Competitive childbirth is a qualifying tournament for competitive parenting, the big daddy (or mummy) event of smug middle-class boasting. writes Aidan Smith.
What separates football superstars from the likes of me, sclaffing and blootering around my local public park, is the fierce competitive instinct. Well, that and the epic skills deficit but we’ll gloss over this to stand in awe of the winning-is-everything attitude of the guys who play for a living.
Take Harry Kane, the England captain. Earlier this year the striker was desperately trying to win the Golden Boot for the most goals scored in the Premier League. So desperate, in fact, that he claimed a strike which patently wasn’t his. He said he got the final, whispery touch on the ball but he hadn’t. Result: ridicule on social media. I laughed, but deep down still admired Kane. Here was that brazenness in trampling all over his rivals which I simply didn’t possess.
Well, he’s been at it again, only this time as a father, after announcing the arrival of his second child on Twitter. “So proud,” he blurted, because his fiancee Kate Goodland had given birth to their daughter Vivienne “with no pain relief at all”. Result: more ridicule. Why was he trying to turn producing babies into a sport? After failing to win the World Cup, was he now bringing his famous competitiveness to the World Childbirth Championships?
To defend him again, I’m sure he wasn’t claiming that the birth of his daughter was a more spectacular event than the birth of your child if an epidural was involved, or the arrival of my son into the world a few days before last Christmas, when one indeed was. Kane tried to quell the Twitternado with a subsequent despatch, but even this didn’t come out quite right. Women could give birth “however they would like”, he said, a mite condescendingly. Then he cranked up his pride to “very proud”. There are, it seems to this dad of four, two issues here: competitive childbirth, which definitely does exist, and the part in it played by men.
To use a football analogy, competitive childbirth is a qualifying tournament for competitive parenting, the big daddy (or mummy) event of smug middle-class boasting. A woman can feel she’s been knocked out in the first round if she opted to be knocked out by pain relief during birth and so many others seem to have done it “naturally”. In baby-group chatter in the coffee shop or online, mums may not mean to brag, although some might, and the same when they’re talking about the texture of their home-made rusks or the torque on their designer buggies. The buggies themselves are a baby-industry con targeting mens’ weakness for sleek, wheeled transporters. When they feel the buggies possess the requisite snob value and don’t compromise their manliness, they’ll sanction the exorbitant costs.
For No 4, my wife and I picked up the apparent Lamborghini of buggies on Gumtree, dirt cheap. We couldn’t believe the price, or the pristine condition. This pram had obviously never traversed broken pavements. You might assume that after three kids we knew what we were doing on this latest – and definitely last – trip to the maternity wards, but the only constant connecting all four births has been when, in an effort to lift some of the tension, I’ve popped a “sick cup” on my head and rasped: “Siddin’ at my piano!” Each time my wife has groaned, and not through birth pains.
This was me impersonating Eric Morecambe, impersonating Jimmy Durante, which will tell you that I’m at the mature end of the dad scale. So mature, indeed, that I remember when my younger brother was due to arrive via a home birth and my father was required to pace the hall endlessly. There was no way he could be in the room with my mother, he told me, so aged five I offered him mutual support and joined in wearing away the carpet.
We won’t return to those days. Now, 95 per cent of fathers-to-be are present for the delivery. They can watch the process and come to understand it better – without, as my wife stresses, ever knowing how much it hurts.
They can offer support as the blood is squeezed from their hands. But that is all they can do: they cannot have the baby for their partners and be quite as heroic – and competitive – as they’d like to be.
Some try. First time round, a midwife told us about a water-birth the previous evening when the dad-to-be, ignoring the etiquette which recommends swimming trunks, climbed into the tank bollock-naked. The baby born, and rather thinking he’d demonstrated mastery of the waves reminiscent of Jacques Cousteau, this brazen fellow began a victory lap of the room, and when offered a towel, simply used it to rub his hair before carrying on parading.
Our eldest son had the most traumatic of deliveries and almost died. Our eldest daughter was the opposite of protracted, shooting straight to the bottom of the bed within mere minutes. Both times, if this father was inclined to choreograph proceedings in the manner of the megalomanical and bombastic movie-maker James Cameron – which, by the way, he wasn’t – the script in the shape of the birth plan was ripped up and tossed out the window, landing on the feverish smokers lurking below.
For No 4, when asked for our plan, my wife declared: “Drugs.” This was another protracted affair after which we were asked if we’d like to avail ourselves of the Marks & Sparks microwaved menu in the hospital’s newish unit primarily for natural births, but as we were told: “There’s hardly ever anyone in it. Everyone’s having epidurals now.” Not Harry Kane and his better half, of course, and good luck to them, they win the World Childbirth Championships. Let’s hope he remembered to cover up for his lap of honour.