Monday, November 29, 2010

Reflections on a man's place

At last - I've got on to a proper computer so that I can blog. Meet Anna, my new granddaughter - whom we're currently waiting to greet home. She's wonderful and well and her big sister can't wait.

All this had me reflecting on my own experience of childbirth, and how things have changed. When Anna's father was born, in Dunoon Hospital, I stayed in for a week - not because I was ill, but because that's what we did. It was very restful and we all had a good laugh on the ward, doing one another's hair and eating chocolate cake. I daresay we moaned a bit too. One thing we didn't see all that much of was our men; they appeared at evening visiting, which was for fathers. Grannies, friends and siblings came for an hour in the afternoon. The rest of the time was for us to slob around in, look like frights, sleep with our mouths open, have showers - all without caring. There was no-one to see. The babies slept in the little nursery; we could have them when we wanted and fed them when they wanted - but when we wanted some down-time, they were looked after and we didn't worry. Time enough for that when we got home.

Now, it seems, fathers take up residence in the ward. They lie on the bed, sit holding the baby while mum takes a shower, chat to other dads. Other visitors have regulated times, but the dads are there all the time, apparently. The baby is beside the mother's bed, and she changes nappies as if she were at home. Dads are pressed into service. The atmosphere is a far cry from the peaceful space I remember. I would find it completely stressful to have other people's husbands in the same space as my dishevelled self - we used to spend the hour after teatime putting our faces on and washing our hair so's to look wonderful for evening visits. Progress? Total involvement?

Of course, there was a time when childbirth was Women's Work. Men were banished from the cave/hovel/whatever, and the Sacred Mysteries remained just that. I would never want to return to the perils of childbirth in the raw, but I wonder if the ancients didn't have something. Maybe we need a kind of via media.

Now, back to the kitchen. Someone has to do the cooking, after all ...


  1. Simpson's have always had a "baby by the bed" policy, (was the case 36 years ago anyway) They did however take the real screamers into the nursery overnight and also as a farewell treat on the night before you were discharged into the wide unknown of motherhood, the nursery nurses gave you an undisturbed night and fed your baby for you. (if you could express enough milk that is)
    Yes, men have a new role in all this - called "kangarooing!"

  2. At least fathers used to get to see mum in the evening. When I was a kid, children were totally banned from the wards and I remember being taken round the back of the hospital to wave to my mother standing at the ward window after she had given birth to my sister.

    I think a good via media would be to send mothers home immediately after childbirth so they can get back to the housework and looking after their man whilst the babies should be kept in hospital until they are fully house trained and are capable of having an intelligent conversation about the finer points of the Anglican Covenant and / or the previous week's match between Celtic and Rangers.

  3. When I had my twins 28 years ago this week, I was forbidden to feed them expect one every three hours and the other every four. The tiny babies cried with hunger, and being forbidden to feed, I walked the floor of he hospital nursery to keep them quiet, tears pouring down my cheeks. I was breast feeding quite well, but they offered me home early if I would switch to bottle, so they knew what the babies were getting. In desperation, I agree.

    Peace in a hospital??!!

  4. Rosemary, my experience in Dunoon hospital 33 years ago was all the more wonderful because of my earlier time in Redlands Maternity Hospital in Glasgow, almost 37 years ago. There, I was induced on my due date, doped with pethedine to such an extent that my large baby had to be put in an incubator (he was stoned!) and then kept in a side ward for a week because he had an eye infection. I too wept solitary tears over my baby, and had no encouragement at all to breastfeed - if it hadn't been for my strong-willed mother I might well have given up. I emerged traumatised - and five weeks later moved to Dunoon! A period of lunacy, I'd say...

  5. Oh my! A hearty congratulations to all involved on the birth of little Anna. She looks so peaceful, indeed!

    Childbirth has morphed in so many ways and the funniest thing is, it has become more natural like it was many years ago, but with the benefit that babies are now able to be treated in the event of a problem. When I had Michelle (she turned 18 in November) I was kept in the hospital for 24 hours just to make sure everything was okay. It was so wonderful to return home shortly after her birth, where my parents were waiting anxiously to help out with the wee one!