Mother-to-Be

Friday, December 26, 2014

Question

My husband doesn’t want to go with me to my first ultrasound examination, when we can find out whether we are having a boy or a girl, and also check on the health of our child. He knows I am very anxious about this test because miscarried our first child soon after the first ultrasound. (We have been married a little less than two years.) Losing the baby was a terribly tragic event that depressed me for months. He was sad as well but like the man’s man that he is, he refused to talk about it and just told me we should focus on the fact that we were young and healthy, and when I was ready, we could try once more to start our family. Even today, he is reluctant to talk about the miscarriage.

My husband grew up with two brothers and only one sister. He knows very little about how the menstrual cycle affects a woman. He would not help keep me to keep track of my fertile days, and he doesn’t understand being PMS or having cramps. In general, he is just a pill about the female body even though he expects me to be sexually available whenever he is horny. I don’t want you to think he is insensitive—he is actually a very kind and loving person, or I never would have married him. But it’s like he’s got this blind spot about female biology. If there was a burglar in the house, I have no doubt he would take care of it. If the car wasn’t running well, or if the roof was leaking, he would know exactly what to do. But I am worried now that he is going to leave me to go through pregnancy and childbirth on my own—the way he does his job on his own—and I don’t want that.

Answer

I think you have a really good opening line for a discussion about this with your husband. Except that this is not a discussion. This is a matter of you giving him some ultimatums. But we are going to be nice about it—the iron hand in the velvet glove approach.

Tell him, “Honey, I want you to know that you are the best husband in the world. And I also want you to know that being a husband is only half of what you need to do to show up in a marriage. How would you feel if I was only a good wife and not a good mother? Well, being a good father starts now, before our child is even born.”

If he sputters and complains, say, “I have a feeling that you think that what you should do is put your head down and work hard to take care of our family. That’s your job, while my job is to be pregnant and take care of having the baby. And I appreciate how hard you work. But I also need you to help me to make the baby.”

Be aware through all of this that guys like your husband quit listening to a woman after about three sentences. They believe that you just need to talk, and if they stay in the room and keep nodding, eventually your emotions will run their course, and things will go back to normal. The less you say, the better. He will probably respond best to short, calm conversations that tell him clearly what you need. Kind of like reading a “to do” list out loud. He clearly wants to be a good guy. And he just as clearly has no idea what is going on inside of your body or how hormones affect you. He hasn’t had the advantage of an education in any of those things. I’m sorry that it’s up to you to train him. By the time you have a second child, he ought to do better.

So it’s important to tell him, “Honey, I want you to take me to my ultrasound appointment. You don’t have to take me to all of my doctor’s appointments, but I am especially nervous about that one.” Then follow up with instructions about the rest of the pregnancy. “I want you to be with me when I am in labor. I want you to see when your child is born because I want you to know what it’s like to have a baby. I need your strength to help me have that baby. I want it to be something both of us did, so we can both be equal as parents.”

Here are some other options. “If you don’t want to do something I ask you to do, don’t just tell me no. Tell me why you are saying no. You are a problem solver. So let’s solve that problem instead of just refusing. For example, if you don’t want to be at the birth because the thought of it seems overwhelming, we can go to a birthing class together and find out more about how partners help the mother.” I recommend this rather than a videotape because all of the videotapes I have seen of births seem produced with the guaranteed aim of scaring men to death. A guy who is not emotionally invested in one particular pregnant woman and one specific baby can’t hack the pain and blood and sacred mystery of bringing a new life out of a woman’s body. Their bodies aren’t made that way. So it scares them and makes them jealous.

Be nice unless he continues to go sideways on you and try to get out of showing up. Then say, “If you refuse to do this, it makes me wonder how you are going to behave when other responsibilities of fatherhood come up. What are you going to say when the baby needs a bottle or a diaper at night? How about when I am sick and the baby needs those things? What if the baby needs to go to the doctor? How will you behave when I need help and I am tired from work? Are you going to help our child learn the alphabet and get ready for school? Will you be there when our child needs to play or needs comforted because they have had a hard day? It’s not enough to promise me you will show up in the future. You need to start to show up NOW.”

I don’t know how your husband behaves when you cry. Some men crumble immediately and do whatever you ask just to make the tears stop. Others comply but are resentful. Some leave the room and go to sleep; others go out drinking (the rats). I don’t think you should lose control, but do be honest about your emotions. Sometimes men are more impressed when you don’t cry, when it’s clear that you want to, but you are holding it together to try to get through to them. Any guy who could ignore a speech like the one above is stupid. He doesn’t realize his marriage is in danger. And he may not, in fact, be ready to function as a good father.

So I hope your husband grows a little empathy and realizes that a woman who has gone through a miscarriage as recently as you have will still be grieving and feel in danger. Having a protective male presence at her side will steady her and help her to feel the joy of new life instead of the pain of loss. You could say that to him as well. “If you were with me, I would feel joy about the future instead of sadness about the past. I would feel that nothing could hurt me.” Few things touch the male heart more than a woman who is asking for chivalry. Maybe he, too, has been blue and afraid, not daring to hope about this new baby, so I am pulling for him to face the future and dare to be happy as well.

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