Dad of a Newborn Part I - In the hospital
There are certain responsibilities for the man getting to the hospital. It was my job to make sure I knew the way (and preferably a few in case of traffic), had fuel in the car, had the car seat installed, knew how to use the TENS machine, know where to park (preferably avoiding extortion). Even during labour, I can get the TENS machine working, make drinks, encourage her to eat, time contractions, work out when to call the midwives, and then put into practice all my prep and get us to the hospital in time.
This is all great. These are things I can get on and DO whilst my partner is preparing to birth a completely new life into the world.
We then get to the hospital and all those important, distracting things disappear. Midwives take over. Take us to a room. Check my partner is doing OK. Examine. Leave us alone for a bit. Explain what’s happening. Deal with the pain. Leave us for some more time.
What exactly is my role here?
One role is to be a “birthing partner”. This is a confounding term. It indicates a role, equality, sharing of the workload and achievements. I know partnerships - I like partnerships. They make me feel good. They have tasks and goals. They give me a job. A partnership of birthing, however, is an oxymoron for us men. I can’t share this with you. There is no equality here.
Perhaps they mean that I am there to advocate for my partner’s wishes. But, when it comes to the crunch of a professional explaining to your partner that some intervention is needed for the health of your baby (or your partner), what would kicking up a fuss achieve? What do our preferences mean then? This advocating role seems limited to noticing that midwives do ask my partner what she would like, observing when it all goes wrong, and consoling my partner so that she can keep going.
Perhaps they mean for us to be around. There to hug, hold her hand, get out of the way, entertain/distract as we wait and wait for the agony to arrive, look anxious as contractions occur, and then to be a helpless witness to the naked agony that is childbirth.
Yes, you say it’s because you want our support to get through it, that we are needed. Couldn’t your mum do this? She at least has experience.
And I feel so powerless.
Powerless over what’s happening. As nature takes over and has its way, I can’t control when the pain comes or how often or how long its taking or if baby’s in the right position. The professionals can a bit - and I can’t control them either, whatever her wishes were. Powerless as a man in a woman’s space, run by women for women, as it should be, yet utterly silencing.
We used to be in pubs at this point.
Something in me suspects we’ve been duped by “birthing partner” and “being there” to come, making us feel, beforehand, that we are important, that we’re needed. This illusion soon comes crashing down once we’re at the hospital. But then it’s too late.
Perhaps you simply want us to know what you had to go through. Perhaps there’s some larger socially agreed intervention afoot, an intervention aimed at patriarchal male superiority. And I did feel the helplessness. I did feel the unimportance. I did witness your agony and sacrifice and glory.
And I felt joy.
At the end, I cried. I would have been nowhere else than seeing his arrival into the world, witnessing your sacrifice and endurance, living through the anxious moments and first cries, seeing you hold him for the very first time and call him by his name. It is a moment, our moment, of meaning, of celebration breaking into the world, that I did so very little towards and yet was given the privilege to participate in. I’m glad you duped me. I’m glad society has decided it’s beneficial for us men to be there.
But I agree. "Never again."