Royal Watch: Etienne Horner on Fatherhood


With the spotlight very much on the Duchess of Cambridge, obstetrician and gynaecologist at The Lindo Wing and Portland Hospital, Etienne Horner looks at the role of dad… and the pressures of fatherhood.

Pregnancy and birth used to be strictly women-only business until the mid eighteenth century. Masculinity and fatherhood have been constructed by different ideologies, and this has slowly shaped men’s perception and behavior during pregnancy, birth and subsequent fatherhood.

Etienne Horner, obstetrician and gynaecologist
Etienne Horner, obstetrician and gynaecologist

So how should it be today with the fathers and their role in pregnancy, birth and afterwards? Is there a special course offered for partners to learn like antenatal classes? Sadly not really, as the expectance is that men know what to do and how to handle future fatherhood just as naturally as women bear being pregnant. Yes of course we are expected to take part in antenatal classes but mainly to get familiar with forceps and blood but not how we should become a father!

Sometimes the minds of male partners who attend antenatal appointments are elsewhere, whilst women tend to ask lots of questions. When I ask the partners if there’s anything they would like to ask me, I often find a fear on their face as they nervously think “what should I ask?” However, I don’t think this is entirely their fault. Men have not been involved for centuries in labour and birth and now all of a sudden they should all know and take part as it were the most natural thing in a man’s life. I very much have to defend us men on this front and what our role is in labour and birth, as it is not a natural instinct that we know what to do during labour. Many modern men would be up for some more male-targeted information and guidance as preparation for labour and birth and as a start for fatherhood, I’m sure. This could influence and help many partners to not feel alone during birth, but instead be part of the start of parenthood already during time of contractions.