Some thoughts on Father’s Day

It was a day I hated and would often intentionally avoid, as it was a strong reminder of the fact I didn’t have a father (well, an alive one) any more. I tried to transfer my focus to my Grandfather and other father-figures, but it still rung out to me that my Dad was dead. School projects to make a card, reminders, adverts – all of them stung. Until the day I became a Father.

Father’s day. There are lots of theories and ideas on its origins and its worth. Its origins as a Christian feast day have been around long before socks and ties were the preferred gift – but it was the actions of the New York Associated Men’s Wear Retailers, the Father’s Day Council and Sonora Smart Dodd that got it really off the ground. With that sort of pedigree, it is no wonder that you can’t ignore the solid commercialism of the day today and the focus on the giving of gifts. I particularly enjoyed reading this article on “upscale” gifts to consider. Why not gift dad a $500 steak? Or a massive bbq?

Traeger-Timberline-1300-Food-

I don’t really remember the first Father’s day after my Dad died. I was 14 when he died, and the following years do become a little blurry when I try and remember them. I do know, however, that each milestone following his death was painful. His birthday; Mum’s birthday; my birthday; Father’s day; Christmas; his death anniversary. Each milestone a fresh reminder of what was gone. I would often look to downplay things, avoiding things like birthdays or Christmas.

I also made a conscious decision to forget the date my Dad died. He died suddenly and it was and is one of the most traumatic experiences of my life. I didn’t want to remember that date, or the days that preceded it – sitting in hospital with my Dad – laying in a hospital bed, unable to talk to me; the afternoon helping the ambulance officers carry him from our yard. Dad had a stroke in my grandparent’s chook pen and was found by my mum. I was next on the scene. I didn’t set foot near that chook pen for nearly a decade afterwards.

What hurt, and still does in some ways, is that my Dad was pretty great. I’m biased, but he taught me a huge amount of things, gave me a massive amount of time and listened to me prattle on as a young teenager. He was older when he had me, and his health wasn’t as great as it could’ve been – so he went about parenting me (and life in general) a lot differently than when he was a young man, parenting my three brothers. I laugh when people tell me “what my dad was like”, as if I hadn’t met the “real” version of him. I feel sorry for them, as they can only remember the original cut – what I had the privilege of living with was the more refined, remastered version. Sure, the fashion was still terrible, but the man he became was fantastic.

Dad was devoted to his family and his community and would help anyone, and everyone – often to his own detriment. He was dedicated, generous and incredibly loving. Dad could talk to anyone, anywhere, any time about anything (and often did). He was a man that took time out of his life to help. He helped settle Vietnamese refugees at a time the world didn’t want them (not dissimilar to now); took Aboriginal borders to the beach during the school holidays during the 70’s (which was not popular); helped kids struggling with literacy and numeracy by tutoring them in his woodwork classes, and later in life returned to do it again as a school-based volunteer. He stood up for what was right, not what was popular and had conviction to not back down. This earnt him the reputation of a temper. It is this that I respect the most. When he left my life, he left a massive void.

DocImage000000223
With Dad, the Valley of the Giants

Some wonderful humans tried their hardest to help me through my teenage and young adult years by being wonderful friends and mentors to me. People who seeped in to the void that my father left – never covering the outline but helping to fill the space. My grandfather, so gentle and quiet; my football coach, so straightforward and structured; my year twelve maths teacher – a man plucked from retirement for one year of teaching, who seemed to come at the perfect time, to chat, take me sailing and introduce me to Nick Cave and Paul Coelho; my brothers, all grieving themselves but desperate to help in their own ways – be it advice, concerts, time, arguments; friend’s fathers – one in particular, who like granddad – didn’t announce he was doing anything, but was just present.

DocImage000000287 (2)
My wonderful Grandad at my wedding

There were many others – uncles, other teachers, other coaches, older friends. All of them pulled their weight – but unfortunately, none of them were my father. They helped mould me and shape me, but I was not facing the thing I really needed to – my grief.

One of the most influential people in my life, particularly after my Dad died; put it so clearly and succinctly for me one drunken evening. I was three sheets to the wind on her husband’s home made claret and she told me;

“Grief is not compartmentalised, you don’t have separate buckets of grief for each person.

What grief you don’t deal with stays in the bucket until you return back to it for another person – you get another chance to empty what is left.”

Still, to this day, those words mean so much to me. Now this lady is pretty special – a little crazy, but very special; and has helped me along my journey in more ways than she knows. Of everything she has said and done, those words helped me the most.

I had run from my grief. I avoided it. There were years of anger – and a generalised failure to cope. I didn’t cry about my Dad’s death (properly anyway) until over a year later. I remember exactly where I was and when it was. It was great in many ways, but then; I didn’t go back to that bucket of grief for years. When Dad died I was in shock. I was numb. I didn’t know what to do or how to do it. I was a kid. When it happened, I actually found myself comforting other family members as they cried in to my hugs.

I was a pall bearer for my Dad, in what I still to this day think was one of the worst moments of my life. It was important, and necessary and galling and horrific. Since that day; I’ve hated funerals and the sight of coffins – and if there’s a funeral; it takes a bloody big effort for me to be there. Don’t be surprised or offended if I don’t rock up, or disappear half-way through. Its not just that I don’t want to be there, I just can’t. If I’m there, it is most certainly for a damn good reason. And under duress.

What I have been able to do though, is face my Dad’s death and funeral and the associated grief when I’ve been forced to go back in to a world of grief.

My Nanna’s funeral was my first real attempt; the shaking tears and blisters as I dug a grave for my beloved dog Elu was as much embracing the tears I failed to shed in the past as it was my beautiful furry friend.

When my Grandad died – a man who was so, so special to me – I was determined not to hold anything back. This man was a rock to me, the one who filled the biggest space inside the void my father left – and I was not going to hold back anything that might add to the bucket of grief left over from Dad.

There was tears, and snot, and poems, and tributes and talking and tears and a trip to Kokoda (full of tears for Grandad and Dad) and tears and whisky and tears and tears. I’ve not emptied that bucket of grief fully – but I’ve made a big dent.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0388.
Half way up some muddy prick of a hill

Going back and facing that was important. What has also helped has been new focus and new life, that has forced me to reassess and realign my thoughts on a few things that come along.

While I was able to scrub the day of Dad’s death from my memory, I couldn’t hide from Father’s Day. It would loom over me, announcing itself through junk mail and television adverts for weeks before hand; reminding me I had no-one to buy a chuck-less drill for. I think back to that time as a time that I was so angry and confused. There was a lot of bad punk music and violent outbursts. I was not ok. I was not happy. Things were not going to be all right. Then, new life came in to my life. I became a Father. Suddenly, this day that meant loss and pain and anger meant love and love and hugs. And socks. I had to change my focus. I had to become something else.

2013-01-29 001 005
Photo copyright of Lata Photography http://www.lataphotography.com/

This wasn’t simple, it wasn’t like a switch – it has taken time to get in to it and in many ways, I feel like this Father’s day has been my best one yet. This one didn’t have an undercurrent of anger. I didn’t want to avoid it. I embraced it. I sat in bed, looking at my home-made cards, munching on my breakfast and felt happy. I joined in a group Father’s day activity, because I was happy to celebrate the day. I made the most of my day and my time with my boys and even though I was sad my Dad was not around; I wasn’t angry. Like everyone – I’m growing as I go. My Dad lost his Father as a young man. I’m sure that impacted on how he went about things and how he grew as a man. He became a better man as life went on, as he reflected, as he grew. It is all I’m trying to do achieve.

Now, I know this doesn’t mean I’m cured. That my bucket of grief is empty and I’m right to go – but what it does mean is that I’m getting to a better place.

I hate the word journey, the bastards on reality talent shows have ruined it – but it is what life is. There are moments where it is great and wonderful and perfect and moments where it really sucks.

I’ve had a few of those moments, and they are challenging and they take a time to get through. It has taken a bloody long time. It does. My Dad died 17 years ago. I still miss him. It doesn’t get easier to have him gone, it just gets different.

21368780_10155586608689534_5188365881345334081_o
A new focus

 

 

 

 

Being a Dad

I’m not a fathering expert. I’m not an expert in anything, really. I’m a general nurse. I have a Masters in THE MOST general health area you could think off. I am average, ordinary and general in many, many areas. I am a father, an average, ordinary one and my kids are challenging, but pretty ordinary and average really. This is just some thoughts – take it or leave it. No expert. Just a Dad.

2017-04-23 10.09.15
Doing cross country with my two boys

Being a Dad can be a tough gig. Now – mothers, I know yours is a special kind of hell. You carry a child; accepting numerous changes to your bodies; birth a child in a variety of different manners, none of them gentle; feed, or not feed a child with milk that your body produces, while having to cope with the judgement and shaming of doing it/not doing it/not doing it long enough/doing it too long. You have to do the bulk of the heavy lifting, are the one your child is predominantly attached to in the early years and more often than not give up a career for the privilege. Or put it on pause. Or go return to work with your kids in day-care, while being judged for your time away from work and doing it/not doing it/not doing it long enough/doing it too long. Or have a stay-at-home Dad help you in return to work, who will be held up as bastion of selflessness for doing what the majority of mothers do with zero praise or adulation. Its balls. I get it. I really do.

Being a Dad is different. It is confusing at times and there are challenges. You don’t have anything to do with the gestation of a child beyond the fun part at the beginning. Unless your child has been conceived through IVF, where your fun bit was in a dark room, alone. Come the birth, you’re really a spare wheel. No matter how doting, caring and empathetic you are – you’re never going to get it. The midwife knows this intrinsically and will pay you no attention, beyond scoffing at any minor complaint you may make, no matter how quietly you thought you were voicing your concern about being tired or stressed. Save it for later. There will be no sympathy here.

The baby is born and you are largely forgotten. Child health nurses will largely ignore you, regardless of how involved you are. Friends will ask how the baby and the mum are going. Workmates don’t care, but will ask. They don’t care. They’ll pretend they do, but really, they’re only asking to be polite. Stop explaining what is happening and go back to work so everyone else can move on. Seriously, no-one cares. If they’ve got kids, they’re just waiting for you to finish talking so they can share their story – if they don’t have kids they are purely waiting for you to finish talking. Its not new to everyone else man. You are not the first Dad on the planet. Move on.

10346360

Being a Dad is a challenge. Being a Mum is more of a challenge, and we should cut our whining and consider ourselves lucky and be more supportive, but it is still a challenge.  You feel like a spare part – but society expects you to be a major player. You feel like there is something you should do to help – but it isn’t very obvious. You want to be involved, but workplaces don’t support that really. Oh yeah – the department has got a family friendly policy, but don’t ask your boss for a morning off to attend an assembly. You’ll get laughed out of the office.

You’ll want to get involved and you’ll want to be supportive and you’ll also want some recognition from society that you are more than a walking inseminator – but none of that is probably going to happen so just try and keep yourself busy and engaged and for God’s sake, don’t complain. DO NOT COMPLAIN.

lostateminor_Inseminator

Here are a few things you can do, to make yourself be less annoying and improve your life, and the lives of those around you:

  1. Forget about sex. For now anyway. Seriously, forget it. Just move on.  For the next few months just sort yourself out. You know what I mean. But even do that quietly and respectfully. You might feel great, and now the baby is sleeping a little more, your feeling a little more like you should try it on and look for a little bit of action. Your partner, despite having grown a 4.5kg parasite for nine months, looks amazing. You’ve never thought she has looked more beautiful. That incredible thing she has gone and done in growing and delivering a child has led to you thinking she is probably the most amazing human being on the planet. She’s also had an unexpected, chest related bonus you weren’t planning on. She is amazing. She looks amazing. She’s the sexiest creature ever. The issue is – she’s lactating. 62035291.jpgYep, those massive fun-bags you want to pounce on don’t belong to you any more (not that they did), they don’t even belong to your partner any more either. She is a walking food source and no amount of sleep, back rubs or gifts are going to change that. She’s also had massive body changes, is feeling incredibly responsible for a brand new, super needy human being and has more things to think of than you’ll ever know. Eventually (I hope for your sake), she’ll bring sexy back and you’ll be back in business – but until then, cool your expectations, be incredibly loving and supportive and focus on being useful. giphy.gif
  2. Focus on being useful. I spent six months as the stay at home parent when my first son was 3 months old. This was in another country, with an incredibly supportive Aunty helping out around the place, but primarily, child rearing was my gig (during the day). IT WAS HARD. Harder than work. Harder than manual labour. Harder than deciding whether to have a macchiato or a latte at lunch. SERIOUSLY HARD. latte-vs-latte-macchiato.jpgSo, when you come home from an INCREDIBLY stressful day at the office, doing whatever the hell it is you do; or get in after a really solid day on the tools and your back is throbbing – get useful. Now, this may not mean coming through the door and helping out by cooking. If you cook dinner, your partner is still looking after your kids. You need to ASK what is the most useful thing to do and muck in and do it. Then, when its sorted and baby is sleeping – turn your attention away from the couch and take on the next most useful thing you can tackle. You need to help the hell out. Raising a child is a full time job. Cleaning the kitchen and doing the laundry is ON TOP OF THAT. It is not an all inclusive deal, my friend – you need to do you share (as in an equal share) of the housework on top of the invaluable work you do earning money, because your partner is doing the invaluable work of raising your child for nothing. It is sometimes called domestic foreplay. If point one really resonated with you and you’re in a massive dry patch right now, try point two on for size. See if you can launder your way back to loving. Try to scrub your way to sex. Seriously, worst case scenario, you’ll actually help out by doing a small portion of the amount of housework you should be doing. Best case, you might gain some appreciation.images
  3. Don’t baby-sit your kids. Don’t do it. And don’t let ANYONE say that you are. You’re not babysitting. You’re not a desperate teenager saving money for next weekend’s binge drinking (or responsibly buying a car, or uni text books). You’re parenting. You’re fathering. You’re not doing a favour or taking on some additional task. You’re being involved in the most important thing in the world to you, aside from your partner. If someone asks if your babysitting your own kids. Tell them to go away (in much more colourful language). If your partner says your babysitting your kids – correct them. AAEAAQAAAAAAAAOQAAAAJGIxM2NiMTYxLTFiN2ItNDU5ZS1hZWRhLTcxYWIxZWIyYjMyNQ.jpgOn a slightly related side note: if your partner refers to you as “one of the kids” or a “mother of three” and includes you in the count – you need to grow some balls and man up. I don’t care how completely useless you are as a partner and a father, if you let your partner believe that you are as useful as a child in her life – forget point one. In fact, forget having any sort of meaningful adult relationship with your partner. Man up, stand up and change what ever has to be changed man-child. 635688549940642012-1245705170_man child.jpg
  4. They’re your kids. Yep, get involved big guy. You’re not doing a “favour” by being involved and taking them to swimming on the weekend. You’re not special. You are just doing what is expected of you – so don’t expect a pat on the head for just being an average father. Being involved in your own child’s life when you are not at work is not amazing. You don’t get a Father of the Year nomination for doing what is basically expected of you, having decided to bring another human being in to the world. tywinlannisterfar_893624.jpgJeez, if you think it is some big deal that you are involved in the most rudimentary way in the raising of your own child – you’re probably expecting a medal Ceremony for Domestic Services for that load of washing you put on. Pull your head in. It is your child, your house, your family. Take responsibility for what is yours and do what is expected of you without wanting a pat on the head every time you fulfil your most basic obligations.
  5. Work on your relationship. Once you’ve got your head around covering off the basics above – put some extra special effort in to getting along with your partner and work on your relationship. Take time out to spend together. Use eager grandparents to care for your child. Don’t feel bad for taking up a grandparent’s offer to look after your kids if your going to spend time with your partner. Your parents or in-laws remember how banal and mind-numbing raising kids can be, and they want to show off to their friends about how engaged and supportive they are. Exploit this for your own gain. They did. Don’t you remember being dropped off to Nanna and Grandad for the school holidays? THE SCHOOL HOLIDAYS! Not an evening so you can watch a movie – extended bloody periods. My parents even went over seas. article-2501704-195AE59800000578-881_306x423.jpgHonestly, get over your self and how important you think you are in the raising of your own children and give Gran and Pop a turn. They want to prove to you they still have it. And seriously, as much as you think you’re critical to your kid’s well being day to day, you are so quickly forgotten once the milo and lollipops come out. Honestly, your kids will go to sleep without you, they’ll be safe(ish), they’ll enjoy bonding without you hovering around being clingy, they’ll love it. Get out and spend some time with your partner and reconnect. Keep dating, well beyond the birth of your kids. Make your relationship a major priority. you’re a team in this childrearing thing, and if that isn’t your number one priority, ahead of kids, work and craft beers – you still have time to re-jig things. Make time. Exploit your parents generosity and reconnect. You never know, point one may be back in play if you’ve done well in the other areas.

So that’s it. I could go on all day – but who needs that. We’re all losing interest. So that ends my general advice to Dads. Its nothing more than the basics really: don’t be a demanding tool, be respectful and fair, and don’t expect a ticker tape for doing the basics. Again, I’m no expert and my advice in general – but I’ve been trying to follow it for a while now and, despite the small sample size, it seems to be working.

The birth of a child: Confusion and powerlessness. A father’s role in labour, delivery and aftercare. Part 3

POST-PARTUM LIFE

The focus post-delivery was now on developing a bond with our baby and supporting the new parents in the practical side of caring for a new child.

The focus post discharge from hospital was how my wife was adapting to mother-hood and if I was being a supportive husband and father. This is fine and appropriate – however little emphasis is placed on the partner’s emotional reaction and adaption to the birth process and new-found fatherhood.

More than once I have had male friends and family with similarly traumatic birth experiences become a little “misty-eyed” in their brief recounts of the events, only to quickly change tack and subject to return to socially acceptable male behaviour.

The medical paradigm is interested in the reduction of child and mother mortality in the least complicated and efficient manner, and ensuring mother and child are able to be discharged from care in as best shape as possible.

Support services and in many ways society also has this focus – Odent’s (2010) call for the removal of fathers from the birthing process is to improve maternal and infant outcomes. Vernon (2006) and Winder’s (2006) push for a doula or support person is a movement to remove the stress that father’s bring to the delivery situation and and effort to improve maternal and infant outcomes.

Fathers will continue to be present and realistically require involvement and engagement (Chandler & Field, 1997), with research showing higher levels of post-partum satisfaction for both parents who have shared the experience of labour and birth (Chan & Paterson-Brown, 2002).

There is very little literature or real services in improving the father’s emotional outcomes, something that should be a concern to all – as doula or no doula, once returning to home, the father is more often than not the primary support person for mother and child (Wong, Perry, & Hockenberry, 2002; Chan & Paterson-Brown, 2002).

A father still dealing with negative emotions from the birth experience could have a negative influence on the initial settling process (Chandler & Field, 1997). Support is needed; before, during and after the birth of the child in a manner and delivery structure that is appropriate and accessible.

 

Thanks for reading

 

References

 

Australian Institute of Health and Wellfare. (2011). Nursing and midwifery labour force 2009. AIHW bulletin no. 90. Canberra: AIHW.

Chan, K. K., & Paterson-Brown, S. (2002). How do fathers feel after accompanying their partners in labour and delivery? Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 22(1), 11-15.

Chandler, S., & Field, P. A. (1997). Becoming a Father: First-Time Fathers’ Experience of Labor and Delivery. The Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health, 42(1), 17-24.

Odent, M. (2010). THE MASCULINISATION OF THE BIRTH ENVIRONMENT. Retrieved September 20, 2011, from WombEcology: http://www.wombecology.com/masculinisation.html

Vernon, D. (2006). Men at Birth. Sydney: Finch Publishing.

Winder, K. (2006). Bellybelly.com.au. Retrieved September 20, 2011, from http://www.bellybelly.com.au/birth/ten-tips-on-being-a-great-birth-support-person

Wong, D., Perry, S., & Hockenberry, M. (2002). Maternal Child Nursing Care. St. Louis: Mosby.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The birth of a child: Confusion and powerlessness. A father’s role in labour, delivery and aftercare. Part 2

THE EXPERIENCE

My wife had a long labour. We had been enthusiastic labour parents, taking to the role and its expectations with duty and excitement. We walked the block in the early stages of labour, ate well, relaxed when possible and stayed home as long as seemingly possible.

I was told by a tired midwife over the phone to not come to the hospital until my wife’s contractions were less than 4 minutes apart, not to get too excited, but to call back if her water broke.

The clinical and apathetic mood of our conversation was mildly deflating, the midwife almost annoyed that I had rung. I understand night-duty and its pressure, its lethargy and its sleep deprivation – but I was having a baby! Well, my wife was anyway – some excitement or encouragement could have been in order!

We waited and waited. My wife’s water had broken while she’d gone for a nap and her contractions were under the 3 minute mark. Surely things were looking good. We headed up to the hospital in an eerie calm, driving slowly to not cause discomfort; excited but fully aware this was the start of the journey – not the end. While I was completely aware of how unrealistic Hollywood birth scenes really are, yet it still seemed anti-climactic driving in a calm and restrained manner through the quiet streets to the hospital.

Our arrival to hospital led to us being ushered in to a sterile examination room and the midwife “had a look” at how things were progressing. Anyone familiar with this area would know that midwives don’t look with their eyes. There was some confusion and deliberation before the first midwife made off for reinforcements to also “have a look”; leaving my wife sitting on an examination bench, with slightly less dignity and a lot more KY jelly than when we entered.

Eventually everyone was happy having “had a look” and we were ushered to the birthing suite to have some rest and prepare for the day ahead. Through this process I was pushed to the side and out of the way, my involvement seeming unnecessary.

Labour went as smoothly as possible until after the 30 hour mark, my wife’s dilation slowed and things became more complicated. A foetal heart rate monitor was connected and my wife was administered syntocinon intravenously. The midwives had been fantastic as they had made every effort to explain things to my wife about what was happening. As the effects of the synthetic-hormone began, the heart rate monitor began to display our baby’s heart rate dramatically slowing with each strong contraction, before rising back up to normal limits.

Patients are often connected to various forms of technology and devices that monitor and assess homeostasis to varying degrees, often alarming and beeping due to changes in blood pressure or heart rate, alterations in oxygen saturation or occasionally a dropped lead or sudden movement.

The alarms often create anxiety and confusion in patients and visitors, worried that a Hollywood-style resuscitation attempt would ensue following an alarm. I often tell people – “don’t start worrying until I look worried”. Our midwife was doing her best to look unworried – but a little experience could see that she was concerned. That and the notes she was writing all over the print-out; outlining that she was still awaiting the doctor’s review, despite having paged him earlier.

To the layman, the midwife jotting notes on the printouts may not raise any alarms, but this had me concerned. In a day and age when documentation is paramount in ensuring professional protection, I know you only start documenting things that carefully as they happen in times when things start going wrong.

Nothing was mentioned of the dipping numbers on the monitor. My wife was focused on her contractions and I was attempting to remain focused on helping her through them; all the while knowing my baby’s heart rate was dipping below acceptable levels and nothing was being said about it.

Our obstetrician finally arrived. He was an affable and seemingly well-read fellow open to our wants and needs; including our intentions to have as natural a birth as possible, attempting to avoid a caesarean section if able, and with minimal drug therapy. He offered his suggestions and explanations of what was happening in clear and understandable language.

There was little medical (or obstetric) jargon as he explained that mother and baby were now quite “tired” and that the baby was having some difficulties maintaining its heart rate and was in some distress. He offered us a plan of attack that would seem him attempt to deliver the baby without surgical intervention. His calmness was strongly juxtaposed by the goings on around us midwives milling around in preparation as we all tried to ignore the heart rate monitor, beeps dipping in the background.

The delivery of his information in such a casual and straightforward manner was comforting for me. It was personal, sensitive and reasonable – panic is not an emotion you wish to see on anyone’s face in times like these and his ability to diffuse our increasing anxiety was welcome.

What followed was a delivery that was later described by our obstetrician as “agricultural”. My wife had been in more pain than I had seen any patient before in my professional duties and the analgesia that had been administered to her had been administered incorrectly. I was torn as I noticed what had happened; as to what my boundaries and roles were. An average father-to-be wouldn’t have noticed that there was a problem, but I’d seen the drug not fully clear the intravenous line.

Professionals were at work in a highly stressful environment and my primary concern was supporting my wife. This role dilemma continued to place me in a difficult situation after our son was born; he was blue and unresponsive, the umbilical cord having been around his neck. Part of me was panicked to hear the familiar sounds of an infant resuscitation effort being performed just near me. Part of me wanted to be involved, or even to see him. To be honest, in the rush of baby being delivered; I had not seen he was a boy – I’d just seen this blue, contorted baby being pulled as swiftly as possible from my wife’s body, covered in amniotic fluid, vernix and blood and handed to the awaiting Paediatrician.

The fears of any complications due to asphyxiation, a failed resuscitation or other complications were very real in my mind. There was no ceremonial cutting of the cord, quick gentle cuddle or time to rejoice; our son needed medical attention and my wife was still in pain. I was helpless and unable to influence any of these situations – something I am very much not used to and it was not welcome.

The confusion on what to do and where to be is intense, all the while midwives, nurses and doctors are attending to the needs of my wife and baby, helping them as best they can. Communication at this time was understandably minimal. The paediatrician and nursing staff were working on our baby, the obstetrician and midwives focussed on my wife’s pain and birthing of the placenta.

Time went by and the severity of the situation subsided; we got our cuddles, then our son was whisked away for observation and we were left to it. What was my role now? I had a wife to help, still connected to an intravenous line that had eventually delivered the pain relief after the birth of the baby, failing to take away any labour pain, but now successfully making her drowsy and giddy – on top of the usual post-partum issues.

My newly born son lay under a heating lamp, connected to monitors; still mildly cyanotic, alone and asleep. Our families were interstate, as our wish – but were desperate for news after such a long labour. The doctors and midwives had moved on to the next problem, next birth and the next duty. I was left somewhere in the middle – emotionally and physically drained, still confused on what went wrong towards the end of the labour, and still confused as what my role now was, still uncertain on how I fit into the plan of care or delivery of services.

I was capable of caring for my wife as any husband is and also capable of caring for sick or injured patients requiring assistance with mobility and showering – which my wife now was. However, was this MY role? I knew better than most that hospitals run on people knowing and understanding the roles within the organisation and fulfilling them – but where did I fit in? The past few hours had been so chaotic that I was unsure what to take on as my role and what to leave for the staff.

I still had adrenaline pumping from the excitement, but also from fear. My wife had been in incredible amounts of pain and I had been unable to help her. The medical model of care had failed her in the very important task of pain management, which aside from being incredible unpleasant has also been shown to directly affect the birthing process (Wong, Perry, & Hockenberry, 2002).

Communications throughout the labour process had been fantastically clear and appropriate – but now there was no communication or support – the initial problem of a baby needing to be born had been effectively and efficiently dealt with. Our new requirements for support and explanations did not fall into the priorities of medical staff at this time.

The birth of a child: Confusion and powerlessness. A father’s role in labour, delivery and aftercare. Part 1

This is an ethnography assignment from my Master of Public Health. Its not perfect, not re-edited and clumsily chopped in three. References are listed on the final post.

INTRODUCTION

My wife lay exhausted on the crumpled sheets of the hospital bed; slightly dazed and confused by the late acting synthetic opioid analgesia she had been administered, still wearing the clothes she had laboured for thirty-six hours in; stained with amniotic fluid and sweat.

My new-born son, still unnamed, also exhausted; lay sleeping in the Special Care Nursery of the hospital, watched and monitored, having been admitted for observation due to being “flat” upon delivery.

I was the spare piece of the birthing puzzle- the husband, partner or friend that is along for the ride, but ultimately surplus to demand once things were in motion.

Now that the baby was born, I was torn. What was my role now?

My wife was still connected to intravenous lines that had long since served their purpose and my son was in another room being closely monitored having been born not breathing and requiring resuscitation.

I had waiting family to contact to share the wonderful news of the expected arrival of my newborn child.

I had a wife to assist following the most physically intense activity I’d ever witnessed.

I had a new creature in my life that I did not know, or yet love in a traditional sense – but had an overwhelming primeval impulse to protect and watch over.

Most of all, I had my own feelings, emotions and needs – but they had been largely ignored for the past few days and I had a feeling that was not about to change.

FATHER’S ROLE

The role of the father in the birth of their child is complicated and often unclear. A quick examination through the 1700 page textbook, Maternal Child Nursing Care (Wong, Perry, & Hockenberry, 2002)) found one dot point summary on the support needs of the father in labour.

Advice to practitioners included informing the soon-to-be-father of expected sights and smells and that needing to leave the room is fine; reinforcing that his presence in labour is helpful; offering him blankets to sleep on the chair and reminding him to eat (Wong, Perry, & Hockenberry, 2002). While this is arguably important information in practical terms; the almost condescending nature of the advice and occasionally the treatment of fathers in childbirth do little to acknowledge the father’s feelings and reactions to the machinations of labour.

A number of sources debate the value of having the father or partner in the delivery suite due to their lack of understanding of the process, high anxiety levels and lack of proper support to their partner (Vernon, 2006, Odent, 2010 and Winder, 2010). Winder (2010), a birth attendant and creator of BellyBelly .com.au; a high traffic Australian conception and birth website; challenges fathers in their motivation for attending the birth and their role in ensuring that their partner’s birth is all it should be. Vernon (2006), talks of men’s inability to allow things to “happen” in their role as “fixers” and creatures of action and often end up requiring comfort from their partners, increasing anxiety. Odent (2010), speaks of the increased neocortex stimulation and increased adrenaline associated with an attendant father-to-be.

All of these authors advocate for the use of a doula, or birth attendant; with the preferred outcomes being to ease the strain on the male as birthing partner through to removing the father from the role entirely.

While an unprepared, reluctant or anxious partner can be a hindrance to the birthing process (Vernon, 2006); should the emphasis be placed more on ensuring understanding than third-party involvement? Should all fathers be seen as a hindrance and potential negative influence on a successful birth? Chandler and Field (1997), argue that the benefits of an active, educated and engaged father in the support role is important to both parties. He also notes that fathers were not seen as part of a “labouring couple” and many felt tolerated rather than full partners in the birthing process (Chandler & Field, 1997).

Post-partum information and advice has a somewhat similar tone, with the onus being on the new father to ensure that he is providing the support and encouragement that his partner requires (Winder, 2006; Wong, Perry, & Hockenberry, 2002).

This is true, but there is little about the father’s own needs, insecurities and required support. The “father” in most of the literature and prenatal education appears to be the generalisation of the clueless bloke who purely wants to work, watch footy and have sex and hopes a baby won’t get in the way of all that.

Realistically, as the roles and expectations of women have changed dramatically over the past few generations – so has that of men.

MY BACKGROUND

Going into the labour experience was not going to be the same for me as it was for the general “bloke” described above. My background had given me some insight and education in to the birth process that had not been afforded on every man. It can be argued that knowledge is power. It can equally be argued that a little bit of knowledge is dangerous.

I am one of the 9.6% of male nurses in Australia (Australian Institute of Health and Wellfare, 2011) , and through training and employment opportunities I had worked with prematurely born babies and children, assisted in the birth of four babies and had experience of hospitals, pain and medical staff.

I had endeavoured throughout my wife’s pregnancy and labour not to advertise my profession as it can have two unwanted effects. The first being, occasionally other health professionals stop talking to you and your partner as patients or clients, but to me as a nurse, seemingly hoping I will later translate and explain the conversation to my wife.

Secondly, there can be some reluctance or even annoyance, often a pre-conceived idea that you will be a bit of a “know-it-all” or overstep boundaries. I wanted to be treated as a first-time expectant father, not an off-duty nurse.

to be continued