Only several decades ago, husbands and boyfriends were back-row spectators to birth. They didn't enter hospital delivery rooms, attend antenatal or postnatal education classes and often weren't expected to do so much as change a nappy.
Things have changed. Today, men are active participants in almost every aspect of the birthing and rearing of children. But they're not necessarily the ones taking the initiative in this new childbirth-sharing deal.
A big surprise for producer Troy Jones is that women are the main buyers of his DVD guide for expectant fathers.
The idea behind Being Dad is straightforward: gather a bunch of first-time dads-to-be, fuel them with beer and sangers and get them talking about their anxieties about becoming a parent, witnessing labour, miscarriages, sex during pregnancy and so on.
“The response we get from mothers, even grandmothers, is they write in to tell us they watched it with their sons and sons-in-law. They see these young blokes talking about their fears and worries and hopes and dreams and wonder why they hadn't had those conversations with their husbands.” In many ways, the DVD mirrors Jones' own experiences. Several years ago, chatting over a beer with his business partner, he read that fathers who were more involved with their baby during pregnancy and immediately after were far less likely to be depressed, to be abusive towards their wife or baby and, as a result, were better partners, had happier marriages and became better dads.
It's a privilege to hear blokes talk about the birth of their first baby because almost every time it's such an emotional story.
At that time he was expecting his first child (he now has two) but realised his “head was nowhere near it". "I had [parenting] books piling up," he says. "I wasn't reading them. I was petrified into paralysis.”
Though he was unprepared when his first-born arrived, it was, he says, “one of the most memorable transformations you go through as a bloke". "It's such a baptism of fire because you have no expectation of what you're in for and it hits you between the eyes," he says. “It's a privilege to hear blokes talk about the birth of their first baby because almost every time it's such an emotional story.”
The DVD has become an unexpected success. The first version of Being Dad was made in Australia with $10,000. Jones says it was “very blunt, poorly produced, rough as guts” but estimates 100,000 copies have sold here in the past two years.
When people overseas placed orders for the DVD and told him there was nothing like it available there, new versions were filmed with men in the US and Britain (the version airing this week). He says Australian and British men were more honest than American men and discussed difficult topics.
But Australian men, Jones says, were in denial. They were less prepared and more blase but “once you get under the bluster, they're quite frightened. Not in a bad way; just an 'I don't know what I'm in for' way.”
But for most of the men, their experience of becoming a dad had the same universal register.
Watching their partners in labour infused them with enormous respect and love and, despite the anticipated loss of income, freedom, mates and sleep, all see it as the best thing that's happened to them.
“Men's hormones don't change but they go through great change," he says.
"They become more emotional, more in tune with their own mortality, become a more rounded personality. Why? I don't know. It must be something you see or hear or think about.”
The idea of men talking about women behind their backs is never a pretty one. But Jones defends this element of the program. “What I tried to get through is a love of women and what they do and how from the outside our silly attempts to be involved and help can be clumsy, they're always well intended.”
A book is due at the end of the year and a sequel DVD is now on sale.
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