by Marta Sánchez
In American society, pregnancy is often treated as a medical event. In many countries of Africa, the general orientation to pregnancy is to view it as a rite of passage (BBC News, 2005; Laing, 2012). In some cultures of Africa, celebrating pregnancy or accepting gifts is seen as inviting the wrath of gods or punishment from ancestors; instead, many rituals are performed to show reverence and to safeguard the pregnancy (Dr. D. Echezona-Johnson, n.d.).
While we are not sure about how these practices resonate within the U.S.-based Black community, cultures within Africa offer an interesting contrast to Western views of pregnancy. It made us wonder in the month of June when we celebrate fathers, how African American fathers experience their partner’s pregnancy?
Black Fathers Have Frequent Involvement In Their Children’s Lives
It’s important to highlight that African American fathers are very involved in their children’s lives. In 2013, a U.S. National Health Statistics Report (NHSR, 2013) found that Black fathers spend much more time interacting with, nurturing, helping, and accompanying their children in activities than the general public is typically lead to believe. These highlights reflect many positive traits that African American fathers possess:
- More Black fathers than White or Latino fathers of children under the age of 5:Played, read and prepared and/or ate meals with children
- Bathed, diapered or dressed their children daily
- More Black fathers than White or Latino fathers of children ages 5-18:
- Took their children to and from activities daily
- Talked to their children about their daily experiences on a daily basis
- Helped with homework or checked it when their children completed it
The report demonstrates that Black fathers’ are deeply involved in their children’s lives, attending to their physical, emotional and academic needs. But how do soon-to-be fathers respond to pregnancy?
Information On Black Fathers’ Roles During Pregnancy
We found limited information on the role African American fathers play during pregnancy and the beliefs they have about this life-changing moment. Many of the studies focus on teen parents, but we were interested in adult fathers’ beliefs about fatherhood and pregnancy.
Both men and women in the study said what mattered most was “togetherness during pregnancy and beyond.”
Togetherness Is Key
Dr. Amina P. Alio at the University of Rochester Medical Center and colleagues (2013) found that the mostly African American participants in their study said that ideal fathers were “present, accessible, available, understanding, willing to learn about the pregnancy process and eager to provide emotional, physical and financial support” to the pregnant woman. The ideal father was also a comforter and a caregiver and supportive in the house with various chores, like cooking, cleaning and attending to other children in the family. Both men and women in the study said what mattered most was “togetherness during pregnancy and beyond.” Togetherness was more than a physical reality and included a shared longing, commitment, sense of responsibility and interest for having and raising the baby together.
Silent Agreement Can Erect Barriers To Father’s Involvement During Pregnancy
Dr. Lisa Paisley-Cleveland (2013) from Hunter’s College in New York found that Black fathers’ participation during pregnancy varied but more than half of the women in her study felt emotionally supported by their partners, even as some struggled through marital problems. Communication was a challenge, with some expectant mothers believing that the father had no interest in the pregnancy. Dr. Paisley-Cleveland notes that this was an unintended consequence of an “assumed or assigned role” to the fathers, “a silent agreement to keep the pregnancy in the domain of “women’s business” and as such the spouses were somewhat detached from the different and growing needs of their pregnant wives.”
Men need to break the silent agreement and ask their partners what they expect when they’re expecting.
Break The Silent Agreement To Get Future Dads More Involved In The Pregnancy
The first study confirms that African American fathers are excellent fathers. The second study indicates that African American men and women agree on the characteristics an ideal father should have both during and after pregnancy. The second and third study suggest that barriers can be erected that keep fathers from being involved during pregnancy. Taken together, the three studies tell us that African American men are willing partners during and after pregnancy but may need clearer messages about how to be involved when their partners are pregnant. Men need to break the silent agreement and ask their partners what they expect when they’re expecting. Health care professionals, worship communities, schools, friends and families, can also help by sending clear messages to future fathers that they are welcome and needed partners during pregnancy. Future-fathers are important because they can fulfill the expectant mother’s needs, connect with the growing baby and fulfill their own needs to be emotionally involved as a reliable partner and future father. By breaking the silent agreement that Dr. Paisley-Cleveland warns us about, African American future fathers can start the loving and caring involvement they happily and frequently engage in as fathers.
[bctt tweet=”…Black fathers…deeply involved in their children’s lives, attending to their…needs. #SBP ” username=”blackparenting1″]
@SBPeditorial | Managing Editor
Alio, A.P., Lewis, C.A., Scarborough, K., Harris, K., & Fiscella, K. (2013). A community perspective on the role of fathers during pregnancy: A qualitative study. BMC Medical Journal, 13, pp. 1-11. Retrieved from: http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2393/13/60
BBC News (2005, September 5). Being pregnant in Africa. Retrieved from: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/4242082.stm
Laing, A. (2012, October 25). Pregnancy is not an illness: A South African lesson. Retrieved from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/mother-tongue/9633645/Pregnancy-is-not-an-illness-a-South-African-lesson.html
National Health Statistics Report (2013, December 20). Fathers’ involvement with their children: United States, 2006–2010. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved from: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nhsr/nhsr071.pdf?version=meter+at+1&module=meter-Links&pgtype=article&contentId=&mediaId=&referrer=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com&priority=true&action=click&contentCollection=meter-links-click
Paisley-Cleveland, L. (2013). Black middle class women and pregnancy loss. A qualitative inquiry. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.