Jayne Dawson: Nick Knowles - an unlikely leader for brave new dads

Nick Knowles and wife Jessica Moore.
Nick Knowles and wife Jessica Moore.
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The smouldering issue of whether a man has any place in the labour room has been reignited by... actually quite an unlikely person.

For it is Nick Knowles of television DIY show SOS who has fanned the flames by announcing that he will not be present when his 26-year-old wife Jessica gives birth in the summer.

I know what you’re thinking and you’re right; there is quite the age gap. Nick, at 51, is fully 25 years older than his wife, and in fact he has three older children from an earlier marriage.

But back to the main point: the situation is that Nick will be the wrong side of a closed door when his latest child enters the world. Which is unusual, isn’t it?

To be fair, it seems to be his wife who has made the decision, declaring that she prefers “a little bit of smoke and mirrors. “

“Giving birth is a very physical process and I don’t want him to see me in that vulnerable state,” she says.

Given the age gap, an unkind person could translate that as a girl not wanting to risk losing her sex appeal by having her older, wealthier husband witness any of the messy stuff, but Nick also has decisive things to say on the subject.

He told Hello! magazine he was more than happy to comply with Jessica’s wishes because all a man feels in the labour room is guilt, fear, worry and uselessness. Then he points out that, pre-1970s, men were rarely at the birth anyway and that it has all become a bit of a fad since then.

This is true. Blokes saw their role in the birthing process as pacing the hospital corridor, or going to work and letting the woman get on with it, or drinking through the pain of it all with their mates in the pub. Childbirth was part of the mysterious world of women.

Now it’s all very different.

For a father to say he is not going to be present at the birth these days is the equivalent of a mother-to-be announcing that she is going to feed her baby formula milk every four hours, and shove in a dummy inbetween. Both statements would cause looks of badly-concealed shock.

Yet that was the way a few decades ago and those babies survived. Thrived even. I’m one of them: no dad present,formula milk, dummy. I’m still alive.

The problem is not whether men are at the birth or not, it’s the lack of realistic choice. A couple have to be brave - or insulated by a certain amount of money and fame - to announce their baby’s birth will not involve the father.

Some women are desperate for their partner to be there. I understand why. Giving birth is dangerous, painful, and frightening. To have your man there can be immensely reassuring when others are in charge and not necessarily being very nice to you, even if all that man does is look embarrassed and pat your back ineffectually.

And common sense says being present at the birth must help the bonding process. If a man sees his child enter the world and holds him or her within seconds, the chances are his protective instincts are going to be activated.

But it’s not going to work for everybody. Some women would rather have their mother or their sister or their friend with them, and I can understand this too. Another mother can understand and empathise in a way that a man simply cannot.

And there is something else. It’s just possible that 26-year-old Jessica is right.

Maybe a couple’s relationship survives better if some things remain forever private. Could be it’s best if not every experience is shared, if a partner does not have to fulfil every role from best friend to birth partner. Choice is, after all, the key word of our age. Let’s allow it in the labour room too.

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Alexandra Shulman. PIC: PA

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