He didn’t expect his research to create such media buzz. But from Britain’s Daily Express to TIME magazine here in the U.S., news outlets couldn’t get enough of Mansoo Yu’s finding that expectant fathers need prenatal care, too.
“People, when they think about pregnancy, they think about only women,” says Yu matter-of-factly. “But it is very important to design some prenatal care services for men.”
The research was published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing. It found that during pregnancy, men tend to interpret their pregnancy-related stress in terms of financial anxiety, whereas women interpreted these same stressors as a form of emotional strain.
Yu, an assistant professor of social work and pubic health at MU, theorized that this difference could result in partners misunderstanding each other’s motives and behaviors, as each partner responds to his or her own experience of common issues. Along those lines, Yu found that men reported receiving more emotional, rather than tangible, support from their wives. Women, on the other hand, reported just the opposite from their husbands.
Yu surmised that this is because men and women offer support based on their own perceived needs, rather than what their partner really wants. “Further research could clarify these issues, but a reasonable clinical approach would be to discuss these differences with a couple so that each person could develop a greater appreciation for the other’s efforts for supporting the other,” the study said.
Identifying intervention points such as this — particularly for vulnerable and underserved populations — became Yu’s life goal after a crisis of control over his own future.
He can laugh about it now, but some 20 years ago, Yu, a native South Korean, was distraught when he learned of his less-than-perfect scores on the national college entrance exam. It would be hard for most Americans to comprehend just how important the exam is in South Korea. Because students’ career prospects, and even suitability for marriage, are largely determined by the prestige of the college that accepts them, getting a high score is life’s chief concern. Students prep for the exam from kindergarten on.
“I thought as I worked really hard, I’d get some good news from my college test,” Yu says. “But I failed it two times.”
Each failure meant another year of waiting and prepping. On his third attempt, Yu scored high enough to gain admittance to a respected university. Now he looks back at his struggle and sees the genesis of a career in social work.
“At the time, I thought maybe there is someone in society who worked really hard but they were not able to do something they wanted to do. Maybe because of some social structure,” he draws this out and laughs, revealing he’s thinking of that confounded test — “or some different thing. I thought, from that point, that I had to be more interested in other people’s pains and problems.”
So instead of majoring in engineering as planned, Yu earned a bachelor of arts in social welfare from Sungkyunkwan University in Seoul. After graduation he began a master’s program at Yonsei University in Seoul.
Yu wasn’t at Yonsei long before he noticed that his textbooks almost all had U.S. authors. A light bulb went on, and he changed course yet again, deciding to complete his education in the U.S. He earned both a master’s and a doctorate in social work at Washington University in St. Louis, writing his dissertation on alcohol and illicit drug use problems in Native American youth.
Yu came to MU in 2008, where his primary research interests have included health disparities along ethnic, racial, gender and social class lines.
MU’s Kevin Everett, an associate professor of family and community medicine, and Linda Bullock, a professor emeritus in the Sinclair School of Nursing, approached Yu with the idea for the fathers-to-be research. He immediately felt the topic’s resonance. “I thought that was a really great idea,” he says. “I have two children, two little ones, 6 and 3 years old. When I was first a dad-to-be, I also got some of the same stress and anxiety, but I did not know where to get information related to men.”
As far as he knows, Yu’s research is the first to use a social research tool called the Prenatal Psychosocial Profile, or PPP, with expectant fathers. The PPP is a standard pregnancy assessment tool for expectant mothers; it measures stress, perceived support from partners, and self-esteem. Research has established links between poor infant health and mental distress in pregnant women but, as Yu wrote in his recent study, men are “often treated as observers of the pregnancy process and given vague instructions to be supportive.” The research did not establish what effects mental distress in expecting fathers might have on pregnant mothers, the developing infant or the couple’s relationship. It did, however, establish conclusively that fathers-to-be have their own mental health needs — a point Yu says his wife, Younghee, knew all along.
“I thought my research topic was really creative,” Yu says, stifling a laugh, “but when I asked for her feedback, she says: ‘Everybody knows this. Men need someone to care for them.’”
“So people recognize it,” he continues. “But we need scientific-based evidence.”*
And with that thought, Yu grows serious. “I love the notion of evidence-based practice. I like to use my research findings to minimize inequalities and disparities in health and mental health among different population segments — you know, to make some change.”