a trip to the library

October 14, 2006

Well, where to start. There’s no reason why I shouldn’t start with two days ago, when I paid a visit to my local library. I hadn’t been in for the best part of eight years, though reassuringly, everything was almost exactly the same, save for the addition of a new DVD section. My mission was to locate a guide to pregnancy and childbirth. This is a tricky subject. My first foray looking for such a book was done in a well-known chain in New York. I was almost paralysed by the choice on offer. Doctors (of the medical or PhD kind I wondered) abounded, TV-stars proliferated, and the ‘Family’ shelves were divided up into subsections that demanded a few minutes from me simply to get my bearings. I was completely overwhelmed. Being a fairly sceptical sort, I was alert for the charlatan ‘doctor’ who boasted miracle wisdom for pregnant women, but since I had no particularly scientific way of distinguishing the bonafide from the fraud, this merely made me suspicious of every book. I began looking for brands I recognised, in the hope that their stamp of approval would reassure me, but fatigue quickly set in. I left the shop rather dispirited, since it was obvious I would have to read something fairly soon, but I was no nearer to working out what. Perhaps I should have just plucked something off the shelf entirely at random, but somehow, for the importance of the subject, that seemed a rather carefree approach.

And so I found myself walking down the aisles in my local library. Now, the library offered a number of advantages over the bookshop for my purpose. Firstly, and I’m not sure whether you will agree, perhaps your library is fantastically well-stocked, but my local library is somewhat short on variety. It was therefore highly likely that my range of options here would be restricted to a mere handful of books, and that by ruling out those published before I myself was born, my choice would be obvious by process of elimination. I was pleased to find myself almost exactly right, and before long, I was leaving for home with a large hardback copy of a book written by a woman even I had vaguely heard of (but now thinking about it, I’ve realised that’s because she shares a surname with a playwright. Which, I have also just realised, gives you a clue as to which book I loaned out, a fact I was intending to hide). I started reading it almost as soon as I got home, jumping through the pages to different sections, and getting a feel for what I might be about to learn. I’m afraid, however, that I am going to read a lot of useful information, and promptly forget it all, which tempts me to actually sit down with a piece of paper, noting down various titbits. All of which seems to be too much like school or university, and is a bit off-putting, though when you’re talking about ‘what to do if your partner goes into early labour’ is probably a small price to pay.

One thing I’ve noticed about these books is that, perhaps unsurprisingly, they are all women-focussed. Now, of course, that makes perfect sense – the woman is incubating the baby (can I put that? Incubating? That’s more like a year 9 egg experiment surely). And the woman has to deal with all the physical changes, and be careful about her diet, and, at the end of it all, go through what is an excruciatingly painful procedure in order that this little life can burst onto the scene. But when all is said and done, I have to be honest, and confess to feeling a little bit out of it. I remember sitting at the obstetrician with A, and (again, naturally) the doctor was directing everything he was saying at her. But the problem was, I was left feeling like somewhat of a spectator, an interested observer, who was given permission to sit in on the meeting, but almost grudgingly, as if a great favour was being granted. Of course, none of that was intended to be the message, but I’m dealing with impressions here, and impressions are what give us our feelings. I don’t want this journal – because it’s written by a man – to take a tone of ‘aren’t fathers hard done by’, and I don’t want to appear like I’m only one more negative obstetrician experience away from donning a superman cape and performing a publicity-grabbing death-defying bungee jump. But nonetheless, given that my main aim is simply to honestly report all of my thoughts and feelings, this sense of being sidelined must be included.

Which brings me back to the newly-acquired book. I was pleased to discover that the book, which is several hundred pages in size, includes a chapter (number three, if you’re interested) on ‘Fatherhood’. I eagerly surveyed the half dozen pages or so allotted, it felt, solely to me, and indeed, there was some good advice. But I can’t shake the impression of tokenism, almost as if the fact we have our own chapter merely reinforces our marginalisation. To draw a (potentially unhelpful) parallel, it’s like how the ‘Day’ or ‘Month’ given (by who?) to ethnic minorities, such as ‘Black History Month’, might appear inclusive, but in fact, is a reminder that they are not considered an integral part of the national story, but rather an exotic appendage. In other words, the gesture masks a more fundamental injustice or problem. Well, I think I have successfully wandered off track with that analogy, since fathers-to-be are certainly not suffering from any structural injustices, but I trust I have explained myself sufficiently. If I try and rationalise the feelings, however, I can’t escape from the fact that this is simply an unavoidable part of being an expectant father. Whichever way you look at it, the woman is doing most of the work here, and it’s her body. And even though, as I sometimes think, ‘But hey! That kid’s half me!’ pregnancy is pretty much woman-owned territory. So better make the best of it.

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