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Welcome Meddleheads, to the column where your crazy meets my crazy! Please send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Right now. Not only will you immediately feel much better, you’ll also get some advice.
Is it weird that my wife is five months pregnant and I’m kind of ambivalent about the whole thing? I’m not terribly excited, terrified, overjoyed, just kind of blasé.
It’s not weird at all. As someone whose wife has been five months pregnant three times in the past eight years, let me (try to) explain.
One of the dynamics that doesn’t get discussed a lot when it comes to pregnancy is the disparate ways in which men and women experience the process. Understandably, 99 percent of the focus is put on the woman. It’s her body that is being physically and psychically transformed into a vessel of life, that is suddenly gestating an entirely new human. She is likely experiencing nausea, indigestion, swelling, a sensitivity to smell and other symptoms I decline to detail. In the case of my wife, she was literally glowing. To put it bluntly, the pregnant woman is the show.
The man in question is basically support staff. And in our culture, which, for all our talk of enlightenment remains devoutly male-centered, this is a tough gig for a lot of men. We’re used to feeling that we’re the show — our accomplishments, our ideas, our jokes. We move through the world habituated to that kind of entitlement. Then pregnancy comes along and we’re suddenly confronted by the truth that, in the grand scheme of things, we are not at all the show.
The man in question is basically support staff. And in our culture, which, for all our talk of enlightenment remains devoutly male-centered, this is a tough gig for a lot of men.
This may not be the case with you, but for me this shift did induce a feeling of alienation and even, more pathetically, a kind of silent resentment. Mostly, I was happy and proud and all the things the expectant dad is supposed to be. But there was also this quiet little voice saying, “Hey, how come everyone is paying attention to my wife so much and asking to touch her belly and telling her how great she looks and not even pretending to listen to my lame jokes?”
But my alienation wasn’t just narcissistic injury. There was also this more fundamental physical and psychic distance. This huge thing was happening to us, as a couple. It was what everyone wanted to talk about, to hear about. But it wasn’t happening inside me. On some essential level, it was still an abstraction. And that created its own sort of distance.
To be clear, I was super excited that my wife was pregnant. It was something I’d wanted for a long time. I was not ambivalent about wanting to be a father. And by my own reckoning, I was pretty supportive. If my vegetarian wife suddenly wanted a McDonald’s cheeseburger at 11 o’clock at night, well then, I was going to go out and get her one. But it was impossible to ignore the fact that we were having radically different experiences. “Let’s put it this way,” my wife said, when I asked her about all this, “we were not one of those couples who told people, ‘We’re pregnant.’” Right.
So every dad-to-be, if he’s honest with himself, feels some of this alienation.
At the same time, having a baby is one the most important things that can happen to a human being. So I’m surprised that you’re not at least a little excited, even in theory. And there’s some chance that this absence of ardor signals a real ambivalence about being a father. But I suspect (and hope) that all these feelings are defensive in nature and that the moment your baby appears, these defenses will be obliterated by the sheer realness of his or her existence.
It’s impossible to explain. It’s something you have to experience. But it’s a big part of the reason that I now have three small banshees running around my house. For whatever other sacrifices they incur, babies are just the flat-out bomb diggity. They are crazy love in human form. So try not to worry about the anomie you’re feeling right now. Be supportive to your wife in the here and now — she deserves it more than you can know, friend — and trust that when the time comes, and your son or daughter appears in the world (most likely wet and battered and red-faced, like a tiny heavyweight in the later rounds), you’ll feel everything you’ve been holding back.
I can’t guarantee it. But I’ve got a good feeling.
Lest I forget: mazel tov, you big lug.
Okay folks, now it's your turn. Did I get it right, or muck it up? Let me know in the comments section. And please do send your own question along, the more detailed the better. Even if I don't have a helpful response, chances are someone in the comments section will. Send your dilemmas via email.
Steve Almond is the author of the book "Against Football."
Attention readers in the Boston area! Don't miss Steve L I V E at the Brookline Booksmith on Thursday, September 18 at 7:00 p.m. for a reading from and talk about his new book, "Against Football." See you there!
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