Long gone are the days when women gave birth at home or in a maternity ward with ‘matron’, while a nervous husband paced the corridor outside the room, waiting to hear the baby’s first cry.
So far removed was the father from proceedings that – as one father-in-law of our acquaintance admits – often the man was not even in the house or hospital itself, but down at the local pub having a ‘stiffener’ or prematurely wetting the baby’s head, depending on his disposition.
And so it was for Prince Philip for the birth of his first three children, according to a new book called My Husband and I: The Inside Story of 70 Years of the Royal Marriage, which has been published to celebrate the royal couple’s platinum wedding anniversary on November 20.
For the births of Prince Charles, Princess Anne, and Prince Andrew, Prince Philip waited in his study as Queen Elizabeth gave birth in a nearby room. The idea of her husband being in the room was “loathsome” to the monarch, the book says, and she was far happier to be left in the care of her personal medical team.
“His wife had made it perfectly plain she didn’t want him hanging around, let alone being by her side for the birth,” the book says.
But the situation changed for the birth of Prince Edward in 1964 – for the first time in modern history, a royal father witnessed the birth of his child, with Prince Philip in the room at the express invitation of the then-37-year-old Queen.
“She had not found giving birth easy, but 16 years had passed since Charles was born and fashions had changed in the interim,” the book by Ingrid Seward, which is being serialised in The Daily Telegraph, says.
“Now the accent was more on the relationship between mother and baby and how that could be enhanced, both physically and emotionally, by the mother being aware of what was happening — and how important it was to involve the father in the process.
“As a keen reader of women’s magazines which had been devoting an increasing number of their pages to articles expounding these theories, she had become fascinated by this new approach.”
Although now such behaviour is the norm, it’s worth remembering at the time that so sensitive was public taste to decorum that publishing photographs of the pregnant Queen was banned, and it was never officially acknowledged that Prince Charles had been born by Caesarean section.
According to the book, Prince Phillip was more sensitive to his wife than his sometimes abrasive public manner would suggest, keeping up a stream of cheerful banter during the lengthy labour.
Whether he. and the world at large, is a better one for fathers being present at births is a matter of debate.
A top obstetrician called Michael Odent has frequently said he believes fathers should stay well away form the delivery room.
“For her, his presence is a hindrance, and a significant factor in why labours are longer, more painful and more likely to result in intervention than ever,” he says. As for the effect on a man – well, was I surprised to hear a friend of mine state that watching his wife giving birth had started a chain of events that led to the couple’s divorce? … For many men, the emotional fallout of watching their partner have their baby can never be overcome.”
And a story in Huffington Post asks, “Has society gone too far in expecting all dads to be active participants – through labor, pushing, crowning – while giving them little clear guidance on why, exactly, they’re there?”
But many fathers insist that seeing their child born is a life-changing moment that they would not have wished to miss.
As obstetrician Chandrima Biswas told The Telegraph, “Couples get closer through the hugely emotional experience of seeing a baby born. When you’re screaming in pain, you want the person you are closest to in the world to support you.”