Vanessa Cloete (not her real name), a media strategist who is 32, admits that pregnancy was one of the most trying times of her marriage.
“From the beginning, my husband Nick and I seemed at odds: he was ecstatic at the thought of starting our family, I felt apprehensive at the thought of our happy couple becoming a threesome. He was filled with wonder the first time he felt the baby kick; I felt as if my body had been invaded.
He couldn’t understand why I didn’t participate in any of our favourite activities; I didn’t understand why he had no empathy – I couldn’t lift my head unless it was to be sick.
“To be honest, I can see how this must have been a difficult time for him. I suffered terrible mood swings, and he didn’t really know how to react. ”It wasn’t as if he didn’t face his own fears: Aside from the tumultuousness of living with “a human hurricane”, Nick faced inner turmoil caused by the fear that he wouldn’t be able to provide for his family.
It took many hours on the golf course, heart-to-hearts with fellow fathers, and reminders to himself that pregnancy is a transitory period for him to keep his cool. But Vanessa’s husband was unlucky.
Dougal Bennett, whose wife Julie is currently in her 25th week of pregnancy, says that the experience has been far better than he imagined. True, the mood swings have taken him by surprise; he has faced many of the anxieties common to expectant fathers; and he misses the runs they used to take as a couple. But overall, it’s been worth it.
Bryan Maron, father of two, also speaks positively of his wife’s pregnancies. “Obviously, the second time around was easier because we knew what to expect. But although she was sometimes sensitive, there were no mood swings to speak of – although she did have some food cravings that sent me in search of teriyaki chicken late at night.”
However, according to Johannesburg psychologist Kirstan Puttick Lloyd, it’s not uncommon for men to find this a challenging time. “Obviously, there are fewer difficulties if the relationship is strong at the start of the pregnancy. But men are supposed to be the providers of the family and keep it safe – so, when they watch their wives in discomfort or even pain, and they are unable to do anything about it, they can feel disempowered. Worse still, they may view this as a problem that they played a part in creating.”
They may have indeed helped to “create” the situation, but men remain removed from the process throughout pregnancy. Even the most eager father-to-be can do little more than marvel at the changes his wife’s body goes through; he can’t imagine what it feels like to have a body growing inside your own skin. As aresult, Kirstan notes that one of the most frequent challenges for men is that the concept of having a child remains unreal– often until the moment when they first hold their baby.
“This sense of exclusion can cause problems within the relationship,” she adds. “Moms should therefore try to involve dads as much as possible –go shopping for clothes and nursery décor together, for instance; get him to read the literature and attend gynae appointments and antenatal classes.” He may also wish to host a ‘“nappy party” – the male equivalent of a baby shower – and, of course, talking to friends will also broaden his knowledge base.
“As women, we go through certain time-honoured rites while we wait for the baby. Men should create their own rituals so that they also feel part of the event, so have that cigar ready to celebrate the birth,” she suggests. What about changing realities – like the fact that your wife’s once flat belly is no longer? “For some men, who care deeply about appearances, this can be difficult,” Kirst anacknowledges. “But when your relationship is solid, these changes are very special.”
Special they may be – but there’s no denying that a large stomach can, literally, get in the way of a physical relationship. “Your husband’s need for intimacy isn’t going to go away just because you are pregnant,” Kirstan says. “If you ignore it, he may end up feeling as if he was merely the tool that helped you make your baby.” The solution is to explain to him how you are feeling – if you aren ot up for sex, explain why, and jointly find a way to feel close.
This type of communicatio nwill help in other areas of your relationship, too. “Feelings are bound to run high when there is a hormone overload. But if yo uexplain what’s going on inside your head, your husband will find it far easier to accept.”
Kirstan says that it’s also important to be cognisant that there are a lot of myths around pregnancy: that it’s a golden time that will bring you together. “The reality can be very different. That is why it’s critical to keep checking in with each other, and above all, to be kind to each other,” she concludes.