Magazine article The Spectator

If You're Looking for Dad, He's Behind the Bush

Magazine article The Spectator

If You're Looking for Dad, He's Behind the Bush

Article excerpt

As if to rebut unfair charges that he is short on ideas, our leader broke his six-month silence this week to announce a hard-edged new policy. In a radical announcement to the National Family and Parenting Institute, David Cameron exclusively recommended -- as part of a policy review on 'the couple relationship' -- that fathers should be present at the 'magic moment' of their child's birth (or as members of the Countryside Alliance put it, 'in at the kill').

Childbirth, he reveals, in his best spokesman-from-Relate fashion, can be a key bonding moment or a 'missed opportunity which leaves a couple drifting apart'. I have two comments. No, make that three.

One, this policy is older than he is. In the 1940s, Dr Fernand Lamaze, influenced by Soviet childbirth practices, taught natural childbirth techniques in preference to medical interventions. Gravid women were taught how to breathe, use birthing balls and hot and cold packs, and even to orgasm in order to hasten labour.

At least two years before the arrival of little David William Donald Cameron in Oxfordshire, a book called The New Childbirth was published. In her book Erna Wright SRN SCM includes two long chapters on the important role of men in childbirth. In 'The Necessary Father' she writes that the participation of fathers in the birth of their children was important and yes, bonding, and had 'never happened before in any society, ancient or modern, eastern or western' and that the development marked a 'new and rather surprising cultural trend'.

In the following chapter, called 'Man's Work is Never Done', Mrs Wright briskly sets out the role of the father through every stage in the process. 'I shall teach you, as a husband, to be a sort of plumber's mate to your wife in the job she has to do, ' she writes, using a decidedly apt turn of phrase. So it's all been jolly modern and forward-thinking and groovy-dad-oriented in the delivery room for, oh, at least 40 years now.

My second comment is this. David Cameron has slightly missed one of the main points of fathers being present at what he no doubt calls the 'empowering birth experience'. The way he talks, it's all about bonding and sharing and magic moments.

Now, I am the last person to deny that all this is theoretically possible in an NHS delivery suite. The birth of a child (even one's own) is an event that reduces most human beings to hot tears of wonder and most mothers I know (including me) remember the births of their children as the most rapturous moments of their entire lives.

But to be honest, it is not the presence of the father that makes it so. In the second or third stages of labour, two rugby teams could be having a stag party right by your bed, and a labouring female wouldn't notice a thing. She is a naked, screaming, swearing animal in the involuntary grip of the fiercest urge in Nature.

The male instinctively knows this.

This explains why, in less politically correct societies, men don't participate in the birth of their children, not even to establish the important male principle that for the rest of their union, she will do all the work while he loiters around helplessly.

No -- they scarper.

In one West African region, the woman tells her husband when she's in labour. This is the signal for him not to find the whale music and glucose power bars and Evian facial mist, as it is here. It's the signal for him to run and hide in a bush, safely out of earshot. …

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