First things first. It doesn’t matter which gender box they tick on a form, the news that they’re having a baby strikes men and women equally – though their reactions may be gender stereotyped. If women let their emotions loose, men often react with a stony silence, which is sometimes awe, often disbelief. If women worry about the baby’s well-being and about how their men are dealing with the situation, men go down anxiety street, thinking about their wife, the baby, their finances and their changing relationship. Because, when baby makes three, the couple are no longer a couple. The couple have become parents.
Nothing, nothing compares to the 10 seconds that pass after a couple has heard the news. All those diaper jokes, baby daddy one-liners, anxiety about weight gain (for the woman) disappear into a haze. What’s left? Usually, mixed reactions – that neither the woman nor the man can really bring themselves to talk about.
WE’RE PREGNANT? REALLY?
Of course, that doesn’t mean reactions are universal. Resham and Nikhil Deshpande, both dentists in Mumbai, had been planning a baby for quite a few months before their doctor gave them the joyous nod. "We were ecstatic. It was a feeling of immense happiness," says Resham, who’s now the mother of one-year-old Anoushka. But at the same time, it was too much for her to handle. "Soon after we got out of the doctor’s clinic, I burst into tears. I was overwhelmed," she says. Her husband Nikhil adds that though he was equally overjoyed, he was calm and stood like a rock behind his paranoid wife. "It’s true. I don’t like to admit that I became paranoid during the pregnancy, but I did," says Resham.
On the other hand, Seema Hingorrany, clinical psychologist and relationship expert, has had women break down in front of her, not from happiness, but anxiety. Because they had no idea how they’d handle their pregnancy. "This mostly happens when it’s unplanned. And it doesn’t help that their men have no idea how to console them," says Hingorrany.
Neha Malik, a homemaker from Delhi who had her first child in January, got the shock of her life when her husband, Vinayak, reacted with stony silence to the news of their pregnancy. “I was extremely excited since we had planned this. But Vinayak first asked me if I was serious. He then hugged me and left the house to return an hour later. I was shocked, angry and a wreck by then,” she says. Vinayak, a banker, explains that he just needed some fresh air and has sworn to never bail out again.
WILL MY BABY BE OKAY?
After the initial shock of the news settles down, the months ahead – all nine of them – not only become a period of extreme joy but also bring uncertainty. Both parents, however patient, go through their own set of questions and worries. Women, already weighed down by mood swings thanks to their hormones, have innumerable questions. On top of the list is always the baby’s health. “I had a complicated pregnancy so I constantly worried about my baby. I was also getting a lot of advice which would overwhelm me,” says Resham.
Concerns about the unborn child’s well-being become gargantuan when both parents work. “A lot of couples wonder ‘will my baby be normal?’ With their hectic schedules, they fear the baby might be affected,” says gynaecologist and gynaecological counsellor Dr Mugdha Raut.
Though the news of a baby doesn’t usually affect a man’s career planning, women who work often go through periods of depression if they have to refuse a promotion because they can’t deal with the added responsibility. Sometimes women stop working altogether. This usually happens in nuclear families where there is no support system to lean on. “My advice to couples who live alone is to ask for their parents’ help. Couples seem to believe that turning to their parents for emotional help is a sign of weakness, but this isn’t true,” says Hingorrany.
Resham agrees. “I live in a joint family and things were so much easier because of that,” she says. Still, she had to stop working a few months before the baby was due. “More than anything else I’d get extremely bored,” says Resham. Baby and career worries aside, a number of women are petrified at the thought of seeing their formerly carefree – even irresponsible – husbands, become fathers. Shruti Rai, an HR professional, was 23 and just a year into her marriage when she realised she was pregnant. It was unplanned and though her husband Manik Nayyar didn’t panic, she often wondered how he’d be around a child.
“The only thing I’d seen him attached to before this was a gaming console. I was sure I wanted to be a mother but constantly worried about how Manik would deal with a child since I’d never seen him handle one,” says Shruti.
EVERYTHING’S CHANGING TOO FAST
Women aren’t the only ones on edge. Hingorrany says that usually, men fear the additional responsibility a baby brings with it. “They feel that they’ll lose their freedom,” she says. Since pregnant women are usually advised against late nights, their men, while providing support, tend to feel stifled. “When I tell men to accept this change, they get defensive. My biggest task is telling them to stay positive while making this huge transition,” says Hingorrany.
The other big worry tends to be finance. “We were both very young and the child was not planned, so the thought of how we’d deal with all this financially definitely bothered me,” says Manik Nayyar. “But the good thing was that we were both working, my mother was staying with us, and we didn’t have too many loans to pay off.”
But more than money, says Nayyar, he worried about his wife. “Shruti was just 23. I thought she was too immature to handle a baby. She would walk around in heels, not eat properly... By the end, I had become like her mother,” he says.
A huge transition in the relationship also occurs because physical intimacy decreases. This often affects men more than women, and leads to arguments because men don’t know how to deal with this and feel they’re being punished. Women, on the other hand, worry more about their changing physical appearance. “But this is all absolutely normal. Every couple goes through this in some way or the other,” says Hingorrany.
And if couples go through this, they also get through it. As we’re sure your parents would agree.
From HT Brunch, March 27
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