As a father
of two children aged four and three, I envy my male forebears whose
responsibilities when their wives were pregnant were limited to
two important tasks. They had to put the cot together, and they
had to make sure that the motor car was filled with petrol in case
of an emergency late night run to the hospital. And that was it.
But since the
1960s, when just 5 per cent of men attended the birth of their children,
the notion that men should be there for the great event has become
such an article of faith that 95 per cent of births are now attended
by the father. Now, however, new research has appeared giving males
an opt-out from the nonsense of being forced to attend antenatal
classes and birth. According to Dr Jonathan Ives of the Centre for
Biomedical Ethics at the University of Birmingham, men who are obliged
to attend antenatal classes and be present for the birth of their
children can actually become “deskilled” at parenting.
Dr Ives is
working on a treatise named The Moral Habitus of Fatherhood,
but let’s not hold that against him, because the rest of what
he says makes eminent sense. He describes the dogma of “equal
involvement” in childbirth as, “false, modern rhetoric”,
and argues that men who feel a sense of duty to become actively
involved in pregnancies are left disenchanted and self-doubting
as they realise that they can offer little more than passive support
to their partners.
In short, he
seems to suggest what many a hapless father could have told you:
that being a useless spare part in the delivery room whilst your
wife and various nurses yell abuse at you for standing in the wrong
place is not the ideal start to fatherhood.
I wish I had
had Dr Ives’ report on hand when my time came, first in 2006
and again in 2007. But I fear it would have made little impact anyway,
because awaiting the joyous news that your offspring has indeed
sprung in a pub down the road is no longer a socially acceptable
option for men.
I feared it might put me off sex for life, I acquiesced, and took
the advice proffered by my traumatised male friends (“It was
a train smash,” one told me darkly) to stay up the top end.