In most primitive cultures, women giving birth are accompanied not by tribesmen husbands mopping their brows, but tribeswomen, who pride themselves on feminine care. In Western society, up to the Sixties, men were barred from the delivery room by stern matrons with faces like axes. But since then, those stern matrons - and, indeed, the mums themselves - have been herding fathers into the delivery room at gunpoint.
But now things are changing again. While most men in a survey of 450 fathers found childbirth one of the most moving experiences of their lives, a third of them found it a frightening experience, 9 per cent felt upset and some felt sick.
As for the famous bonding that was thought to take place, it's now clear that some men actually feel more alienated from their children if they attend their birth because they're forced to acknowledge the special closeness between mother and child in a very vital, primitive way. Some men feel very strongly that the delivery room is not where they belong; some, in fact, find witnessing the birth a permanent sexual turn-off.
These days, John is not alone with his squeamish feelings. And his feelings, since he is a new enough man to dare to express them, should be acknowledged. No, he does not want to attend the birth, thanks. (Nor, I suspect, would he be interested in spending a weekend strapped into an "empathy belly", available at father's classes at the National Childbirth Trust. This is specially constructed of pouches of liquid which fit over the stomach, constricting the kidneys and pressing on the bladder - enabling men to experience the enormous discomfort suffered by their pregnant partners.)
With any luck, he won't suffer postnatal depression, either - although new research has shown that some men do actually go through periods of gloom after a birth.
John is neither a mean, uncaring person, nor a weedy wet. Nor is he an old-fashioned man. He should trust his own instincts. If she wants someone at the birth, does John's partner not have an affectionate girlfriend who would step into the breech? It's becoming increasingly common for a woman friend to attend the delivery, rather than a dad.
The questions should be whether John will be a good, long-term father; will he do more than his share of household chores for the first few months, and share nappy-changing and feeding? These are far more important issues than whether he's around for thefleeting moment when the baby pops into the world.
Men get angry My husband attended the birth of our son in 1984. It was a long, agonising and traumatic business, certainly for me and no doubt for my husband, too. But men don't get traumatised, do they? Men get angry. My husband was angry with me the day after the birth, and he stayed angry. Over the years it became on and off rather than continuous, but 10 years later he is still punishing me. We have lived semi-apart since November 1991, when I finally realised that it wasn't going to stop and moved out with my son.
My husband wanted to be there. I didn't put any pressure on him, but he couldn't handle it. Then, he couldn't admit he couldn't handle it. And he took it out on me. This wound has never healed because he won't admit that he is vulnerable - a wound that is never acknowledged can never heal.
People are different. Some men can handle this, some can't. But my own failed marriage is evidence of what can happen when a man thinks he can handle it and turns out to be mistaken.
Yours sincerely, Anon Do the decent thing - be there As one politicially incorrect fortysomething for whom the mere hint of the hospital ward can usually induce a feeling of utter panic and doom, to someone much more in tune with modern times, I urge youto do the decent thing and be there at the birth.
I missed the experience first time round, but who would want to forget the experience of those two tiny bundles, one in the glorious sunset of a June evening and the other in the early hours of a storm-tossed December morning?
I'm told it helped my wife. It certainly worked wonders for me, and we chaps are nothing if not self-centred.
Yours sincerely, Trevor Green, Exeter Off to the pub John should reconcile himself to the fact that he's not a new man but an ordinary man who has always helped around the house anyway.
On the day of the birth, he should accompany his partner to hospital, chain smoke as near to the ward as possible, then go to the pub.
What's the big deal?
Yours, Ernest Everest, Nottingham'
Be a real man You call yourself a "fully paid-up new man", but the way you want to behave shows you to be, at heart, a right bastard.
John - dear, nice, sensitive John - it really doesn't matter how you feel.
Be there. Be a real man. Deal with it.
Sincerely, A Plain, No-nonsense Speaker, Edinburgh It might not be right for every father My husband and I faced the same situation as John some six years ago, when I was pregnant with our first child. His horror at the thought of having to watch me givebirth was obviously genuine, and although I was hurt at first, I eventually realised that it would be wrong to pressure him into it. Just because this is now the fashion for fathers, it might not be right for every man. To insist upon it was as insensitive as banning fathers from the delivery room had been.
We hammered out a compromise: he would not have to go to antenatal classes - I went alone - but he would promise to remain at my side throughout the first stage of labour, to reassure me, sponge my fevered brow and help with any difficult decisions. OnceI reached the second stage and there might be a sighting of blood, he could escape to the corridor.
As I later discovered, I wouldn't have cared who was there once the second stage of labour began. But I remember looking up to find him still there, watching in delighted fascination. I'm glad he stayed, but I'm even more glad I didn't actually force himto.
Yours sincerely, Lisa Hennessy Herefordshire Next week's Dilemma Dear Virginia, I am a single mother in a small flat who would like to start afresh. The problem is that my 25-year-old son lives with me, and doesn't look like moving out. I feel like MyraHindley, unable to escape.
He is lovely, laid-back, charming, unmaterialistic, but I can't go on supporting him, yet feel I can't throw him out, either. He doesn't work and has no intention of working - he chips in a bit from his fortnightly Giro now and again. He chills out happily in our pleasant flat with his very nice girlfriend, while I am slogging it out at work.
I have given my son every encouragement to go, and I'm getting fed up with taking the phone to work everyday in a carrier bag so he can't use it! I feel so ashamed of myself - but how can I get rid of him.
Yours, Cordelia All comments are welcome, and everyone who has a suggestion quoted will be sent a Dynagrip 50 ballpen from Paper:Mate.
Please send your comments and suggestions to me at the Features Department, The Independent, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL; fax 071-293-2182, by Tuesday morning.
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