Childbirth is incredible. No, that doesn’t do it justice, let me try again. Childbirth is emotional, jaw dropping, nerve-biting, gut-wrenching, terrifying, mesmerising, heart-pounding, totally overwhelming, uncomfortably messy, slightly surreal and a little bit bonkers. Better? Perhaps.
We just had our third child, a little guy to join his two older brothers in an all-male line up. I say “we” in that slightly odd use of the word associated with pregnancy, as in “we are pregnant”. We were not anything; my wife was pregnant, and from where I was standing it was quite clearly my wife having the baby. No amount of political correctness can correct the biological fact that women can have babies and men can’t. None of us chose it that way, although I guess about half of us are silently extremely glad that we can’t volunteer, particularly those who have witnessed the whole shebang themselves.
So this little blog is really a homage to the paternal chap in the delivery room. The totally out-of-place, don’t-know-where-to-look and very uncomfortable Dad getting in everybody else’s way whilst hovering around the “management end” of the bed. Decidedly Useless Dad (herein referred to as DUD) is a brief and, quite frankly, under-rated job. A job description for this traditionally important yet practically benign responsibility could include:
- Hand-holding. The most important DUD task. It is amazing how easy it is to fuck this up. I got cocky and went for a hair-sweep last time. Error.
- Apologising. The average DUD must apologise over a hundred times in an average childbirth, to a variety of recipients ranging from mother-to-be, midwives, doctors, nurses, himself and the coffee machine repair man.
- Finding something to do. A DUD pounces on any opportunity to be useful. In my last outing as a DUD, I heard my wife whisper between contractions that she would like some music. I whipped out the iPhone and after a brief and unsuccessful attempt to find out the delivery room WIFI code (for Spotify) I realized that I didn’t have any speakers. In a panic, I noticed that one of the hospital machines had a USB port in the side of it. I quickly jammed in my phone wire and then spent several bizarre minutes grappling with the controls of what must have been a very expensive piece of medical equipment designed to do something a lot more impressive than play Adele. Unsurprisingly (with hindsight), it didn’t work, and a nurse came over and firmly ushered me away from said console. I resorted to the built-in phone speaker and put on Florence and the Machine, which quickly progressed from a relaxing hum into some sort of tinny smashing of symbols that induced another contraction. I panicked again and stuck on something that sounded suspiciously like Enya. I cringed. By now I had pissed off everyone in the room and my hand was too sweaty to complete my main task (see above). I slumped, exhausted, into my chair, only to be immediately told that I was in the way and I needed to move.
- Not getting in the way. Impossible, unless you know how to deliver a baby, perform a C-section, administer an epidural, deal with a placenta or cut the cord. No? Me neither. Deal with it.
A DUD is a role that offers no power, no decision-making capability, and not even an opinion. Your rank in the pecking order is below measure. If a DUD suggests drugs, a nurse edges towards a telephone with the demeanour of someone who is about to set-up an intervention and an AA meeting. When mum suggests drugs, entire armies are deployed to make it happen within minutes. I don’t think that it is possible to realize how useless and unimportant you can feel during such a life defining event until you’ve been a DUD. I found it utterly heart-breaking to see my wife in so much pain and be so powerless to help.
But then, just when you think that your wife can’t take anymore, you hear your new baby cry out. The world is still. It’s just you, your amazing other half, and the little human being that she has made. Perfect. Just perfect.
I can’t be a mum, but I’m proud to have been a DUD. I get to swap DUD stories with other DUDs. It is – hands down – the best role in the world and one I will be forever grateful for.