Dear Mr. Dad: I’m very concerned about my husband. We’re just a month away from our due date and although he has been very involved and attentive throughout the pregnancy, in the last couple of weeks he’s becoming more and more withdrawn. He seems annoyed with me a lot, and when I try to get him to talk about his fears and anxieties as an expectant father, all he says is that he has them. That’s it. Will I ever get my old husband back again or am I going to be in this thing alone?
A: What you’re going through is pretty common. That doesn’t make it any easier, but sometimes it’s comforting to know that you’re not alone. It may also help you to know that there’s a very good chance that your husband will return to normal fairly soon after the baby arrives.
When I was doing research for my book, The Expectant Father, I made an interesting discovery. Dads-to-be are generally a trimester behind their pregnant partners. Here’s what I mean.
In the first trimester, most newly pregnant women are aware that something’s going on—even if it’s just morning sickness. At this stage, they’re excited and thinking and fantasizing about how great being a mom is going to be.
For most expectant fathers, though, the first trimester is pretty boring. We have no physical reminders that things are changing, and since it’s too early to see an ultrasound or hear a heartbeat, the whole pregnancy is pretty abstract. I can admit now—and I know a lot of dads will nod in agreement—that there were times in the first trimester when I completely forgot that we were expecting.
During the second trimester, moms start turning their attention inward. What kind of mother am I going to be (like my mom? Not like her?), how much time can I take off from work? Is the house big enough? How will we ever get ourselves ready for the baby? How can we possibly afford to have a child—let alone send one to college?
Meanwhile, the second-trimester expectant father is now starting to get the same feelings of excitement and wonder that his partner did a few months ago.
The third trimester, where you and your husband are now, is a time when the mom turns her attention outward. And the most common focus of that attention is the dad-to-be. Will he be there for me? Will he love me even though my body is changing? She needs constant reassurance and reminders that she’s loved, needed, wanted, and won’t be raising the child alone (doesn’t that sound familiar?)
At the same time, the expectant father is turning his focus inward, just like his partner did a trimester ago. How will being a dad change my life? How can we afford this? Should I take a second job? A third? Will we ever have sex again? What kind of dad will I be? How can I keep my partner and baby safe?
The problem is pretty clear: the expectant father is putting a huge amount of pressure on himself at exactly the same time as his partner is putting pressure on him. That double dose is enough to make even the most committed, loving, involved dads feel depressed and anxious. Fortunately, third trimesters always end and much of that depression and anxiety is replaced by joy and excitement (and sleep deprivation). So try to scale back some of the pressure you’re putting on your husband. And be patient. Chances are you’ll get the old him back soon.