‘Men and ‘bonding’: Fathers’ expectations and experiences in the antenatal period’


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Transition to first-time fatherhood involves men embarking on uncertain personal journeys which are characterised by less clear trajectories than for women becoming mothers. This in part results from their physical bodies outwardly remaining unchanged through the antenatal period and so the signals and markers of pregnancy which shape women’s transition, and others responses, are absent. The term ‘expectant mother’ is instantly recognisable and conjures up visual images associated with pregnant female bodies but ‘expectant father’ is more obscure and clear images and associations are not readily evoked by these words. This confusion can symbolise men’s own experiences of the antenatal period as they prepare to become fathers: both seeking ways in and demonstrating ‘appropriate’ support and engagement whilst also feeling detached and at times excluded.

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‘Men and ‘bonding’: Fathers’ expectations and experiences in the antenatal period’

  1. 1. ‘ Men and “bonding”: Fathers’ expectations and experiences in the antenatal period’ ‘ Pregnancy and pregnancy planning in the new parenting culture’ seminar. University of Kent June 2010 Dr. Tina Miller, Dept. of International Relations, Politics and Sociology, Oxford Brookes University. School of Social Sciences and Law
  2. 2. Key findings from Motherhood study: <ul><li>Before the birth women anticipate that they will naturally and instinctively know how to mother </li></ul><ul><li>Birth experiences were all different to what they had expected/been led to believe </li></ul><ul><li>Mothering did not come ‘naturally’ for most of the women – but they felt unable to talk about these normal difficulties </li></ul><ul><li>Only retrospectively could the women challenge the ‘myths of motherhood’ and ‘risk’ talking about how things had really been </li></ul>School of Social Sciences and Law
  3. 3. Transition to first-time fatherhood <ul><li>Qualitative longitudinal study – same format as motherhood study (in depth interviews) </li></ul><ul><li>Sample = 17 men. Heterosexual, white, employed in skilled/professional occupations, partnered. </li></ul><ul><li>Men interviewed late a/n </li></ul><ul><li>early p/n (approx 10 weeks) </li></ul><ul><li>late p/n (10 – 12 months) </li></ul><ul><li>Interview at around time child is 2yrs </li></ul><ul><li>Generated over 100 hours of interview transcripts </li></ul>School of Social Sciences and Law
  4. 4. Key findings from Fatherhood study: <ul><li>Before the birth men positioned themselves as ‘willing learners’ but also ‘detached’ & seeking ways in </li></ul><ul><li>They emphasised ‘being there’ as an important feature of involved fatherhood – different to the fathering they had experienced </li></ul><ul><li>They expressed a desire to share caring for their child – in emotional and not (just) economic ways </li></ul><ul><li>During the two years after the birth – men spoke of the ‘hard work’ of caring, of needing to ‘fit fathering in’ and eventually of the importance of their economic ‘breadwinner’ role and their ‘ worker identity’ </li></ul>School of Social Sciences and Law
  5. 5. Across the two studies – what can be said <ul><li>Clear evidence of dominant discourses and how these shape preparation for fatherhood (and motherhood) </li></ul><ul><li>The discourses shape what can and cannot be said – i.e. the culturally recognisable and acceptable stories which exist around (good – ‘involved’) fatherhood </li></ul><ul><li>These ‘possible story lines’ are more broadly drawn for men becoming fathers when compared to those available to women and are not so morally inscribed </li></ul><ul><li>Men are both subject to changing discourses of ‘new’ involved fatherhood but at the same time are not ‘naturally’ expected to know what to do </li></ul>
  6. 6. Across the two studies <ul><li>In comparison to women, men can be seen to embark on what appear uncertain personal journey’s into first-time fatherhood </li></ul>
  7. 7. Hearing the news <ul><li>“ Shock, horror, excitement, yeah loads actually. Shock and horror was obviously the first one because there was absolutely no planning it whatsoever, zero planning. In fact it couldn’t have come at a worse time to be perfectly honest but yeah so it was all that as well…… but no, as time has gone on it’s probably, yeah, it’s a good thing ” (Gareth) </li></ul>
  8. 8. Preparing ‘appropriately’ <ul><li>“ I mean it’s such a new world for me. I know that you know if I go to the antenatal classes I’ll be in good hands and they’re going to teach me whatever there is to learn ” (Stephen) </li></ul>
  9. 9. Preparing ‘appropriately’ (Ben) <ul><li>“ We were thinking of going to this active birth type [class] but we brought a book instead it was cheaper. There has been a massive pile of books that we have made our way through. That is quite good because you realise that… I don’t know it is quite empowering for the bloke to read the books about that stuff . You don’t really know what is going on and what is going to happen so it is quite good to have an idea… have a sense of what is just happening at all the stages” </li></ul><ul><li>Later </li></ul><ul><li>“ You can imagine without having had that involvement with the scans or reading about you can almost put it to the back of you mind you don’t know anything about what is going on.” </li></ul>
  10. 10. Preparing ‘appropriately’ <ul><li>“ I suppose (wife) brought books. She has been reading books all the way through and you know ‘look that is what it looks like’, ‘look at the pictures’ sort of thing and ….when we went to the ante-natal classes I didn’t feel huge sort of drive to read books …. but I just thought it was really interesting” (Ben) </li></ul><ul><li>“ I think she would probably really, really like it if I sort of went out and sort of read loads and loads of stuff and watched the baby channel, I know she would really like that but I just, it’s not really me” (Joe) </li></ul>
  11. 11. Attending classes <ul><li>“ It was basically the normal birth, the normal labour and the normal birth, the preceding events……The three guys, there were about fifteen women and three guys, there were three guys thank goodness, not that any of us said anything, the whole time we just sat there open mouthed. A few things came up, what was the thing that made me…? Oh, it was ‘the showing’ and if it’s black or green or this, that and the other and you’re like oh my goodness I really don’t want to know about this ! I guess that’s all part and parcel of it” (Gareth) </li></ul>
  12. 12. Anticipating the birth <ul><li>“ Yes I think it’s a modern convention really isn’t it the father to be there at the birth and I think we always assumed that I would be. We have talked about my role and it was a key part of the class and reassuring and if necessary being a bit of an interpreter and standing up for Rebecca to the professionals on her behalf and that sort of thing. I imagine it’s going to be a pretty stressful experience because obviously she will go through a lot of pain and worry and I sort of have to go through it (laughs) precariously with her” (Graham) </li></ul>
  13. 13. Anticipating the birth: ‘bonding’ and ‘instincts’ <ul><li>“ to be honest with you I’m expecting – as soon as you actually can see it, feel it, touch it that’s when I think the bonding starts but until then it’s – for the guys …I feel a bit disconnected to be honest to you ” (James) </li></ul><ul><li>“ I don’t know, you know, I think I am only going to find out when it happens and hopefully all the instincts, urges and so on kick in” (Mike) </li></ul><ul><li>appropriation of language more readily associated with maternal identities? </li></ul>
  14. 14. Anticipating the birth: ‘what do other dads do?’ <ul><li>“ But I don’t know what most dads do, whether sort of most dads as soon as they find out, sort of change their life straightaway. It hasn’t really been like that to be honest, I don’t know if that’s normal or not ?” </li></ul><ul><li>Earlier Joe had confided, </li></ul><ul><li>“ Yeah I’ve got to be honest I don’t have many in-depth chats about the pregnancy with my friends – no” </li></ul><ul><li>Dylan “I suppose that is just me getting around to talking to people, to other dads but men don’t chatter as much ….underlying this pride is sheer fear ” </li></ul>
  15. 15. Anticipating fathering and generational change <ul><li>“ I think it’s changed hugely . I think there is far more emphasis on fathers to be involved , fathers to be a primary carer rather than a breadwinner, for fathers to actually understand what’s happening throughout the pregnancy . I think the advent of fathers support groups and stuff like that, the amount of textbooks that are for fathers or have a chapter for the father, I think it’s hugely, hugely different . I think when, I know when my mum was pregnant with me, my father’s role was to make sure that we had enough income to get whatever and to every now and then stamp down an authority” (Nick) </li></ul>
  16. 16. Concluding points: <ul><li>The men clearly demonstrate a knowledge of, and draw upon, recognisable strands of involved fatherhood discourse to narrate/ make claims of ‘paternal identity’ </li></ul><ul><li>Their narratives encompass language that has more traditionally been associated with ‘maternal identity’ and essentialism – what are the implications? </li></ul><ul><li>Paternity leave signals a change but also structures ideas about parenting roles and responsibilities </li></ul><ul><li>But paid work remains an important ‘responsibility’ and breadwinner a significant aspect of masculine identity </li></ul><ul><li>A wider ‘repertoire of possible story lines’ (Miller, 2005) exist for men becoming fathers compared to women – but there are ambiguities, confusion, detachment and uncertainty too. </li></ul>School of Social Sciences and Law
  17. 17. Extracts from: <ul><li>Miller, T. (2010) Making Sense of Fatherhood: Gender, Caring and Work. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press </li></ul><ul><li>To order your discount copy: </li></ul><ul><li>www.cambridge.org/fatherhood </li></ul>School of Social Sciences and Law