During pregnancy women voraciously read books and blogs. You’re talking to anyone and everyone in your circle of friends and family who has had a baby. Probably selectively, since Aunt Agnes just tells horror stories. The women in your world help you define what is normal, what is possible, and your vision of birth and baby. Perhaps you are going outside your immediate family, or have no near friends, to find women’s stories on the web, or to search for a new/old way to birth as naturally as possible. You are talking with your health care providers. Your choices about who joins you on the prenatal journey are also deeply influenced by your community, your values and your health status.
So, what are dads thinking? Or moms might feel, What is this man thinking!@?%?!!!! You’re way behind on the learning curve! There’s a baby on the way!!!
What are dads thinking? They are, but often their focus is on the family economy and on safety in birth. These are valuable and important. Dads don’t feel the physical changes inside their own bodies. And dads are usually not talking birth with their buddies and co-workers. But, it is nearly impossible to make generalized statements about what men are doing these day and how they are in relationship, because men’s identities as partners and fathers are completely in flux these day. Men’s roles and women’s roles are being reinvented as we all continue along in our grand cultural experiment of more openness and flexibility.
Still we each bring our own history and our own direct experience of being in the body we each inhabit. Everything is up for renegotiation in relationship, especially now our friends in the GLBT world are giving us notice that sexuality and gender are actually not rigidly binary. Yet most of us do live in our bodies that are distinctly female or male.
Among the most distinctive markers of our sexuality and gender are our hormones. Hormones affect everything in our functioning in everyday life, as well as peak experiences. Our physical states and our moods are all influenced by hormones.
We have a confused cultural construct that women are hormonal. Many women do experience hormonal roller coaster rides every month. During pregnancy and birth, a woman’s hormonal rhythms and configurations radically change. She is busy creating a baby – with essential hormonal activity. During pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding, hormones are specially configured for creation and sustenance.
Lest we misunderstand, men are just as hormonal. But hormones run differently for men. Hormones are part of sexuality and of every day life. You can’t digest your food without hormones, or fight off the cold that’s going around without hormones. Men’s hormones vary up and down with experiences and with major life events. Running a marathon and its runner’s high ramp up multiple hormones. A stressful day at work, as well as the satisfaction of a job well done, each are hormonal events affecting our minds and moods. In fact, we all have the exact same hormones, just in different ratios and rhythms.
Hormones of imagination
So what does this have to do with what moms are thinking in pregnancy, and how dads are participating studying up for birth? Hormones are at play, and deeply influencing where your attention is focused. Let’s call these the hormones of imagination – a body-mind crossover of chemistry and thought when a baby is on the way.
During pregnancy women have hormones that trigger their minds to focus thoughts on the coming baby. Women visualize the baby and taking care of him/her. So along with all the sensations of a changing body and little kicks inside, a woman is hormonally prompted to create an internalized image of her child. In the world of pediatric psychology, researcher Linda Mayes describes this focus on baby as preoccupation.
Women experience huge variations in how much they think about baby. Some women are deeply absorbed in baby thoughts, talk and web searches. Some women are so busy with work or young children that they might feel they have barely given the coming baby a thought. Yet for most women the image of the baby fills in during spare moments. Hormones play out differently for every person, and for every pregnancy.
Men don’t have these hormones running as high as women initially. So when a new dad’s first response is, We need to start a college fund, he is functioning from a very different hormonal care-taking place. Still hormones! Hormones motivate many essential behaviors, including long term planning. Dads come on board as the pregnancy becomes more tangible when mom gets full bellied and he can feel those kicks.
In her research Mayes finds that preoccupation with baby is a parental mind state for both parents. Baby preoccupation begins during pregnancy, increases enormously during birth and continues through the neonatal period. This natural state of arousal includes heightened sensitivity to the baby and sustained attention for the continuous care that a new baby requires. This period is hormonally and psychologically prime time for each participant; essential for mother, baby and father in bonding and attachment. Just wait until dad is showing off photos of baby to everyone in range, and extolling the wonders of his little guy or gal when someone asks him how is doing, coming into work blurry eyed with lack of sleep.
While you and your partner have differences in experience and in timing during the pregnancy, you get to talk it all over so that you can together find the common ground for your next steps together. Here we are at the beginning of being in gratitude about having two different people in relationship, and of having two different views in creating a family, and of having two parents for this child, each who will love and relate to this child in his/her own personal – and hormonally influenced – style of parenting.