I’ve recently been reading a lot about men’s experiences of going on paternity leave. In all the accounts I’ve read, the men stress how important it was to have that time to bond with their offspring. Another comment frequently made is that two weeks paid paternity leave just isn’t long enough.
What I’ve found fascinating is that none of the accounts have mentioned the impact on paternity leave when a woman has a complicated birth. I think there is an unfortunate perception that paternity leave is simply about bonding with the child and helping your partner get used to breast feeding.
Let us not forget the rather unfortunate remark made by Kirsty Allsop in a recent interview with the Telegraph. Commenting on paternity leave, Allsop said: ‘That thing of wanting to be seen to be at home with the baby when you’re not going to change a nappy at any stage is a bit pointless. Although many men I know absolutely love it because they can go and sit in the shed.’
My wife, Gemma, has given birth twice and both times things didn’t go to plan. The idea that I got anywhere near a garden shed on either occasion is, frankly, laughable.
Okay, I confess that I had plans to build a simple porch at the front of our house when child number one (Helen) was born. At the time I was lucky enough to work for a large and flexible employer so had the luxury of taking a month off on full pay. I naively thought I’d have plenty of time to undertake this DIY project. You won’t be surprised to hear the porch never got built.
It’s just as well that I took a month off because Helen was born in theatre after a long labour. It was a forceps delivery with all that entails. I’ll spare you the details, but having seen exactly what was involved I’m not remotely surprised that it was three weeks before my wife was able to make any meaningful effort to leave the house.
For those few weeks Gemma required almost as much looking after as our new born baby. Added to this, baby lost a dangerous amount of weight so we had to top up with formula feed, something we never planned for. Oh, and did I mention that my wife went down with a dreadfully painful urinary infection? When not dealing with mother and baby, my days were quite rightly spent washing, cooking, shopping, ferrying visitors around, dealing with health visitors and so on.
It was an exceedingly demanding time but I loved every moment of it. When I returned to work I felt very depressed about the situation. I just wanted to be at home with my wife and child and I loved getting back to them in the evenings.
Baby number two’s delivery was at the opposite end of the spectrum. Baby was born with incredible ease after a very short labour. Mother and child returned home the following day and Helen was very proud to have become a big sister.
Things were going very smoothly until three days after the birth when a community midwife visited and took my wife’s blood pressure. It was very high indeed and there were concerns she had developed eclampsia. Gemma was readmitted to hospital for the best part of four days. I’ve written about it at length on my blog.
We’d had virtually no time together as a family so this came as a real blow. I spent those four days dashing too-and-fro between hospital and home, trying to strike a balance between the time I spent with Gemma and the new born and our eldest. My mother was able to come and stay and this took some of the pressure off me, but what should have been happy days full of celebration were dark and depressing.
Thankfully it turned out not to be eclampsia and once Gemma’s blood pressure had stabilised she was discharged. On this occasion I was able to take the two weeks off work and for all intents and purposes I had lost a week because of Gemma’s hospitalisation.
The point I would make is that paternity leave is essential for the whole family, not just the dad. Men may be unable to breast feed, but they have such an important role to play in those early days. This is especially the case when things go awry.