Saturday, January 23, 2016

An Appeal to Expectant Fathers: Your Presence is Needed!

My wife and I recently welcomed a new baby boy to our family. We're now a family of 5 and we couldn't be happier! We already had a 14 year old daughter and a 2 year old son. Now this new addition just seems to make the picture complete! When we learned that a new little one was on the way, we had a great degree of anticipation. Along the journey, we knew that we couldn't take anything for granted. As many women will tell you, each pregnancy is different. Some may be pretty smooth while others can be physically and emotionally exhausting.

With all of this in mind, I wanted to ensure that I played my part, as best as I could, throughout the 9-month process. I couldn't physically carry the child but I could be supportive enough to make the challenge of carrying him as light as possible. I wanted my wife to know that, just as before, I would be there, right beside her, throughout each phase of the pregnancy and beyond. This brings me to the purpose of this blog post. I share it because I believe it's a message that each of us as dads can learn from. I write, not knowing the specifics of each person’s situation. I only know my personal observation and I thought I’d share a concern I have as a result.

Rodrick, wife and kids with newborn son
Here is the issue: throughout the pregnancy, when we went to Ob Gyn (doctor) appointments, I observed that, for the most part, I was the only father/expectant father present. So time after time, week after week, regardless of the time of day, or day of the week, generally speaking, I saw no other men accompanying their wives or expectant mothers of their children. I made a similar observation when my 2 other children were born – the men were missing, at least at the doctor’s offices.

So I began thinking – why are these women alone? Where are the men? Is this the norm? Is it to be expected? Some of these women struggled into the office, as they were in the last phase of their pregnancies. Some came with their other kids and had to deal with them in the waiting room before seeing the doctor. Some were clearly stressed because of all they had to deal with physically and emotionally.

Just from the small talk that my wife and I made with them as we sat in the waiting area, we learned that, for the most part, these were happily married women. Certainly there were those who weren't married. And some who, without really saying much, didn’t have the ideal scenario in which to welcome a new child. All of these women, with their varying circumstances, were being seen by the doctor without the men. 

Still puzzled about this observation, I decided to ask some people why the men didn’t generally accompany the expectant mothers of their children.  I asked verbally and via social media – Facebook and Twitter. Here’s a synopsis of the responses that I got:
-       They have to go to work and their employers would not give them the time off
-       It is not necessary for them to be there
-       In the culture of the United States, it’s not something that men do
-       The women do not have a problem with it
-       The men only need to be there when there is a major issue with the pregnancy and their input is needed

There was more that I heard but these are the major reasons. The consistent theme in the responses was that the presence of the men at these appointments was not a major priority. It’s doesn’t necessarily mean that the women are not loved and cared for; it’s just not something that was thought to be necessary and, for the most part, both men and women are okay with that. I know I didn’t take a scientific poll as they do in the political world. I’m sure there’s more to it than just this. Still, I believe that my observation might be indicative of what is commonplace – at least here in the US.

I won’t address each of the reasons above specifically, but let me just touch on the one I heard the most – work. I recognize that these doctor’s appointments are usually during normal business hours – Monday through Friday, 9 to 5. I also recognize that most people work during these hours so any visit to a doctor’s office – or any other place, for that matter – requires taking time from work. Some employers are inflexible and would not readily embrace one’s absence from work even for a couple of hours. I really do understand this.

At the same time, I also know that many of these women work outside the home. So they miss time from work for these appointments. I also know that some men are self-employed or have schedules flexible enough for them to go to the doctor to learn firsthand how the process is going. Maybe it might entail giving up one’s lunch hour or working late to make up the time. It might entail making a sacrifice. So the question becomes – is it worth the sacrifice?

I cannot imagine not being there at all for any of these appointments. The anticipation of each new milestone was something that excited me. At 6 weeks we heard the heartbeat. At 20 weeks we saw him on the ultrasound and found out we were having another boy. And after all of these appointments came the delivery of a child who, only a few months before, could barely have been seen under a microscope. Witnessing yet another child come into the world was something I considered an absolute privilege. The expression “the miracle of childbirth” is true indeed. These moments were absolutely priceless and I would not have wanted to miss them for the world.

I often say that kids really do need their dads. I believe that this need begins from the moment they are conceived. Kids need constant care, love and devotion from both their moms and dads from when they are in the womb. As our wives or the expectant mothers of our children carry these little ones, I believe that we have an obligation, as much as possible, to be a constant presence - at the doctor's office, at home, wherever it may be. Our presence helps to lighten the load in what can sometimes be a very trying, emotionally-exhausting experience.

I recognize that not every pregnancy occurs under the ideal circumstances. I’m very much aware of that. Still, I believe that if collectively, we put a greater emphasis on prioritizing being there as constant sources of support, then the expectant mothers of our children, along with the children, would feel our loving embrace – both physically and emotionally.

My appeal is not simply to encourage men to be present at doctors’ visits. It’s a call for a revolution in our entire mindset regarding the process of bringing children into the world. You’ve probably seen or heard of the stereotypical emotionally-disconnected dads whose only significant role in the delivery of their children is to hand out cigars to celebrate the birth. I don’t know if those dads still exist but I would like our involvement throughout the pregnancy process to be nothing like the image that we’ve seen portrayed at times.

Whether it’s keeping the gas tank filled or doing the grocery shopping so our wives don’t have to stop unnecessarily or taking over the cooking duties – at least temporarily – or making those late night runs to the convenient store to help them satisfy an impulsive craving for some food they haven’t had in years, there’s more we can do. Believe me, it’s not all a bed of roses when we make these sacrifices. But it works wonders and helps to solidify our presence in our wives’ and kids’ lives. This, I know from personal experience.

I don’t expect that each reader will agree with my viewpoint. That’s no problem at all. But I hope that you understand my heart in all of this. Children have the biological makeup of a mother and a father and I believe that both parents have a significant role to play in their development – and that role begins when they are in the womb. Certainly, men and women have different parts to play throughout a pregnancy. I just strongly believe that as men, there is more that we can do to demonstrate our unconditional love and support.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on what I’ve shared here. Feel free to leave a comment on this post. Or you can share via our Facebook or Twitter accounts. 

Childbirth is a true miracle. Let us collectively commit to being more active participants in the witnessing of this miracle!

Do enjoy your day.

Rodrick and his family

The Upbeat Dad