I'm a 26-year-old guy. Just under a year and a half into our relationship, my girlfriend and I got pregnant. I've spent the last nine months being treated like an outsider, but that doesn't mean I'm not ready and willing to be a loving father.
I absolutely adore my girlfriend. She really is my queen. During these last trying nine months, I've made sure to constantly be there for her; helping her get washed and dressed daily, running all the necessary errands, and at the same time managing to keep a full-time job to make sure I provide what's best for both her and our unborn child.
Starting off with the birth classes, I instantly started noticing that men, especially unmarried ones like me, are often disregarded and made to feel as if they are extra. I didn't expect anyone to ask me how I was doing physically this whole time, as I'm sure my girlfriend has been through so much worse than I would ever even dare to imagine. But no one ever bothered to ask me how I might be feeling, dealing with the pressure of financially taking care of my future family, not really knowing how to be a "good father", and always being the bad guy by default.
The first thing the midwife told us when we got to the birth classes was, "Now we will start involving the men." I remember giving her a puzzled look. Now? I had been involved since day one!
"I instantly started noticing that men, especially unmarried ones like me, are often disregarded and made to feel as if they are extra."
When we got to the hospital for the birth, since we aren't a married couple, I wasn't even considered as the father, but as the "support person". So I stood by the side, heartbreakingly watching the woman I love go through so much pain, watching my unborn child's heart rate monitor go below the minimum amount (all due to faulty equipment which no one bothered to explain), all the while feeling completely and utterly helpless.
At no point either before or after is there a session for fathers-to-be to talk and share their thoughts and experiences like the mothers are able to do, and even though what we go through is very different and pales in comparison, it's still there. But no one ever bothers to ask you about it.
"So I stood by the side...feeling completely and utterly helpless."
This feeling of being considered extra persisted even after our child was born; I wanted to sleep next to my family at the hospital, but I was forced to leave by 7am, only to return three hours later. And it's during those three hours that the doctors visit and examine both your partner and your newborn child. Whenever a midwife or a doctor entered by chance while I was in the room, I was made to feel invisible. They barely noticed my presence in the room, and little by little, my uneasy feeling of helplessness kept getting worse and worse.
"Little by little, my uneasy feeling of helplessness kept getting worse and worse."
When we finally got home, the in-laws and grandparents never had a word of caution to tell the mother, as if taking care of the baby and having moral responsibility comes natural to women in a way that men could never even think of. I, on the other hand, was constantly barraged with challenges or dismissals to my suggestions, always being framed as the bad guy who needs to shut up and provide financial stability to right his wrongs.
By the end of the nine months, I was getting into a dark place, and I had to go online on forums to find out that I wasn't alone and that it's a common feeling amongst new fathers, especially unmarried ones in relatively conservative countries. It's not fair to be treated like an imbecile when you're a hands-on father, and if you also happen to be a bit sensitive, it hurts like hell. Not enough people seem to complain because most shun it as simply a part of an old, stereotypical tradition, but I'm sure that I'm not the only one who's had to go through this.
What a lot of people find pretty difficult to understand is that every inch of me wants to be there for my new family, and that seeing the love of my life bring our child to this world made me the happiest man on the planet. I am not a "support person", a guy who knocked his girlfriend up and decided that maybe the best idea would be to stick by. I am a proud father.