The boys were interested, full of life and questions. The mother was calm, attentive and engaged. At one stage, one little fella said he was hungry. The mother said kindly, that he had a chance to eat his breakfast and that he had chosen not to do that. She explained that he would have to wait until he got to the zoo when they would have morning tea to have something to eat. The way the mother handled the situation was very impressive and the young boy did not 'carry on' so clearly knew his boundaries.
I enjoyed watching the mother with the boys and when I got off the train a stop before they were getting off, I commented on the way she interacted with her children and congratulated her. She was very engaging with me and we had a good interaction in those few moments. The father put his paper down slightly and smiled warmly at me as I said goodbye, then looked back at his paper. As I saw the train pull away from the platform, I waved at the little family; he was head down reading and she was pointing, waving and talking with the two excited boys who smiled and waved at me.
A couple of days later I was talking with a very proud new grand father. He was telling me how his son helped with the 'crap work'! This 'crap work' is with the one week old baby. I asked what the 'crap work' was with great interest. The grand father told me with great pride that his son bottle fed the baby while his partner caught up with sleep. I knew the woman was breastfeeding and must admit that I was shocked and the look on my face must have made my reaction obvious. I said I was surprised that feeding was considered 'crap work' and was told, in a defensive tone, that "it is when you are sleep deprived". I found that a very difficult conversation because there was no entry point to have a discussion about newborn needs and the importance of finding ways to protect, support and promote optimal breastfeeding.
After these two recent experiences, I find myself wondering about fathering and how and what we midwives can do to encourage optimal engagement of fathers. We know that men who are fully engaged during pregnancy and birth are more engaged as fathers. We also know that men who have skin to skin with their newborn children have oxytocin (the love hormone) surges and decreased testosterone (the war hormone) and are more attentive fathers who are less likely to spank or hurt their babies and children. Those of us who work one on one with childbearing women and their partners have seen that in action. These two experiences indicate to me that we still have a way to go. Finding creative ways to engage fathers and perhaps grand fathers too, more right from the start will help to unravel and rejig those unhelpful myths, negative attitudes and disabling practices that still abound in our society and disrupt men's ability to be the kind of fathers that is their potential.