Updated: Jun 24, 2020
The joys of my first Father’s Day are fresh in my mind:
The Spreadburys arriving at my house; my first ever father’s day gift handed to me by the boys (a wonderful t-shirt Faye brought me); and a balloon popping, hundreds of pieces of coloured confetti exploding as we tell my sister for the first time “It’s a boy!!”. Later, the sunny picnic; the egg and spoon race; the hiking adventure to the top of the hill; throwing Eugene and Vinny around the garden, piggy backs and handstands and some serious PS4 time with the boys; and me sitting next to Faye on the couch with my hands on her belly and Bob moving around like he’s never moved around before- a real person under the pink -a little baby boy, waiting to burst, home again with his Dad.
‘He knows he’s home’ we said to each other.
Those experiences make up for today.
Today I am on the phone thinking I’m going to scream. I’m trying to explain to someone at the Equalities Advisory Support Service why it’s hard for me not to be present at the birth of my son. I feel like I’m at school explaining to a teacher why I feel sad.
“I’m his parent” I say, “His only parent. Surely there’s some protection for that”.
She does that sharp exhalation of breath people do when they are too irritated to respond. “Yes but being single isn’t a protected characteristic is it?" she argues "There’s no protection for you in law in this circumstance. Anyone can be a parent these days. Gay. Bisexual.” I wait for her to say more, to continue the list, but she just stops there. Awkwardly.
I told her I quoted the UN Declaration of Human Rights in my letter to the hospital. She tells me that they don’t use that declaration. WTF?
“We use the Human Rights Act 1998, and there’s really no act with that document under which your situation applies”.
“Ok but.. Look I realise that there may not be direct discrimination but…”
“I suppose…” she sighs, almost irritated that the phone call is now in its 7th or 8th minute. “I suppose there might be something about rights to a family life under Article 8, but it’s not really the same is it. Nobody is stopping you from having a family.”
I want to tell her to fuck off. But why waste the anger? There’s an unwell part of me that wants to compliment her for being so supportive. I know. I want to fully lean into the hurt. All the hurt. The sad truth is that I can’t rely on homophobia to save me this time. How depressing is that thought? That I need the hospital to hate me, before I can get support to fight to see my son. I find myself wishing they'd make some comment about my sexuality. Or my relationship status. But it's all done under the guise of Covid-19. The pandemic that prevents policy change.
My voice trails off into a monotone, my teeth gritted. “Thanks very much for your time” and I put the phone down.
Lean. Into. The. Pain.
She has at least given me a lead... Another document to investigate, to pour over, and pull quotes from that I can then mash up in another letter to Leicester. At this point…I’ll take any tiny little part of legalise to get my point across. It seems so far, pleading with the Head of Midwifery by writing to her and explaining that my soul will be ripped out if I can’t be at the birth has made no difference to what will happen at that hospital. Although they relaxed the ‘Covid says no’ rules for the homebirth, I still am not taking any chances and need assurances that should we go into hospital for any reason…I will be allowed to follow. But my attempts at empathy have at some point hit a wall. I am it seems, to them...no one. It echoes what my employer had said to me when finally engaging with me around their out of date surrogacy ‘policy’. “There is no term for you in this situation” they said.
There is no term for you.
My employer at least finally listened. But Leicester hospitals are not listening to us. Faye’s voice is powerful in this but even when she tells the hospital that she needs her husband there *and* the baby needs its father, we get ‘Covid says no.’
We’ve all as a team done our part to make them aware the situation is unacceptable. We’ve all penned those paragraphs about the impairment of mental well-being for all concerned if the boy’s only parent is excluded, - we’ve all said, ‘no’, we don’t consent to this. Nope, we don’t consent.
Who is looking after my son? I asked in the last letter. Tell me their name, the role, -explain to me who will be caring for my son when I am not there. I imagined myself demanding the addresses and phone numbers of all the ward staff who were going be holding, handling, moving and talking to my son without me present. I want to track them down and tell them face to face… I don’t consent.
The staff are all stuck in their heads. The pregnant woman is the mother. The baby is the mother’s child. And so ergo the parent is there. But the parent is not there.
Just a man they perceive to be redundant.
We changed midwifes because one of them grilled me on how I would care for my son. “Have you held a baby before? Do you know anyone with babies? Have you got support with the baby at home?” Awful when you think it's not what they'd ask a mother. Awful on so many levels. On making any of us feel comfortable to have her there.
But there’s a weird part of her questioning that validates me as the little boy that was never considered.. man enough. Finally I’m being looked at as a man,.. a clueless, ignorant man who knows nothing about babies, but a man nonetheless, a father-man. The unconscious bias and stereotyping is ....strangely compelling. Sad how I take these crumbs isn't it? But I'm fucking starving.
But when it comes to the hospital… their misunderstanding of the nature of me personally is frightening. I shuffle along in the background of their professional duty of care, jumping up and down with a banner proclaiming DAD.
It’s for the protection of the woman and the baby they tell us. I'll self isolate, I promise. I'll cover myself in cling film, wear whatever PPE you need. I'll get a friggin' Covid test. But more frustratingly it seems, they are fighting their cause for the other women in the ward, and what they worry they will think of us. Leicester would have us believe their maternity ward is full of eagle-eyed woman, waiting to chomp at the bit of our pregnant team, brazenly walking in with smug “we have two birth partners“ expressions. Leicester midwifery seem more concerned about upsetting the feelings of the maternal masses than in addressing our needs. One birth = one birth partner.
And on that point, I’m not a birthing partner. I'm the parent. But we’ve said that now so many times.
So we wait. We wait for the decision to our last letter. The 8 page document with Department of Health and Social Care guidance highlighted and underlined; with reference to The Royal College of Gynaecologists, with reference to Surrogacy UK, with reference to the UN Declaration of Human Rights, with reference to the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child, with reference to Faye, with reference to her birthing partner and husband Lee, with reference to him, my baby boy, and last and according to them, least,with reference to me, the Dad, putting up my hand at the back of the class, and with what was once a wave, has now turned into a middle finger.
Faye has been clear. Lee has been clear. Bob has been clear. David has been clear.
And yet today, despite this fight…….I am still happy.
Because I felt my son moving on Father’s Day. Because I have friends for life in this wonderful family and team.
“He knows he’s home” we both say to each other.
Even if they drag me away from the birth, nails scraping the walls of the hospital corridors - it won’t make any difference to how I’m going to love my son.