Be “present” and say the right things – simple!
At week 4 of the pregnancy you of course can’t possibly be sure whether your partner is pregnant. You may, however, have a hunch that an embryo has implanted, so if you’re preparing yourself for pregnancy news, it would be great if you could reflect enough to ensure that you are prepared to say the right things or, at the very least, not say the wrong ones.
It may sound obvious, but it’s just not possible to overstate just how much your initial reaction to news of the pregnancy is going to influence both your partner’s emotional state during pregnancy and her mental health during the subsequent postpartum period.
Above all, remember that it is natural to feel fearful at the prospect of being responsible for new human life. In fact, it’s probably a good indicator that you have the makings of a good parent if you respond in this way. If you can forgive the analogy, it’s a bit like learning to drive: you are much more likely to make a good driver if you have some level of fear and trepidation about the dangers that come with being on the road. Whereas a driver who feels fearless and unconcerned is more likely to cause an incident through carelessness.
So please, if at all possible, don’t let your fears and reservations dominate your initial response. You are the joint author of the pregnancy, but it is in your partner’s body and if you are feeling like the responsibility might be too much for you, imagine how she feels: the last thing she needs at this point is your existential crisis!
However, we are all allowed the moment of panic, particularly if we have just discovered that we are bringing new life into the world, so if news of the pregnancy does precipitate a rush of thoughts concerning the futility of human existence, the essential cruelty of the world or the inevitability of the capitalist conveyor belt relaying us to the crematorium door, save it up and share it for an evening out with your mates.
Alternatively, and if you really do feel you might be in need of professional help, talk to your GP about the many options available to you as you prepare for this life-changing event.
Seize the day – making an emotional connection
More than anything, successfully receiving the pregnancy news is about making a meaningful emotional connection with your partner.
This means listening to her. In fact, don’t feel pressure to say anything in particular. If you give yourself space to hear what she is saying, not only will it demonstrate that you are listening, it will also help you process it so that when you do open your mouth to speak, you are more likely to connect – who knows, you might even make sense.
By embracing the pregnancy you can really set a pattern that will last all the way through, even to your child’s adult life. For example, a 2016 University of Oxford study found that dads who embrace parenthood confidently are more likely to father children who are emotionally and psychologically stable.
“It is the emotional connection and the emotional response to actually being a parent that matters enormously in relation to later outcomes for children,” Maggie Redshaw, one of the study’s authors and a developmental and health psychologist told the British Medical Journal.
In fact, emotional connection and emotional involvement with the parenting process were shown to make an even more positive impact than actual involvement in domestic chores and childcare – there really is something to being present in mind, if not always in body – although don’t let that put you off doing the washing up.
The study questioned fathers at eight weeks and eight months after the birth of a child. These are very much the formative stages of life and are hard to separate from the pregnancy period. In short, if you can set a positive emotional pattern now at the earliest point in your parenting journey, then you are likely to be making it much easier for yourself in the future. Engage, connect and be, what psychologists call, “present”.
“It is part of the approach that early experience matters and it matters from the point of view of both parents,” said Redshaw.
In a way, it is as much about your perception of your role of being a dad/parent as it is about anything else, so set the tone now and create a great platform for years to come and, consequently, your child’s impending childhood.