Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Men can nurture children as well as women can

By CATHERINE SNYDER Tuesday, March 4, 2003

"One of our neighbors gave birth to preemie twins, a boy and girl, in January. We don't know the family well, but one day recently the woman called our house at wits' end: Her husband was working out of state and the twins had been crying for hours. Both babies are underweight and have severe digestive problems. One is too weak to breastfeed and is scheduled for heart surgery.

Could one of us come over to help? Did we have any formula?

My husband, John, took the call and told her he'd be right over. Before he left he asked me - in bed with a cold - where we keep our backup can of formula. "Are you sure you want to do this? I can go," I said, pulling the covers aside.

I surprised myself: Here I was falling back on gender stereotypes, as if a father would be less qualified than a mother to tend to screaming babies. But there it was: "I can go." Sniffle, sneeze.

John urged me to rest and tend to our son, Anthony, and then left with the formula and a pocketful of Mother's Milk tea bags; brewed, these are supposed to stimulate the flow of milk.

I followed half an hour later expecting to have to rescue John and our neighbor from pandemonium. Instead I found a picture of tranquillity: John sitting on a couch in the nursery with the girl fed and sleeping in his arms; the boy propped up beside him making healthy progress on a bottle of milk.

Our neighbor used the time to call the pediatrician, pump more breast milk, use the bathroom and compose herself. She was sleep-deprived, hungry and thirsty. She made many phone calls to friends and neighbors, trying to line up help for later. Some of these calls went to fathers.

As I learned, and as many new parents find out, men are every bit as nurturing as their partners are." [I want neighbours like this! - JC]