- Nobody ever prepares first-time dads for the herculean task that is fatherhood
- Some especially during their wives’ pregnancy, fear that they might not the biological father of the child
- Others dread fatherhood fearing it will make them change priorities, lose independence and friendships
Even though their bodies hardly change, first time dads, especially during their wives’ pregnancy, go through a lot of mental changes, most of it painful.
Immediately news is broken to them that their women are pregnant, would-be first-time dads are thrust into a strange torturous world, which involves actively participating in the pregnancy and the impending birth process
While preparing this report, Crazy Monday asked men how they felt the very first time they became fathers.
Confused, shocked, panicked, scared, overwhelmed are some of the words many used to describe the experience.
Fear that you are not the biological father
For a certain Teddy, a father of a six-month-old baby, from the day his live-in girlfriend broke news that she was pregnant, his mind was preoccupied with paternity fears.
“Up to now, I am still afraid because I am just not sure that I am the biological father. But how do you ask the woman you claim to love that you suspect she cheated on you and you fear that the baby may be not yours?” he asks, adding: “You know the games women play in this city.”
Let’s face it, most pregnancies are never planned; they are always, for lack of a better way to put it, accidents.
Thus, unlike most women who instinctively start planning for the baby immediately they get pregnant, first time fathers are always caught unawares.
And making the necessary adjustments upon baby’s arrival always feel like being thrown into the deep end of a swimming pool.
“Much as I felt spared the agony of having to carry the baby for nine months, morning sickness, gaining weight and the torture of childbirth, my mind was in distress mode. I felt left out and odd,” says Cedric Khaemba, a father of three.
When his wife was busy preparing for their baby’s arrival; buying baby clothes; adjusting her diet and lifestyle; getting treated to baby showers and all, Khaemba started feeling excluded, aimless, without a purpose and out of place.
“When we got our first child, we were pretty young but she seemed prepared psychologically. When she made changes in what she eats and her lifestyle and even began peeing every now and then, I began feeling left out,” he says.
He adds that he, at some point, felt guilty and a bit jealous that his wife was having a physical connection with the unborn baby, yet he was “just there”.
Feeling excluded, out of place as wife prepares for baby’s birth
Despite the big talk about how great fatherhood is, it kept feeling frustratingly abstract for me. Akin to what substitute footballers on the bench feel; you wish you were on the field to also play but you are just there,” says Khaemba, adding that he felt like there was a conspiracy against him and it was no longer feeling like the joint project that it was supposed to be.
Hassan Nyawanga, a nurse and teacher with Johns Hopkins Program for International Education in Gynecology and Obstetrics (Jhpiego), says that however much men feel alienated, it is important to remain connected because keeping off might affect the mother psychologically.
As a father of three, the medic confesses that even professionals like him go through these experiences but adopt coping mechanisms by developing honest and open relationship with their wives.
“The average man’s biggest worry is, whether or not he will be able to provide for the family, especially with the ongoing biting food shortage.
This is very common in situations where the wife is in the informal sector and has to stop earning because she will take leave from work,” says Nyawanga.
Small wonder then, that a man we reported on not long ago from Nairobi’s Mathare slums fainted upon news that his wife was pregnant with twins!
The good nurse adds that men’s frustrations get doubled by the fact that they have to seek means of making an extra coin to boost the family budget.
“Men must learn to fight this fear of unknown by planning ahead of time. Preferably, immediately they discover that their partner is pregnant,” he advises.
The biggest casualty, however, for many first time fathers is always sex life. Your wife’s erogenous body parts that you might have been taking for granted like her ‘mammary glands’ become out of bounds for a while.
Those who are used to regular intimacy suffer when sex dwindles, subjecting one to long ‘dry spells’, which can be a bit frustrating.
New life signifying your looming death
Instinctively, when you witness or imagine the beginning of a new life, it’s obvious that you immediately start to think about the end of life; mostly your own.
In this case, men
— the gender that seems overly obsessed with perpetuating their own genes yet has a shorter life expectancy compared to women— panic and start thinking about their own death!
For many of the men we talked to, mortality fears during their wives pregnancy or childbirth are real.
“News that your wife is pregnant hits you concurrently with fear and sad news of how your own death is looming. First thing you imagine when you are told you have sired a child is that you are not young anymore,” says Philip Ngare, laughing at how thoughts of ‘your time on this planet is almost up and your replacement is arriving soonest’ hit him during his wife’s first pregnancy.
Possible delivery complications for mother
Another common fear men expressed was that of their baby’s or wife’s health.
Fair enough, when you live in a third world country where childbirth related complications or death are common place, when your woman gets pregnant, you start fearing of the baby’s survival and its mother’s too.
Raising the baby by yourself is a thought that sends chills down many a man’s spins.
Other men panic, fearing that their wives might shift their love to the baby (a common and real phenomenon), leading to slow but sure death of the relationship or marriage.
For Peter Simiyu, the fact that a male doctor was going to have free and unlimited access to his woman’s privates in the name of prenatal care, more so in his presence was a bit humiliating.
“I didn’t care much about her earlier visits to the gynaecologist, but with pregnancy, which required me to accompany her and face the doc together, as he ask those gory questions, make her get naked and carryout tests made me feel humiliated, embarrassed and less of a man,” agonises Simiyu.
Feeling like a frustrated babysitter or house boy than a parent
According to a Nairobi CBD-based medical consultant, doctor Simon Gikonyo, men must learn to fight against certain common assumptions and conventions about manhood.
“Unlike women who are socialised to think of themselves as natural parents and caregivers, men have a tendency to think of themselves as backup parents. Thus, hardly participate actively,” he says, adding that men shoot themselves in the foot by assuming secondary roles in parenting.
“Men should accompany their women to clinics for check-ups, despite the awkwardness,” he says, adding that this is the only way to avoid feeling as more of a frustrated houseboy than a parent when asked to help or left to care for the baby.
How fatherhood changes men for better
A good number of first time fathers we talked to also dread having to change their priorities, losing independence and friendships fading away because of fatherhood.
Ordinarily, men hardly let go of their freedoms and ways of doing things easily. But being a dad calls for total shift in routines and priorities; something many do rather grudgingly.
Nurse Nyawanga encourages men to embrace fatherhood and stop fearing it for it greatly helps in making people acquire a comprehensive and wider world view.
“The moment you have a baby, contrary to perception that your mind narrows down to small matter like diapers, your mind opens up and you start thinking about stuff like childcare, food security, education and best schools, neighbourhood development, among other serious things that bother parents.
The nurse says the mere thought of your torturous childhood makes one to start planning to give their children the best and making the world a better place.
Gikonyo says it is normal for first time dads to feel intimidated, thus there is no reason to be too hard on themselves.
“Scared first time fathers ought to seek medical help. Despite the fact that men always shy away from such support, it’s important to give it a try when in panic,” he says.
“The late night wailing by new-borns is normal. No need to feel angry about your sleep being disrupted by the baby.
It is their nature for the first few weeks,” says the doc, insisting that even before seeking help out there, men must open up to their wives about their worries and even if they (wives) don’t have solutions, the mere fact that they have been understood is sufficient and a great starting point.
With all the overnight wailing, you wonder, whoever coin the phrase “bundle of joy” for new-borns, had he ever experienced the misfortune of sharing a bed with a new-born?