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Dads in the delivery room- help or hindrance?

There’s been a lot said recently about the role of dads in the delivery room and it’s been playing on my mind. 

From the moment the sperm meets the egg, more than a potential baby has begun forming- so too your journey towards parenthood has begun its formation, and you dont even know it yet. Your body is gearing up for some major changes, your mind is gearing up for some major changes too, and the impact on your relationship? You really don’t know what you are in for! Many women and men report mixed feelings- overwhelming joy and happiness, mixed with fear and apprehension. And the ever-present thought in the background “What will this mean for “us”?”

You are about to go from just the 2 of you to 3 (or maybe more)…and I think we’re all familiar with that saying “Three’s a crowd”! Well, sometimes I think that old chestnut applies here. Women go through the physical symptoms of pregnancy, and the emotional/hormonal upheaval….from the outside looking in, it would seem that our men just tag along for the ride, staying out of the emotional equation for fear of intruding on this sacred womens business….but do they really? If so, do they do it not by choice but by default, because that is all they know?  Do they develop an attachment to that little bean just as much as we do, but in a different way? Or is birthing just women’s business? Do men have a place in all of this at all? 

To me, a very obvious cultural shift has taken place in Australia over the last 2 decades- men have been invited into the secret world of childbirth, and they no longer need a doctors white coat and stethoscope to get the invite. They can hold our hand while we grip it in the throes of  labour, wipe sweat from our brow, offer encouragement and support  (or in my case feed me ice-chip after ice-chip- no talking, just ice- NOW!!)

Is this a good thing? I say yes!

Is it any coincidence that more dads are playing an active role in their childrens lives nowadays, partly as a result of being allowed “in” to this amazing event, the birth of their child?

They witness possibly the first breath of their baby outside of the womb, many gain an in-awe appreciation for the amazing ability of the female body, they get an insight into the reason why we usually dont desire to have sex a week after giving birth (very important!) , and they make all kinds of new and wonderful discoveries: from the wet-patch-of-a-different-kind on the sheets between you; baby poo and spew and their amazing ability to end up on every lounge cushion you own, they learn that “let-down” takes on a whole new meaning and lets not forget every new parents best friend- sleep deprivation! You’ve entered the world of parenthood together my dear friends- ENJOY!

So why not share it all, birth included (and that milky wet-patch!)

But seriously, if men are educated on all aspects of pregnancy, childbirth and the care and requirements of a baby, as well as the ongoing needs of a mother post-partum, surely their ability to provide real and lasting support to us and their children will be increased? This too applies to ongoing support of us during breastfeeding; in-depth knowledge and support of which is usually lacking by many (and not just men!).

I think that the concept of banning men from the delivery suite plays into the stereotype of the dumb male (aside from the omnipotent obstetrician of course ); that men are incapable of feeling emotion, a bit useless when it comes to things of the heart or soul. The outdated image of the bumbling dad & harried husband, which reminds me of old sitcoms (and some new ones!) comes to mind.

 Back in the day when men were banned from delivery suites, did they actively help raise their children, or were they emotionally distant from their day-to-day lives? Did they change nappies, help bathe their children, tell their kids they loved them on a regular basis and hug them frequently- all the things that were solely considered a womans domain? 

 Today, amongst our circle of friends, most of the guys are changing the nappies, cooking while mum does baths or vice versa, helping with homework and doing home readers. They are talking with their kids, not at them- the most pertinent distinction of all!

And I know that many men still dont do these things, but I am positive that things are changing. Sure, we women dont have 50/50 equality in a great many things in modern society, but I do believe the expectations of men as fathers has increased, and rightly so. Many more men are stepping up to the shared responsibilities of parenthood, and seeing themselves as more than just “breadwinners” but as nurturers. I see banning them from the delivery suite as taking a major step backwards, and making a lot of sweeping assumptions that are potentially detrimental. I mean what man wants that image of a stretched perineum burned in his mind forever more *rolls eyes* (oh come on, they’ve never minded looking before- what possible difference does one teeny little conehead poking out of a vagina make!) 

I also think it incorrectly adds weight to the old “woman as a commodity” idea- out-of-date concepts like : oh the poor husband, how horrifying to see his partners vagina from that angle, he will be scarred for life and never see her as sexually desirable again.

Women in our society are no longer here just existing to serve their hubands sexual desires!  Hmmmm, maybe, just maybe, for most men, the actual witnessing of their child being born, whether it is vaginally or by c-section, of taking their first breath out of the womb, of meeting them for the first time, is somewhat symbolic too, and a wonderful shared experience for both parents! And the sexual function of the vagina is furthest from their mind?

If we know they will provide inadequate support during birth, of course it makes sense to not have them there. But as for the rest, what is wrong with a man seeing what his partner’s body is actually capable of in all its glory? I think we underestimate the depth of emotion or potential depth of emotion that being an active part of the birthing process can facilitate. If we don’t “let them in” while we birth, how can we expect them to want to be there during any other important emotional experience? If they say they dont want to be there during the birth, can we offer guidance and information, empower them with knowledge lest they regret this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity? What do we, as mothers, really expect of fathers today? Do we want them, ideally, to be actively involved from the very beginning, or would it be easier to have them be passive bystanders to the wonders of parenthood like they were in the past? 

We will always benefit from a network of supportive women surrounding us while we are pregnant, and more often than not women can provide invaluable support to us during childbirth and during motherhood- but I think we are long past the era of men sitting in the waiting room, cigars at the ready, waiting for that all-important announcement “Its a ….”

And I for one, am very glad.

Are our positive breastfeeding stories feeding the guilt?

Celebrate World Breastfeeding Week with Fusion Parenting!

 

I am fairly confident that some, if not most of you will know what I mean.

Whether it’s a news item, online news article or mainstream parenting forum post about one’s positive experience of breastfeeding, there is the barrage of insults from some women flinging mud at any breastfeeding success stories. There are cries of guilt, of indignity, of anger. How dare we rub salt into the wounds of women who couldn’t breastfeed? How dare we mention the normalcy of feeding a human infant human milk? Breastmilk as the biological norm? I would think any person could grasp the legitimacy of that. Afterall, how long has the human race survived because of the female production of breastmilk to provide essential nourishment to our young? Why else are we blessed with these beautiful and womanly vessels on our chest that contain mammary glands with milk-producing potential?

But you can’t say that in the mainstream without reprimand or disclaimer. Why is that so? What do we have to be ashamed about? Why can’t we shout from the rooftops our love of something, the amazingness of it, the feelings associated with it, the complete normalcy of it.

*long pause*…….oh….that is right. To say such things would imply that the opposite must hold true then, right? If breastmilk is the biological norm, then babies who are bottlefed must be somehow abnormal? If you mention that breastfeeding for a year lowers your likelihood of breast cancer, those women who didn’t breastfeed will get breast cancer right? And surely all those formula-fed kids must be destined to a life of obesity because in all likelihood, breastfeeding lowers the incidence of childhood obesity?? Every non-breastfed baby must be riddled with gastro-intestinal illnesses, because you guessed it, breastfed babies are less likely to have GI illnesses.

NO! NO! NO! It does not mean that at all! Every quote, every statistic, is so often taken personally- misconstrued and reconstructed as a personal affront- an insult to the integrity of the mothers who couldn’t, or didn’t. But…..you are most definitely welcome to mention the wonders of the bottle. Oh, the myriad benefits to both mother and father! Dad gets to bond with the baby! Mum gets more sleep! She is not beholden to a baby who needs her 24/7! You know what the baby is getting!  Feeding on demand?Who would let a baby dictate when they were fed?

And if you do breastfeed, you have permission to speak loudly of the difficulties. It makes you human right, to admit a bit of defeat? A rough patch? A hurdle you managed to overcome? It makes you easier to like, to relate to somehow because you did the hard yards and battled through and got to the other side. That is the stuff of back-patting- cautious back-patting mind you, because be warned- if you then go on to champion the cause, you run the risk of quickly going from acceptable sob-story to self-righteous and smug do-gooder…or even worse, to be called a bully and someone who lacks empathy for those who didn’t make it. You have crossed the invisible line of acceptability, and have now joined that so lovingly named faction-  “the breastfeeding nazi”…..you will be named and shamed, have no doubt. She who dares mention the wonders of breastmilk risks a fireball of collective outrage cast forth in her direction. You can only speak of such things in whispered tones amongst those “in the club”….you know, all the smug do-gooders that got lucky, whose breasts managed to work properly, who had the luxury of leisure time, lazing around on the couch with a baby on boob watching midday t.v………..

aaaah breastfeeding- its a very emotive act isn’t it? I guess anything to do with parenting is really. And you can never please all people all of the time! My only aim has ever been to ensure the health and happiness of my children. Most of us do what we feel is best for our kids. I don’t care how anyone else feeds their baby- but I am passionate about breastfeeding advocacy and education. So how do I reconcile those things without giving the appearance of smugness? I empathise totally with the struggles of other women when it comes to breastfeeding. I too have been there with my second son. 6 weeks of tears and uncertainty, it was a steep learning curve for both of us. But one thing I was always sure of was this- I would fight tooth and nail to breastfeed him- and there was no external influence on that decision- it was mine and mine only. Heck, I had an army of doubters trailing me all the way. “Helpful” friends who’d never breastfed a day in their life, telling me to “just put him on the bottle” “why are you doing this to yourself?” “you’ll be much happier if you stop”……umm no, I don’t think I would. I want to do this. If I didn’t want to, I would not be persisting through all this ill-conceived and unwanted advice- and there was plenty of that!

But thankfully too there was plenty of support where I needed it most- from my husband. I also sought expert advice where I knew I could find it- a lactation consultant at the local child health clinic, and the midwife who saw me throughout my pregnancy. They held my hand through those tears, showed me time and time again how to latch him on correctly. Explained the ins-and-outs of breastfeeding. How I appreciated all their help. I recall the very moment I put him to the breast, and bracing myself for the pain, all I felt was the let-down. He suckled contentedly, I leant back against my pillow and the weight of the world flowed out from my breasts…..success at last- how sweet it felt!  I couldn’t wait for the next feed- would we do this easily again? Yep- we sure did! I wanted to shout from the rooftops and run down the street shrieking like a woman gone mad “we did it!! breastfeeding is easy now!!!” yet somehow managed to restrain myself. But does any of this make me extra-special as a mother, better than the women who went through hell with the pain and could not go on? No, of course it doesn’t! I am no martyr. I just did what I chose to do, and thankfully I succeeded. 

But fast-forward to my experience with feeding my 3rd child, my daughter, and I am silenced by some fairly harsh critics. We had no trouble from the start. It was always easy. No painful letdown, no pain at all. No trouble with latch, no supply dramas, no confusion….just milky bliss from the first breastfeed, to today- where at 22 months, we are still going strong, and will continue for as long as it works for both of us. What is so wrong with saying that, publicly, with some pride attached?

I confess to finding it a bit puzzling as to why people find their personal choices or circumstances when it comes to parenting- or anything else in life really-so hard to bear when it comes to other peoples success….sure, everyone loves the underdog- I get that. But what about those who got where they are because they sought out information, armed themselves with education, and surrounded themselves with loads of support? Should they not be recognised, applauded and embraced for their proactive approach?

The same thing happens with birth…but hey, thats a whole other blog!

There have been quite a few articles recently, reporting on the “myths of breastfeeding”…and the cries of “yay, finally we are validated!” ring loudly in my ears. Take that breastfeeding brigade- strike one! Well, I have to say we have had numerous strikes against us well before this- breastfeeding rates are appallingly low in Australia at 4 months….there is still discrimination against breastfeeding women feeding in public, and try feeding a toddler or older child- you must be some weird hippie or part of some cult, or even worse, a deviant mother. And we are a minority group, without financial backing or corporate support. All we have is the health system backing us (and often inadequately), and the wonderful advocacy provided by volunteer organisations like the Australian Breastfeeding Association.

So what is the point of all this you might ask? In an ideal world I wish for mothers to support each other through the minefield of parenthood…we all have one common denominator- a love of our children, and their best interests at heart. Why do we need this great divide over one small aspect of our mothering- how we feed our babies? If you didn’t want to breastfeed, bottle feed with pride! If you tried and couldn’t and feel sad about it, I hope you get loads of  hugs and support to deal with those feelings so you can bottlefeed your baby without guilt or sadness. 

But please, please, please do not deny me the ability to profess the absolute joy I have at breastfeeding my daughter. It is mine and hers, a time of total connectedness and quiet appreciation of each other. And I will shout it from the rooftops if I so desire. All I ask for is mutual respect.