The whole pregnancy and giving birth experience is God’s great joke on humanity: Men prefer to deal with physical pain (the pain makes sense) while women prefer to deal with emotional pain (they bond and grow friendships through sharing and listening), so what does God do for child birth? Give the opposite of what people prefer – genius. He makes us work for it. On the plus side, the struggle can help increase the bond between the parent and child… or it can drive a wedge in the relationship just like how God makes men and women very different, which can balance couples or drive them apart. What makes me smile is after the hardest parts of child birth are endured and the couple is a year or so in, it’s normal to forget what you went through and become excited about having a second one. I was so blind I was more excited about our second daughter being born than the first, and then I hit the wall as I was like “Oh right; this first part kind of sucks.” That being said, there’s a good chance a few months down the road I will be like “Should we have a third?”
When it comes to child birth, women get stuck with terrible physical pains with a risk of terrible emotional issues like with postpartum. Even though women are typically better with emotional pain, since they’re dealing with so many physical issues and a lack of sleep with a limited amount of time and energy to seek the emotional support they would normally use for dealing with everything, they can have a particularly difficult time with the emotional pain as well. Meanwhile, men are stuck on the sidelines facing the emotional struggle of watching the one they love and want to protect with having very little to offer. Throw in the fact that most men aren’t the best at listening because they just want to give advice and/or fix the problem, and they’re going to add to the woman’s frustrations, which in turn adds to the guy’s own emotional struggle creating a cycle of hurt.
I find a lot of men go one of two ways when dealing with this situation: they turtle and quietly face the struggle or they become resentful. While men who turtle are doing whatever they can to not get yelled at, they can often leave their partner feeling ignored emotionally while the resentful men can infuriate their partner: (wife) “You’re talking down to me when I’m the one who is going through the most changes? You’re a jerk so I’m either going to be rude back, avoid you, or lash out.” I promise child birth can be a wonderful experience, but there are definitely risks to the relationship. The challenges of child birth, however, are why having a baby in hopes of saving the relationship is doomed to fail because if you don’t have a foundation for dealing with exhaustion, conflict, and grief, snapping and arguments are going to increase. Many people don’t associate child birth with grief, but grief is a response to loss and having a baby, as great as it can be, causes your lives to change, which causes a sense of loss.
What women go through in pregnancy can be terrible, so it’s often felt that what men go through should be kept to themselves (aka bottled up) and they should just accept what’s happening (aka suck it up), but ignoring what a man is going through can be very dangerous (what’s bottled up now, comes out later), especially since bottling up emotions requires something to bottle up with like drinking, sports, or even another woman. While my wife was pregnant she had to drive to and from work with a bucket in her lap because she was throwing up multiple times a day. That is physically awful. But you know what’s also awful? Knowing your wife needs a bucket for driving to and from work and not being able to help. If I had a choice of her suffering or me? Not a second thought; I’ll take it. I’d want to protect her, but that’s not an option. Instead, I have to stand to the side feeling helpless and guilty for being so fertile (or something more likely).
I’m not trying to look for sympathy for men, but it’s important that I make aware what a guy goes through because I have seen many cases where husbands cheat on their wives in the first year of their baby’s life. I’m bringing this up because it’s an issue that can save families.
Ultimately, I don’t think men should be whining to their wives, “Can’t you see how hard it is for me seeing you be sick?” That’d be very passive aggressive as it’s playing the victim. But I do want to bring up these issues, so couples are aware of what they can expect in order to be prepared. It’s like the news warning people a hurricane is coming – it’s better to be ready.
Struggles for a Man in Having a Baby
- Disappointment of seeing your wife’s body change: It can sound superficial, but men are often turned on by visuals and the person they originally chose is now physically a different person – they look and feel different when you hold them. Dealing with this is made all the worse because it sounds so terrible to mention… and it is terrible to mention to your wife, but to a trusted friend it can be helpful. Even if your wife asks you if this is a struggle, the guy should lie and say no because he needs to protect her from adding to her already massive list of personal baby struggles.
- We don’t really get it: A pregnant woman is forced to adapt as her body changes, but men don’t always get it because they feel the same. Their bodies don’t change and they can get frustrated when their partner can’t keep up and the men can’t do everything they want to do.
- Lack of preparation: Because our bodies don’t change and life feels pretty normal before the baby, it can take us a lot longer to adjust to the new lifestyle after the baby is born.
- Men hate change and love the familiar: With a baby, a lot changes, which can be a challenge for some men for adapting, especially if it means less time playing sports and/or doing fun things.
- Men hate conflict: Having a baby naturally adds conflict as we all have petty moments of “It’s your turn,” or “Please let it be your turn because I’m too tired.”
- Men love attention, especially from their partner: Men grow up typically being used to a mom saying how wonderful they are and giving them lots of attention. This is often carried into a dating relationship (at least at first). Men like feeling important, but when there’s a baby… nope. We quickly see that we’re not that important and we have to take a backseat.
- We feel disconnected: When you don’t carry the baby, you haven’t had the same bonding experience the mother has, so it’s common for the man to not feel a connection to the baby until four months or more in when the baby is more aware of their surroundings or even later when the baby isn’t as helpless and needy. If the man doesn’t get involved in helping
- It can be hard feeling ignored (or a blessing): After having our first baby, I could enter a room and not be noticed; I no longer existed because it was all about the baby. When you have kids, it’s amazing how some people never ask you how you’re doing; they just ask about the kids. Fortunately, I like being more hidden and I really enjoyed seeing everyone be so happy to see the baby, but I can see how others would resent it.
- Our wives are distracted: When there’s a baby around, it can be really hard to get your wife’s attention. This can add to feeling unimportant and like we don’t matter, which can make us sensitive and snappy, which leads to more fighting.
- Our wives aren’t as nice: In some cases, women in pregnancy and recovery can be downright mean to their husbands. But in general, moms are exhausted and patience is worn by the baby crying and/or being fussy, and all filters with their husbands end up being removed as they don’t care anymore. They’re just trying to survive. We should always try to be nice to our partner, but the stress of a baby can make that really challenging.
This week may you recognize that everyone has their own struggles and we shouldn’t just be stuck thinking of ourselves… or others. We need a healthy balance.
Rev. Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, learning to love dumb people (like me)