This is the first in a series of articles about massage for fathers-to-be, developed from my written assignment I completed as part of my Diploma and which earned me a distinction. These articles explore the role that massage can play in helping and supporting the father during a transformative time in his life, with a particular focus on how it can enable him to bond with his baby.
While no one was looking, the very foundations of our society, our culture and our families have undergone a metamorphosis. Fathers do make a difference ... birth? by Patrick M. Houser
Society has changed dramatically since the middle of the twentieth century, with scientific advancements occurring at lightning speed. Wonderful medical progression has brought the perhaps unfortunate tendency to medicalise pregnancy: the mother-to-be is now a patient, pregnancy a condition or illness, and labour a state of pain to be managed. Indeed, the popular BBC television drama Call the Midwife, based on the memoirs of former nurse Jennifer Worth, is set in the late 1950s, and highlights the dramatic shift in the attitudes towards the involvement of doctors, new drugs, new technology and the advent of maternity hospitals. Even the changes in the role a midwife plays during labour.
The wider social developments have led to a cultural shift, resulting in the commecialisation and politicalisation of nearly every conceivable aspect of human life, with conception, pregnancy, birth and parenting being no exception. There are now books, guides, classes, supplements, pillows, belts, clothes, travel systems; all of which are placed before the bewildered expectant parents, with an implicit pressure that to ignore, not buy, not take they may fail their unborn child. Today, the 'typical pregnant couple' will both work, the mother encouraged to do so for as long as possible into her pregnancy so that her maternity leave with her child might be as long as possible. Pregnancy now seems to be a minefield of pressure and negotiations, and whilst some of the social advancements are wonderful (e.g. the advent of paternity leave), other developments have led to so much choice that confusion can reign. It is therefore perhaps providential that your 'typical pregnant couple' will now be facing these choices together.
Fortunately today, most partners are fairly demonstrative with their love and excitement during pregnancy. Much has changed since the days of pregnancy and birthing solely being 'woman's business', and so partners feel they can happily and practically share in the responsibilities of parenting. Well Adjusted Babies by Dr Jennifer Barham-Floreani p198
Since the middle of the last century one thing that has really changed in parenting terms is the role of a father. Early episodes of Call the Midwife show an expectant father waiting downstairs, smoking and drinking whilst his wife is upstairs labouring with the midwives. Later in the series, and indeed towards the latter half of the twentieth century, fathers were typically found into the hospital waiting room, with only about a quarter of men in the UK attending the birth of an infant in the 1960s [ref: Should dads be in the delivery room]. However, in 2012 a Department of Health survey of more than 80,000 new parents, which represents approximately 5% of the UK births, found that nearly 90% of fathers were present at the birth of their children [ref: 'Crisis in NHS Maternity Care Comes to an End' in Fathers Make A World of Difference by Patrick M Houser p15].
In this series of articles about massage for fathers-to-be, I will look at the three key stages a father-to-be will encounter, and will outline how I believe massage can help him develop a bond with his baby, easing him into his relationship with his child and his new role as a father. There are a number of exercises which I also lay out seperately that will develop the themes addressed.
'A rough deal'
Once she becomes pregnant there is an inner directed, non-stop process underway. As men we will never know just what being pregnant is like for a woman. Fathers-To-Be Handbook by Patrick M. Houser, p69
From the moment of conception to birth the mother-to-be is pregnant, even before she is aware of the new life inside her. From her first symptom, the physical reality of pregnancy makes itself clear to the expectant mother, but this isn't the case for the father. Indeed, regardless of his research, dedication or involvement he will never be able to experience pregnancy in the same way, but he needn't be a passive bystander. In fact, more often than not he won't want to be.
Expectant fathers often want to be a different kind of father from their own. In particular, fathers today express a desire to be more actively engaged in caring activities, and to meet their children’s emotional needs (Twenge et al. 2003, Wild 2005) Dads2b Resource: A resource for professionals providing antenatal education and support to fathers, 2011
During pregnancy, the mother's body is adapting to provide continued life and health for her whilst also providing the perfect environment for a new human to develop. From around week 7-8 the foetus is able to feel the mother’s movements as it develops a sense of touch, and a relationship forms through non-verbal communication before any other senses develop. In time, the mother is able to increase her awareness of the baby through its movements and reactions, routine, preferences and so forth, so that a physical bond develops.
But what about the father? What about his relationship or bond with his child? After all, we know that the role of a father has wide ranging effects on the health and wellbeing of a child:
Studies have shown that school-age children who have a good relationship with their dads are less likely to have bad behaviour or depression. Another study found a correlation between fathers' participation in education and children who were more likely to earn high grades, enjoy school, participate in extracurricular activities and be less likely to fall behind. Early involvement by dads also reduced cognitive delays and increased cognitive growth. 'Father-Baby Bonding: Infant Massage Builds Bridges that Last a Lifetime' by Tina Allen, LMT, CPMMT, CPMT, CIMT in Issue 213 of Massage Magazine (Feb 2014)
So what role might massage play in helping a father develop a bond with his baby, to help give him a good start and cultivating a 'good relationship'? Particularly if 'early involvement' can have such an important role in the cognitive development?
Mathematical Magic ...
The most important thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother ~ Hesburgh
Whatever a couple's background prior to conception, whatever the history, circumstances or politics of their relationship, no matter whether the pregnancy has been longed for, assisted or a bolt from the blue, the one certainty is that their world has changed forever. Previously they found themselves in a state of known mathematical stability, the kind taught in a very basic way at school: 1+1=2.
At the moment of conception, even before they are aware of the shift in their reality, mathematical magic has occurred so that now 1+1=3 (or more!). Whether or not this is their first child, the relationship of the expectant couple will face many challenges - perhaps the greatest shift occurs during the first pregnancy, as they develop from a couple into the larger unit of a family. During this expansion, it is my belief that massage can play an important role encouraging intimacy, reinforcing and deepening a couple's love, through a potentially turbulent time.
Each of us is introduced to physical life through the touch of our parents, the first and most essential way in which a mother and father communicate love to a child. Touch is also a fundamental means of communication between people. A Gift for Healing: How you can use Theraputic Touch by Deborah Cowens, MSN, RN, ANP, with Tom Monte, p18
It is really important that with the announcement of a pregnancy and the impending addition of their child into the lives of a couple, that their love is not forgotten or forsaken.
I believe that through massage a couple can help each other through this transition. They can explore the physical changes of the mother's body together; they can become aware of the way their attraction towards one another alters over time; how their connection with and understanding of one another develops and deepens. It can help provide a focus for the growth that they are undertaking, and provide a counterpoint to the changes and concerns they may have about their relationship moving forward, be they practical or financial.
However, these articles are not about the role of the father in relation to the mother, as a partner, a lover, a friend, or any other role - I will look to cover these topics separately in My Tips & Articles in due course. Instead I am writing about the role of the father in relation to his unborn child.