One Born Every Minute: Fathers

The theme of this week’s episode is ‘Fathers’ so I am going to share the experience of the Husband in this post. Before I use his words, I would like to use a few of my own…Be warned, I have strong views on birth. Don’t worry though, I haven’t had the macro setting on the camera in use when preparing this post!

I really feel for fathers at births. I’m sure there are quite a few of them who have very mixed feelings about being present. I’m sure there are quite a few of them who really should not be present for all sorts of reasons. These days, it is expected that a father will be with the mother of his child when their baby is born. I’m not sure that this is a better situation than when the opposite was expected. However, I suspect there are also many ‘converted’ fathers out there who were initially dubious about being at the birth of their child. My father was one of those back in 1974….I wish I had a digital picture of him holding me after I was born. This is the best I can do.

At the start of the programme, the midwife being interviewed said that men are used to being ‘in control’ and acting as the ‘protector’. How does a man square these roles with being an effective birth partner. For birth to progress well a woman really needs to be comfortable with feeling ‘out of control’. It’s not easy to witness the primal instincts that come with being out of control during a birth. It’s a side of ourselves that is normally hidden and repressed. An ideal birth partner takes control by allowing space for a woman to do the opposite. By this I mean that they can field questions from midwives or other medical staff, keep the lights low, provide food and drink as needed. In short, the partner can be the ‘thinking’ brain in the partnership and allow the mother to stay in her ‘instinctive’ brain. How many men are really prepared for this? For that matter, how many women understand that this is the way to give themselves the best chance of a peaceful birth?

As I watched the programme I couldn’t help but feel that the men featured had no chance of fulfilling this role for their partners.

For a start, births occur in a complex system that most people don’t have any understanding of. On top of that, we are all products of the culture we live in. In our culture, birth is frequently portrayed as something to fear, something to be medically managed.

When I watch One Born Every Minute I’m generally resisting the urge to shout “Get Off The Bed”. How many people have any idea that getting up and off the bed is one of the single most effective things you can do to have a good birth? Not many I guess, because that is the way we usually see birth portrayed. How many people realise that as soon as they have an epidural, they are at much higher risk of needing a caesarean birth? How many people realise the true risk factors in a caesarean?

See, there are so many questions that most of us never even know about before we have our first babies. And we expect men to support women in labour? Heck, the system doesn’t even truly support most women. If it did, we would have a midwife who cared for us throughout our pregnancies and births, who had time to discuss all these issues. The only way to get this kind of care in the UK is to pay for it. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had brilliant care with fantastic NHS midwives but it was not the gold standard that independent midwives are able to provide. They are able to prepare the men in the relationship more effectively too.

I’ve read a lot about birth in the last seven years. I’ve had the privilege of working with midwives in my antenatal yoga classes. I’ve been active in the NCT and spent time discussing birth with doulas and antenatal teachers. All this experience has helped us get the births that we wanted, within an imperfect system.

Rant over…… Do you want to hear the Husbands side of things now?

Me: How would you say you felt about the idea of us having a home water birth for our first baby?

Husband:  Fairly calm and  relaxed about it. I got good feelings about it from you. I didn’t really think about the birth itself, I left that to you. I was more concerned with practicalities. If we had been going to hospital I would have been thinking about how long it would take to drive there and what we needed to take. As it was, I was responsible for getting the pool ready and helping the midwives with anything they needed, mainly food and tea. I suppose initially the idea of a baby being born under water seemed pretty bizarre but I suppose I just trusted your judgement. I never really read up on the subject and never really thought about what could go wrong so I didn’t stress about it. (Did I mention that the Husband is a very laid back type of guy?)

Me: Would you say that going to antenatal classes prepared you adequately?

Husband: Well, the mechanics of birth were well covered. I felt that antenatal classes were like a refresher class from what I had learned in biology. I suppose they were good in giving information about other positions for birth and stuff like that. I had a bit of experience in handling babies from when our nephews were born.

Me: What about being a witness to the primal nature of birth? Did antenatal classes prepare you for that?

Husband: That’s the one thing you already expect! You know that there is going to be a certain amount of shouting, screaming, swearing and name calling (for the record there was only load groaning and some screeching).  You do begin to wonder “How much pain is she going through?” “How long will this go on for?” “Is she going to get too fatigued?” but you were pretty calm through most of it so I didn’t worry too much.

Me: Second time around you were happy to have the same experience again, despite the complications I had with bleeding after the birth. A lot of people would find that quite strange I suppose?

Husband: I was very comfortable with the first experience. I couldn’t visualise doing it in hospital and feeling the same level of involvement. I was confident in your judgement again. I knew you had researched the risks and wouldn’t put yourself or the baby in danger.

Me: Obviously you would recommend home birth.

Husband: You know that I already have. You know my colleague at work has had two.

Me: Yes, we know a few home birth babies these days. Our antenatal class of five couples has now produced 13 children, seven of which were born at home. That’s not a bad percentage (gets out calculator): 54%, waaaaay above the national average. You know, I think you were so relaxed about birth because despite not having witnessed a human birth, you had assisted at the births of lambs and calves. All the blood and mess and stuff wasn’t really a shock.

Husband: Maybe. At least I didn’t have to pull our baby out though.

Now there’s a thought. A friend of mine did recently catch his third child. Notice, CATCH, not DELIVER. The mother did all the work. Just remember that any journalists out there. I’m fed up of the fathers getting all the credit in these stories!

Both the dads in the programme said the same thing, “I want the best for my baby”. Dads come to delivery suites (or go along with their hippy, home birthing wives) these days because they know that in order to do the best for their babies, they have to do the best for the mother. For that, I take my hat off to them. I salute all Dads who try as hard as they can to do the right thing for the women and babies in their lives. Goodness knows, we need them.

Just after the birth of The Middle Miss, August 2007

Soup, it’s as easy as pie

Hi there folks, now that term has started again I am back into my proper routines. Heck, I’ve even been cooking today. I feel like I have been out of the kitchen for a few weeks because I tend to leave the Christmas stuff to the Husband. Don’t feel too sorry for him, he was a chef in a previous lifetime and actually misses getting his hands dirty. May I say, he did sterling work over Christmas, much better than I could.

Today, I decided that some soup was in order. There were several reasons for this.

Reason 1: I have ‘over veged’ in my shopping. I was a bit out of the loop with what food we had in the house, what with Husband doing the cooking and having been away for a few days. I didn’t realise how much of my Mum’s bargain (think 4p a bag), pre-Christmas veg was still around and in good condition.

Reason 2: After the feasting of Christmas, my system is crying out for some nice, simple, veg based food.

Reason 3: After the spending of Christmas, my bank account is crying our for some nice, cheap, veg based food.

Reason 4: Babykins has been living off jars of pre-made baby food lately. I’m not keen on that stuff and it is an expensive way to feed a child. However, he does seem to have quite a penchant for soft, mushy stuff at the moment and wolfed down the veg soup that Husband knocked up on Boxing day.

If, like me, you are feeling the pinch, either in the waistline or in the purse, soup is a godsend.

Here is my recipe for Carrot, Lentil and Cumin Soup and/or Baby Food:

275 of carrots, peeled and chopped

1 onion, sliced

2 sticks of celery, chopped

100g of dried, red lentils

2 tsp of ground cumin

1 vegetable stock cube or equivalent

small slosh of vegetable oil

Serves 2 or 3 adults

See, I told you the veg was 4p

Sturdy, sharp knives. No kitchen should be without them

Any veg stock will do. I just happen to like this one

Er, it doesn’t say anything about carrots

I had to slip a macro picture in somewhere

By the way, did you know that lentils are a good source of protein and iron? When served with rice, all essential amino acids are present. The iron in lentils is slightly harder to absorb than the iron in red meat. Whatever the source, vitamin C is required for the body to absorb iron. The carrots in this soup will provide some (though they are better known as a source of vitamin A) but you could finish your lunch with an orange, just to hedge your bets.

Gently frying the onion and celery

As you can see from the pictures, the veg was chopped fairly roughly. Since I always planned to blitz this soup, the size of the chunks wasn’t critical. Of course the more uniform they are, the more easy it will be to cook them without burning. If you are prepared to keep stirring at the frying stage it shouldn’t be a major problem.

After the veg has been prepared, gently fry the onion and celery in the oil in a medium sized pan. When it has softened a bit, add the cumin and stir for a few more minutes. Add the carrots, lentils, stock cube and enough boiling water to cover everything and then a bit more. If you are in doubt go for less water, you can always add more later. The lentils will soak some up during cooking. If you intend to use your soup predominantly as baby food, I would suggest using less water as you will obviously end up with a thicker result. You could also add a little rice (really, just a little, no more than two tablespoons), or more lentils. More on that later. Here is what mine looked like:

Let everything simmer away for 20 to 30 minutes or until the carrot and lentils are cooked. If you’ve never cooked lentils before, they should be soft and broken up, with only a little bit of ‘bite’.

Finally, blitz your soup in whatever way you see fit. I tend to use a simple stick blender because it is easy to use and easy to clean. If you are at the stage in life where you are preparing a lot of baby food, it is a great tool to have in the kitchen.

At this stage you should really taste your soup and decide if you want it to have salt and pepper, a touch more stock or water or maybe, if you are feeling decadent, a bit of cream. I was happy with mine just as it was.

Now, for the baby food part. There are different schools of thought on this. If you are an advocate of baby-led weaning, you will need to make your soup quite thick as your baby will be feeding it to him or herself on a spoon (see here if you don’t believe this is possible). If you are happy to shovel it in yourself, you can make it as thick as you think necessary. I’m afraid at the moment we are having a ‘shovel  it in’ phase, despite my best intentions. I let my soup down a bit with some milk, to make it a little milder and then thickened it with baby rice. If you made your soup thick in the first place you may not need to do this. Baby rice is a bit of a cheat. It’s relatively expensive but it thickens things quickly and easily.

I’m sure in a proper, fancy recipe book they would finish this soup off with a sprinking of toasted cumin seeds, a drizzle of ‘good’ olive oil, a blob of creme fraiche and a herby garnish. I just ate mine as it was and enjoyed it very much.

I’m pleased to say Babykins did too.

I tried to get a shot with him opening his mouth. Have you ever tried to get ‘that’ picture with a phone camera and feed a baby at the same time? I’d like to see your results.  

It’s a Nog Blog

Mmmm, treat time.

A few years ago, (well two actually) we bought a pre-Christmas festive edition of the Sunday Times. I’ve got a feeling Son Number One was in hospital otherwise no one would have had time to read it. Since Husband did most of the hospital stays, he must have entertained himself in the evening with reading it. The magazine section was largely devoted to Christmas tips and recipes from leading chefs and gastronomes.

What took his eye was a recipe for eggnog. It has since become an established part of our Christmas traditions. I’m afraid I even sampled a little bit last Christmas despite it having both alcohol and raw egg in it. I was soooo pregnant that I figured a teeny tiny bit couldn’t hurt, could it? (Don’t try this at home folks).

We had my Mother in Law and her sister visiting this weekend. We won’t see them again until after Christmas so a bit of getting into the festive spirit was in order. As we were getting ready on Friday night, Husband discovered we had run out of rum for the eggnogg. Thank goodness we have a late night corner shop. He toddled off for a new bottle, plus the other key ingredients: eggs and double cream. Soon he was filling up an old gin bottle with a good litre of lovely ‘nog.

Here he is. As you can see, by teatime half the bottle had gone and there was a smile on his face.

I might even have had a bit myself….

I’d like to put the recipe here but I don’t think it’s the done thing to pinch something quite so shamelessly. You can get it if you want to subscribe to The Times Online and search for Allegra McEvedy and Eggnog. Alternatively, Waitrose have a similar version on their website. We don’t separate the eggs and you can modify the amount of nutmeg, vanilla and rum to your taste. You can find it here.