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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The 'involved father' : narratives of gender, power and knowledge in the transition to fatherhood Fink-Jensen, Kimberley


Over the past few decades, North America has seen a shift in the cultural expectations placed upon fathers. Men no longer pace the waiting room while their partners give birth; they are expected — and expect themselves — to be nurturing and supportive prenatally, during labour, and after the baby arrives. This thesis seeks to understand what changes in cultural expectations mean for fathers during pregnancy, at birth and in parenting, and to demonstrate how fathers’ stories hold the key to understanding how men adjust to and direct these changes. Data collection in this study was guided by two overarching questions: (1) What is the male experience of alternative birth and prenatal care? (2) How does the male experience intersect with the experience of women? In the course of this study I observed and conversed with thirty-three couples as they participated in prenatal classes, and participated in a partners-only birth preparation class with eight of the fathers. I then interviewed four couples about their experiences with pregnancy and birth using an open-ended, semi-structured format. The data collected help to demonstrate that identifiable cultural models of birth and father involvement exist and that these impact the experience of pregnancy and birth for expectant fathers. It also demonstrates the ways in which key ideologies about pregnancy and birth work to reinforce one another and structure authoritative knowledge. Findings from this study suggest these models leave traces in themes which recur in fathers’ narratives of pregnancy and birth. During the transition to fatherhood, activities of ‘couvade’ help to develop fathers’ subjective experience of pregnancy and of their baby, assisting them to form their identities as fathers. Dimensions of gender performance influence the role men take during pregnancy and at birth and limit their authority and choices of how to participate in birth. As a consequence, these fathers narrate a desire to be involved to a much greater degree than is generally culturally expected.

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