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Supporting Your Wife
During the Prenatal Journey

QUESTION: I'm about to become a father for the first time. I want to make sure that I am supportive of my wife, but she makes it hard. She won't tell me things, like when she is having pain, etc. She will tell her mother, whom we live with, but I have to push for the answers. We have been going through a rough time with my job. I think she is trying to keep me from worrying. How can I support her?

ANSWER: Congratulations on becoming a father! Not only is your heart in the right place in wanting to support your wife, but you have an instinctive knowledge of the realignment needed in your marriage.

It is true that you have identified a weakness in your relationship, and if you are to grow closer instead of further apart as parents you must strengthen your partnership for the journey ahead.

It is critical that you and your wife develop an independent intimacy as a couple. The developmental task of becoming a new couple together requires that you create a shared closeness and primary dependence on one another in order to create your own "family" together.

This by no means excludes your in-laws, nor limits the close connection that is natural to a mother and daughter during pregnancy and new motherhood. But these relationships should be supporting rather than replacing the primary bond between husband and wife!

Becoming parents together holds stress as well as joy. And it is often the case that parents must work to stay current with one another through the many changes that occur in the wake of this family transformation. You are each taking on new identities as "mother" and "father." And adding a new member to the family is statistically one of the greatest stressors in family life. Adjustment to these changes requires greater sharing than ever before. Clearly your wife's willingness to share her pain with her mother, but not with you leaves you "out of loop" and guessing. No wonder you are worried!

Begin by talking with your wife about your desire and willingness to "be there for her." Explore her fears about depending on you. True intimacy includes honest and direct communication. By sharing worries and concerns, you will be more likely to bond around finding solutions together. Let her know that you respect her relationship and welcome her mother's support, but that you want the childbirth and parenting to be a primary shared experience between the two of you. Listen to her feedback, carefully. If there is some reason why she does not trust you to support her, allow that expression to be heard. But do not stop there. Work toward successes in depending on one another and building the primary bond that is now lacking between you.

Phone calls for checking in during the day, spending time preparing for the labor and birth and shopping for baby clothes should all be a part of your relationship activities together. Be sure to attend prenatal visits and actively include yourself in the pregnancy. Let your wife experience your presence as a positive factor in her preparation for motherhood. And take time to have conversations about the changes each of you are experiencing as you become parents.

You are your wife's partner in life. She and you are copilots on your journey. It is not too late to invite her to take her seat beside you!


Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter..

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