The Invisible Man: Isn’t It Time We Valued Men Too?

invisible-manMy three-year-old daughter was ill these last few days. What started off looking like a typical virus ended with my daughter in hospital and a battle under-way to lower a very high fever.

The difference in the way the hospital staff responded to me and my wife reminded me of what happened when my daughter was born. Below is that story, that I wrote at the time, but didn’t publish until now. My more recent experience shows that nothing has changed – men continue to be treated differently because of their gender.

Fatherhood: Misunderstood.

On the 23rd February I became a Father for the first time.  The greatest day of my life bar-none; the day that my only child was born.

So, what was my experience of becoming a Father?  Well, first we need to go back to the beginning.  Yes, I was there at the beginning, and still there 12 weeks later when my baby’s first growth scan was due.  I accompanied my wife to the Royal United Hospital in Bath, to have the scan.  I was not the only one, several proud Fathers-to-be waited with their partners for their first glimpse of their child.

Our turn came and we were called into a dark room to have the scan.  “Hello” said the nurse to my wife as she walked in.  She did not say hello to me, or even make eye contact.  In fact, she only made eye contact once, and that was when I asked a question during the scan, and she was unable to ignore me further. Off to a bad start.

Well, maybe this was a one off…Surely, this was a one off.

Over the course of the pregnancy we had many pre-natal appointments, and over half of the midwives we saw did not say hello to me. Neither did they make any eye contact with me. They basically ignored me, and made me feel unwelcome.

Only once did a midwife actually direct an unprompted question to me, while my wife was in the bathroom producing a urine sample. To my shock, I was asked how I was coping.  I was absolutely delighted to be asked. I smiled and had a short, but pleasant conversation with the midwife. This was eight months into the pregnancy.

When it came to the birth, I was acknowledged when we walked into the birthing unit.  I was asked to anti-bac my hands.  Then I faded back into the background.

The first midwife we saw ignored me.

The second was really nice and although she didn’t say hello, she did make eye contact with me and included me, somewhat, in the discussions. Long story short, my wife was a couple of centimetres dilated, and we were allocated a room, and I was allowed to stay with my wife.  There was a mattress on the floor for me, and a pile of sheets and a pillow.  I felt like a teenager staying at my friend’s house for a sleep over.  It wasn’t good, but I didn’t realise at that stage, that this was what the five-star treatment.

Within an hour, my wife had dilated to six centimetres and we were shown to a delivery suite.  Several midwives came in to see us over the next hour and only one in four acknowledged my presence.  Finally our allocated midwife (who had come in from home as cover) arrived and she not only acknowledged me but also asked my name.  I almost fell over with shock.  She was lovely actually, and looked after us until birth.  We did need some intervention late on and several doctors and other staff arrived to help with the delivery, including two men who were the only men we encountered the whole visit. Incidentally, they both said hello to my wife and to me, even shaking my hand.  Maybe men have better manners than women?

With everyone’s skill and experience at hand, baby was delivered at 05:33 am.

After the birth, I had to look after our new daughter while my wife was taken to theatre to have a lot of stitches (my daughter was not small).  My little girl is a little miracle and I can honestly say this was the best moment of my life.

My wife came out of theatre, and we were happy to be reunited on a shared ward.  It was noisy, as you would expect, but we didn’t care, we had a beautiful baby daughter to enjoy.  However, it wasn’t long before someone tried to spoil it.  “Visiting hours are 06:30-17:30 and Fathers go home at 21:00.”  “What?” I said, “I have to leave later today?”

I couldn’t believe it.  How could anyone ask me to leave my new daughter and her mother the same day of the birth?  Surely a Mother if asked would refuse – and quite rightly!  Why then, was I, the Father, being told I must go home alone?

Well, I wasn’t going to go. No way. I’m not one for conforming to unfair rules. If I was leaving it would be under arrest.

I’m not stupid though, I’m pragmatic; making a defiant stand is my last resort. My first plan was to put on my most polite manner and ask respectfully if there was anyway I could stay. I was told by the midwife that she would see if there was a reclining chair available for me to stay, though probably there wouldn’t be.

As it turned out there was.  Next to the bed in the ward was a heavy chair, which I was directed to. I was told that men weren’t allowed to walk around after 21:00 because women might not be fully clothed due to breastfeeding etc.  What kind of reason was that? Women, quite rightly, have the right to breastfeed in public, so why was this any different? I wasn’t interested in other women breastfeeding, I was interested in my hour’s old daughter. It did feel like a very anti-male rule.  I recognise that some new mother’s may be a little uncomfortable at first, but I don’t see why that should trump my rights as a Father. Would women put up with men’s rights trumping theirs? Quite rightly, there is a lot of campaigning for women’s rights being equal with men. But that’s the thing. Equal. Not more than. Not less than. Equal. Yes, men also have rights, though this isn’t something that gets much recognition in our modern society and I believe these rights have been eroded and continue to be. I wonder how men will be viewed by society when my daughter is all grown up?

Of course, being only interested in my daughter I mostly stayed put. But I did break the rules a couple of times to go and get my wife some water as the nurses failed to offer her any. I was just daring them to question why I was moving around.

Night time came and my wife and I did our best to sleep between looking after our new daughter.  I had to move the chair forward in order to recline it. It was extremely heavy and I couldn’t move it far because of my health issues. I simply don’t have the strength.  Worse though was that it did not recline flat.  It was not comfortable at all.  I was not offered a pillow and had to use my jacket.  I was not offered a sheet or blanket.  Surprising it did get quite cold through the night.

My personal child health record – ‘the red book’

the-red-book2

Dada?

We were sent home with a pack for our new baby, including a booklet called, “My personal child health record”, the ‘red book’ as it is often called, is a record of your child’s weight and other measurements, vaccinations and other important health information. It also has a section on child development.

Under ‘Your child’s firsts’ section, it contains a list of significant developmental events, including walking, smiling, laughs, and the first time they say “Mama”. But to my distress and bewilderment, the first time they say “Dada” isn’t even in the book!

I, the Father don’t even make it into the history book of my own child.  How do I explain this to my daughter when she grow’s up and looks through her own history and asks the inevitable question, “When did I say ‘Dada’?”

“Sorry sweetheart, you we never expected to.”