What do you do if you split up at the start of your pregnancy?

If you have any parenting queries, send your questions to health@irishtimes.com

I'm in the difficult situation where I'm 18 weeks pregnant with my first baby and my relationship with my partner has just ended. As you can imagine this has raised lots of issues for me which I'm unsure how to manage. When I search online there is lots of information on the topic of separation and unborn babies but most of it is quite biased and opinionated. I would be grateful if you could advise me on the following issues which I am trying to navigate.

1. Should my partner attend antenatal appointments and scans now?

2. What should be his involvement with remainder of the pregnancy up to and including labour and delivery.

3. If he doesn't have involvement with the remainder of the pregnancy what happens on the day or days after baby arrives.


4. How to approach paternal access, visitation and co-parenting of a newborn with the needs of the child at the centre. Not from a legal standpoint but a logistical one, so to speak.

5 . Coping skills or strategies an expectant woman can apply in order that anxiety doesn't take over following the breakdown of the relationship and in coping with a newborn alone!

Breaking up with a partner is hard enough by itself but when you are in the middle of a first pregnancy it can bring particular challenges. Not only are you dealing with the loss of a relationship you are also facing into the prospect of coping with a baby alone. It is good that you have sent this email and that you are reaching out for support. And I agree that it can be hard to find impartial advice – friends and family may be caught up with the dynamics of your break up ( taking a “side”, etc) which can cause them to biased and not think of yours or the baby’s long term interest.

In deciding what to do as a parent, you need to strike a balance between what is best for you and what is best for your baby. For example, focusing on your baby’s needs, the ideal both in the short and long term is for he/she to have access to two loving and involved parents if this is possible. However, this ideal needs to be counterbalanced against your need as your baby’s mother to be supported and looked after. Ideally, the involvement of your baby’s Dad, should be only done in such as way that it does not over-stress you and which helps rather than hinders you being a mother.

Negotiating with your baby’s father

For your baby’s sake, it is important to negotiate with your baby’s father to ensure he has a a good deal of involvement as early as possible and even during the pregnancy. Of course being able to negotiate and communicate with an ex-partner can be very challenging especially if the split is recent and emotions are high. You don’t indicate in your question where things are at for you and your partner. Even though you have separated can can you still talk and negotiate about co parenting? How much is your ex-partner willing and available to be involved? If making agreements and talking is difficult you could consider going to a family mediator to help.

How much involvement should he have now?

In considering the specific questions you are asking, many of the answers depend on your unique circumstances and what agreements you can make. For example, should your baby’s father attend scans and antenatal appointments? Well if this is supportive to you then it is a good idea. It is also a very useful way to help him get involved and to start connecting to his unborn child. Whether he attends the labour is a personal judgement for you to make. Given the intimacy of the birth situation you might prefer to have another birth partner there and then for him to attend only once the baby is born. Or alternatively, you might be happy for him to be there and this could be a support and help him get involved.

In deciding what way co-parenting/ visitation be like with a new infant, the ideal is to establish a routine of regular contact. For example, as a new infant could Dad visit at the same time on certain days and do some of the baby care such as nappy changing, etc. Or once baby is settled could a routine be established of Dad taking him out for short periods and working towards longer periods as this progresses, etc.

Supporting your baby’s father relationship with his child

Generally, it is hard for separated fathers to get involved with infants and this does require a lot of support and facilitation. As a new father, caring for a baby will be all new to him and he will need lots of guidance and support. Usually, fathers in these circumstances might have the support of their own family which can help a lot. For example, when they take the baby out they might visit their own parents who help him out, etc.

Getting your own support

Your final question about how to gain your own support in coping as a new mother is the probably the most important one. As you have acknowledged you will have a lot on your plate so it is important to plan your own support network. Hopefully, you will be able to negotiate with the baby’s father so that his involvement is supportive to you. In addition, you should also draw in other supportive people to help you. Perhaps your own mother or a sister could be a resource or perhaps you have one or two close friends who you might be able to draw upon when your baby is little. Also, make contact with services and resources in your area that might be of assistance. During the pregnancy it might be useful to attend a counsellor to give you space to think through all the issues you will be facing and to prepare for all the adjustments when the baby comes. Finally, do remember that despite the challenges in your situation, having a baby is uniquely joyful event that will bring a great deal of happiness and delight (as well as stress!)

Dr John Sharry is a social worker and psychotherapist and co-developer of the Parents Plus Programmes. He will delivering a talk on Promoting Positive Self-Esteem in children in Kilkenny on Monday 20th March and in Dublin on Wednesday 10th May and a workshop on Parenting Young Children in Cork on Saturday 1st April. See www.solutiontalk.ie for details