Share this article
Like most couples, when my partner and I found out we were going to have a baby, we couldn’t have been happier.
There were ups and downs during the pregnancy, of course, and lots of stresses, pressure and unknowns. That’s a given, but for me, those issues were exacerbated by the fact I, as the father, was almost an oversight during most of the medical appointments before, during and after the birth of our first child, Aliana.
I absolutely understand and respect that women do the lion’s share of the heavy lifting (literally and metaphorically) during pregnancy, the birth itself, and immediately afterward, but to me, it seems the health system, and many of the people who work in it, are stuck in the past in the way they treat the fathers-to-be and new dads.
It was very clear from the start that there was a huge bias, if that's the right word, towards the mother — this is her child that she's going to be looking after, and I wasn’t really given much time or energy by the medical staff we encountered.
Early on, there was an obstetrician appointment where there was a very big sense of “what are you doing here”? As in “this appointment is for your partner — why are you here?” I actually wasn't allowed in the room with my partner because I was told “we normally just have these conversations with the woman.” My partner wanted me to be there for emotional support and I wanted to be an active participant all the way through, but we were told “look, we normally just have a one-on-one chat with the mum, and we don't need you here.” It was quite blatant I wasn’t welcome.
In the appointments that I was allowed in, the language and body language from the medical staff was also difficult to deal with. It was very clear that I wasn't really wanted there. Even if I asked a question, the eye contact never came to me. It was like “yeah, I hear you, but I'm talking to your partner.” It felt very much like I was almost wasting her time by being there.
That was happening for the entire nine months. There were a select few professionals who were decent — I remember the first ultrasound, the 12-week one, was a lot better, but that was about it.
These feelings continued during the birth. My daughter had to be taken into an intensive care unit after my partner’s emergency C-section, and I was barely told anything! I was allowed in the room, thankfully, but then my partner was moved away one way and my daughter was wheeled another way and I was thinking 'what the heck is going on?' I ended up following my daughter — I wasn't going to leave her. And again, there was a sense of not being truly welcome because they didn’t really tell me what was happening — I had to work hard to get any information out of them. It was like I was taking up precious time for them to tell me what was happening to my daughter.
The feeling of almost being a third wheel took away a lot of the joy through the process — it became a burden almost. Looking back now, it’s almost as if I lived the pregnancy through the eyes of my partner because I was never involved in much of it. It was not as enjoyable as it should have been and, to be frank, it made me feel like shit at times when it should have been the most joyous and exciting period of my life.
I have to admit, those feelings were definitely amplified in a way because some of the pregnancy took place during COVID restrictions — for example, I wasn't allowed to attend the last two ultrasounds. And if Aliana had been born a day earlier, I wouldn’t have even been allowed in the birthing suite because of the COVID restrictions. They changed the law right in time, so in that regard, I was fortunate.
But it wasn’t just the COVID stuff. It felt like a lot of the systems and people involved with pregnancies and births completely overlooked fathers. Back in the day, when my dad had me or when my grandfather had my dad, the men used to work and the mothers would stay at home. Maybe that was OK for previous generations, when most men were seen as the breadwinners and the women as the caregivers, but more and more men now want to be fully involved all the way through, and they should be treated with more respect.
One of the big things was I always felt like I was trying to prove myself, to prove that I'm not like those old-fashioned men and that I actually wanted to be a part of my daughter's life! Maybe there’s still fathers out there like that but I’d ask medical professionals to not just assume we’re all like that — have a conversation, look and see, and then judge. Don't just put me in the same bucket as others because I'm a male.
All of these obstacles that shouldn't have been there — like the language and body language and actions — really started getting me to question things like 'is this normal for me to do'? And ‘am I meant to be putting in so much effort?’ And although I was able to fight through that, it's shocking that I even had to question myself. It really wasn't their business to put these doubts in my head that had no place being there.
As a society, there's a big pressure on fathers to step up, which is great. Fathers should be there for their babies and partners as much as they’re able to. But at the same time, it feels like we’re being set up to fail if we’re not being genuinely included through this time, and given some decent resources or support for ourselves. It’s stressful for us too! You’ve just got this uphill battle that you have to climb entirely by yourself.
And it’s not just the fathers who are impacted when the mums are the sole focus of these medical professionals — my partner relied on me as a support person. Then, all of a sudden, her support person was just removed, or at least reduced to an afterthought in many of the appointments. It also meant that all the pressure was falling on her with regards to having to make all the decisions, thinking everything was solely on her shoulders — it could have easily been prevented.
We were lucky the pregnancy ended up with a positive outcome — our beautiful and happy daughter is now almost two-and-a-half.
But a lot of that stress and anxiety could have been avoided and unfortunately, I still experience some of the same issues today, more than two years later. Quite regularly, there’s things which pop up that reinforce my opinion that society hasn’t caught up with the times. One time at childcare, my partner was invited to a mothers’ lunch to celebrate all of Aliana’s achievements throughout the year and I wasn’t allowed to go, as it was a mothers-only event, despite my partner and I asking. Instead, we were told: “maybe we will look at doing something with the fathers included next year.” So these issues aren’t restricted to the health system — it’s a much wider, more widespread problem.
My plea for anyone reading this who is involved with new parents is to treat the fathers with as much compassion and interest as the mothers. We aren’t some third wheel who just brings home the bacon at the end of a week — we should be viewed as an integral part of the whole pregnancy and birthing journey.