Why using the ‘F’ word is better for all the family

5 October 2011

Jeremy Davies writes:

In 2011, so many years after our traditional attitudes towards childbirth and childcare being a ‘women-only’ preserve began to shift, it’s easy to kid ourselves that we’ve changed all we need to change. But there’s still such a long way to go, and nowhere more so than in the milky, feminised world of pre-natal screening information.

We at the FI have been trying to get information out to expectant and new dads for years now, but governments won’t pay for it, and commercially no-one has yet taken the leap into the unknown and sponsored it – even though our Guide for New Dads, distributed as a one-off with Bounty packs last year, was a big hit with mums and dads alike.

Women, it seems, are still the only people worth talking to in the multi-million pound maternity and baby industry – and the same goes for our health professionals, who tend to see their client as the mother, rather than taking on the bigger challenge of communicating more holistically with the support network that surrounds the baby – which in most cases includes its father.

Just about all the information expectant and new families receive is still aimed at mothers – either directly or in such a way that while the word ‘parent’ might be used, it’s obvious to anyone reading it that really it’s just the mums that count.

We had big hopes that we could influence a whole bunch of information sheets the NHS is producing about fetal abnormality screening – vital resources that could make all the difference to families facing tough choices about invasive tests and even termination. Such decisions ultimately rest with women, of course – but research tells us that partners’ role in supporting women to make informed decisions is vital.

Despite this, we’ve just found out that all our suggestions about how to write these leaflets in such a way that women themselves get the best information and fathers too feel as if they are part of the process, have been rejected by an ‘expert group’ of health professionals and support groups.

Our suggestion that the leaflets should refer to ‘information for mothers and fathers’, for example, was rejected in favour of ‘information for parents’ – for fear that our version could alienate “certain individuals who were not necessarily in a couple at the time of antenatal appointments”. This even though we know that the VAST majority of expectant mothers and fathers ARE together; even though in the context of fetal abnormality screening, information about fathers’ genetic background, and therefore their input into the process, can be key; and even though we know that mothers and fathers both read ‘parent’ as ‘mother’, and that ‘parent’ doesn’t, therefore, get you to half of your target audience.

Nobody could ever claim that talking to parents about such issues is easy. But by restricting the conversation only to mothers and/or by failing to clearly and directly address fathers about what’s happening, so they might provide much-needed, well-informed support at such a difficult time – aren’t we missing an opportunity to ease an intolerable burden of responsibility for women? And aren’t we, ultimately, doing our children a disservice?

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