Methods: The current study is embedded in a larger mixed-methods study with the goal of informing and enhancing services to foster positive transitions to parenthood. Semi-structured, individual interviews were conducted with 18 mother-father dyads expecting their first child, approximately halfway through their pregnancy. Participants were from a large midwestern town and the majority identified as white, between the ages of 20 and 30. The 36 narratives that comprise the data set offered rich data that allowed for selective analysis focusing specifically on themes related to identification with the parental role, physical and emotional preparation for parenthood, and emerging perceptions of the child. Themes identified within the full sample were compared both within and across dyads to identify congruency and variation.
Results: Mothers and fathers both described an increased awareness of impending parenthood after attending their routine 20-week ultrasound, reporting the experience as contributing to a new sense of “realness.” Fathers identified learning the baby’s sex as particularly salient, while mothers focused more consistently on the ability to visually see the fetal movements they had been feeling for some time. Comparisons within parental dyads revealed mothers’ and fathers’ imagination of their child and emerging relationship with their child as generally developing in tandem with one another, with some variation. Within and across dyads, variation was seen in participants’ identification with the parenting role.
Conclusions: These results suggest that parental dyads may begin to develop representations of their child in tandem with one another, although the factors contributing to such representations may vary by gender. This may be particularly important to understand when considering how to support paternal prenatal engagement as a tool for improving maternal and infant outcomes. These results imply that simple dialogue with expectant parents may be sufficient to illuminate practice-relevant aspects of the emerging parent-child relationship, which has significance for future research and practice.