Not long ago I linked to an article that had appeared in the Motherlode blog of the New York Times. It was a very moving piece by a man named Douglas L. who chronicled his descent from joyously expectant father to absent dad hoping a court would give him some face time with his daughter. That all happened in the space of less than a year.
Some of Douglas L.’s most telling comments were about his treatment by hospital staff. He, the concerned dad, the dad who was all too eager to care for both his wife and child, was treated as an interloper, a fifth wheel. Well, Douglas, you’re not alone. Of course you’re not; you never thought they did those things only to you. But here’s a further description of how fathers are treated at maternity hospitals (The Guardian, 6/22/10). This one comes to us from across the pond.
It seems that the Basildon and Thurrock Hospitals in Essex, U.K. have a policy of keeping fathers out of the imaging room when their wives/partners are getting ultrasound imaging of their unborn children. Now, as everyone knows, viewing the sonogram image can be a real thrill for expectant parents. After all, its their first visual impression of their child, so it’s a big event. But to Basildon and Thurrock, only the mom gets to see the image. Dad? He’s irrelevant.
No, wait, it’s worse than that; he’s violent. The article linked to has several letters from Basildon and Thurrock responding to complaints about the policy. Among other claims they make is that dads are violent in the ultrasound room. Their evidence? One incident in two years, during which they performed almost 10,000 ultrasounds. Thruppence says he was ticked off at being excluded.
Basildon and Thurrock also claims that dads ask too many questions, which distract the imager from his/her job. As the article points out, it’s interesting that other hospitals don’t have that problem. To me, what’s more interesting is that, to Basildon and Thurrock, the solution to dads asking questions is to exclude them. They don’t put a sign up that says something like “Please don’t disturb the technician while imaging is in progress.” That would let the dads know to stick a sock in it until imaging was over. Once it was, they could ask anything they liked. But no, complete exclusion of any and all dads, irrespective of whether they were disruptive or not is the only answer B & T could come up with.
Interesting too is the fact that B & T is abetting paternity fraud. They say that, with dad in the room, the mom might not answer certain questions honestly, like the likely date of conception. Why wouldn’t she do that? Because if she answered truthfully, “dad” might start to put two and two together. Again, other hospitals don’t seem to have the problem.
Of course the vast majority of women want their partners there every step of the way. The article describes one woman who’d had a previous miscarriage and very much wanted her partner’s support. But Basildon & Thurrock knew best. They denied her as well as him.
The Guardian writer points out the obvious larger truth:
Basildon hospital provides a useful illustration of the gulf between political support for fatherhood, and the experience of local fathers. Other examples abound. A father told us of going to an antenatal appointment with his wife, and finding that the midwife only had one chair in her office. She clearly was not expecting the mother to come along with an interested party.
Whenever I see an advert for yet another mothers and toddlers group, or hear of a Sure Start centre without a male toilet, I am reminded of how far we have to go. If parenting is to be shared, we need to let the fathers into the room.
Meanwhile, the new government says in its coalition agreement that it will encourage shared parenting from the earliest stages of pregnancy. David Cameron’s and Nick Clegg’s action show the way forward. Basildon shows us how much catching up there is to do.
Yep. That one line should be the motto for the whole movement. “If parenting is to be shared, we need to let fathers into the room.” Like any good motto, it’s true both literally and metaphorically.