Did you, could you, should you ... look?
The days when expectant fathers waited in a nearby pub with a cigar are long gone, and today, most women give birth with their partners by their side. But how does Daddy really feel about this? And should he watch the action or stay focused on his beloved's face. Two-time labour ward veteran Joe Donnelly reports
ROBBIE Williams described it as "like watching his favourite pub getting burnt down".
Some men have fainted at the experience while others balk at the very mention of it.
It seems to be growing in popularity: viewing the birth of your child. Is it something that could leave an unwelcome image indelibly printed on your mind or is it witnessing a wonderful and unique shared experience with your partner?
It's not something I discussed with my wife before, during or after the birth of our children; it just never came up. I don't regard myself as squeamish but biology was never my strong point at school and I wasn't especially interested.
I won't be the kind of Dad who, when the time comes, explains the facts of life to his kids.
I'll take them to one side, say "Sometimes a man and woman can fall in love", stare into the distance, and then walk off and tinker with the lawnmower.
Childbirth is an intense and dramatic experience, full of immense physical and emotional pain. And it's tough on women too.
I know of a man whose father-in-law arrived at the maternity hospital shortly after the birth of his first child.
"Come on," he said to him, grabbing his arm, "this is no place for a man", and off they went to the nearest pub. Ah, the good old days.
I was really glad to be in a position to support my wife during her labour, but I felt utterly useless. In fact, at times I wondered if she was rather hoping some bloke would come along and steer me to the nearest bar.
At one point midway through the ordeal of the delivery of our first boy, with my wife under serious pressure, I found myself lost for something soothing or encouraging to say, so I said "Don't worry, only a few more hours to go I'm sure."
The look I received – and the expletives that accompanied it – gave me the impression that I'd said the wrong thing.
So I'm not the kind of man who'd want to witness the full glory of childbirth.
Just being there – safely up at the mother's head, gaze fixed firmly away from all the commotion – was enough for me.
Colin Glennon works in sales and marketing and is a married father of three, living in Naas, Co Kildare.
"We've three kids and I always like to tell the story of me being at each birth like a series of graduations. At the first birth, I totally avoided the goal end and my priority was helping my wife and reassuring her.
"At the second child's birth I was more mid-table, doing both the reassurance and the occasional sneak peak. By the third I was down the business end, almost helping to deliver the baby.
"In fact, our third child, now aged two, came out so quickly that I'd no choice but to help with the delivery. I didn't do anything medical I just handed stuff to the medical professionals. It was good fun. By the time your third comes along you're well experienced. The reason I chose to look was innate curiosity. I've been like that since I was a child; I've always wanted to know how things work.
"The thing is, if you never looked at the birth of your child then you'd never know how the whole thing happens.
"It's a great thing for me personally to know have that I've seen one of my children being born.
"My wife Sinead didn't mind at all. She never objected and it wasn't a question of encouragement or discouragement; I just went for it.
"We hadn't discussed it beforehand or anything. In terms of looking, I think it's about your own character, whether you'll be involved and at what level. People never ask me if I looked; it's not something that I would talk about over a pint with the lads.
"I don't think I've ever brought it up or elaborated on it. My advice would be don't look if you're squeamish, but for me it really was a beautiful thing."
Derek Dolan, a tourist industry professional from Tullamore, is a married father of two kids and witnessed the birth of his second child just weeks ago.
"My wife Michelle and I took it as a given that I'd be there to have a look; we didn't even discuss it. I like biology anyway and I'm interested in the whole process.
"I think it'd be hard not to look; all the attention is focused on that area! I remember it very clearly and it wasn't as bad as I thought. It's built up as a horrific thing to view, but in the moment your focus is purely on the baby. All the attention is on getting the baby out safely, there's nothing else going in your head.
"I knew I had to do more than just hold her hand and tell her everything was okay. This sense of urgency made me determined to look so that I could see how the progress was going.
"I remember the midwife asking me if I could see the head. I looked down and saw the tiniest bit of the head poking through but this allowed me to reassure Michelle to keep going and that we were nearly there.
"Up until the final pushes, I felt like a bit of a spare part, but when I was looking it gave me confidence to reassure my wife rather than just holding her hand; I was more than just a bystander. It also gave my wife confidence too because I was supporting her and also was seeing the process first-hand.
"I'm not in the slight bit traditionalist. The birth process is for two people; the father should be just as much a part of it.
"You know Colm Meaney's character in The Snapper? 'Small turkey, big baby'. I'm a million miles from that! I don't think it's that taboo any more really. In fact I think it's becoming more the norm for men to witness the birth."
Colm Colgan works in market research and lives in Wexford with his wife and three-year-old son.
"We had discussed me looking and I said I wasn't going to look, and my wife was fine with that. I was a bit wary about what I'd see.
"We were in Wexford general and at one point, the midwife just grabbed me and asked me to hold my wife's leg to help with the birth. I was right down at where it was all happening, 'best seat in the house' you might say.
"It was a situation I just had to adapt to. I wasn't squeamish or anything because this was the birth of my boy so how could it be a 'horror show' as some people think it is?
"My wife was unbelievable. I was so glad I did see the event because it gave me a better understanding of everything my wife had to go through in giving birth.
"Even though it's an intense experience I have to say I really would recommend it. It gives men such a better understanding of what women have to go through in childbirth. It's a real eye-opener.
"It's also a beautiful thing to see your baby born. I've had a couple of friends who haven't even been in the room and I don't understand it whatsoever.
"People say 'oh you'll never look at your wife the same again', but that's complete nonsense.
"When I tell people that I've looked – if I'm asked of course – the response is always split down the middle."
Simon Palmer is a Dublin-based freelance PR consultant and is married with a three-year-old daughter.
"How often can you get to see life created before your very eyes? It's an extremely rare and amazing occurrence to witness.
"I wanted to make sure I was the person who saw my daughter's first living breathing moments, and share those with her.
"It felt very natural for me to look at it, to be honest. I also wanted to give my wife updates on how the baby was doing.
"It was like a little blue creature coming out; it was the freakiest thing I'd seen in my life! When the baby was half way out it seemed to get stuck; it was like a scene from the first 'Alien' film.
"Is it still alive, I thought, what's going on? The midwife reassured me to keep calm and carry on.
"The delivery room staff had no problem with me being down there; there's a real 'production line' in Holles Street at the moment, and there's no messing about.
"They're very efficient and professional and I found that very reassuring. I got to cut the cord but some blood splattered on my wife's belly when I did it, and this freaked her out because she thought something had gone wrong.
"I find Ireland quite conservative in a lot of ways, and I know not many fathers would look at the birth of their child. I just do what comes naturally; I'm neither ultra-modern nor old and traditional. Perhaps for me, there is a biological fascination about it too.
"I guess I've one up on my wife now; I've seen the birth of our child and she hasn't! I'll take a photo next time, but I won't go as far as to take a video!"
Colin Brennan has one daughter with his partner and works in IT in Dublin.
"I didn't look. We had discussed it a little bit beforehand and it was decided that I wouldn't be looking. "My partner, Audrey, didn't want me put off any future endeavours by witnessing something shocking.
"I guess it was as much for her feelings as for mine. Of course, I didn't want to experience some sort of John Hurt type event like in the 'Alien' film, so I was up the other end consoling and looking after the music. We had an amp for the iPod; we were listening to 'Eagles of Death Metal'. In fact we were at Duff McKagan gig in Dublin two days beforehand – in a special area reserved for pregnant women, along with one other pregnant woman!
"I don't feel I missed out on anything. The midwife asked at one point if I wanted to have a look, and we both politely declined the offer, with Audrey squeezing my hand tightly.
"My advice to other Dads considering the option is to play it by ear. It hadn't crossed my mind until Audrey told me that she'd prefer if I didn't want to look.
"Some of my mates have asked me about 'looking', especially those whose wives or partners are expecting. One friend had made a whole video of the event and was telling me about it, almost like in passing as if it was the most normal thing in the world. That's going too far."
Michael Dunlea is a Kildare primary school teacher and he and his partner have a one-month-old girl.
"The topic came up beforehand, and it was very much discussed on a practical basis. I was asked how I'd feel about it and to be honest I said I wasn't sure if I wanted to see it and she understood.
"I was advised by a midwife before that it's one thing I probably shouldn't do because it might change how I look on those things again. She told me she'd known people who didn't really benefit from looking at the business end, so to speak, not that they were mentally scarred or anything!
"Perhaps it depends on the kind of person you are, but it left me fairly sure that I didn't want to look.
"During the labour I was quite happy up at the head, reassuring her and trying to help her out as best I could. I felt awkward; I felt I wasn't helping at all.
"I wasn't sure how enthusiastic or motivational I was supposed to be. I wanted to draw a balance between Obama-style 'yes you can!', and staying calm and relaxed."