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Should men stay away from childbirth?

Samantha Grimes on pundit John Barnes' decision to choose football over family...

Published on November 11th 2010.

Should men stay away from childbirth?

It doesn't sound too good, does it?

John Barnes, the ex-Liverpool and England footballer and now TV pundit, chose to stay and watch the second half of the Liverpool v Chelsea match he was commenting on rather than be by his wife's side as she gave birth to their third child last Sunday.

Gordon Ramsay - chef, entrepreneur, and contender for the Ultimate Alpha Male title - has said that he would rather “be stark bollock naked in a steam room with 50 vegans” than have been present at the births of any of his four children, and claims it would have ruined his sex life.

He was informed live on air that she had given birth and was given the option to leave the studio to see his new son, Alexander, but decided to stay and watch the second half of the eagerly-awaited Premiership match.

Women and tabloids up and down the country have been up in arms, branding Barnes a chauvinist, a dinosaur, and a selfish, well....the thing that got him into this situation in the first place. From some accounts in the press, he seems to have single-handedly set women's liberation back twenty years, and raised the possibility of Alexander growing up traumatised for life because his father not only missed witnessing his birth, but chose to watch an actual game of football instead.

Admittedly, he was being paid to comment on the match, and was simply fulfilling his contractual obligations by staying till the final whistle, but many would argue that there are few jobs that should take precedence over the birth of your child – brain surgeon, High Court judge, Gavin Henson's cameraman, are a few that spring to my mind – but talking about a group of men running round a field kicking a ball isn't one of them.

But, at the risk of being stoned to death by a herd of irate females, is it really such a heinous thing?

My dad wasn't in the hospital when I was born – in fact, I believe he was in the local pub, clutching a pint and sucking peanuts apprehensively. I'm okay. I survived (relatively) mentally intact. I wasn't scarred for life and didn't grow up harbouring a chip on my shoulder the size of Oxford that my dad didn't want to watch me come slithering into the world. In fact it would've been unusual in the 70s if he had watched the birth of his child, and only seems to have become the norm in the last 15 years or so.

Whilst husbands and partners these days are expected to attend the birth, I'm not entirely sure what useful purpose it serves, other than to remind them for the rest of their days that they should be eternally grateful to be male.

John Barnes would rather watch football

In addition, as a woman who has been through this ordeal herself, I would question whether many men are capable of recovering from the trauma.

Gordon Ramsay - chef, entrepreneur, and contender for the Ultimate Alpha Male title - has said that he would rather “be stark bollock naked in a steam room with 50 vegans” than have been present at the births of any of his four children, and claims it would have ruined his sex life.

I can't say I blame Gordon. My husband was present at the birth of his son because he wanted to be there, not because I wanted him there. I didn't want to be there myself so I would've been entirely sympathetic if he'd opted out! No offence to him, but as long as the key people were present – the midwife, the midwife, and the person with the gas and air....oh, that would be the midwife – I wouldn't have minded if he'd trekked across the last great wilderness as long as the baby and I were both healthy at the end of it. However, he was, and he didn't faint or embarrass me or stand near the business end, so it was all fine. But it was our decision, just as it no doubt was for Mr and Mrs Barnes to be apart.

The only mistake John made as far as I can see, was sitting in a TV studio in front of millions of viewers instead of skulking in a pub, sucking nuts. If he'd done the latter, nobody would've been any the wiser and we could all have lived a little longer without knowing.

As it was, public opinion seems to have grasped this blatant flaunting of modern convention (I say public opinion – I mean the Daily Mail) and whipped itself into a frenzy of anti-sexism and general shouty antagonistic aggression. Ultimately, it's the Barnes' choice, as it is the choice of every couple who've ever faced the birth of their child. And to remind us all that childbirth has been happening with or without fathers present since Adam was a lad, may I finish by directly quoting a man who had taken the time to post his opinion on an online forum on the topic:

“In fairness, it was only his seventh child, but it was the first time in a very long time that Liverpool had had a 2-0 lead at half-time”.

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RoyNovember 12th 2010.

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