Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A Birthing Partner writes...

I emerged from our second antenatal class a weakened and queasened man. These medical preparations should come with health warnings.

This week was the Big One: labour and birth, in infinite detail. My eyes were certainly opened and then watered. So naïve was I prior to the class that I thought the standard delivery method was lying on the back, legs akimbo but chastely covered in a pale green plastic sheet, pushing. Not a bit of it. That’s just in the movies, apparently. No, these days the lady is expected to squeeze out the sprog whilst wallowing walrus-like in a paddling pool, or bouncing about on a gym ball (toning the abs at the same time). Or possibly riding a horse and using her mobile to broadcast the latest developments via Twitter.

Alternatively she can stand and embrace her Birthing Partner in the Last Dance of the Disco method, rotating slowly about the room and timing her contractions to the romantic rhythms of Lady in Red. Yes, it’s a brave new world wot Brit Jnr will enter, and no mistake.

Odd business, being a Birthing Partner. The seven men in the class are all clearly Dads. Dads are encouraged to go to these things and to take as much part as possible, in this brave new world. But when we Dads get to the classes, we find that the midwife has been told to unDadify us. We are Birthing Partners, because of course we might be lesbians or colleagues or something and thus take offence at being referred to as 'fathers'. And then the Mums are advised that Dads are often pretty crap at being Birthing Partners anyway because we can't hack it when our ladies are in pain and we start fights with doctors and what have you, so it's generally advisable to hand over the role to Grandma. But we are invited to drive the car to the hospital, provide snacks, pay the child's university fees etc.

Thus the NHS simultaneously pulls us in and pushes us away. Fortunately, we Dads are used to that sort of thing. If we couldn't deal with self-conflicting instructions and irrational mixed messages we'd never have managed to attain Dad status in the first place...

12 comments:

Gaw said...

I found one of the greatest shocks of the 'birthing experience' came from an unlikely source. Being addressed as 'Dad' for the first time, by the nurses and midwives once labour was underway, felt so very strange.

'Dad' is such an intimately familiar word, in every sense. But this familiarity is almost entirely due to it being used exclusively by you about someone else, someone awfully important. It's unnerving to feel yourself becoming the subject of such an awesome word. The world turns over a bit.

malty said...

I prefer the Chinese method meself, stood in the middle of the paddy field, up to the knees in muddy water, legs akimbo, bend forward slightly, think of Mao then plop, splash, wail, bingo, job done, continue with the rice harvest.

martpol said...

Did you watch The Apprentice last night? One of the remaining candidates has a knowledge of birthing pools and the lower female anatomy that is so intimately detailed, he should be fired to allow him to take up his true calling: travelling the country from top to bottom, taking the burden from dads and birthing partners everywhere.

Brit said...

I did indeed, Martpol (I like James, he seems almost like a rounded human being). I could have given a similarly detailed lecture immediately following the class, but my brain is now in the process of deleting the memory in self-defence.

will said...

wow brit, as a person who may very soon be heading down the whole 'new human creation' route I must say your posts scare me somewhat

luckily my girl is old fashioned and wont put any pressure on me to pay any attention to birthing type procedures, and she doesnt mind if I dont want to witness the whole bloodbath event either.

I had suggested a Spartan birth, but oddly she didn't really seem that keen on giving birth on a mountain top and deciding on the baby's arrival that if it wasn't really up to scratch that it should be thrown down a canyon for the vultures

jonathan law said...

My, that brings it all back – and I was only watching.

Actually, it's probably best to go into that birthing suite expecting something out of a Cronenberg film: that way you won't be too shocked by the sheer gristly rawness of it all. The ones that end up the most traumatized, I'd say, are those poor things who've bought into the whole natural childbirth bull and think labour should be a serene spiritual experience – something like a rather energetic yoga session, perhaps. My wife's advice, freely given to any woman who asks, is to do the sensible thing and take every drug they offer you: i.e. don’t try to get through it with the help of a smelly candle and a bit of whalesong.

Likewise – if on a whole other level – the "birthing partner" is well advised to pack a few paracetemol: if it’s been an all-night, adrenaline-fuelled, emotions-running-high job you’re going to come out of there with a headache that feels like every hangover you've ever had in one. (But, please, if you value your life just take them quietly – no-one wants to hear about your pain, OK?)

Oh, and "starting fights with doctors". I did that.

David said...

I went through the whole preparation scheme, and for naught. Child #1's huge melon made the natural route problematic, so he was fished out via the emergency exit.

I was still expected to stand there and watch.

All the romance of watching your wife have kidney surgery, up close and personal.

Peter Burnet said...

There are two reasons why you are there. The first is so she can boast to all her friends about how "into it" you are, showing a degree of control most women yearn for. The second is that, for some inexplicable reason, a test of mature, lasting committment for many women seems to be whether you will intimately and enthusiatically share in all the fluid and painful mysteries of her body. Let's face it, it isn't biologically easy to be a woman and it seems to be very important to them that you know that first hand. Perhaps it is payback for all those stressful courtship years when they had to pretend they didn't even sweat.

It is a fine line indeed. One must neither show the slightest distaste or cynicism (or, God forbid, humour) nor become too enthusiastic, whatever pap they feed you about co-birthing, partnering, etc. I remember one of my classes where the nurse pronounced the party line sternly about our being in this together, as if we were metaphyisically fused in body and soul. What she meant is that the men should all dutifully shut up and make damn fools of themselves by doing useless breathing exercises and not wretching at gross movies, but God help them if they forgot whose show it really is. You should have seen her and everyone else when one guy wouldn't stop with his endless stream of detailed, technical questions, as if he were an irrepressibly keen first year med student. I feared the collective spirit of the entire class was going to rise up and murder him.

For the curmudgeonly, the most persuasive reason for going through all this was made by one of your countrymen pundits, who thought that, seeing as his father had lived through the Blitz and his grandfather the Somme, it was the least he could do to do his part.

Brit said...

As it happens, I'm there because I want to be there.

But we do have a Dad in the class who takes his Birthing Partner role very seriously, plenty of detailed questions about when "we" feel the first contractions and so on...

Ian Woolcott said...

Having been through it twice myself, I second Mr Law's excellent assessment: Cronenberg.

Nige said...

In my case, the first labour was so long that, by the time of the main event, both of us were way past queasiness - or even, almost, caring - Mrs N high as a kite on pethadine and burbling incoherently, as was the baby when she emerged (tho not actually burbling). From then on in, the greatest and happiest day of my life... Second time around, it was so quick I missed it, being occupied with settling the daughter with a neighbour (and believing the hospital's insistence that it was going to be another marathon).

Hey Skipper said...

Peter pretty much nailed it.

I was there for both of our sprogs, and went through the whole pre-natal class thing with sprogette.

What I learned (as opposed to what they intended) could have been accomplished much more succinctly: Shut up. Stay out of the way.

I don't think I imagined a bit of hostility from the nurses. Sprogette was delivered in a military hospital; they knew I was a pilot. So there may have been a subtext when I heard, sotto voce, "Pilots are such wimps. I'll bet we have to carry him out of here on a stretcher."

As if.

Anyway, I'm glad I was there for the Festival of Bodily Functions. Besides, it just isn't on to skip out on life's big events.