Imagine a play in which the plot centers on an unplanned pregnancy. You and your baby would be center stage. Behind you would be friends and family who support you and maybe your counselor or doctor. Off in the shadows of a dark corner would be an ominous figure, played by the baby’s father. By the time the play is over, he has clearly been identified as the villain.

As a society, have we been too quick to judge the men who share the responsibility for our unplanned pregnancies? Do we tend to put them off in corners and ignore their feelings or rights? There is a man involved in every unplanned pregnancy and he must deal with his own feelings and issues regarding the situation.

Sadly, social stigmas have been built around the assumption that unmarried fathers are irresponsible and prefer not to be involved. So even if a father does care, society tends to squeeze him out of the picture.

BIRTH FATHERS’ RIGHTS

What rights do fathers have? Initially a father’s legal rights are slim. In fact, if you are single and elect to have an abortion before the father of your baby, the father will have no say in how you decide to handle your pregnancy. However, if you are married and plan to have an abortion, your state may have laws that require you to notify and receive consent from your spouse before you can have an abortion. If you decide to parent, it’s important that you arrange legally binding child support from him. And if you choose adoption for your baby, speak with an adoption professional about your child’s father.

HE HAS FEELINGS, TOO

Looking beyond his legal rights, the father of your child is human, working through many of the same fears and feelings as you are. He will probably go through the shock that you felt when you first found out you were expecting. He may disappear, or he may offer right away to marry you. Give him a chance to work through his initial sense of shock before you talk about marriage or before you judge him too harshly. Try to understand that he is experiencing his own set of conflicting emotions.

FACING REALITY

Telling the father that you are pregnant might be hard to do, but you need to do it for both your sake and his. If he refuses responsibility and turns his back on you, you probably won’t be able to count on him for support, which is good to know up front. He may also need someone to talk to, or he may be afraid of rejection from family and friends, just as you may have been. So at least talk to him. You might tell him about your counseling; he may want to join you. He might even seek counseling for himself, which could help him better understand his role and responsibilities as a father-to-be.

Keep in mind that your baby’s father is only partly responsible for your pregnancy. By understanding this and all the challenges that come with unexpected fatherhood, you will give him the option to be involved if he chooses, in a way that will benefit all those directly involved—mother, child and father.