Grant Woodward: It’s a couple’s choice to leave mum-to-be to do it herself

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WHERE once forums such as the all-conquering Mumsnet were awash with threads such as “Don’t you just love Nick Knowles?” in which members waxed lyrical about his “nice forearms” and “the way he’s a little bit grubby and painty and brick dusty”, the DIY SOS presenter suddenly finds himself in the dog house.

It’s all down to his decision not to be in the room when his wife Jessica gives birth to their first child later this year. To be fair to Knowles, it appears to be a decision arrived at in conjunction with his wife (who happens to be a mere 25 years his junior) rather than one taken unilaterally. Still, that hasn’t lessened the opprobium being lobbed in his direction by women appalled that he won’t be at the sharp end when his wife needs him most.

Perhaps Knowles was spooked by the account given by pop star Robbie Williams, who recently described witnessing his wife give birth to their daughter as like “watching my favourite pub burn down”. Or maybe he read Gordon Ramsay’s claim that participating in the birth of his four children would have meant his sex life being “damaged by images like something out of a sci-fi movie – skinned rabbits and conger eels coming at me from everywhere”.

I certainly know that before the birth of my own children by caesarean section (or “out of the sunroof” as I delighted in telling my wife) I was grateful for the advice dispensed by my friend Martin, whose wife also had a section.

“Make sure you don’t go to the business end,” he told me solemnly one night over a drink at the pub. “They take all these things out and then shove them back in again. It’s like one big washing machine.” The “it” in question was, of course, his wife.

I was glad of the heads-up, especially as there was never really any question of me not being at the birth of my children (they’re twins, they came as a package deal). We even went on a course run by the National Childbirth Trust, although it essentially warned us that anything other than a fully natural delivery was the stuff of the devil.

Did I feel under pressure to get involved? Yes, a little. Although it’s only in the last 40 years or so that it’s become the norm, figures show that 93 per cent of fathers are now present at the birth of their children. In other words, it’s expected.

Ultimately though, I wanted to be there. To be honest I couldn’t imagine not being present when my first-born (quickly followed by my second-born) made their entry into the world.

My friend’s cautionary tale meant that when I put my scrubs on in the hospital I was clear as to what I would and wouldn’t do.

So when my wife was wheeled into the operating theatre, the tent-like structure was erected over her tummy and the nurses asked: “Does Dad want to come this end?” I knew full well that I didn’t. Martin’s haunted expression in the pub had told me that much.

More importantly, it also seemed the best thing to do for my wife. She couldn’t see what was going on down there and I know for a fact she wouldn’t have wanted to. Having to watch my anguished looks wouldn’t have done her any good at all.

But at least I was there to hold her hand and make reassuring noises. And I’m still relieved that it wasn’t a full-blown, howling-on-all-fours kind of birth involving lots of shouting and swearing (most of which would almost inevitably have come from me).

In those circumstances, I’m not sure how much help I would have been. The thing with us men is that we like to feel we’re in control – even when we’re patently not. The feeling of helplessness at seeing my wife in pain or distress but not being able to do anything about it would probably have turned me into a gibbering wreck.

And while most blokes do want to be there to witness the miracle of birth, and say they feel much closer to their partners – and often in awe of them – afterwards, giving birth is tough enough. So if the father is so uncomfortable that he’ll only make it worse, then surely it makes sense for him to wait in the corridor?

In such cases, asking their mum to be a birthing partner is surely a better option for most women – after all, hospital staffing shortages mean they will need at least one person to run to find the midwives for them.

And that’s the route Jessica Knowles – who says she wants to retain a bit of “mystique” rather than her husband watching her as she labours, pushes and crowns – looks set to go down.

Surely it’s up to each couple to decide for themselves whether the father is present, rather than being bullied into it by a rabid pack of Mumsnetters? It’s certainly not something a husband – even if his name happens to be Nick Knowles – should be hauled over the coals for.

Grant Woodward