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On the last track, we discussed when a woman becomes a mother. This included a feeling of suffocation, everything revolving around the baby, making motherhood the only source of fulfillment and misunderstanding the new father’s experience.
Do you have a client who is about to become a father?
A woman has the advantage of a progressive preparation for motherhood over the course of nine months. She carries the child not only in her body, but also in her heart and in her mind. Once the baby is born, she and the baby benefit from an extremely intimate relationship. The father-child relationship, however, is external and more abstract. He is usually less informed than the mother, rarely participates in initial baby care in the hospital, and does not often discuss baby issues with his friends and colleagues.
#1 Mixed Feelings
The father may feel overwhelmed by his spouse’s emotional dependence on him, especially if the new mother is having difficulty recovering from the psychological aspects of pregnancy and childbirth. He may be frustrated to find that his spouse appears to be perpetually engrossed in the baby and makes no time for him alone. This reinforces his impression that he is no longer important to her. He may be alarmed by the baby’s fragile appearance and not dare to touch it. He may also be angry about not having a son and not show sufficient interest in his daughter.
#2 Misunderstood Reactions
He may lack interest in the baby and avoid caring for him or her, at least not in front of the mother. Often, if the father is alone with the baby, certain that no one is watching him, he may relax and interact with her. Even if a father has not read and prepared for the baby’s birth, he is perfectly able to care for a baby’s basic needs. And if he does not put the diaper on in quite the perfect way, it is not vitally important for the baby’s well-being. The baby quickly becomes accustomed to the fact that every person has a different way of looking after him or her.
The father may want to take charge of everything, as if he did not trust the mother’s ability to care for the baby. This situation may occur in second marriages when the man already has older children but the woman is experiencing mother hood for the first time. Or it may be the man’s way of expressing his frustration at the woman’s lack of confidence in her own mothering abilities.
The father’s sexual desire for his spouse may greatly diminish or disappear. This happens to many men during their wives’ pregnancies. They are afraid of hurting the fetus, feel slightly offended by the physical changes in their wives’ bodies, or are afraid of not satisfying the woman, whose sexual appetite increases during the second trimester of pregnancy. When the baby is born, they may have trouble accepting that their spouse is now both a mother and a sexual partner. Sometimes, new fathers actually make greater sexual demands, also as a way of reclaiming their partner.
Roland, age 33, described to me how his marital relationship was affected by his wife, April’s postpartum anxiety. Roland stated, "After the baby came, I had to go back to work after taking one week off to be at home. I was feeling this incredible sense of responsibility and felt unprepared to be a father! When April started having panic attacks when left alone, I was very angry at her. I thought she was being unreasonable. I felt betrayed by her, like she was leaving me with all the responsibility of the baby, her health, and I had to earn a living! We fought the whole weekend before I was to go back to work! On Sunday, she told me she wanted to kill herself. That scared me so much that I called the obstetrician, who told me about postpartum. I was shocked. I didn’t know this could happen."
Most of the time, I have found that reactions like Roland’s are not signs of a permanent rejection, but are an indication of the man’s difficulty in adapting to his new role as a father. Bitterness and recrimination from the mother sets into motion a vicious circle of anger and escapism.
Technique: Easing the Father’s Fears
#3 A Father’s Two Roles
Second, the father can provide a source of affection, support, and recognition for the mother. Although it is sometimes difficult for a man to accept that his spouse is feeling vulnerable and overwhelmed, he can do more to help and comfort her than anyone else can. He can provide an objective "outsider’s" perspective and cut through many of her worries to find a solution.
Do you have a Roland? Might he benefit from hearing this track?
On the next track, we will discuss marital disharmony, violence and depression. This will include increased irritability, physical abuse and a lessened sense of self.
Online Continuing Education QUESTION 3
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