Yin and Yang
I've just, finally, watched the Sam Faiers' documentary The Baby Diaries (you've got just 18 days left to watch). I was initially wary of watching it because I am not a fan of TOWIE or similar reality TV shows.
Anyway, as I can recognise that many young childbearing women will have watched it and that it could potentially be a great advertisement for the courses I teach I decided I had better make sure I knew what was portrayed. Amongst the designer labels and glamour there were glimpses of a woman who was clearly interested in a physiological birth and breastfeeding. AND of a partner who, despite being a self-confessed mummy's boy, suggested and encouraged choices that are, let's face it, not exactly mainstream in the UK. This made me instantly feel a warmth towards him.
I had been aware from conversations amongst my Wise Hippo colleagues that there was a bit of a fuss made over the way that Paul, Sam's partner, in particular had been portrayed. It's certainly not my place, or anyone else's for that matter, to judge what goes on in the family dynamic of Sam and Paul or their respective wider families.
But I would like to point out that only in the last 60 or so years have we been encouraging men into the birthing room. Following many millennia of birth being a wholly woman's domain we have really only 'allowed' fathers in to the birth for such a minuscule time in history. Can we truly expect them to jump in and be everything we want them to be?
I believe that we do our menfolk a HUGE disservice if we do!
I think we should be treated equally in life and that neither sex should be discriminated against because of their gender but it's important to recognise that men and woman have different strengths and weaknesses, some of which are based on their gender. Yin and Yang. For example, with the best will in the world, I simply will never have the strength that a similar sized man will have. But also, I have some male friends who seem to 'get' women so well we jokingly tell them they are honorary women. Yes, there will always be exceptions to rules and as individuals our nature and nurture will have provided additional differing strengths and weaknesses. However, ultimately I truly believe that most men will tend to be more comfortable in hunter/gatherer roles while women will mostly fall into more nurturing roles. This is down to our hormones and physical, biological differences according to gender. Men and women think and behave in fundamentally different ways.
So, being annoyed at Paul for falling asleep or seemingly being a bit disinterested in Sam's baby planning seems unfair.
Look at the way he was encouraging her to consider place of birth and to get a midwife organised Prime example of the Guardian of the Birth Space. He was being protective, instinctively. Personally, my daughter's father wasn't terribly interested in my bump and I can recognise now that he was is definitely more of a Guardian who does best when he can be proactive. At the time I was pretty miffed that he couldn't, or wouldn't, engage with my pregnancy as I would have liked. As a doula I have worked with a variety of families and some men have been very hands on birth partners while others would be happier just being called in as baby takes his or her first breath. These men, if given a task to do like make tea, fill the pool, look after older siblings, deal with any callers etc, would be in their element. Not for them the seemingly endless hours of labour with very little to do. Not a lot tends to happen during labour, minute by minute. So, if your mindset is to be fixing things and doing stuff you can end up looking very bored and /or disinterested.
I love that Mark Harris has written a book for men, "Men, Love and Birth" (available in my lending library) because he recognised that men were floundering in the birth room. Mark was interviewed by the Telegraph:
Men, he says, too often just feel like a spare part - even those who have read the books and can tell the difference between a uterus from a urethra.
“It doesn’t just feel powerless, it feels emasculating. At the moment when the one they love is having stuff done to her, they feel completely unable to handle it. Not only that, they have professionals around her saying, ‘can you move away’, ‘can you sit down’, ‘we’ll be back for you’ after they’ve rushed her off to theatre.” He says men - usually because they are scared and anxious - often make inappropriate jokes, absorb themselves in the sport on the hospital TV or just become “disengaged”. In my case, midway through the labour of our fourth child I left the hospital’s birthing pool and whale-music room to fill up the parking meter, thinking (probably correctly) that was the most useful job I could do.
I have found that the men who have attended my courses with their partners grow to beome much more enthusiastic about birth, They anticipate being able to make use of the tools we offer them. They pick up on the tips we often provide on courses, drawing from our own experience as birth workers. How to place counter pressure on her back, just right. That she might really love a cold compress on her forehead. That it's ok that she suddenly doesn't want him to touch her, or speak. Or breathe! This is why men seem to really love the Wise Hippo classes. They learn things they didn't expect to. They become en
Often men gain strength to be able to tell their partner what they see their role as being, knowing that their partner won't go off in a huff. She now recognises how best he can support her. Of course, this is also the potential benefit of hiring a doula. In fact, a doula will be actually showing him how to place the counter pressure, or suggesting that now is the time to get the cold compress out, or pre-empting the time when suddenly she becomes lioness. So whether parents decide to take a birthing class or hire a doula, or both, it is actually essential that we find ways to allow fathers to step up to birth in a way that is right and authentic for them as individuals.
Back to the Baby Diaries. Whatever perceptions we have of Paul now, or of his relationship with his mother (I wish she had taught him how to cook!), we must remember that how the programme makers edited the footage does not provide a true picture of him or Sam, or Tamara for that matter (we saw Tamara teaching class 1 of the Wise Hippo course, and a video clip used in our classes).
However, I am extremely grateful that home birth, breastfeeding and a snap shot of the Wise Hippo were all portrayed in a positive light. I hope that more people will now be talking about these topics rather than what they thought of the people being filmed.
Additionally, if you are interested, and want to come along, the next FREE meeting of the Positive Birth Group, Angus is on Saturday 27th February at 10am. The topic is Becoming a Mother.