A Relationship Therapist Reveals The Unspoken Reality Of What Some Men Experience During And After Pregnancy.

Sadly, this topic not always understood and for parents wishing to have a child this knowledge is imperative. 

Adults usually understand that certain events can press emotional buttons. But what is often not realised is that children, starting with pregnancy, can press our emotional buttons too. And couples need to be better prepared.

When a woman gets pregnant and after revealing the news to her partner, hopefully to a positive reception, and even though a couple may have planned and are looking forward to having a child, they may not be ready for the emotional repercussions of what pregnancy and having a child can mean – even for the father. And a particular issue that is not always recognised can sometimes take both parties by surprise. 

Let me explain:

As a baby grows, the attention and the spotlight gets thrown on the prospective mother and the looming birth. For nine months, the couple usually have to concentrate on the mother, her emotional needs, the baby, having scans, organising the hospital, getting the nursery organised, buying all the necessary clothes, the pram, and so on. And although a prospective father is usually expected to be supportive, protective and reassuring during the pregnancy, he may also be focused on the financial repercussions. However, what cannot always be planned for – are also the emotions that he may begin to feel either during the pregnancy or indeed after, and once the baby is born:

It may begin with him feeling like a spare part and possibly somewhat pushed aside. And he may slowly begin to feel that he is in some way losing his ‘other half’. Suddenly he has to share his partner, his friend, and his lover with another little soul. Then when the the mother starts showing, and her baby begins to grow, it becomes more obvious and visible that something is ‘growing in between’ the couple. Gradually he may start feeling a kind of ‘wedge’ appearing as it were, separating the closeness he once had with his partner. And hugging his wife will make this all too clear. In some cases, having sex might be difficult too. And therefore, apart from feeling vulnerable, insecure and worried that he may not be able to fulfil what is expected of him as father, he may also begin to feel emotionally distanced and this can trigger deep-seated unresolved emotions.

In some cases, and depending on what he may have experienced in childhood, he may begin to feel a whole host of emotions. This can depend on any feelings buried deep within his psyche, either with regards the relationship he has with his mother, father or siblings, or any events that may have occurred leaving him feeling rejected, shunted aside, or jealous. These emotions may feel like they come from nowhere and sometimes when they emerge, they can do so with a ferocity and aggression that may surprise both partners. And the couple may become extremely alarmed, especially if the partner turns violent. And if this is not addressed, the more attention that is given to the growing baby, the more these feelings may grow.

It is sometimes very hard to know exactly what sits buried in the unconscious. Our buttons can get pressed at the oddest of times and sometimes it can shock and even dismay us when emotions emerge that we don’t fully understand, or can’t immediately find the meaning of. This can happen because a toddlers or children we don’t always have the language at our disposal to explain or flag up issues that we may have struggled with, and sadly too, we may have also realised that no one will really listen or believe us, and as result, feelings or events can get buried or even forgotten. However, they do not go away. They just sit dormant, until an event occurs and the memory and all the accompanying emotions are triggered. This can be very distressing especially if it results in embarrassing or shameful actions, or decisions that may not always be understood at any particular or given moment.  

In 1997 there was a movie called ‘Nil by Mouth’. It was directed by Gary Oldman and it contains horrendous scenes of a husband beating his pregnant wife so as to get rid of the perceived competition. This of course can cause the mother to lose her child.

Although this is an extreme example, it should certainly draw attention to the reality that the arrival of a baby can stir many feelings within parents. The arrival of a baby can cause huge disruption and an emotional change, that parents are not always prepared for.

Most importantly however, is that many of my male clients have admitted to feeling a range of all the emotions that I have referred to, although not all of them have acted them out. Others just feel the emotions and deal with them accordingly. Whereas some however, may have an affair, or indeed several affairs or indeed, marriages hoping, mostly unconsciously, to find that one partner that will attend to them – exclusively. This done, to alleviate feelings of rejection or to replace affection he may be missing whilst his wife focuses on her pregnancy.

The reality is that often men find it difficult to admit to having these emotions, especially to their wives or partners. Indeed, he may not even understand then himself. And he certainly won’t want to seem incompetent or vulnerable.

Furthermore, AFTER the birth of a baby, a mother is usually entirely focused on nurturing her baby. As a result, for days, for weeks, for months she could remain exhausted from the demands of her baby.

Her husband, her partner could also feel excluded from this bond. And even if he helps with the chores, even if he does his share in the house – the bond between a mother and child still remains immensely strong and he could still feel emotionally shut out. Being used to getting all the attention, he suddenly has to learn to stand back. Adapting emotionally might indeed, be difficult for anyone in a similar situation.

Also, when a woman gets pregnant and has a baby, her life changes. Here identity changes. Even though she might have the full support of her husband she will always feel solely responsible for her child. The baby came out of her womb. It is only natural that she would feel totally focused and protective of her baby.

Feeling secluded possibly even rejected, many men begin to stay at work just a little longer. The reason they usually give is that – they need to bring in more money to support the family. Although this may be true to some extent – often it’s also because they feel left out of the mother-child bond. It’s a classic reaction to feelings of rejection – ‘if you abandon me, I’ll abandon you’. Plus, there is the issue of sex. Sex may get put off for quite a while and this could create a strain on the relationship.

Although this is usual for most relationships with new born babies, unfortunately the implications of ‘no sex’, is usually not discussed or even understood. It therefore can come as a surprise, especially if a mother remains tired for months and months on end, after the birth of her child. Also, if she experiences any problems like pre or post-natal depression, normal life may not resume for quite some time, possibly even years. This could be very hard for a couple to deal with.

Coming together again and being intimate can then become a struggle especially if destructive, negative emotions of jealousy, rejection and anger has been experienced towards a child. And if a husband continues to feels emotionally abandoned by his wife, he could at this stage, start an affair.

Having a child can be quite a difficult adventure. Some couples survive. Others struggle and some separate or get divorced.

I write this so that couples can become more aware of the difficulties a child can bring, especially if ancient deep-seated feelings have not been expressed or addressed.

But also, if the father has a history of mental health issues or if they have witnessed a traumatic birth or experienced their wife suffer from postnatal depression, then maybe it might be necessary to find help. It is also worth knowing that one in ten men experience anxiety and depression after the birth of a child – and in many cases this can even lead to suicide. In other words, these issues need to be taken seriously.

It is therefore imperative that when we enter a relationship, and especially if we wish to have children, to have a modicum of self-awareness and an understanding, knowing that certain situations can trigger unaddressed and painful memories which in turn can be devastating for a couple which can lead to all sorts of suffering and unintended problems. Indeed, healing our past and getting to know who we are, how and why we behave as we do, can save us from a lot of pain and emotional strife. 

And if you have or are experiencing any of these difficult issues, and are finding it difficult to cope, please do not hesitate to ask for help either from your doctor, support groups, a therapist and so on. There is certainly no shame in doing so. 

As Soren Kierkegaard once wrote: “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards”. 

© Deidré Wallace. All rights reserved.

Deidré Wallace is a relationship therapist and educator. She has had a private practice for the past 20 years. For more information, visit her blog website here: https://relationshipknowledge.com/

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