In an earnest, but possibly misguided attempt to enable men and teens to see what it feels like to be pregnant, somebody decided to invent something called "The Empathy Belly."
Men strap on this prosthetic torso -- complete with a bulging tummy and swollen breasts -- so they can "experience" pregnancy. At roughly 30 pounds, the $800+ belly can also simulate a baby's kicking, restrict breathing, and cause lower back pain. The only thing missing is something to induce nausea.
As this product proves, some men are looking for ways to become more involved in their partner's pregnancy. It's a sign that dads often feel isolated, distant, and insignificant, says Robert Rodriguez, Ph.D., psychologist and author of What's Your Pregnant Man Thinking? A Book for Expectant & New Mothers (Author House, 2005).
"People are circling around his partner, and he feels left out," Rodriguez says. And as the due date approaches, the woman's priorities may shift toward the new baby and away from the relationship.
If you're an expectant father, there are a lot of ways you can share in your partner's pregnancy -- ones that don't involve strapping on a prosthetic stomach. By staying involved, you'll be in a better position to give her the support she needs. You'll also find it easier to talk about your own anxieties. In the end, your relationship will be stronger, and you'll both be better prepared for parenthood.
Share in prenatal exams
For starters, accompany your partner to her prenatal exams when you can. Amazing things happen at those checkups, and you'll want to be there. By the 10th week or so, you'll probably be able to hear your baby's heart beating. Not long after that (usually by the 18th or 20th week), you'll likely have the first chance to see your baby through ultrasound. Once you see that head and that nose and that backbone, any hint of denial or complacence will be gone. This is really happening. You will be a father.
Many expectant fathers equate "sharing in the pregnancy" with "joining a birth class." Men who actually attend the classes usually appreciate the experience, gory movies and all. But according to childbirth educator and midwife Nancy Draznin, such classes aren't exactly crucial for expectant fathers -- unless their partners want them to go. If your partner says "Lamaze," your response should be "Where do we sign up?"
Classes can be valuable, but the most important work will happen at home. Above all, find the time to talk to your partner about your fears. (Admit it. Like any first-time parent, you probably have plenty.) You may worry that your partner will get upset if you show even a hint of doubt or anxiety. In reality, Rodriguez says, such conversations will almost certainly enhance the relationship.
As the pregnancy moves along, talk to your partner about the big day. Together, you may want to draw up a birth plan, a written statement of how you want the delivery to go. As you do so, your partner may have a very clear picture of how everything should go, from the people who will be in the room to the color of the walls. Or she may have questions of her own that the two of you can find the answers to together. Together you may be able to figure out questions you haven't thought of, or decide among various delivery options. Just make sure you both get the answers you need from the doctor or midwife.
Keeping the lines of communication open can clear up a lot of uncertainty and ease a lot of pressure, says Josh Kraft, a father of two and a facilitator for Boot Camp for New Dads, a training program for expectant fathers.
Among the things you can do to stay involved:
- Interview your prospective doctor or midwife for your prenatal care together. You may want to interview a doctor or nurse practitioner who will take care of your baby after your delivery, or you may wish to ask your prenatal care provider or friends for suggestions. Make sure you get all your questions and fears about the delivery answered.
- Go to a bookstore and explore the section on pregnancy and parenting.
- If you haven't already, start taking on more of the household chores.
- Visualize your life with a son or daughter. Picture you, your partner, and your child doing things together as a family. It's a good time to arrange some time off after the baby is born, too.
- Start getting ready for the baby. Pick out a crib, decorate the room, get a car seat, choose some baby clothes, and find a few good baby blankets. Do these things together if possible.
- Take a tour of the place where your baby will be born.
- Listen to your baby's heart, join your partner when an ultrasound is taken, and talk to your baby.
If you still feel left out of the pregnancy, have another chat with your partner. This is something she really needs to know. And of course, as a last resort, you can always strap on an Empathy Belly.
Interview with Nancy Draznin, childbirth educator and midwife
Interview with Robert Rodriguez, PhD, psychologist and author of What's Your Pregnant Man Thinking? A Book for Expectant & New Mothers
Interview with Josh Kraft, a father of two and a facilitator for Boot Camp for New Dads
Birthways Childbirth Resource Center Inc. The Empathy Belly. http://www.empathybelly.org/the_belly.html
Lucille Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford. Common Discomforts During Pregnancy. http://www.lpch.org/DiseaseHealthInfo/HealthLibrary/pregnant/discomf.html
Pregnancy.org. Men and Fatherhood: Pregnancy and Birth. Bruce Linton, Ph.D. http://www.pregnancy.org/
Brott, Armin. The Expectant Father. 2nd ed. Abbeville Press.
Dr. Spock. Hearing the Fetal Heartbeat. http://www.drspock.com/article/0,1510,9851,00.html
Mayo Clinic. Ultrasound in pregnancy: What can it tell you? http://www.mayoclinic.com/invoke.cfm?id=PR00054
Fathers' Forum Online. Pregnant Fathers: The Second Trimester. http://www.fathersforum.com/trimester2.html
Fathers' Forum Online. Pregnant Fathers: The First Trimester. http://www.fathersforum.com/trimester1.html
Fathers' Forum Online. Pregnant Fathers: The Third Trimester. http://www.fathersforum.com/trimester3.html
Boot Camp For New Dads. Home Page. http://www.bcnd.org/public/
Rodriguez, Robert. What's Your Pregnant Man Thinking? A Book for Expectant Moms about Expectant Dads (LuLu Press, 2004).
Association of Labor Assistants & Childbirth Educators. Workshops Schedule. http://www.matthewmcguire.com/alace/schedule.html