The lady on the radio was upset. Upset by the fact that young couples nowadays say ‘We are pregnant’. What kind of a language use is that, she exclaimed. Clearly they cannot both be pregnant!
The other day I met some friends who have a six-month-old son, a happy little chap who prefers night-time company and feeds, to sleeping. Both his mother and father showed signs of sleep-deprivation as they made an effort to be social rather than fall asleep on the sofa. Frankly, they looked like shit, both of them. It was pretty clear it was their child, their nights, their decisions, their problem.
I think if I asked the lady on the radio if she thinks it’s fair that both parents take turns to get up and take care of their fussing six-month-old at night, she’d say yes, of course! Why should the mother carry the whole burden while the father gets to sleep – maybe with earplugs?
Well, here is the thing. We either want fathers to become and stay involved in pregnancy, childbirth, and caring for the child – or we don’t. We can’t pick and choose the bits and pieces where we want their involvement and exclude them from others.
But are services before and after childbirth equipped to meet fathers’ needs? In a recent editorial I wrote for Acta Paediatrica I list a number of studies that have shown how fathers feel excluded from prenatal and child health care. They feel invisible, in the way, a disturbing presence that has no apparent role of its own to hold in a system by and for women.
What many maternal and child health nurses seem to be unaware of is their own ambivalent attitudes. On the one hand think it’s good to see more fathers attend their services, whereas on the other they do not take any active steps to accommodate fathers’ needs and do not specifically encourage their participation.
If there really is a new generation, who believes ‘they are pregnant’ services should be ready to meet them as such. Professionals working in the system need to be able to bracket their own attitudes about gender power relations in parenting and serve the family they meet based on the family’s preferences.
In a recent interview our team made with a child she referred to Mommy Sally and Mommy Vera without a wince. There was nothing strange about that for her. We have only just started to explore all the possible versions families can constitute in our postmodern society. Luckily, kids are mostly fine. The only thing that counts for them is having several involved adults around them who are sensitive to their needs. I think ‘we are pregnant’ is an excellent start for that!