Saturday 24 February 2018

Men: A hindrance or a help in the delivery room?

Dad of three Graham Clifford speaks about his experience in labour wards throughout the years...

Graham Clifford and family
Graham Clifford and family

Graham Clifford

It was one hell of a night. Steven Gerrard scored two crackers for my beloved Liverpool in a vital Champions League clash away to Marseilles and I was one happy camper… oh, and my wife gave birth to our second daughter just after full-time!

We were in the labour ward of the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading and, conveniently, a TV lounge was located next to the room where my wife did the needful.

Every now and again, between contractions, I'd pop out to check the score…more often than not hanging on until the ball went dead. My comings and goings did very little to keep my wife, Catherine, focused and now, many years later, I concede my mind was elsewhere that October night in 2008.

A new poll, carried out by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (Bpas), found that just one in 20 dads today turn down the opportunity to be there when little junior comes into the world. In 1960, just one in 10 fathers-to-be in the UK held their other half's hand and helped her to breathe during labour.

Indeed here in Ireland dads were discouraged, sometimes prevented, from being present at childbirth...the mother's dignity had to be protected and all that. A labour ward was no place for a man to be unless he was wearing a white coat!

My parents had six children and my father didn't dare pop his head around the delivery room door. Once, when my mother was en route to the hospital in a taxi whizzing through the streets - her labour having started - she spotted my father working on a construction site by the side of the road and near-dragged him into the car at the traffic lights. In his wellies he waited patiently for a brother of mine to be born. Only when invited to enter the delivery suite by the midwife on duty did he dare pass the threshold.

Graham Clifford and family

As well as respecting the traditions of the time, I think my father didn't believe he'd be of any use in the delivery room - and maybe he was right.

A friend of mine told me recently how he fainted when his first-born entered the world causing huge anxiety to his wife who had just given birth.

Another, not expecting his girlfriend to go into labour at 36 weeks, found himself a bit under the weather after consuming too much whiskey at a wake in the West of Ireland. During the night, contractions started to get heavy and the poor old mother-to-be had to drive herself to the hospital with my friend in the passenger seat as he was well and truly over the limit.

When they got to the hospital he was given a bed and attentive treatment from the sympathetic nurses while his furious wife went through the labour - his presence in the labour ward much more a hindrance than a help.

Indeed, I had my own medical situation of sorts when Catherine was having our third child Aodhan.

Her waters broke unexpectedly and so we rushed to the hospital. On the drive there I managed to hit every pothole along the route, which my wife didn't really appreciate.

Aodhan was born 20 minutes after we walked through the front door of the hospital (in comparison it took our eldest, Molly, 22 hours to show her face from the moment labour began) and, in the rush, I realised I'd left my Ventolin inhaler at home. Following the commotion, and with a hint of a chest infection, I needed a puff.

So I got Catherine to ask the nurses for an inhaler for yours truly though she'd
 just given birth. And she thought she only had one baby to look after!

Undoubtedly there are better men than me out there who play a blinder in the labour ward, read the books about how to be a 
top-notch birthing-partner and discover how to comfort their loved one when the going gets tough. But I think I'm more typical of your average father-to-be.

Clare Murphy, director of external affairs at Bpas believes that fathers now wouldn't miss the actual birth for the world. She says: "Far from feeling forced into the delivery suite, dads want to be there to share the experience and support their partner."

While that may well be true I think many men feel the job of birth-partner isn't for them. And sure what's wrong with leaving that role to someone more suitable and coming in, flowers in hand, to celebrate when all the hard work has been done?

Irish Independent

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