Robbie Williams probably isn’t the first man to compare watching the birth of his daughter to the loss of a great love. “It was like my favourite pub burning down”, he said when he appeared on the Graham Norton Show in November. But is there any truth in this popular quip, or is it merely male bravado?
“Sometimes men just find it easier to make jokes about our favourite pub than actually talk about how special and beautiful something was, that’s what we do”, says parenting blogger Matt Ross.
“But I’m sure there are men who see the birth of their child and the biology of it all and do find it hard to shake that image or association”.
Mark Knight is one such man, confessing that witnessing the birth of his son did leave him with some uncomfortable mental images. “I never really had any reservations about being down there – I was fascinated. But it was not what I expected”.
“When our son started to crown I was overwhelmed. I fought like mad to hold back the tears. But at the same time I was trying really hard to ignore the fact that my wife’s bum hole was inverted and being pushed out too.
“Did it make me fancy my wife any less? You know what…I know that I should say ‘no’, but it kind of did a bit. The ‘poo shoot’ memory is one which haunts me and does make intimacy less appealing”, admits Mark.
Dr Rakime Elmir, a nursing and midwifery lecturer at the University of Western Sydney, says that a small proportion of men are negatively affected when witnessing their partner give birth.
“These men feel out of control, powerless and helpless. Relationships are affected as these men are unable to be intimate with their partners due to the images seen at the birth”, explains Dr Elmir.
For fathers that have witnessed a particularly traumatic birth in which things have not gone according to plan or medical intervention has been needed it may be necessary to seek professional counselling in order to move on.
“If fathers feel that they are constantly recounting the events of the birth in a negative way it is paramount for them to seek professional advice to prevent postnatal depression and other emotional and physical symptoms”, advices Dr Elmir.
There are some men who avoid the risk of having negative memories of their partner’s anatomy by staying a safe distance from the ‘action’. David Pruell says that while he wasn’t worried about “ruining” his “admiration for the 'area' concerned”, his partner, Sarah, had made it clear she wanted him to stay away from the ‘business end’. He also says that he wanted to meet his baby at the same time as Sarah.
“I had always considered childbirth to be something we experienced together and wanted us both to 'meet' our child at the same time rather than have a staggered introduction. I also wanted to be close to Sarah so that I could give her the support that she needed during the birth”.
Liz Wilkes, practicing midwife and spokesperson for Midwifes Australia estimates that around 50% of men want to be at the ‘business end’. “Some men are not worried about the visual around birth, whilst other are adamant that they want to see nothing at all”, she says.
Wilkes says that in the twenty years she has been delivering babies the most common reaction to birth from the father’s perspective is one of joy. “Most men who support their partner through labour feel the same surge of love for the baby as the woman, and with that an overwhelming feeling of love for their partner”, she explains.
There is no doubt Robbie Williams experienced this ‘surge of love’ too. After making jokes with fellow guests about “rebuilding” the “ruins” of his favourite pub he concluded the conversation about his daughter’s birth by looking directly into the camera and emphatically telling his wife Ayda, “I love your foo”.