From pregnancy to birth - a dad's point of view

 

As a new parent you often get bombarded by advice, a lot of it unwanted, so Sacha Molitorisz is very reluctant to give advice!

He has however provided a fascinating personal insight into fatherhood here in an extract from his book From Here to Paternity.

Dads like me are still working out what it means to be a dad, now that we're not all expected to be '50s-style workaholic, see-the-kids-only-on-weekends dads.

Parenthood is wonderful in ways you can't predict and it does gets easier!

What was my first reaction on learning Jo was pregnant?

Disbelief. "Oh my God," was all we could keep saying. Like most men who get this news, I just wanted to know one thing: who the father was. It was such a bizarre mix of emotions. Elation. Fear. Joy. Anxiety. All wrapped up in one. And that was just the start. Actually, we were overseas at the time, in France, and my wife did a home pregnancy test two days before we were due to fly home. Hence we flew home with a brioche in the oven.

What were some of the things I worried about?

What didn't I worry about? First of all, my wife Jo and I worried about whether we'd drunk too much alcohol before, during and immediately after conception. Then, during Jo's pregnancy, I guess the chief worry for me was about the massive change on the way, and about the fact that I felt it involved a huge burden of responsibility. Up till that point, I always felt pretty much able to do as I pleased, but I started worrying about the fact that now I was locked in to being the breadwinner and provider. And so I worried about the loss of freedom. I also worried about whether I would cope with a dad. About little things like changing nappies. About big things like whether I'd love my child.

What is pregnancy like from a male perspective?

I can't speak for other men, but for me it was up and down. I had a lot of excitement, a lot of anticipation, but also a lot of nervousness and anxiety about the impending change. The way I see it, you know you're about to be hit by a train, you just don't know what colour that train's going to be. At times, I had this urge to stay at home and just be with Jo, at other times I had the urge to cut loose and party wildly. Actually, writing the book I came across research that showed men experience hormonal changes when their partners are pregnant - mainly in the last weeks of pregnancy and first couple of months after the birth. Testosterone is lowered and oestrogen, cortisol and prolactin are higher. The effect, among other things, is to lower a man's sex drive and to make him more likely to bond with his baby.

How did I find the birth?

Five words: a lot easier than Jo. So many emotions crammed into 24 hours: frustration, excitement, despair, hope, joy, bemusement, elation. I often felt powerless. It's horrible to see your partner in pain and to be so powerless to help. As the support partner, you're the passenger, not the driver: you have to get towels and food and give massages and encouragement. Traditionally men are used to being the doers, not the supporters/spectators, so this is challenging. So for a lot of the labour I felt horrified and useless. Until the baby was born, when I felt like Michelangelo. Well, for five minutes, until I started feeling horrified and useless again. For those first days and weeks you're on a pretty steep learning curve.

Did I freak out?

Absolutely. Looking back, I was more anxious during the pregnancy than after the birth. But absolutely, there were moments after the birth I freaked too. I consider myself an equal opportunity worrier: I'm happy to worry pre and post-birth. I remember distinctly when we come home from the hospital, Edie was four days old, and there were several panicky moments for both of us. At the hospital, you have midwives and staff who give advice and take away dirty nappies. At home, you're on your own. I called my mum the day we came home and said, "Did you freak out when you brought me home?" She said, "I remember looking down at you in my arms and bursting into tears."

I describe being jealous of Edie. How was that?

There were occasional twinges of jealousy. Having a baby is such a big change in so many ways, and one of the biggest is in the way it can change a relationship between the parents. Where they were two, now they're three, and the new mum has most of her attention focused on this new critter. And she has this intimate physical connection with this being she delivered into the world, especially if she's breastfeeding. Men can't breastfeed. (Although there is a tribe in Africa - the Aka pygmy tribe - that gives it a go: men don't lactate, but they will pop the baby on the boob for a few hours to soothe it.) At times in those first months I felt I was useful only as an earner or errand boy. Writing the book, I was shocked to learn how common postnatal depression is for men. For women PND affects somewhere around 15 per cent of mums; for men it's about 4 per cent of dads who become depressed after the birth of a child. I never suffered from it, but I'm sure sometimes a sense of jealousy can feed a new dad's depression.

How has my life changed since becoming a dad?

A lot, and I think that's pretty typical of Australian dads. In decades past, a lot of dads might have noticed very little change after having kids. But nowadays Australian dads are more involved than they've ever been. They change nappies, cook meals and look after bubs. These days more and more mums and dads work part time and share the child raising role, and even if men work full time (as I still am) they make more of an effort to be involved in child rearing. This is a trend revealed in stats. I became more housebound and domestic and you know what? Somewhat to my surprise, I'm enjoying it.

What's the hardest thing about being a dad?

When you become a dad, in my experience, you become simultaneously stronger and weaker. You become stronger because you have this new love, and over time that connection and love gives you a power. But you become weaker because you're suddenly vulnerable. You have this new being that's outside of you and that you're responsible for. So the hardest thing, I would say, is when she was sick for the first time. And when a few months ago she fell and nearly knocked a tooth out and cut her gums. Seeing that stuff makes you panic, but instead you have to stay calm and cope.

What advice would I give?

As a new parent you often get bombarded by advice, a lot of it unwanted, so I'm very reluctant advice giving. The book isn't an advice book, rather it's an account of my experience mixed with stats and research and history about fatherhood. The message, if there is one, is that dads like me are still working out what it means to be a dad, now that we're not all expected to be '50s-style workaholic, see-the-kids-only-on-weekends dads. That said, I would advise dads-to-be to worry as little as possible about the impending change. Parenthood is wonderful in ways you can't predict. Also: it gets easier, the second year is a doddle compared to the first. And here's a biggie: if you think you might be depressed, talk to someone about it. Postnatal depression in men is real, but there is help out there. Further, muck in as much as you can. Get involved with the childraising and forge a bond with your baby, because that makes fatherhood easier. Being a good dad is learned, I reckon, not innate. Similarly, help as much as you can with the housework, which will keep the bond between mum and dad as strong and healthy as possible. Finally: love your little one with all your might, because that love will be a fortress around them. (For someone who doesn't want to give advice, that's rather a lot, isn't it? Oops.)

Sacha Molitorisz has worked as a reporter and features writer at the Sydney Morning Herald since 1994, where he now writes about films, TV, music and other topics usually reserved for people half his age. Since October 2006, he has also been writing a blog about fatherhood for smh.com.au and www.theage.com.au, called 'Who's Your Daddy?'.

From Here to Paternity is Published by Macmillan Australia RRP $29.95
 
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