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I'm going to be a dad!

Dr. med. Michael Winter

Dr. med. Michael Winter

March 30, 2023

reading time

9 min

Dr Michael Winter, Head of the Gynaecology Clinic and father, gives a very personal insight into the topic of "Fathers in the obstetric context".

She's pregnant - I'm going to be a father! Dr Michael Winter, what were your first thoughts?

The first thoughts were certainly overwhelming and associated with a lot of happiness. The time was ideal for my wife and me, it was a dream child. We had both completed our training a long time ago and had been working for years. It was the icing on the cake of our love and we could start building our nest. With trust in God, we knew that everything would turn out well and that we could look forward to a wonderful time, especially the pregnancy. But of course we also knew about the various influences that can have an effect on a pregnancy, so we took advantage of the regular pregnancy checks. So we never really had the feeling that anything was wrong.

How did you find it: what does a father have to face in the time before the birth, and what ups and downs will he be confronted with?

Fathers-to-be certainly have to adjust to the fact that pregnancy is a time of emotional sensitivity. Highs and lows are experienced more exuberantly and it is sometimes not easy for the partner to categorise them accordingly. Even if there are occasional unclear findings or findings that require clarification during pregnancy, it is important to be there as a father during the examinations and to share the good moments together, but also to be there for each other if there are any particularities. What I always have to think about is that all the prenatal care and examinations are focussed on the development of the child and accompanying the pregnancy. There are antenatal classes that can prepare you for the birth, but there are none that prepare you for the situation of being a parent and the life of a family with all its ups and downs. But that's perhaps what makes it so extremely exciting and enriching.

The labour pains are here. It's starting. Did you experience birth differently as a father than in your role as a specialist in gynaecology and obstetrics?

As I can say from my own experience, every birth is a special experience with its own individual characteristics. When I gave birth to my daughter four years later, the start of the labour was much more relaxed and I was able to support my wife even better than during the first birth. Nevertheless, the births of my own children were unforgettable, wonderful experiences where I was thankfully able to forget my profession as a doctor and focus solely on becoming and being a father.

The role of the father within the family is constantly changing. Many fathers want to become more and more involved in bringing up their children and promoting the sharing of responsibilities. How do men experience the transition to fatherhood and how can you support your pregnant partner?

I believe that the role of the father within the family is not subject to change. I believe that nature has provided a certain division of roles (men can't get pregnant). But mutual support and the division of tasks should really be adapted to individual needs and requirements. Of course, fathers should do as much as they can to support their partners during pregnancy and especially after the birth and divide the tasks that arise as much as possible between father and mother. But here too, I think we should say goodbye to a certain division of roles: everyone will and can contribute according to their strengths and weaknesses, and the best thing is always to complement and support each other, no matter what current role model society dictates. Time and again I have heard the "father-to-be" cliché of the "hunter to breadwinner" and had to smile about it. But I think there is some truth in it. As an expectant father, you naturally think about how you can support your pregnant wife, take the pressure off her and secure their future together. The best support is probably to be aware of every day of the pregnancy together with your partner, to take time out to share your thoughts and feelings intensively and to create an atmosphere of loving security.

"Hello, how's your wife?" - Probably one of the most common questions that expectant fathers are asked almost daily towards the end of pregnancy. Why do fathers tend to take a back seat and how does this make them feel?

This brings us back to the division of roles: the woman and the child are naturally the most important people during pregnancy. That's why it's not surprising that all antenatal care is centred around the expectant mother and the child. In my opinion, it's not a bad thing that we fathers-to-be take a back seat and the main focus is on the woman. Nevertheless, every father will be emotionally involved during this time: You feel with them, rejoice with them, discover with them, wonder with them, suffer with them, accompany them. But of course you don't experience the physical changes.

According to a study by the Mainz University Medical Centre, 23 percent of men feel helpless during the birth, 14.8 percent are overwhelmed by the situation and 36.5 percent are afraid. How did you feel as an expectant father and how do you assess this situation as a specialist in gynaecology and obstetrics?

Our son had a surprise in store for us at his first birth: he made himself known at 35 weeks with a premature rupture of the membranes and a breech presentation. I can still remember those early mornings in the middle of summer, with no sign of a gynaecologist or obstetrician anywhere in sight ...Suddenly woken from my sleep, my wife described the current situation to me, and without being able to think straight, I flitted around the flat like a deflated balloon, at first without a thought. Of course, that was a special situation. But I think that's how many fathers-to-be feel when the birth starts. It's a moment - so expected, yet unexpected - that overwhelms you deeply, even if you don't feel the contractions yourself. Gradually, however, you can better assess the situation and regain a clear mind and hopefully be there to help and support you during the birth.

Can a father prepare for a birth and if so, how?

There is a huge amount of literature, birth preparation courses and well-intentioned advice from all sides. In theory, this can help an expectant father visualise the birth situation. But the real emotional experience can hardly be estimated. If you have already been present at a first birth, you may be able to prepare yourself better for a second birth.

Where are the limits? What should not be expected of a father?

The question is not so simple, because expectant fathers can be expected to do anything. In my many years as an obstetrician, I have had the opportunity to experience all facets of fathers-to-be in the labour room, so nothing surprises me anymore.

Studies are increasingly showing that fathers also have an increased risk of postpartum depression (PPD) and anxiety disorders after the birth. How did you experience the time afterwards?

The birth of a child (especially the first) changes a partnership dramatically. The couple's relationship is redefined and everyone has their own needs. The newborn has and needs a close relationship with the mother, but of course also with the father. A new dynamic is created in a three-way relationship. Topics such as love, security, sex, relationships, parenting, living together and much, much more have to be reconsidered and discovered together. This brings a lot of joy, but can also be a challenge.

In conclusion. What tips would you give fathers-to-be and new fathers?

Support each other and don't take yourself so seriously. Enjoy the good moments and solve the challenges together as a couple. I believe that you can then find and enjoy your role as a father.

Portrait photo of Dr Michael Winter

Dr. med. Michael Winter

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