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So What if Fathers Can't Breastfeed?


A real life experience by Nandini Gupta, New York



Gender stereotypes

I come from a very traditional family where the roles of men and women are clearly demarcated. My mother was the perfect housewife, and my father was the breadwinner. He put food on the table and she looked after the house and the children. I thought that's the way things were supposed to be. I always knew that once I finished my graduation, I would have to get married. And that's exactly what happened. 

I went to live with my husband Siddharth in New York. I had brought all my ideas about the designated roles of men and women along with me to America. Siddharth having lived a bachelor existence in America for the last ten years was quite used to cooking and doing his own laundry. This was a revelation. Before I could get used to this, I got pregnant. 

I was quite amused at how enthusiastic Siddharth was about being a father. He would come with me for every visit to the gynaecologist and to Lamaze classes. It was with great difficulty that I stopped him from buying up everything from the newborn section at department stores. I was sure that the fascination would soon wear off. Sure enough, the minute my labour started in earnest he slipped out of the room and sent my mother in. Just as I expected.
 

Mothers know best 

Once Aayush came home, I could think of nothing else but him. I took it for granted that Siddharth would look after his own needs and as usual he was very supportive. He did more than his share of housework so that I could have more time with the baby. I had decided to breastfeed Aayush . Since he couldn't help with this, Siddharth offered to help with other baby chores, but when I saw him fumbling with the diaper or struggling to bathe the baby, I would impatiently take over. Every time Aayush cried, I would say, "Give him to me. He must be hungry." I never woke Siddharth at night when the baby cried, or when it was time for his night feed. I thought I was being considerate, but in fact what was happening was that my "mother knows best" attitude was alienating my husband from being a father. 
 

The confrontation

One day, matters came to a head. I was lying in bed with a severe migraine. My sleep was disturbed by the sound of the baby crying. I was really groggy, but I staggered out of bed to see what he wanted. I was greeted by the sight of Siddharth pacing up and down trying to calm the screaming baby. I asked Siddharth to hand him to me, thinking that maybe the baby was hungry. Siddharth just snapped. He said, "Aayush and I can manage without you. I am his father and that makes me a parent too, even if you don't think so. I am perfectly capable of looking after him so go to sleep." I reluctantly went back to bed and soon the crying stopped. When I peeked outside a little later, father and son were fast asleep in an armchair. 

I was really surprised at his outburst because I had never expected him to seriously participate in parenting. I thought that, like my father, he would be happy that I wasn't bothering him about baby matters. From that day on, I decided that I wouldn't selfishly hog all the time with the baby and act like my husband knew nothing about parenting. I realized that just because my husband hadn't given birth to Aayush and couldn't feed him, it didn't mean that he was any less equipped or fit to be a parent. 
 

Fathers can help

I realized that there are many aspects of looking after a baby that need not be the mother's exclusive domain. Even if a baby is being breastfed, a father can be part of feeding time. For instance, now when Aayush wakes up hungry in the middle of the night, Siddharth brings him to me and puts him back to sleep when he's had enough. Siddharth has become an expert at bathing Aayush and changing his nappies. When looking after a baby, another pair of hands really helps. Now I find that I have a little more time to myself and Siddharth does not feel neglected or left out. As a matter of fact, I would say we've become even closer as we share the experience of watching Aayush grow. 

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