Please, On behalf of Our Fathers…
I am listening to a young father in my birthing community lament the trials of his relationship with his daughter’s mother. She is pregnant again, the communication is crumbling, and he is seeking…help?
From anywhere… to bring his family back into alignment; something he can recognize and resonate with.
I am listening. Giving space to his moments of confusion, anger, loneliness, sadness, misunderstanding, and silence…all the times he has felt silenced by the idea that it was not his turn to speak. That he did not have the right to comment on an experience that did not include his body because he did not endure the pain of labor. And so, his labor was to yield to every and all that his partner desired without complaint or opposing comment. Meanwhile inside he is dying. And the compassion that enabled him to love at all is trapped inside of an ever-hardening exterior.
Where is the pressure release?
Where is the balance?
How can this be real?
“Maybe it’d be better if I just left…”
Regardless of where or with whom we choose to give birth, we can, without question, recognize childbearing as a deeply transformative experience. The over culture here, in the United States, conditions us to behave as though the role of our male counterparts, who ultimately produce the seeds responsible for our pregnancies, becomes largely insignificant once fertilization has happened. Commonly, we (may) share the news of pregnancy with them but then proceed along our internal journeys toward realizing ourselves as new or expanded mothers only stopping to acknowledge “our non-birthing partners” when we are in need of some measure of support.
In the “care” setting, prenatal conversation is almost exclusively geared toward the birthing partner. Mindful providers may carefully use language that addresses both parents if they are both present, but the general atmosphere assumes the mother as the relevant party and funnels all information to and through her in preparation for the birth event.
And this is not without reason. Our creative work as mothers, expanding into the fullness of ourselves, bringing forth a new thing requires quality input, honest reflection, nourishment, provision, support. We need this to do our work safely and efficiently; to fully rest in our creative capacity, building the inner and outer layers of a new person. But what happens when, in receiving that support from the external world, we fail to acknowledge the very structures that made the experience possible? Overlooking the guidance and the needs of the scaffold that has lifted us to broader horizons?
I have witnessed the anguish of mothers, disgusted by the apparent detachment of their partners.
“I was in labor, and he was on Instagram!”
I hear them, beside themselves with indignation, waving bright red flags of abandonment and I wonder when he, the partner in their relationship, began to feel abandoned; when the confidence in his ability to safely guide his new or expanding family began to be undermined? Was his personal connection to the pregnancy replaced in favor of Dr. Google? Were his feelings and needs pushed to the back burner by well-meaning family and community members who considered them irrelevant as they lovingly prepared the new mother for her child? Was he witness to his own father’s voice being muted under a chorus of third-party views, his opinions and ideas taking a back seat to the knowledge of physicians, and news reporters, day care providers, random people in the grocery checkout, all external voices weighing in as more informed than his own? Was his father even there?
The thing about racism is that everyone is affected by it. It’s unfortunate sequalae are not limited to the experience of persons of color. The structural bias that has kept the experiences of so many out of education and media meant that there was no opportunity for anyone to be inspired by acts of resilience that are the truth of our collective stories. As such, we have all suffered. The position we have taken with our fathers; that assumes their distraction, that imagines for a moment that they are not deeply engaged in their own transformation, navigating terrain that is just as nuanced and delicate as our own places us all on a dangerous slope. From that position, we place ourselves in a posture that requires us to partially disengage our internal, creative work and take on the tasks of navigating the external landscape creating resentment, mistrust, and exhaustion. These feelings, then, become the ink that partially creates the blueprint of our babies being. Further, assuming our male partners disinterest not only allows, but promotes conditions that encourage his disinterest. If we fail to engage our partners at the onset, allowing them to experience their own journey in a way that is free of our judgements about what that journey should look like, then we are creating conditions ripe for disconnection and disengagement that we will experience again, and again, through the childrearing process.
Expectation and Communication
I began offering private prenatal appointments to the partners of my birthing clients in response to an increasing awareness of how unprepared fathers felt they were to handle a birth at home. As I spoke with more fathers to be, I realized that I could easily spend an entire series of appointments assisting just them as they prepared for birth and postpartum. These men, assumed in many instances to be uninterested, had just as many legitimate feelings to work through, thoughts to work out, concerns to sort out, and questions, questions, questions.
…But no safe place where they thought they could ask and not be made to feel small, stupid, or inadequate for not having it all figured out. Just as with their birthing partners, I found that reminding them of their connection to the same Creation that made their babies possible was an assurance that they possessed the capacity to make critical decisions resulting in their family’s optimal wellness. Unfortunately for all of us, there is little messaging in the external world that reinforces that notion.
So, that leaves us. The mothers. That leaves us to do our internal work so that we stand in a place of unwavering trust as we bring our babies Earthside. We, the mothers, must be clear that our partners are fully committed to their work so we can do ours. It does not look the same because it is not the same. They provide protection for us so we can safely open. Our capacity to open, receive and release is the activity that sustains us all. When we are unable to trust, we cannot open. We take on the task of ‘getting safe’ and it inhibits our true work, it disempowers our partners, and it leaves us more vulnerable than we could ever imagine.
How many of us are carrying anger from a birth experience filled with unmet expectations? Let’s dig a bit deeper… how many of those expectations did we clearly communicate to our systems of support? Ok, one more… How many of those expectations, upon closer inspection, were attached to conditions that were never under our control?
Bonus question: How much of the dynamic present in our current parenting or co-parenting relationship is a result of the anger we carry because of an unrealistic expectation for our partner to act or be a particular way around something that was completely beyond their control?
Communicating our needs in a way that offers clear choices for our partners so they can engage in our support requires clarity. Acknowledging that they are individuals, working through their own challenges and have agency to choose how much support they are willing and or able to provide requires compassion. Creating environments that foster a felt sense of safety for both partners to make meaningful exchange requires patience. Willingness to observe ourselves, to be honest about where we are in our processes so that we can have authentic conversations with our partners requires self-empathy. We can bring tremendous healing to our fathers, partners, brothers, sons, lineages, with the tools of presence, personal accountability, and forgiveness.
Birthing women require communities of support that begin with the partners they are attached to. When we do not allow ourselves to receive the support we require from them, we disservice ourselves and our communities. As we build a new paradigm, let us move forward in trust with our partners, recognizing their unique and necessary connection to the children we grow within, acknowledging their beautifully distinct parental rhythms and flow. Our babies have chosen us both and are endeared to both parents. Let us do our best to honor the wisdom of the Master Teachers we call our children.