At last researchers are turning their attention to men's experiences of birth and early parenting. Researchers from the Eastern Virginia Medical School team looked at 43 studies involving 28,004 parents from 16 different countries. The countries included the UK and the US. In a news item in the BBC news, the researchers were quoted as saying:
"One in 10 new fathers may have the baby blues, US researchers believe - based on their trawl of medical literature. While this rate is lower than in new mothers, it is more than currently recognised, they told the Journal of the American Medical Association. Lack of sleep and new responsibilities, or supporting a wife with post-natal depression can be triggers, they say".Childbearing and early parenting are stressful experiences. New roles, new experiences and general unfamiliarity with babies provide a catalogue of changes that both women and men are having to deal with and integrate. A new reality for many along with smaller family sizes and the nuclear family phenomenon is that a vast majority of young parents have never even held a baby before they hold their own. Many men are inadequately prepared for being present at the birth of their baby and parenting.
Midwives have a real role in including fathers-to-be in their work with childbearing women. Many men feel left out and sidelined during antenatal visits and during the birth process. Feedback from women on their experiences of midwifery student follow through often contain comments about how the student included their partner. The women always say how grateful they are that their partner was included and made to feel important by the student. The fact that the women feel a need to comment on this aspect of the student's involvement in their childbearing experience indicates to me that partners are not generally included in the care given by midwives and doctors.
Midwives and other health professionals have to recognise that childbearing is an emotional experience for men too. Working with women across the continuum of childbearing is enhanced when their partners are included in the woman centred focus of the midwife. Respect, kindness, inclusion and relationship building are core attributes of midwifery practice and set the foundation for women's feelings of being well cared for and valued during their experience of maternity care. Engaging fathers in the same way obviously has implications for how men emerge from their experience of maternity care too.
John Heron (born 1928) , a wonderful man who pioneered a participatory research method called cooperative inquiry, provided (for me) the first clear understanding about the importance of emotions in human interactions and wellbeing. John Heron identified three core emotional needs:
1. To love and be loved
2. To choose and be chosen
3. To understand and be understood
Heron said when these core emotional needs were not met, people develop defense mechanisms. Defense mechanisms are often counter productive to optimal relationships; optimal interactions on both cellular and social levels and overall mental and physical health and wellbeing.
If midwives and other health practitioners make a clear goal to ensure the emotional needs of women and their partners are met in their work with them through the childbearing year and beyond, many of the ills that plague new parents may be 'headed off at the pass'.
BBC News - Post-natal depression in fathers 'often undiagnosed'