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Mr. Dad: Father-to-be battles self-doubt

Mon., Oct. 18, 2010

Dear Mr. Dad: My wife is expecting our first child. Initially, I was really excited, but lately I’ve been having these strange thoughts that the baby isn’t actually mine. I trust my wife completely and don’t want to mention this to her, but am I nuts?

A: In a word, no. At some point after the initial excitement passes, a surprising number of men find themselves experiencing exactly what you are: an irrational fear that the child their partner is carrying is not theirs.

In his research with expectant dads, psychologist Jerrold Lee Shapiro found that 60 percent “acknowledged fleeting thoughts, fantasies, or nagging doubts that they might not really be the biological father of the child.”

Like you, most of these men don’t actually believe their partners are having affairs. Instead, according to Shapiro, the feelings are symptoms of a common type of insecurity: the fear many men have that “they simply aren’t capable of doing anything as incredible as creating life, and that someone more potent must have done the job.”

Fortunately, most guys get over these feelings pretty quickly.

Men whose partners got pregnant using donor sperm often have them too. A lot of guys worry that the sperm samples were switched and that they’ll end up with a child of a different race.

Actually, it’s not so much race as physical similarity. And, like any other dads, these guys hope their children will look like them.

Dear Mr. Dad: After trying for several years to conceive the “regular” way, my wife and I decided to adopt. She’s super excited and has already started outfitting the nursery.

I’d like to share her joy, but, honestly, I’m feeling a little depressed. Is there something wrong with me?

A: Nope, nothing wrong with you. Think about it this way. The time between your decision to adopt and the actual arrival of your child could be considered a “psychological pregnancy.”

What’s interesting is that most expectant adoptive parents go through an emotional progression similar to that of expectant biological parents, says adoption educator Carol Hallenbeck.

The first step is what Hallenbeck calls “adoption validation,” which basically means coming to terms with the idea that you’re going to become a parent through adoption instead of through “regular” means.

Infertility can make you question your self-image, undermine your sense of masculinity, force you to confront your shattered dreams, and it can take a terrible toll on your relationship.

If you’re having trouble accepting the fact that you won’t be having biologically related children, talk to some other people about what you’re feeling.

Your partner certainly has a right to know. Even though she’s very excited, she’s probably feeling a lot of similar things.

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