PARENTAL REACTIONS TO PREGNANCY AND CHILDBIRTH

Having a baby puts a new mother and her relationship with her man to the test. It tests her maturity; the strength of her identity as a woman; her ability to be dependent and independent; her capacity to cope with anxiety; and her relationship with her own body. Quite understandably many women find all this too much and do not enjoy their first baby as much as they could.

Even a woman who really wants a baby may become anxious and depressed early in pregnancy. Most husbands today are willing to understand and help their wives during pregnancy but the majority do not do as well as they could because they are not sufficiently well informed about the real fears and anxieties of pregnant women. Virtually all men regard the pregnancy as very much their concern and nearly all want to learn how to help. Unfortunately, they are often excluded by health professionals and have only fairly recently been admitted to the labour ward, for example.

About one in ten expectant fathers produce symptoms during pregnancy for which no physical explanation is found. These include abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, toothache, and so on. These problems are psychosomatic, though no less real, and are known as couvade. The symptoms occur most in the early months but recur at the end of pregnancy and end with delivery.

As the birth approaches most women seem to regress psychologically to a child-like state of dependence. Whether this is natural or a result of the way the culture and health professionals treat them is hard to say. If a woman is adequately prepared psychologically her understandable anxieties will be under control by now, which will help to reduce any pain or distress during labour. Obviously, expectations are important and here again both the culture to which she has been exposed since childhood and the professionals around her have an effect.

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