For 13 years I have sat in post natal support groups with women who have just had babies. This is where I learn most about the experience of having a baby. Women in a safe space will talk, and talk they do. They process their lives by talking. It helps them to come to terms with the experiences they are having each day with getting to know their baby, and also coming to terms with their birth story. They talk about what they wish they knew, and they talk about their partners.
It is here that I have realised many times, that while we do a lot to care about the emotional state of mothers, particularly after a difficult birth, there is very little attention placed on the emotional state of fathers. The journey of becoming a father is just as big, although much less acknowledged. Watching the woman you love go through a difficult time, can create an enormous sense of helplessness, inadequacy, shock and trauma. Sometimes men find themselves in situations during birth where they don’t know what’s going on and might find that space really difficult. Then after the birth, they need to adjust to their changing role, changing relationship and falling in love with their baby.
I had one fabulous guest speaker at beer and bubs share his bonding experience with his child. He said it took him weeks, he felt like he was just going through the motions. And then one day, without any warning, he woke up, looked at his child and realised he would kill anyone who tried to hurt his daughter. If only he knew that bonding can sometimes take time. There is a huge biological urge in all of us to bond, which is what our survival depends on. I have never forgotten this lesson, and always make a point of sharing his story.
Preparation is the key.
Programmes like beer and bubs, actively acknowledge the role of the partner. They clearly state what their role is, what to do and what not to do. They help men to know what to expect and how to engage with the medical system to ask the right questions and get the right support for their family. They make men active participants, not passive recipients, and for most men this is really important in potentially avoiding trauma that can be created during such an intense time.
Women worry about their men. They can see when something has deeply affected them. What they don’t know is how to help them. Men don’t always talk about those feelings, and are more likely to head to the cave, to sort it out himself. Beyond blue is a booklet we always give out at beer and bubs. It is focused on men and the way they deal with life’s challenges.
I love what I do, because it know it makes a big difference in people’s lives, during such an intimate and important time. Thank you Lucy, and now Carinna for filling such an important need.
Tracey Anderson Askew has been a Childbirth educator, Doula, and running support groups for new mothers for almost 15 years. She runs Beer and Bubs and Calmirth® in Canberra because they both acknowledge and support the important role of the man, both during birth and beyond. Her particular interest in Manland comes from living with 4 sons and a beautiful, very male, husband. Life with men she says is always fun – once you understand them!