Macho Macho Men

Macho, macho man; I wanna be, a macho man; Macho, macho man (yeah, yeah); I wanna be a macho! You’ve gotta be a certain type of man in our world – particularly in the rural area. Welcome to this rambling thought piece that wanders through some ideas on how railing against a stereotype can be challenging – and at times, you have to think, why bother?

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Apologies for the Village People reference. I mean, who doesn’t absolutely love them –  but it is more than dated, and the link to my macho man post is a little tenuous. The Village People song was more about getting as fit possible and being ready to get down with, anyone you can – while this is more about being a certain type of man and acting in a certain way. A macho way all the same.

Now, as a man who chose nursing as a profession – I’ve experienced questioning on my sexuality based on that choice. From the start of my university studies, some of the men that I played football alongside would regularly call me gay. Or a faggot. For studying nursing. Some of it was “harmless” (see homophobic) joshing that was more about having some fun than actually thinking I was a homosexual, but sometimes I actually wondered if they thought I was.

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I was quite comfortable with my sexuality, so didn’t pay much attention to this borderline homophobic abuse; but looking back, I really feel for anyone who was in my presence that may have been gay, or bisexual, or questioning; and hit by any of the ricochet. I wish, having my time again – that instead of laughing this abuse off or even playing along to cope – that I was a stronger ally and called out the language that was being sent my way for what it was. It wasn’t until years later, at the WA launch of the Safe Schools Coalition, an amazing two day workshop; that it really dawned on me that I should have been stronger.

I’ve been involved in male-dominated sporting groups for most of my life and they have times that they are wonderfully supportive – provided you fit the mould and do and say the right things. As a young nurse who doesn’t drink beer, there were times that I felt like my club mates thought I was really quite odd. Again, I was pretty comfortable being me, but there were times that, in that hyper-masculine setting, that I felt pressured into conforming with behaviour I wasn’t proud of or comfortable with; or letting things slide when I should have stood up stronger.

For instance, it has taken me a long time to feel comfortable enough to challenge people’s blatant racism or sexism within this setting – particularly when I know I am in the absolute minority. My wife comes from a Muslim family, I have Muslim friends, and have travelled mainly in Muslim-majority countries – so when some life-expert who hasn’t left the state wants to give a lecture on what “they” are all like, I can’t help but introduce the fact that, in my experience, the Muslim’s I know personally, haven’t waged jihad on me. Well, I don’t think my mother-in-law has….

I’ve also tried to model better behaviour and language in my own conduct – particularly know that I am coaching young men, particularly around attitudes to women. I’ve tried to change the language we use as a team – no homophobic or transphobic slurs; no one is a pussy; we do modified push-ups, not girl push-ups; the world girl is not to be used as a slur; I try to casually bring up female sporting achievements, the AFLW has helped with relevance, as casually bringing up Elaine Thompson was a challenge. I’m not a feminist – I don’t feel worthy of using that label to describe myself when I feel that there are many more people, women in particular, who are doing much more to be advocates, leaders and revolutionaries. All I’m doing is not being a douche canoe. I don’t deserve a medal.

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I also try to model this behaviour, language and attitudes for my sons. I’ve also, always, been physically affectionate with them. I was wary of the concept of “handling” them like boys from the beginning, and while you can’t break from everything that is engrained, you can try. I am determined to continue to show them that kisses, cuddles and touch are normal between men. I’ve tried to model it with their uncles and our male friends. Reading this excellent piece by Clementine Ford (and being lucky for her to tell me about it discuss it before it was published) has made me even more certain that we have to challenge the social norms around male touch. We just need to chip away to normalise it. My father was wonderfully affectionate to me up until the time he died. As a young teenager, I felt really embarrassed when he would hug me or give me a kiss goodbye. Mortified. Now, I look back thankful he did, and miss it greatly.

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My father was forced, through ill-health, to be the “stay-at-home” parent for me in my first years of life. He eventually went back to work and resumed his cultural norms, but for a while there, he was on the other side. Since my eldest son was born, I haven’t worked full-time. I’ve taken time away from formal work; to work within our home, raising our children.

I currently study from home and work part-time while my wife is the major breadwinner in our family. Working as a teacher in a primary school as well as running her own tutoring business is seriously hard work – hard work that few actually recognise or acknowledge. I find her dedication to both roles both tiring and inspiring. A perfectionist, incredibly intelligent and highly-qualified – my wife does not do things by halves and does not phone in a session in either role.

Part of taking on this role, of majority breadwinner, as a mother, is fraught with judgement (both external and internal), guilt and and fear of letting others down. Society views working mothers as choosing work over their children. Of letting down their kids. This isn’t my thought bubble, a really intelligent women called Dr Judy Rose, did her PhD on the phenomena. Working fathers do exactly what my wife does – in fact typically greater hours away from the home, with arguably less engagement with it when home – but men are just doing what they are supposed to do. It is bollocks.

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By taking on this high level of work and earning capacity, my wife has enabled me to focus on my study. I would not be able to do this without her. By taking on this role, my wife has also enabled me to be the main worker in our home. Something I am comfortable undertaking, and feel grateful for the challenge – it’s bloody hard work. I have many peers that don’t understand this, wouldn’t feel comfortable doing it, or are in professions that wouldn’t allow them to do it. It’s a shame. Until more men understand the division of home-based labour that currently exists is entirely unfair, particularly around the mental load of organising the home – the less likely we are to see more women re-enter the workforce and bring their talent and expertise with them. We are poorer for it.

The other attempt to challenge norms in behaviour that I’ve recently embarked on is a men’s dance project. I’ve never done any form of structured dance. I’ve been an active participant in large-scale dance events that involve no structure, but lots of fun (concerts, festivals, gigs), but real dancing – as in choreography, timing, and visualisation, is a whole new thing. I’m well beyond my comfort zone. I’m working with an amazing group of community dancers – other men with no experience. We are physiotherapists, tradesmen, a mussel farmer, teachers, vineyard workers, and farmers. We are being led by an amazing director and dancer in Annette Carmichael.

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My involvement in this project isn’t just about “having a go”. I am determined to show my sons that men can dance too. And my young footballers. And anyone else caught in the collateral. I tried to encourage some friends to join alongside me, but was met with a resounding chorus of NO! Like nursing – dancing is seen as a realm for women. Like nursing – dancing is seen as something gay men do. Like nursing – there are plenty of raging cisgender heteros who do dancing. Even if you are a gay man who dances, or nurses, or both – you should be free to do it without being reduced to some tacky stereotype. Just as if you are a homosexual man who likes playing football – you shouldn’t have to listen to homophobic slurs, even if they aren’t directed at you.

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My boys have already responded really positively to my dancing involvement. They are hanging out for our performance in November. They join in when I practise my routines at home. They ask me about things I have been doing in practise. They are even putting on dance performances for me at home, regularly exploring movement and expression in their own – and feeling comfortable doing it. It’s great.

Now, dancing for myself is fun. I’ll get congratulated for doing it and patted on the back. Similarly to not being a douche canoe above – there are many professional dancers who are men, who deserve amazing recognition and praise – just as there are thousands of talented community dancers (and professionals) who are women, who deserve it too. A former country footballer giving it a go is a cultural curio – the bar is set low for me as far as expectations go, so the urge is to pat my back for trying.

Which, if personal recognition, was what I was chasing, then it would be worth, as I will be recognised. and congratulated for being brave for doing something thousands of people do every day. Don’t get me wrong- it is terrifying and I’m proud of myself for taking the challenge, but I am doing it for my sons, not to be heralded. I want them to feel that that dancing is a bit more normal, and if they want to challenge the norms and take it up, they’ve seen a male role model do it.

In talking with my mother, after I signed up for this dance project – she told me a story about my father. It turns out he was a very active Irish dancer when he was younger, regularly performing and competing. He loved it. Now, he never encouraged me to dance – but never discouraged me either. I always remember him being able to dance at weddings during traditional dances, cutting a rug with my Mum. It explains, perhaps, my electrically fast feet (ha); or perhaps, more closely, explains why I felt it was ok to take on a men’s dancing project in the first place. Dancing had never been rubbished to me by my role model. And like home-based work, physical affection and the many other areas of influence my father had on me – if I can just build on each of them a little more – they’ll become more and more the norm for my sons. And hopefully their children.

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

“Why are you a male nurse? Couldn’t you become a doctor?”

registered_nurseEvery male nurse that has ever worked, has heard these words or similar. Some before they even have the chance to graduate!

Some hear it from confused patients who are struggling with the concept that a young, athletic man would do “women’s work” when there are so many “better” options.

Some hear it from colleagues.

Some hear it from family members, perhaps clinging to the faint hope that one of their own will end up with that lovely Dr. before their name and all the glitz and glamour that goes with it.

Sometimes you get it from people you meet at parties and bbqs. I’d be able to afford medical school if I had a dollar for every time this conversation played out:

“So where do you work?”

“Ah.. the hospital.”

“Oh, wonderful – you a doctor?”

“Um, no, just a nurse.”

Just a nurse. Just. A. Nurse.

male-nurse-comparison.pngSuch a simple, yet incredible devaluing statement that I know I made many times. Just a nurse: just wasn’t smart enough to be a doctor; just couldn’t eat healthy enough to be a dietician; just didn’t own the right jogging shoes to be a physiotherapist.

Now, calm down angry hordes of physiotherapists and dieticians. At least you got a mention. I didn’t bother with Occupational Therapists or Health Promotion. We’ve all got valuable contributions to make within health care. We are valuable. We are not just anything.

It’s such a simple statement that carries so much weight. Nurses, and particularly men who work as nurses need to start taking ownership of the profession. Be passionate and proud of it. For too long I referred to myself as “just a nurse” or as a “male nurse”.

What the hell is a “male nurse” anyway? Do we have “female nurses”? Why are we differentiating? This term needs to go the way of the “lady doctor” and be thoroughly shown the door! I am a nurse. I happen to be a man. They are not related in anyway. They are not gender exclusive roles. Neither is my marital status, sexuality, how many children I have or what I do on the weekend related to my ability to be a nurse.

s-9611e9bbda960201e4bbbcaf9259764b14074abf.gifMen become nurses for a reason. There are very few that fell in to the profession. You will rarely find a man that wasn’t sure what to do after school so thought they’d try nursing. You wouldn’t take the road of nursing, as a bloke, unless you didn’t at least have a strong desire to. You’d study commerce. Or engineering. Or mechanics. Or surf. Or find some other way of earning money that didn’t involve entering nursing. You wouldn’t enter a female dominated profession where you will have your motives, sexuality and personality so constantly questioned.

I didn’t become a nurse to get through the “back door” of medicine. I didn’t do it to date the nurses in my uni class. I didn’t do it so I could see people naked. I didn’t do it because I am gay. There are much easier ways to do the first three things, and well, again, not sure what nursing and sexuality have in common but that wasn’t involved here. Nurses need to sell their profession when we are asked about.

Nursing is a female dominated profession that has struggled to develop and promote its professional standing. A large part of this is because of gendered expectations, obligations and barriers that are placed in front of the majority of the nursing workforce, often by men in administrative roles or neighbouring professions.

Hospitals and health systems are battle grounds for power and status, and its no surprise the profession with a mainly female workforce struggles to maintain its standing. Its important that men who are nurses champion the role of nurses as professionals and raise the standings of our work – but not at the expense of our female colleagues. We can’t drive nursing up by driving men to the top. Though this is what happens.

I became a nurse to be challenged, to help people, to connect with people on a very human level. I wanted to interact with other human beings, to help them through the moments when they are most vulnerable, scared or alone.

Nursing is such a privileged profession – we see people at their worst and try to help them back to where they want to be. We hold people’s hands as they slowly slip across from this life to the other side. We catch the arrest as it happens and set the wheels in motion – sometimes saving that life, sometimes just missing. We see families come together and see others destruct.

All this happens while surrounded by other amazing professionals who support us, challenge us, annoy us and validate us as professionals.

Nursing is such a fulfilling, challenging and diverse profession that requires dedication, intelligence and diligence – make sure the next person that asks you about it knows that.