have a child, but you also gain a ton of opportunities, from crawling around on your hands and knees acting silly to passing on your world view and values to your child.
It took the birth of Kelby's first child for him to realize that becoming a father was the best thing he'd ever done. Now he spends a good portion of his time spreading that message to other skeptical dads-to-be. "It changes your life into something better than you ever imagined," he says. Kelby now finds himself happily blowing off golf, ball games and other things he used to find so important to do stuff like show his son Star Wars for the first time.
Taboo thought No. 2
"I'm not attracted to my wife anymore now that she's pregnant."
There's no question your wife's body and, to some degree, her personality go through major changes during pregnancy. Many men feel conflicted about this. On one hand, they want to protect the mother of their child; on the other, they don't particularly want to have sex with her or deal with her Jekyll-and-Hyde behavior. "There's just something a bit strange about the baby being right down there when we have sex," says Malcolm*, whose wife is pregnant with their first child. "Plus, I'm not really a boob man, but now suddenly she's vavavoom."
The key to working through thoughts like this is to, first, stop beating yourself up about having them, Haltzman says. "Men are visually oriented, and there may be fewer visual cues to trigger lust in you," he explains. Second, he says, you need to adjust your attitude: "Stop looking at your wife's new curves as unsexy and start looking at them as a sign of your virility and your way of telling the world that your dynasty will live on." Also, try not to focus all your attention on the physical changes you don't like--a lot of very sexy things also happen to a pregnant woman: Her hair becomes more luxurious, her skin is smoother and softer, and some women even have increased sensitivity down below.
As for her mood shifts, don't take them so personally. Your wife's hormones are going haywire; she's sleep-deprived, possibly anxious and/or depressed; and highly uncomfortable, according to Stuart Fischbein, M.D., author of Fearless Pregnancy (Fair Winds Press, 2004). Her emotional state will likely improve in the months after she gives birth as her body and hormones get back to normal.
Taboo thought No. 3
"I don't want to watch the birth."
Long gone are the days when expecting dads would pace around outside the delivery room with a box of cigars waiting for the doctor to announce, "It's a girl!" Somewhere along the line, men became an integral part of the birthing routine--blood, umbilical cord, placenta and all. But many men are downright squeamish about what they may see.
"I made two mistakes before the birth of my first child," confesses Kurt*, a father of two. "First, I went to Lamaze class and watched the birthing video. Second, I watched a tape of my nephew's birth, in which my brother, who was holding the camera, passed out." But, as with the vast majority of men, Kurt's actual experience wasn't so bad. "The birth was really pretty cool," he says. "There was a lot less blood than I thought."
Still squeamish? It's perfectly OK to stand at the head of the bed, holding your wife's hand, while the doctor and nurses take care of business below. And if you really, really fear that even being in the delivery room will create images in your head that might interfere with your sex life later, maybe your wife, and you, would be happier if a doula, her mother or best friend were at her side instead. Just talk about it with her before she goes into labor. (For more on this, see "Bedroom Blues" below)
Taboo thought No. 4
"Sex will be terrible after the baby is born."
We all hear the horror stories: A guy has a kid and suddenly sex is a distant memory. Body parts that used to provide pleasure are now strictly off limits. Her breasts often are tender, leaking or otherwise occupied. And the biggest downer of all: Her vaginal area gets so stretched out by the baby's birth that intercourse becomes less enjoyable. Steven*, who is expecting a child this summer, made the mistake of going on the Internet and reading tales of frustrated new fathers who longed for the days when their wives were "much tighter down there."
According to Fischbein, this is an issue that's not worth stressing about. The reason: The stretching that happens during a vaginal delivery usually does not last, and even if it does, it has little effect on the friction a man experiences during intercourse. "If anything, it's usually the woman who has a problem because she might have a decrease in sensation," he explains. "But men usually can't tell the difference," Fischbein says, adding that the quality of sex is generally not related to the tightness of the vagina.
Taboo thought No. 5 "I'm jealous of the little bugger."
Get used to it: After your baby arrives, you will no longer be the center of your wife's universe. Think of her more like that planet with two moons in Star Wars. "There were definitely times when I felt unappreciated and unloved by my wife," confesses Dan*, who had his first child two years ago. "She wouldn't cook for me, but my baby got a meal every two hours!" Dan doesn't blame his kid; it's not his fault. He's just resigned himself to the fact that he is no longer the most important person in his wife's life.
If you have similar resentment and it's eating at you, you need to talk about it with your wife. "She's busy with a million things, so you can't just expect her to give you the attention you crave," Haltzman explains. (That said, you may need professional guidance if you are so resentful of your baby that you find excuses never to be home, or if you never want to spend time with or take care of him.)
Haltzman suggests that without blaming or pointing fingers, say something like this to your wife: "I feel like I'm not so much a priority in your life these days. And I'd like to change that together." Don't expect to resolve the problem on the spot. The important thing is to acknowledge your concerns and do something about them. "Having a child brings a whole host of changes and requires a tremendous amount of sacrifice," Haltzman concedes. "But by putting aside your ego, you come to grips with an awesome realization: You've brought a new life into the world."
And there's nothing taboo about thinking that.
Some men are afraid of not only seeing gore in the delivery room, but also of the havoc that witnessing the birth might play on their sex life. This fear is largely unfounded, claims psychiatrist Scott Haltzman, M.D. "The reality is that when you watch a birth, the vagina doesn't look at all like the body part you associate having sex with, so most men don't make the connection," he says.
But some men do have trouble seeing their wife as a sexual being after they see her give birth, at least for a while. "It's understandable to have some of these thoughts," Haltzman says. "I suggest that, for the time being, the man focus on other body parts and features that he's attracted to, the ones that drew him to his wife when he met her and fell in love."
Another approach is to focus on touching that doesn't necessarily lead to intercourse, Haltzman says.Such touches can run the gamut, from casual and playful to sensual and erotic. "If a guy's a little too worried about what's going on 'down there,' " he explains, "these give him much more to do, and he'll experience less anxiety about whether he'll be able to perform."
If sexual difficulties persist, it may be necessary to see a psychotherapist or marriage counselor with expertise in this area.
* Some names have been changed to protect the marriage!