The New Age dads

Time was when the messy business of pregnancy and childbirth were female domain. But with increased awareness and sensitivity, a number of urban men are willing participants, says TINA GARG.

Today's fathers are no more the remote figures of a generation back. THINK OF any Indian film. Throw in a hospital and an expectant mother. And, sure enough, the next shot will be that of the woman screaming her head off while the husband is pacing up and down the corridor.

Cut to a similar scene in a Hollywood film. The actress is doing fairly decent job of portraying the process of childbirth, while her man is standing by her, supporting her through the labour and delivery, asking her to breathe in deep, talking softly to her.

So, which of these is more true to life? What are young fathers of today really like? On the occasion of Father's Day that falls on June 16, it is interesting to check out what New Age dads are really like.

While most homes still follow the tradition of the pregnant girl going to her parents' home for the delivery, the scenario today is clearly different from what it was in our fathers' and grandfathers' times.

Then, the young mother would return to her husband's home three months after the child's birth, and that was the first time the father would see his child. Today, even most women go home to their mothers to have their babies, most urban, middle-class fathers ensure they are present for the childbirth. They may not actually witness what is essentially a messy and nerve-wracking event, but are around to hold their wife's hand. Says Lekha M. Srinivas, who's just had her baby: "There is a change in the attitude of men now. Fathers of today are really particular about being present when the baby is born. I was thrilled that my husband could come down from Singapore just for the delivery."

Men who were more comfortable discussing BMWs and Beckham rather than childbirth and pregnancies, are now more open to supporting their wives through the pregnancy, even accompanying them to prenatal classes and hospital visits.

Biba Bhusri, who conducts special Lamaze classes for expecting parents, points out: "Men were conditioned not to participate earlier, it's not that they couldn't, but they wouldn't. Today a father who doesn't participate can't hide behind this response. Today, there is a (attitudinal) change and some fathers are really amazing."

Couples who have attended Ms. Bhusri's classes together, have had both partners playing a proactive part in the process of childbirth and childrearing thereafter. In fact, the late Dr. Benjamin Spock, America's expert on baby and childcare, who wrote a seminal book on the subject, insisted that fathers be an "integral and essential part of the pregnancy and labour", and this is something that Indian fathers are beginning to do.

Of course, India is still a long way from fathers cutting the umbilical cord after the birth, but our home-grown variety are allowed into the labour rooms now. A proactive father can really ease the work of the gynecologist, says local gynecologist Vidya Desai.

A couple must, however, check with their hospital and consultant in the event of the husband accompanying his wife into the labour room. Dr. Desai has observed a major change in fathers-to-be in the last 15 years of her career: "There are husbands who can't bear to see the wives in pain, but the ones who do come in are mentally prepared. They are openly supportive and encouraging." In fact, most husbands are noted to be very respectful of their wives once they see the women go through the traumatic labour.

Dr. Desai also notices that today it is the husbands who accompany their wives to antenatal check ups, as against10-15 years ago when the woman would come in with her mother or mother-in-law. "Fathers-to-be are equally excited and ask as many questions, and are doing an equal amount of reading (on the subject)." However, she also notes that there are very many people who are not entirely open to the father participating in the childbirth, though she hopes this will fast change.

DJ Ivan and his wife Roshni had a memorable pregnancy and Roshni is touched by the care Ivan demonstrated during the nine months and after the birth. "He was extremely caring and treated me like a queen. He travels so much, but three weeks before my delivery he cancelled all his travel plans since he wanted to be there."

Like a responsible father of today, Ivan was there with her at the hospital offering his steady support. Says Roshni: "He was so tender with Shyna, and was always afraid that he'd poke her with the pin if he changed her nappy. But given any task, he was more than ready to do it. Fathers of today certainly do much more because they respect us."

Ultrasound, a test much misused and has a pivotal role to play in female foeticide that is endemic is many parts of the country, has actually helped the men bond with their babies. "The ultrasound scan actually makes the baby more tangible," says Dr. Desai, accounting for the excitement of the fathers. Men who have seen their wives go through nausea and weight gain can finally relate to the baby when they see it on the monitors, one of the most moving sights on earth. Men take time off to wait long hours with their wives outside the scan room and excitedly ask to be shown the baby's ears, hands, and so on.

We have come a long way from the time men who went to work even on the day when they first became fathers. Today's dads now take the opportunity of availing "paternity leave" and attending to the newborn and the mother. Says Tapan, who took a month off when he recently became a father: "There is nothing I can't do for my child that my wife can. I didn't know a thing when the baby was born, but today I can feed him, burp him, change nappies, rock him to sleep, bathe him and I am really proud of it."

Having played an important role in the entire pregnancy, men do appreciate what their women go through. Nabeela and Athar Rahman, who attended natural childbirth and breathing classes together, were happy to follow a new norm when Athar accompanied her into the labour room.

For Nabeela, the moral support it surmounted to was "A++".

Thanks to the internet and parenting web sites like www.babycentre.com and www.webMD.com, fathers can wise up and learn of the role they can play in the birth of their children. Awareness levels have certainly increased today, and fathers are playing a larger role than what they did earlier.

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