One thing I’ve discovered about parenting is that it’s awash with code words, hidden meanings and seemingly endless medical jargon. If you thought learning Mandarin was hard, try deciphering some of the maternity-speak that frequently gets bandied around. From NCT to VBAC, via the epidural and the ever-so-delightful ‘sweep’ (if you don’t know, don’t ask), becoming a dad involves having to learn a whole new lingo. There are the hidden questions too, my favourite being when the midwife asks: “And who will be your birth partner?” – roughly translated as “Will HE be in there with you, or will you be bringing your mum instead?”
The whole “birth partner” issue kicked off online this week, thanks to an article on the Telegraph’s Wonder Women blog (I follow them on Twitter. Don’t judge me, alright?). Basically, the whole question was whether or not women should allow the father of their soon-to-be-born child to be present with them on the labour ward. Now admittedly, as has been highlighted in these quarters before, I don’t exactly have an unblemished record in this area when it comes to the birth of my own children. Moments after my son was born, I got mistaken for a doctor and merrily went along with it for a moment, directing a couple of patients to some ward or other (I was in medical scrubs at the time, and a little delirious). It probably wasn’t the most responsible thing to do, but I do remember it felt quite daring and Mr Bean-esque. And then at the birth of my first daughter, I did what every birth partner is surely prone to do, accidentally walking in on the wrong woman in labour. My excuse? It was very early in the morning, I’d been up for hours, and I just got a little bit confused about which room my wife was in after I’d popped out to the loo. But by the time child number three arrived, I like to think I was a model example in the role – which surely qualifies me to now speak as an authority on the subject.
A quick disclaimer here, before the inevitable whinges: yes, I realise that it’s the woman giving birth, and yes, of course it should ultimately be her choice as to who’s in the room with her, and YES, I wholeheartedly agree that a midwife saying “now then, sweetheart, I’m just going to stitch you up – there’s a bit of a tear down there” isn’t what any man wants to hear being said to his wife. But still, the idea of excluding dads from such a fundamental, exciting and, yes, raw experience is something that shouldn’t be done lightly.
You see, the world around us would have us believe that having a baby is all soft-focus and sugar-coated. The adverts are full of grinning parents cooing over a (probably) airbrushed baby, breastfeeding mothers whose breasts are unfeasibly pert, and fathers with perfect teeth and jumpers with no bobbles on them. No one’s got any baby sick on their shoulder, there’s not a knackered face in sight, and when it comes to the delivery room, with the exception of the brilliant One Born Every Minute there’s very little reality on show. Dads need that dose of reality, too: it helps us understand just a little of what new mums are going through, and how extreme and exhausting the whole process of being in labour has been.
Being present at the birth of my three children has deepened my relationship with my wife. It’s given me an even greater respect for her (there’s nothing like witnessing someone pushing a baby out to make you reconsider your definition of extreme pain), it’s helped us both to realise that we truly can tackle things together as a team, and it’s also reminded me that there are certain times in your life when your really do need to stop taking a look at other people’s photos on Facebook and instead focus on the task in hand (to be clear: it was me on Facebook, not her. That really would have been impressive multi-tasking).
If I’d relinquished my birth partner role, I’d never be able to tell my son about the moment when, just after he’d been born, the German anaesthetist got confused over the conversion rate between pounds and kilograms, consequently telling me that the boy I was holding probably weighed “about 13 pounds”. I’d be robbed of explaining to my first daughter about the time she was born, when Daddy witnessed two ladies giving birth – one of whom, at least, was definitely her mum. And I’d never be able to regale my youngest with the tale of how the dodgy wheelchair with a mind of its own seriously risked her being born in the hospital canteen if I hadn’t managed to get it under control and transport my wife up the correct corridor to the maternity unit.
So, mums-to-be – us dads realise that when it comes to talking about how dilated you are in labour, or exactly where you’d packed the breast pads in the hospital bag, or how painful your perineum feels after that episiotomy, many of you would instinctively turn to your mum rather than us (to be fair, in the case of the final example we’d definitely rather you did so, too). And yes, as modern, 21st-century dads who know how to cook a risotto and might even admit to having shed a little tear when we watched Love Actually, we fully embrace the notion of an empowered woman’s right to choose who’s in that room with her when she’s in the throws of giving birth. But please: think carefully before you pick your mum over your man. Although you might reckon it best to leave us out of the equation, in years to come you’ll look back and laugh with us at how utterly ridiculous, amazing, terrifying and bizarre the whole process of having a baby is. And your baby, who by that point may well be taller than you both, will probably thank you for it.
(That original Telegraph article I mentioned is a good read. You’ll find it here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/mother-tongue/9936269/Keep-Daddy-out-of-the-delivery-room.html)