Dear Mr. Dad: As someone who writes a lot about fatherhood, you probably saw Mila Kunis’ funny public service announcement where she says that a man saying “we are pregnant” is a no-no. As a father-to-be, I enjoyed the sketch, but I think that Mila forgot that men do play a role throughout. My wife and I have been arguing (lightheartedly) about this, and I need someone to back me up.
A. Oh, yeah, I saw it. And not to worry – I’ve got your back. Mila and Ashton Kutcher (OMG, am I really writing celebrity gossip?) seem like a lovely couple, and I’m sure they both have a good sense of humor. But kidding or not, her comments got a huge amount of coverage around the country (and the world).
Twenty years ago, when I first started researching and writing about fatherhood, I might have agreed with Mila, at least on the part about men not having to “squeeze a watermelon-sized person out of your lady-hole.” But when you look at the data, it’s abundantly clear that dads-to-be have an “emotional pregnancy” that’s just as profound as their partner’s. For some guys, that might even include episodes of, as Mila so eloquently put it, “crying alone in your car listening to a stupid Bette Midler song.”
In fact, guys go through almost the exact same emotional arc as women do – they’re just a few months behind. In the first trimester, women – especially those with morning sickness – are generally very aware that they’re pregnant, and are usually pretty excited about it. Men, well there are moments of excitement, but this early, the whole pregnancy thing can slip our mind once in a while.
In the second trimester, women start turning inward, wondering whether they’re ready to become moms, how good they’ll be, how they can afford to have a child, and so on. At this point, men are where their partner was a few months ago: they’ve heard the heartbeat, seen an ultrasound, and the pregnancy is becoming more real – and exciting – every day.
In the third trimester, women turn outward, worrying about whether their partner will still love them despite a rapidly changing body, and be there physically and emotionally to support them. This is when women find themselves crying along with Bette Midler. As for the guys, they’re now turning inward, worrying about how they’re going to provide for and protect their family and whether they’ll be good dads. Many men make big lifestyle changes right about now, maybe spending more time at work or taking a second job. That’s not an attempt to withdraw – although it might seem that way to someone who’s worried about being unloved and abandoned. It’s because we know that a living, breathing, crying, pooping little person will be there soon and that it’ll take a lot of money to get him or her from the helpless stage to the leaving-the-nest- and-going-off-to-college stage.
The earlier dads get involved, the longer and more involved they’ll be. It’s that simple. And aside from deciding whether to have kids or not, there’s no earlier time than pregnancy. The vast majority of men truly want to be there – in more ways than running around town to satisfy his partner’s weird cravings, or keeping her hair out of the toilet when she’s vomiting. Giving him the tools (such as my books, “The Expectant Father” and “The New Father”), encouraging him and acknowledging that becoming a dad is a huge transition are sure-fire ways to get him involved. So is saying “we’re pregnant” – and meaning it.