Abstract: Challenges and Joys of Becoming a Father: A Qualitative Study of Low-Income Men's Prenatal Experiences (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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Challenges and Joys of Becoming a Father: A Qualitative Study of Low-Income Men's Prenatal Experiences

Thursday, January 21, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Joyce Lee, MS, PhD Candidate, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI
Shawna Lee, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Ann Arbor, MI
Muzi Lin, BS, Graduate Student, University of Michigan
Analia Albuja, MS, PhD Candidate, Rutgers University
Brenda Volling, PhD, Professor, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Ann Arbor, MI
Background and Purpose: The transition to parenthood is a time of great change for many parents. The process of becoming a father involves significant changes for men and is likely perceived as both negative and positive. Fathers have reported feelings of love for their newborns and being amazed at how fast their babies develop, while also feeling overwhelmed and underprepared to care and provide for their babies. Research has shown a positive link between preparation for fatherhood and maternal-child health outcomes, but fathers have reported being insufficiently prepared for their babies’ births. Fathers with fewer socioeconomic resources are likely to report feeling even less prepared for their babies’ arrivals although there is a dearth of knowledge on this. Thus, the current qualitative study examine low-income men’s experiences related to their preparation for fatherhood during the prenatal period.

Methods: A total of 23 low-income fathers were recruited from a community-based fatherhood program in Flint, Michigan. A series of semi-structured interviews were conducted using open-ended questions that focused on being a father for the first time, with a focus on fathers’ experiences during the prenatal period. Of the participating fathers, 13 identified as White, 8 Black, and 1 biracial and between the ages of 26 and 43 (M = 32.39, SD = 6.55). Over half of the fathers reported earning an annual household income less than $30,000. All were in a heterosexual relationship although the majority were unmarried. Interviews were audio recorded and transcribed. Analysis of the transcripts was guided by grounded theory. We used coding and textual analysis to identify themes and relevant theoretical constructs that emerged.

Results: Five themes for challenges and 4 themes for joys emerged. The challenges included finances (e.g., being unemployed and thus not having enough money to prepare for childbirth), partner’s health (e.g., history of miscarriages), lack of preparation (e.g., feeling too young), and partner’s mood (e.g., her mood changes often). The joys included attending the ultrasound and doctor appointments (e.g., feeling bonded with the baby), supporting their partners (e.g., being there for her), and preparing for the baby (e.g., picking names).The most common challenge theme was fathers’ feeling unprepared to have a baby, and the most common joy theme was related to fathers’ experiences going to the ultrasound and prenatal visits to see and learn about their babies.

Conclusions and Implications: Our findings suggest that preparing to become a father is both a challenging and joyful process for low-income men. Father-inclusive parent education programs and services targeting the prenatal period are especially needed to support low-income fathers’ transition to fatherhood, promote maternal-child health outcomes, and facilitate positive father involvement. Such programs and services may consider mitigating early challenges related to fathers feeling unprepared to become a parent and supporting their growing feelings of bonding and attachment towards their babies, which would serve as an important motivator for their ongoing involvement not only across the prenatal period (e.g., attending subsequent prenatal visits) but also the postpartum period (e.g., attending well-baby visits).