“You can see the head is coming,” remarked the midwife. As she spoke, she stepped out the way and indicated with her head that I should take a closer look.
I sat perfectly still. Not, you understand, because I was squeamish or had no interest in seeing my firstborn enter the world.
The reverse was true. I am not at all squeamish and I wanted to see everything.
I simply felt there was enough going on below my wife’s waist. A consultant and a junior doctor were hard at work and there was a midwife on either side of my wife’s legs. I appreciate the midwife meant well, but I didn’t think any of the medical professionals in attendance needed my curious, medically untrained head popping up in the middle of a hard, forceps delivery.
Why am I reminiscing about Helen’s birth, an event that happened nine years ago? Earlier this week I was asked by an acquaintance if I felt men had a place in the delivery room. It’s a question that comes up from time to time so thought the time had come to address it.
I’ve always held an uncompromising stance on this. You helped create the child. You should, therefore, be present for your offspring’s birth.
Yes, I know, some people have extreme medical phobias and would be unable to handle the experience. I also get that some women want to protect their privacy or have particularly strong views about men being present.
At heart I am a libertarian. If someone has really strong opinions about giving birth or the dad really couldn’t handle it, it’s probably best he isn’t there. For most couples, however, I think the man would be missing out on a unique experience.
Based on my experience, it was hugely educational seeing both Helen and Izzy’s birth. Both births were totally different. Helen’s was a hard birth requiring surgical intervention after a long, long labour while Izzy was born with Mrs Adams having nothing more than gas and air after a short labour.
Seeing the births gave me a much greater understanding of what a woman goes through. Following Helen’s arrival, I recounted the experience to my then boss, whose wife was in the final trimester of her first pregnancy. I remember telling him the experience had given me huge respect for women because of what they go through during birth.
Let’s just clarify that statement. Naturally I did and always have respected women. That respect, however, only increases when you’ve seen someone go through nine months of pregnancy, 36 hours of labour and a forceps delivery.
Birth is also an experience a man cannot have. If you can’t go through it, I can’t help feeling you have an obligation to be present for it.
Before stepping foot inside the delivery room, I think men should do the research so they understand what can and will happen on the other side of that door. If you don’t read up in advance, you may not be prepared.
For a while Mrs Adams and I were hooked to the TV show One Born Every Minute. I recall in one episode, a mum having some difficulties during the birth and her (understandably) nervous partner, unsure what to do, simply sat in the chair next to her proclaiming his love for his other half while two midwifes busied themselves in the room.
Maybe it’s just the fact I have a Glaswegian wife and public displays of affection are simply not the done thing in West Scotland, but I don’t recommend following his course of action. A woman in that position probably wants to know that an epidural, anesthetist and a consultant midwife are about to burst through the door, not that you love them.
On a serious note, you need to know that the baby may be rushed to an incubator or that the baby may be held upside and slapped on the back to clear its airways. You need to know that things could get complicated and that you will be asked to leave the room, that your other half is going to scream and shout and could say all manner of horrible things about you that she doesn’t mean.
You may also see things that you don’t wish to see. Birth is messy, especially if medical intervention is required. I am not going to invade my wife’s privacy and tell you about some of the sights I witnessed. Let me just say that I witnessed plenty and leave it there.
Unless there’s a very good reason for you not to be there, dad, you should be in that room. You helped make that child, you should be there to welcome him or her into the world. Just remember to shed a tear when it happens and, er, maybe leave the declarations of love until afterwards.