I have previously written about and thought about issues relating to maternity and identity and the challenges women face when they become mothers and the social pressure to conform to ideals of motherhood. I admit my research and thoughts on the subject were quite egocentric; as a new mother I was interested in understanding what I was experiencing in a wider context, did other mothers feel the same pressure? Did other mothers feel like they were undergoing an identity shift? Why do I have a constant feeling of guilt and of never doing things well enough and why does my partner not feel this? And right toward the end of the research project I started to ask whether dad’s as primary carers of their children can be as bonded with their children as mum’s are expected to be? My partner took over as the primary carer of our children early last year. It was strange for me to take a back seat and leave him to it, and I don’t take a complete back seat, nor did he when I was the primary carer. I can see that he and the kids have a strong bond and that he is very capable as a primary carer – actually I think he is pretty awesome but I don’t want to brag ;).
I have met quite a few two dad families with new born babies now and I have found that the level of care and attentiveness and love and capability is not significantly different to that I have observed in new mothers. I recently spoke to a couple of new dad’s as they sat on their bed, each holding one of their new born babies as they spoke with me. They were constantly gazing into their children’s eyes, stroking their feet and backs and smiling at them, rocking them, all while carrying on a conversation with me. It was very natural and I have no doubts at all that the dad’s have bonded with and love their babies and are as capable as any new mum. And I have seen this bonded-ness and connection between fathers and their babies over and over again. So why don’t Australian dad’s have as much right to their children as Australian mum’s?
I recently read an article in The Australian about a legal case wherein a genetic mother had her child’s genetic father removed for the birth certificate and replaced with the name of her ex-partner. Although the father is genetically related to his child and saw her regularly he had not signed an agreement with the mother and her partner prior to child’s birth. The complication for the law it seems was down to the child being conceived from the genetic fathers sperm rather then the old fashioned way. This places the dad in a grey zone as the court seems to have acknowledged the genetic father as the sperm donor only despite his having an active role in the child’s life:
The judge said the man and the child obviously had a strong emotional attachment.
“I have considerable sympathy for (the man) — he has done what he considers has been his very best for the child.”
Outside court the man, who cannot be named for legal reasons, said he was devastated and labelled the outcome an injustice.
“She’s not my daughter as far as the law is concerned,” he said.
“The laws are totally inadequate, there are no laws to protect people like me.
“It’s a very bad day for fathers, that’s all I can say.”
Similar logic underpins some of the legislation around surrogacy arrangements in Australia where the birth mother, whether genetically related to the child or not, is considered to be the child’s mother.